Living up to his reputation for tackling controversial
topics, former president of Germany Richard von Weizsacker used
the occasion of the eighth Gerold von Braunmuhl Memorial Lecture
at the Bologna Center to challenge the assumption that
containment alone was responsible for winning the Cold War.
"We made a crucial contribution," von Weizsacker said in reference to Ostpolitik--the conciliatory policy toward East Germany and the rest of the Soviet bloc that West Germany adopted in the early 1970s. Von Weizsacker's address on Nov. 12 was the first of two important lectures at the Bologna Center on Germany's foreign and domestic politics.
It was also the eighth in a series of lectures commemorating Gerold von Braunmuhl, a Bologna Center alumnus and a high-ranking official in the German Foreign Ministry, who was assassinated by terrorists in 1986. A close associate of then foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, von Braunmuhl was one of the architects of his country's foreign policy. Von Weizsacker praised von Braunmuhl for his dedication to "promoting a spirit and an atmosphere of reconciliation in Europe."
The former German president's visit was the second time this year that a leading European statesman has visited the Bologna Center. In October, Italian prime minister Romano Prodi formally opened the 1996-97 academic year with an address to students, faculty and local dignitaries.
In many European countries, with the notable exception of France, the role of president is largely ceremonial. But during von Weizsacker's term as president of the Federal Republic--from 1984 to 1994--he often used his position to appeal to Germany's conscience on particularly troublesome issues.
In 1985 he attracted worldwide attention with a speech challenging older German's assertions that they "knew nothing" about the Holocaust.
Following the collapse of communism in the Eastern bloc, von Weizsacker publicly cautioned against rushed unification of the two Germanys and urged respect for the feelings of East German citizens. He was also among the leading proponents of returning Germany's seat of government to Berlin, where he had served as mayor before becoming president.
In his address before a large audience of Bologna Center students, faculty and guests, including von Braunmuhl's widow, Hilde, von Weizsacker said the goal of Ostpolitik had been to "replace confrontation with transformation." At a time when both Cold War superpowers perhaps unconsciously accepted the permanent division of Europe, Ostpolitik sought to prepare for the possibility of German reunification.
Von Weizsacker, who received an honorary degree from Hopkins in 1993, added that the policy's eventual success lay in its combination of "peaceful coexistence with the aim of gradually transforming the Eastern system."
The von Braunmuhl Memorial Lecture series was inaugurated at the Bologna Center by foreign minister Genscher in 1988. Other speakers have included former British foreign secretary Douglas Hurd and former foreign ministers Susanna Agnelli of Italy and Alois Mock of Austria, a Bologna Center alumnus.
Von Weizsacker's address was followed on Nov. 13 by the inauguration of a new chair in German Studies named in honor of former Johns Hopkins University president Steven Muller, in recognition of his efforts to promote stronger German-American ties. Muller currently serves as co-chairman of the board of trustees for the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies in Washington, D.C.
The events were scheduled so closely as a way to indicate the strong ties that the Bologna Center has had with the Federal Republic since the school's founding.
The first holder of the chair, Dieter Oberndorfer of the University of Freiburg, spoke to an equally large gathering of students, faculty and guests on Germany's search for a political identity.
Oberndorfer said that in the rush to reunification, the German's ideological commitment to the idea of liberal democracy had been put to the test. Still, there were few indications, he said, that Germany would ever resurrect the nationalist ideology of the past.
"The ideology of ethnic nationhood has lost its hold on the German people," Oberndorfer said. "Modern Germans find the symbols of the old nation embarrassing and somewhat ridiculous."
Oberndorfer taught at the Bologna Center for the first time during spring semester 1996. He is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Freiburg, where he also serves as director of the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute for Political and Social Research.
The Muller Chair was made possible by a grant from the Robert Bosch Foundation in Stuttgart, with matching funds from alumni. A large matching gift was made by alumni Naneen Hunter Neubohn and Axel Neubohn, who is heading an initiative with fellow classmate Henner Ehringhaus to raise additional funds to endow the chair fully at $1.95 million.
Mark Kehoe is a student at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies' Bologna Center in Italy.
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