Tragedy or Farce

European diary, 9.11.2020: Lies have a short memory. But does memory make us smarter? There are days when you get dizzy: from the gap between all the good intentions to “learn” from history, and a reality in which the wounds inflicted by one event, memory and trauma are transformed into the next nonsense and sometimes worse. In Austria, November 9 is for most people a day like any other. In Germany it sometimes rather comes with an overkill of memories. The calendar page on November 9th is now an almost unreadable palimpsest.
On the same day that the French Revolution ended with Napoleon’s coup d’état in 1799 (and Robert Blum was shot dead in Vienna in 1848 after the suppression of the revolution), Philipp Scheidemann and Karl Liebknecht proclaimed two German republics on the same day in 1918. Five years later, Adolf Hitler and his followers wanted to undo this “black day” of the German nation and tried to march from republic to dictatorship in Munich. Two years later, in 1925 on November 9, they founded the SS. And since they had gathered on November 9, 1938, as they did every year, to commemorate the “national revolution” that had failed in 1923, this night finally offered itself as an opportunity to open the hunt for the Jews and their places of worship.

On November 9, 1989, the GDR leadership, in turn, proved to be quite awkwardly forgetful when Politburo member Schabowski stuttered in a legendary manner in response to a journalist’s question about the proclaimed facilitation of freedom of travel: “As far as I know … that’s immediate, immediate” and unleashed a storm on the Wall.

Five years ago, in November 2015, a certain Heinz Christian Strache wanted to turn back the clocks and seriously recalled the Iron Curtain as a possible “solution” to Europe’s “refugee problems” (he obviously dreamed of a firing order and death strip). Like many an Austrian politician before and after him, he deliberately relied on forgetting, the lie with the shortest legs. Karl Marx already knew, when he wrote about November 9 (the “18th Brumaire”): “Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world-historical facts and persons happen twice, so to speak. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce.” But when it comes to November 9, nobody knows today whether a tragedy becomes a farce or a farce becomes a tragedy.