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Observers of German current affairs and historians of contemporary Germany have long been cognizant of the shadow that the Nazi past and its crimes cast over postwar German history. Likewise, it has long been widely accepted as appropriate that the “old” Federal Republic would develop a political culture marked by reserve and modesty on the international stage and in its public representation—whatever seemed the opposite of the pomp, power, and ruthlessness of past German regimes. Whereas the prospect of unification in 1989-1990 still triggered concerns about the country's possible relapse into attitudes and behaviors worthy of a “fourth Reich,” two decades later, Germans were treated to the news that theirs was “the most positively viewed nation in the world.” A few years later still, German Chancellor Angela Merkel found herself widely hailed as the “leader of the free world,” a phrase soaked in Cold War connotations and hitherto reserved for the president of the United States. Merkel probably had little desire for such a click-bait label; it was the world around her that had changed on the coattails of the global ascendancy of right-wing populism and authoritarianism, resulting, for example, in the British vote to leave the European Union (“Brexit”), the presidency of Donald Trump, and the attempt of the Polish government to do away with the separation of powers. With the strong showing of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in the 2017 federal elections, this development had begun to affect domestic politics in Germany as well.
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