Germany vs. Sweden in §958. Photo: Scanpix.

Reviews Rich food for thought. A tribute to a pioneer in Scandinavian studies

Norbert Götz, Jan Hecker-Stempehl & Stephan Michael Schröder (eds.) Vom alten Norden zum neuen Europa Politische Kultur im Ostseeraum Festschrift für Bernd Hennigsen, Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, Berlin 2010, 458 pages.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds Pages 39-40, Vol 4:2010
Published on on January 11, 2011

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The dedicatee of this festschrift is very much present throughout the contributions — journalist, researcher and teacher, friend, football fan and even younger brother. The early years of the Hennigsen brothers, brought up in the town of Flensburg, is vividly recalled by Manfred, who argues that the political and cultural tensions between Danes and Germans that they experienced helped give the brothers a broader perspective and an awareness of the need to confront and overcome such tensions. Bernd followed his brother to the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, taking political science as his main subject. Searching around for a second minor subject, Bernd Hennigsen discovered the Institute for Nordic Philology in the building of the Psychological Institute, and decided to put his knowledge of Danish to further use. The offer of a post in the Scandinavian department in Munich posed something of a dilemma for the young scholar, whose abiding passion was political and philosophical, rather than philological; but he succeeded in adding a new dimension to Scandinavian studies, carefully outlined in his 1984 article “Nordeuropa-Studien: Die Skandinavistik als Kulturwissenschaft”.

This collection of essays is indeed a fine tribute to his work. It is sub-divided into four sections, covering political culture, history and the literature of memory, northern Europe, the Baltic and Europe, and finally, the organisation of knowledge and the university. With twenty-four contributions ranging chronologically from Ludvig Holberg to the experience of Vilnius as a capital of culture in 2009, and drawing into the northern European arena such diverse figures as François Mitterrand and the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, this is a stimulating and lively book (though it does demand of the reader a wide range of language skills!).

Coming to terms with the recent past has been one of the driving forces of Bernd Hennigsen’s research, and it is a prominent theme in this book. In his comparative study of Gdańsk and Szczecin since 1945, Jörg Hackmann includes a revealing extract from the introduction to a collection of photographs and memories of Gdańsk, written by the political activist and subsequent prime minister of Poland, Donald Tusk. For Tusk, and those of his generation, the revelation of the city’s past as part of the struggles of the 1970s and 1980s had a liberating effect. Given the huge demographic changes experienced after 1945 all along the southern Baltic coast, from Rostock to Klaipeda, this statement may seem strange, and Hackmann himself sees a new form of Polish identity emerging in these two cities, for centuries under German rule, based on the desire of the independent Polish state for a maritime outlet, and the shipyards as a symbol of modernity. Nevertheless, the evident interest in and enthusiasm for re-creating an identity for Kaliningrad drawing upon its Prussian past and the huge efforts to re-create a Pomeranian identity would seem to support Tusk’s belief in the invigorating powers of the past. (Interestingly, in his essay on dictatorship and transition, Stefan Troebst also draws attention to the importance of historical memory.) Hackmann’s study prompts one to wonder whether the socialist world-view will also be woven into the fabric of continuity. It certainly seems to have influenced thinking during the strikes of 1970—1971, more particularly in Szczecin, which followed a more “proletarian” approach than Gdańsk in the unrest that broke out a decade later. As Hackmann argues, Gdańsk was always more “political”, not only because it became the headquarters of Solidarność, but because there developed a strong sense of the recent history of the city, as a regional cultural centre and as a centre of heroic resistance at the outbreak of war. 

Tim Snyder has asked how Wilno became Vilnius, and he might well have asked how Danzig became Gdańsk: in both instances, destruction opened up the way for reconstruction, both physically and mentally. It is interesting and instructive to compare how the people of Gdańsk have approached their recent past with the way in which Vilnius was presented during its year as a European capital of culture. Antje Wischmann notes how the murder of nearly half of the inhabitants of the city during the second world war was seldom mentioned, and draws the contrast with another 2009 city of culture, Linz, which made the Nazi past of Austria a central theme. 

