German Chancellor 'moved' by D-Day invite

1st June 2004, Comments 0 comments

BERLIN, May 30 (AFP) - When Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder joins other world leaders next weekend to remember the D-Day landings, it will mark a symbolic turning-point in Germany's loaded relationship with its past and its place in modern Europe.

BERLIN, May 30 (AFP) - When Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder joins other world leaders next weekend to remember the D-Day landings, it will mark a symbolic turning-point in Germany's loaded relationship with its past and its place in modern Europe.

Never before has a German leader been invited to the commemorations of the bitterly-fought Allied landings in occupied northern France 60 years ago that heralded the beginning of the end of World War II.

Former chancellor Helmut Kohl was famously left off the guest list 10 years ago, leaving him to claim it would have been inappropriate to go anyway.

A decade on Schroeder, the first German leader of the post-war generation, says his invitation is recognition of Germany's acceptance as a fully paid-up member of the Western democratic community.

"Of course, I was very moved by the invitation," he told the New York Times in a recent interview.

He said that while he never knew his father, who died in the war, "I still know who started the war and that is why I took it upon myself to accept this invitation."

The public reaction in Germany has been gratitude tinged with relief.

"It doesn't bring things to an end but it shows how far we have come since this happened 60 years ago," said one analyst at a pro-government think-tank who did not want to be named.

"It shows what we have said for decades, that the old enemies have become partners."

Also symbolic is that the anniversary comes just weeks after the European Union, jointly co-founded by France and Germany, expanded to 25 members, placing Berlin not only economically but also geographically at the heart of the new Europe.

Ernst Ulrich von Weizsaecker, a member of parliament for Schroeder's Social Democrats, said it was the right time.

"We weren't made to wait too long. Before, a German chancellor's visit to D-Day would have aroused a debate filled with bitterness. No longer."

Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime, notably its guilt for the slaughter of millions of Jews and for starting the war in 1939, remains a hugely sensitive issue in a nation still hurt by its past.

Anguish over that period and a resolve to prevent a repetition has shaped public life ever since, from Germany's drive for European integration to its opposition to the US-led war on Iraq.

But analysts say that while the past will not be forgotten, Germany is now being recognised as "a force for good." A potent sign of that is the presence of German troops keeping the peace from Afghanistan to the Balkans.

Allied veterans' associations, many of which have nurtured close ties with their German colleagues, appear largely in favour of Schroeder taking part.

A BBC Online survey earlier this year was heavily in support. Typical was Edwin Hannath, of Britain's National Veterans Association, who said he did not object as long as Schreoder's presence was not intrusive.

Not all think like that - Jacques Vico, a French resistance survivor, has removed himself from the list of events due to be attended by the chancellor, saying memories of German violence are still too harsh.

"Those who did something in the war are against the Germans coming here. It is those who did nothing who are in favour," he said.

"But they had nothing to bear. They did not suffer. For them it is easy."

Schroeder's office says his exact role on June 6 is still being worked on, but officials in France say he is due to lead a delegation at a Franco-German commemoration at a peace memorial in Caen.

He will also attend an all-German event at a cemetery and the international ceremony at the seaside town of Arromanches.

Also participating will be a host of world leaders, including US President George W. Bush, host President Jacques Chirac and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.

It is likely to be the last big D-Day ceremony simply because the event is receding too far into the past and the old soldiers' numbers dwindling. For Germany perhaps a first and final chance to take part.

© AFP

Subject: French news

 

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