From Sedan to Snowden: the allegory of distancing

Over the past few weeks, we have seen Germany waging a veritable media war against American surveillance in the wake of agent Snowden’s revelations. The public hysteria also stems from feelings of humaneness and compassion towards Angela Merkel, probably more on account of her position as the mother of Europe than due to her role as Chancellor of Germany.

The cross-party wall put up around the Chancellor by the Greens, the Social Democrats and the Socialists leads us to forget that parliamentary elections were held in Germany barely a month ago. Senior figures in party political leaderships even want Snowden to be brought to Germany and granted political asylum.

For a cultural nation such as Germany, the name Snowden is deeply symbolic. Against the background of the historical similarities between Germany’s emancipation from France, when the Reich was declared in Paris after the Battle of Sedan in 1870, and Germany’s emancipation from the USA as a result of Snowden’s revelations, there appears to be a more than coincidental allegory involving the names Sedan and Snowden at play.

Let us briefly sum up the history of the victory at Sedan. After the Spanish throne became vacant, Bismarck wanted a member of the Hohenzollern family to be installed on it. France was averse to the idea of becoming sandwiched between two states to the north and south with Hohenzollerns on their thrones and appealed through its ambassador to King William I of Prussia, who was on holiday at the resort of Bad Ems. The French ambassador asked the King to publish a statement pledging not to support the accession of a Hohenzollern to the Spanish throne. The monarch refused to issue such a statement and sent Bismarck a telegram in which he reported his discussion with the French ambassador. Bismarck used this telegram, which became known to history as the Ems Dispatch, to issue a brief press statement. The changes made by Bismarck and the sharpened and abridged wording used by the German Chancellor enraged the French public. Its pride injured, the latter demanded war. The German Chancellor contrived to misrepresent the telegram so that a dynastic dispute affecting the House of Hohenzollern would become an issue of national importance for Prussia. Bismarck’s tactic worked: due to the internal political tensions in France, Paris viewed Bismarck’s actions as a major provocation. In the end, France was forced to declare war against Prussia.

The victory over France at Sedan in 1870 paved the way for the proclamation of the German Reich as a unified state under Bismarck in 1871. The war against France was the last one prior to German unification, and the goal of the subsequent wars waged by Germany was to unify Europe.

Just like the scandalous Ems text, other inflammatory texts which have entered the public domain are stirring up tensions in Western relations. But who stands to gain from the revelations that are distancing Berlin from Washington and hence bringing it closer to Moscow? Germany and Russia, Snowden’s protectors, would gain from the new alignment. Alliance between Russia and Germany has always posed a threat to Romania’s existence. From the time of Bismarck’s hostility at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, where we gained our sovereignty after Germany ordered that Bessarabia be ceded to the Russians, to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918 when the Leninist-German agreement destroyed us and Germany occupied Bucharest, to the well-known Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Romania was always a buffer zone between these two great powers.

But since the European Union is taking more and more of a back seat as Berlin becomes more dominant at every turn, we would do well to monitor the revival of the Russo-German alliance closely.


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