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Germany Warns of Nationalism Risks 30 Years After Reunification

Germany warned that nationalism risks undermining the international political system, which helped pave the way for the country’s reunification.

Marking 30 years since the day East and West Germany combined “makes us aware of the benefits of the international order, which is today so seriously challenged — unfortunately even in Western societies,” President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Saturday in Potsdam.

“We Germans stand for international cooperation, even if it’s become more difficult,” he said in a speech at the country’s reunification festivities on its Day of Unity holiday, adding that Germany had rejected “national navel gazing.”

Germany was politically unified less than a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 after peaceful protests weakened the former communist government. The country was divided at the end of World War II, with the former Soviet Union maintaining influence over the eastern part of the country. The standoff between the Soviet Union and the allied powers led to the construction of the Berlin Wall that cut off West Berlin from East Germany after 1961.

Under Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in the East, Germany has been an ardent defender of multilateral institutions like NATO, the European Union and the World Trade Organization. U.S. President Donald Trump’s America First policy has posed a particular challenge to the post-war system.

While Steinmeier didn’t mention Trump by name, he noted that the U.S. had previously played an important role in facilitating European integration and German reunification. He thanked “this America.”

The German president, the official head of state who doesn’t play an active role in government, pointed out mistakes in integrating the East, which still remains behind economically and is underrepresented in high-level jobs. The gaps have helped fuel the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany, which has a strong base in the former communist region.

People feeling disconnected from the political system creates “fertile ground for populism and extremist parties,” Steinmeier said. On the day of German unity, “we must painfully realize that the fight for freedom and democracy isn’t won — not anywhere in the world.”

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