German-Polish Deliberation on Western Civilization
German Historian and Polish Publicist Discuss the Topic in Salon, MitteMarch 17th, 2015
On March 13th, the Embassy of Poland organized a debate about what defines modern day Western Civilization. With that in mind, German historian Heinrich August Winkler gave a presentation showing the historical development of our conception of Western Civilisation, and how its definition has changed over time. Polish publicist and specialist in Germany, Adam Krzeminski, also offered a more contemporary perspective on the topic. The discussion was held with reference to the current international situation, to see how recent developments fit into wider international history. Last year, Winkler published a work on European history, from Antiquity up to the present day.
“The West is not just a geographical area in the world”, says Winkler. It is more a construction of common values that spread throughout Europe, Northern America and other regions of the world. Winkler shows how Christianity, with the power of the pope and the Enlightenment, has influenced our history and is partially responsible for the free environment out of which those common values grew (after the American Revolution in 1779). Human rights and the separation of church and state became core principles of this civilization.
On the topic of Krzeminski, as to whether the West is still willing to fight for these values, Winkler states that people who object to them do not actually reject the values themselves. According to him, it has more to do with the political preferences and stances of each individual. Every time the value of human rights is contested, for example, it is only a small minority of people who challenge them, while the majority embraces the importance of the concept.
The dialogue was organized by the Polish Embassy of Berlin, and showed the connection of both countries in Central Europe. Winkler wrote specifically about their shared history during the Cold War. Germany identified more to the liberal constructions of government in Eastern Europe than the ones in France or Great Britain up until the 20th century. This bond is still apparent nowadays, as the country is balancing between contacts with Eastern and Western Europe.
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