From Berlin to Saigon and Back: The Transnational Imagination of West German Center-Right Activists

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 11:40 AM
Hampton Room (Omni Shoreham)
Anna von der Goltz, Georgetown University
This paper discusses the transnational imaginaries of center-right student activists in West Germany’s “1968”. As was the case for their peers on the left, their world opened considerably in this period. However, their mental map looked different: while leftists were inspired by anti-imperialist “Third World” liberation movements, center-right students did not fundamentally question the Cold War framework. Anti-communist conviction animated much of their activism. Thus, they opposed any movement that couched its goals in communist rhetoric, be it domestic student groups or the North Vietnamese. To them, walled-in West Berlin was a powerful symbol of communist repression and Germany’s division continued to structure much of their thinking. Emphatically pro-American, center-right students had surprisingly few concrete ties to the U.S. but sustained close links to their Christian democratic and Conservative peers in Western Europe. The left-wing 68ers are frequently portrayed as forerunners of European unity; this paper contends that this was even more true for activists of the center-right, who made Europe’s division a more central aspect of their campaigning in “1968” than the far left did at the time. While radical leftists sought to overcome Europe’s division via a worldwide revolution that would transform the West alongside the East, center-right activists focused their critiques on the repressive nature of the regimes in the Socialist bloc. Their version of what the world – and Europe, in particular – ought to look like arguably won out in 1989. The paper concludes that historians seeking to understand the links between 1968 and 1989 should pay more attention to center-right activism.
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