Sunday, April 21, 2013

Franco-German cultural kerfuffle

An exhibition of German art between 1800 and 1939 at the Louvre in Paris is causing ripples between the two neighbours. A series of articles, responses and letters in the German weekly Die Zeit offer an interesting case study in cultural diplomacy. 

The controversy began when German journalists felt that the Paris exhibition was seeking to reheat arguments and historiography that portray German nineteenth-century culture as proto-fascist and as the seed-bed of Nazism. The French side has denied this and emphasized the co-operative nature of the exhibition planning process. 

The whole debate shows just how delicate international cultural sensibilities remain. The economics and politics of the Euro crisis seems to have given German cultural diplomacy an added challenge just as, since the end of the Cold War in 1989, Germany had begun to enjoy a more "normal" standing in the international community. Europe is beginning to fear German hegemony in ways that it did not while the country was divided. 

As the Euro crisis has gradually brought many of Germany's European Union partners to their economic knees, Europe's biggest economy has remained comparatively strong. This has brought Angela Merkel's government increasing power and this is breeding resentment across Europe. 

Nineteenth-century Germany made great contributions to European and Western culture but their interpretation remains controversial especially at times when culture, politics and opinion are so closely interwoven.