News Analysis: Günter Grass's Easter present and the reaction that ensued
The timing could not have been better planned. Right before Easter, when Germany takes a bank holiday on both Good Friday and Easter Monday, Günter Grass released a bombshell of a poem on the German public criticising the Israeli government. It was actually published on Wednesday in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and a handful of other European papers, which likely had newspaper editorial offices scrambling to come up with a response for Thursday's edition before the long weekend.
Here's a translation that the Guardian provided of 'What Must Be Said' http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/apr/05/gunter-grass-what-must-be-said .
Much has been written about the quality of the poem and the Nobel laureate's motives in writing it, but judging by the swift and biting criticism that followed it clearly touched a nerve. Mr Grass's political views were hardly a surprise (this was not the first time that he's been in the news criticising Israel) and in his poem he even predicted the sort of personal attacks that would result from his political statement.
And the firestorm came. As if on cue, outcry from every side of the political spectrum erupted in the German, as well as the international media. Frank Schirrmacher in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung insisted that the ensuing debate about whether a German is allowed to publicly criticise Israel is the writer's personal attempt to make peace with his past. The use of terms such as 'Überlebende' (survivors) and 'auslöschende (des Volkes)' (extermination) is a direct allusion to the Holocaust and a not so subtle attempt to compare Israel's government to the aggressors in World War II.
Although Grass's membership in the Waffen-SS, which he only revealed as late as 2006, was the issue many used to simply dismiss both him and his argument, there were some who actually went through and dissected the poem critically. Munich's Abendzeitung printed a copy and highlighted the deceptive, if not misleading, language that was used.
From the term 'Maulheld' (loudmouth) to diminish the threat posed by Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the idea that by simply taking away both sides nuclear capabilities there would be peace in the region, many of the ideas posed are naïve at best. According to the Welt am Sonntag's Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, there is a 'radical pacifism' in Germany for which Mr Grass has decided to make himself a spokesman.
There is an entire generation of people raised in post-war Germany who believe war should be avoided at all costs. Some of these people remember the build up to the invasion of Iraq, and cannot help but find parallels to the Israeli government's political manoeuvring.
In Spiegel Online, Jakob Augstein suggests that by breaking this taboo, the Mr Grass has done the Germans a favour. By criticising Israel, something Germans aren't supposed to do, he has brought the topic to the table in a way that few others would.
The fact that the debate has continued to focus on the inappropriateness of a man with Grass's background speaking out, as well as the inconsistencies in his poem's logic, seem to have defeated what the writer originally intended. The paper that published the original poem a very long week ago, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, has tried to sum up the whole ordeal and explain the avalanche of criticism. The assessment of the paper's Stefan Kornelius was that the poem confused cause and effect. To misrepresent Israel as the provocateur, rather than Iran, is a serious misreading of the facts.
The Germans are particularly sensitive when it comes to loudmouths who are not taken seriously. To underestimate the danger that Iran's president poses is a sort of appeasement that the world knows all too well.