Coming to terms not only with “the great silence” about Germany’s recent past but also Danish unwillingness to recognise its own colonial history is the starting point of Manfred Hennigsen’s contribution on the political use and abuse of historical memory. Hennigsen examines recent examples of denial or amnesia about past atrocities such as the Nanjing massacre, and tentatively concludes that an all-consuming obsession with the Holocaust has allowed other mass murders to slip into obscurity. Another current obsession provides the starting point for Steen Bo Frandsen, for whom the furious reaction unleashed in 2007 by the publication in a Danish newspaper of cartoons of the Prophet evoked echoes of an earlier controversy. Jokes in the Danish press about the new regime in Germany soon got in the teeth of Nazi officialdom. A cartoon in Berlingske Tidende depicting two uniformed Nazis assaulting a man for reading a book on Esperanto, with a verse warning philatelists that it might be their turn next, a joke about a visitor to Berlin asking for the taxi driver to lower the window, only to have his attention drawn to the sign “Nur der Führer darf die Fenster bedienen“, the naming of an all-brown variety of flounder caught on the west coast of Jutland as “Hitler-Skrubber”, all roused the ire of German officialdom. When Hans Bendix gave leading figures of the Nazi establishment the faces of animals in a series of cartoons accompanying a two-page article by Oscar Hedberg, published in the Swedish paper Social-Demokraten in April 1935, this provoked an official protest. The veiled threat to Danish exports caused some alarm in Danish conservative circles, and both prime minister Stauning and his foreign minister P. Munch were moved to remind the press of their responsibilities. This was seen by the Germans as a victory, and used by the non-socialist press in Denmark to score points. Frandsen concludes by saying that even in totalitarian Germany, there was some tolerance of the peculiarities of Danish humour: in cultures that barely understand one another, such tolerance does not exist.

Five years after Social-Demokraten published “Mennesker og andre Dyr”, Denmark was occupied by Germany. As Jan Hecker–Stempehl suggests, the Germans in their willingness to maintain Denmark as a model protectorate were prepared to allow the Danes a good deal of freedom to uphold their own democratic traditions. Although anti-German sentiments were forbidden, positive evaluations of democratic values were permitted. Danish radio programmers sought to ward off or minimise German pressure by putting on as much Danish material as possible, and coming up with programmes that dealt with uncontroversial aspects of German—Danish relations, such as nineteenth-century literature. The occupation also offered an opportunity to put into practice many of the ideas that were aired in the 1930s about using the radio for popular education. Study circles proved to be the ideal medium for the dissemination of ideas. Although the numbers participating in the study circles dealing with citizenship, law and justice were relatively small, and the course material somewhat less than inspiring, the message was clear: Danes should not only value their own traditions, but should strive actively to support and develop them. Hecker–Stempehl’s contribution is a valuable corrective to the prevailing concern with the resistance movement. As he himself notes, hardly any serious attention has been paid to the wealth of evidence of concealed obstruction, “inner exile” and oppositional thinking against the occupation.

