I would like your very different biographies and your experiences with the European Left to encounter each other as it were in a discussion on Germany, on ‘overcoming the past’, on the legacy of socialism, on Europe and the lack of synchrony between Germany and Poland. The similarities and differences can then be indicated by your both considering the same questions. We could start perhaps with the year 1989: was the fall of the Wall and German unification an equal surprise for the two of you? footnote1

jh: I was naturally as surprised as most Germans were. But in summer 1988 I’d been in the gdr for the first time, in Halle. The mental state of the people attending that symposium made a shattering impression on me. They were cynical and desperate. There was nothing left in the way of a perspective of hope. In this sense I was aware from then on how far the system had already eroded by that time. But of course I did not foresee the outcome.

am: I remember a discussion with you in Warsaw in 1979, when you didn’t want to say anything on the question of German unification. At first I was very modest—how could I not be with Habermas?—and then I said that the German Left in my view was making the same mistake as Rosa Luxemburg had made in Poland, by refusing to understand the force and dynamic of German national feeling. The paradox for me is that I think at that time I was right. Later, however, when I read your polemic in the context of the historians’ dispute, I agreed with you in charging Stürmer, Hillgruber and Nolte with seeking to relativize the crimes of Hitler by the crimes of Stalin, and with a renaissance of nationalism. I have a rather schizophrenic attitude on this question. I am in absolute agreement with your position in the historians’ dispute, and believe that we Poles could do with a discussion of this kind, and with our own Habermas. On the question of German unification, however, I was probably correct, as the German intellectual class did underestimate this problem.

In summer 1989 the Wall was still rock solid, even if the East Germans were already packing their bags in Hungary, when Adam Michnik and Bronislaw Geremek spoke out publicly for German unification. On the one hand this was a surprise for many in the West and in Poland. On the other hand the idea that the division of Germany was not eternal was quite a live one in Poland, in view of our own historical experiences.

jh: I missed this declaration of Michnik and Geremek in summer 1989, but at that time I was certainly against a perspective of unification. On the question of German national consciousness, we must not forget that—for wellknown historical reasons—this has played a different role in Germany from in Poland, and will continue to do so. For a hundred and fifty years national consciousness secured the Poles their identity despite their lack of independence. In Germany, however, national consciousness played a progressive role as a political value only up to 1848. Prussia, after all, never functioned on a national basis. Yet the Bismarckian Reich made good use of nationalism, and from the 1890s on did much harm with it. After 1945, on the other hand, when a halfway reasonable democracy was established in Germany for the first time, this was only because nationalism was discredited.

am: For many years I’ve been impressed by an excellent essay of Professor Habermas on constitutional patriotism. And this ambiguity can be seen to a certain extent today. The first phase of German unification brought freedom, the second the pogrom in Hoyerswerda. In Poland it is similar, or could become so.

jh: That is perhaps too harshly put. I believe the first face was freedom and the second—three weeks later—the slogan: ‘We are one people.’ The cry was first ‘We are the people’, and then ‘We are one people.’ Hoyerswerda, however, well, I’m a West German and don’t have an intuitive knowledge of the East German experience. But to a certain degree I can understand, though naturally not excuse, the way that this terrorism of the Right has arisen in the former gdr. What is far harder for me to understand is the contagious effect that these arson attacks had in West Germany, after all nothing had changed in our conditions. What must have happened in the West is that the floodgates of public communication were opened and the public atmosphere so changed that stereotypes, preconceptions, that were already shared by perhaps 15 per cent of the population below the threshold of public opinion, now suddenly gained a different status.