Foreign Policy Magazine

Germany’s Return of the Repressed

The country’s far-right wants to revive ethnic nationalism. The left must come up with its own alternative.

WHEN I ARRIVED AT CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY in the early 2000s, students from different parts of Europe flocked to national clubs for a taste of home and an opportunity to speak their native tongues. Most of the events these clubs organized took the form of benign clichés: The Italian Society hosted pasta nights, and the French Society served up artsy movies with a side of wine and cheese. Only one nationality was conspicuously absent. Instead of founding their own club, students who, like me, had grown up in Germany flocked to the European Union Society.

The European Union Society was not an exclusively German affair. It included a few students from countries too small to sustain their own social life at the university, as well as the odd Brit or Spaniard who aspired to a career in Brussels. But no matter how hard we pretended, it was clear to all that this was a German Society dressed up in the colors of the EU flag. “I guess it’s a little strange that nearly all of the officers of the club are German,” an acquaintance of mine once said. “But things are just so much more efficient that way.”

My experience with the European Union Society offers a glimpse into a sensibility of which few outside Germany are fully conscious: the dogged determination of many Germans to distance themselves from overtly patriotic sentiment. In the wake of World

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