Yet another clash between Germany and one of its northern neighbours is the subject of Reinhold Wulff’s essay on the 1958 World Cup football championship semi-final between Sweden and the German Federal Republic, a match which the Germans lost 3—1. Wulff’s essay shows very clearly how legends arise. The match was not televised, yet many in subsequent decades claimed to have seen it on TV. (Wulff incidentally appears to be determined to set another hare in motion when he cites a recent article in a Swedish newspaper that seems to attribute the disputed third goal in the 1966 World Cup final to the Azerbaijani linesman’s memory of the wartime suffering of Stalingrad.) In 1958, the Germans complained less about the final score than about the circumstances in which the match was played. The initial reaction of the German press to their team’s defeat seems to have been moderate, but by the weekend, especially after Germany suffered a heavier defeat against France in the playoff, a distinctly anti-Swedish mood had developed. The Swedish supporters were accused of turning the Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg into a “hell” with their blind fanaticism, and the Swedish players themselves were portrayed as little more than mercenaries.  The Swedish press was not slow to respond. Torsten Tegnér, the doyen of Swedish sports journalists, drew parallels between the course of German history and the almost religious devotion to football of the German public. “Millions of Germans (of course, not all!) WORSHIP German football … just as millions of Germans during the old Kaiser’s time worshipped the army and the navy, just as millions of Germans in growing numbers worshipped the party, revenge and the FÜHRER in the 1930s.” Things got so bad that the West German ambassador felt obliged to intervene, organising a conference of German and Swedish sports journalists. Wulff concludes that, four years after winning the World Cup in Switzerland, the German football public experienced a national identity crisis when they were defeated in the 1958 semi-finals. Certainly, some of the language used by German journalists was pretty nasty — for some unexplained reason, the press in the Saarland seems to have been especially virulent — and one gets a sense of how thin the protective cover of the “great silence” could be during the 1950s.

Another sensitive issue is the subject of Seppo Hentilä’s contribution. Hentilä begins by pointing out that Finland is probably the only country that ended up on the losing side during World War II in which the historical identity of the overwhelming majority of the population is still based upon extremely positive images of the war. Defence of the fatherland, fulfilment of duty and heroism are still highly valued in a country that was spared occupation and radical disruption to political and social life. The darker side of collaboration with Germany from 1941 to 1944 has only recently become a subject of debate. Hentilä attributes this largely to the revelations of a journalist, Elina Sana, whose book on the prisoners handed over by the Finnish authorities to the Gestapo aroused foreign media coverage and prompted the Finnish government to commission a report from one of the country’s leading historians. The Finnish state tends to respond to controversial issues by setting up lengthy and well-financed research projects — in this instance on prisoners-of-war and extraditions between 1939 and 1955. The fragmentary nature of the material available for research has posed problems, but the findings of the researchers have not always made for pleasant reading for the Finnish public, particularly as there has developed a tendency since the collapse of the Soviet Union to see Finland as the ultimate victor in both its wars against its eastern neighbour.

In addition to his more academic research interests, Berndt Hennigsen has been an informed and lively commentator on the contemporary scene, and there are a number of contributions here that complement that interest. Walter Rothholz offers a sturdy critique of modernisation theory in the context of the Baltic Sea region. Maj-Brith Schartau discusses the reasons why a more confrontational culture has begun to replace the Swedish consensus model. Sten Berglund and Kjetil Duvold show why the Finnish minority in Sweden cannot be compared with the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland, even though the two minorities are roughly of the same size. The two final essays are concerned with international dimensions. Ursula Geiser uses her own experience of two research projects on music in a Swedish— German perspective to examine some of the definitions and difficulties of transnationalism, whilst Kazimierz Musiał looks at the role of universities in the Nordic countries in regional development and in the internationalisation of higher education.

These then are some of the contributions to this festschrift that have caught my eye. Undoubtedly, other readers with other interests will find much to engage their attention — the attitude of the main political parties in Denmark towards the highly successful early cinema industry of that country, social gynaecology in interwar Sweden, the influence of Knut Hamsun’s 1894 novel Pan on the German writer Friedrich Griese, to give a brief idea of the range of goodies on display. The editors are to be congratulated on succeeding in bringing together in one book such a collection of stimulating essays — which is indeed the finest tribute to a man whose own work always provides rich food for thought. ≈

  • by David Kirby

    Professor at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London. Among his publications are Finland in the Twentieth Century (1979), Northern Europe in the Early Modern Period (1990) and The Baltic World 1772–1993 (1995).

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Norbert Götz, Jan Hecker-Stempehl & Stephan Michael Schröder (eds.) Vom alten Norden zum neuen Europa Politische Kultur im Ostseeraum Festschrift für Bernd Hennigsen, Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, Berlin 2010, 458 pages.