Wednesday, 3 April 2013

My Best Enemy (4½ Stars)

I last watched this film in November 2011 and reviewed it here. I labelled it as a German film, even though it was made in Austria. This wasn't a mistake, it was deliberate. Austria is part of Germany.

Yes, I know this is a controversial statement. It's something that I've been telling both Germans and Austrians for years. The first reaction from other people is that they think I'm ignorant of the geographical facts. I can assure you this isn't the case, I know where the lines are drawn on the map. Some people compare my "ignorance" with calling Canadians American. This is a totally false comparison. Austrians feel insulted if I call them German, but I insist that I am correct. My statement is based on historical facts, that have to do with the unique nature of Germany in world history.

Germany as a nation has only existed since 1871, when Bismarck united 12 kingdoms. And yet people had spoken about Germany for centuries. What was the "Germany" that had previously existed? It was the area inhabited by a people who had been united by a single language since the time of the Romans. Germania might have been divided into many kingdoms, but it had always been a cultural unit with well known boundaries. Austria had always belonged to "Germany", and for centuries Vienna was even considered the leading city of Germany. In 1871 Austria failed to join the new German state because of quarrels with Prussia, but this only incited the Austrians to think of themselves as the true Germany, unjustly separated from the rest of the country that belonged to them. This was still the case 60 years later. An Austrian called Adolf Hitler began his political career in Germany. In 1938 Bismarck's work was completed when the Austrian government voted to become part of Germany, and Germany accepted them.

Things changed after the Second World War. Austria quickly separated itself from Germany again and declared itself innocent of all war crimes. This is the ironic situation that still exists today. Germany as a nation is guilt-riddled, and even children born after the war are taught in school to accept that they share Germany's guilt in the Holocaust. Austria, however, denies all guilt, as if they were forced into Germany against their will. Jews lost their lives and their property in Germany and Austria. In Germany stolen property was returned to Jews or their relatives, but in Austria property was never returned. Returning stolen property would have been an admission of guilt, and Austria as a country pleaded innocence. The denial also involves Austrians denying that they are or ever have been German.

I said at the beginning that Austria is part of Germany. Let me rephrase that. It would be more accurate to say that Austria is Germany. That is a fact that no amount of arguing or lines drawn on a map can ever change.

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