Social commentary

Darkness over Germany

Professor Kurt Barling Middlesex UniversityProfessor of Journalism Kurt Barling recently presented Her Majesty The Queen with a copy of Amy Buller’s Darkness over Germany, which he recently edited.

It was feared the book, last printed in English in 1945, had been confined to history but, not only is it being reprinted, for the first time it has been translated into German with an extensive historical introduction written by Professor Barling. Die Stern German newspaper has called it “an important book, finally in German”.

Darkness over Germany (Finsternis in Deutschland), Buller’s only book, not only offers telling insights into the relationship between Britain and Germany right up to the outbreak of war in 1939 but, argues Professor Barling, has significance today.

At a time when there is increasing pressure within British universities to limit open debate on difficult subjects, it is a reminder that an open society depends on being able to hold often passionate and conflicting discourse between students, staff and visitors. If extreme views cannot be challenged in universities, Buller has the answer for where that can lead.

Dresden, Germany, after the British and American bombing raid that took place between 13 and 15 February 1945 (Image: Bundesarchiv Bild (CC-BY-SA 3.0))

Beyond killing

In late 1943 when Britain was deep in the clutches of war Darkness over Germany was published in England urging readers to think beyond the necessity of killing Germans to the political dispensation that ought to be established in Germany once peace returned. This was not the tract of a pacifist or an apologist, and it certainly was not a text that fell foul of the censor. We must therefore assume when the book went on sale at Foyles of London it fitted into a debate thought to be worth having.

The publication of the book was applauded by, among others, William Temple, the incumbent Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishop of Lichfield, friends of the author. Among the duties of the Bishop of Lichfield was the rather quaint responsibility of selecting a suitable monthly reading list for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the wife of George VI. Buller’s book was placed on that list and, in early 1944, as the doodle bugs began to rain down on south-east England, the author was invited to a meeting with Her Majesty The Queen to discuss what she hoped to achieve with her book.

Kurt Barling HM The Queen
Professor Barling presents Her Majesty The Queen with a copy of Darkness over Germany, alongside publisher Elisabeth Sandmann and Canon Ed Newell, the Principal of Cumberland Lodge (College of St Catherine’s).

Her Majesty The Queen described Buller to me as one of the most terrifying women she had ever met.

Born into a Baptist family in London in 1891, Buller was taken to South Africa with her sister while Britain was at the height of its Victorian Imperial power. She returned to Europe in 1911 aged 20 and between 1912 and the outbreak of the Great War she began her fascination with Germany through studies in that country and, once back in Britain, taking her degree at Birkbeck College in 1917.

In her mid-twenties Buller converted to Anglo-Catholicism and after the end of hostilities she got involved with the Student Christian Movement (SCM). It was, by all accounts, a vibrant forum for the debates that emerged from the catastrophic conflict. The younger generation proved keen to build new alliances and find a way to make this truly the war to end all wars.

There was a surge in interest in politics, ethics, religion and philosophy among university goers as they wrestled with the trauma of dramatic change across Europe brought about by that conflict. Christian fellowship among other ‘movements’ provided a forum in which men and women could come together to discuss the big issues of the times. These were not times of great gender equality and Buller proved skilful at being active and listened to in a man’s world. It is part of what makes what she wrote in Darkness over Germany so intriguing. Her Majesty The Queen described Buller to me as one of the most terrifying women she had ever met.

Extraordinary insight

Darkness over Germany is not by any stretch of the imagination an academic book but it offers an extraordinary insight into the way in which she experienced Germany in the 1930s. And what an unusual insight that was. At the start of the 1930s the British intelligentsia had grown fashionably intrigued with the National Socialists and Adolf Hitler’s brand of fascism. Britain had inevitably had a long and difficult relationship with its powerful European adversary. Many people in Britain were acutely aware that the punitive Versailles settlement had remained a festering sore for German nationalists who had never recovered from the humiliation of defeat. It is a book written before hindsight could cloud recollections that she recorded as a faithful account of what she’d found in her numerous trips to Germany, including the torch-lit Nuremberg rallies.

War is not just kill or be killed, but that there has to be a plan of how to deal with the peace before victory.

But coming to terms with Hitler and his movement as it first gained and then consolidated power through its so-called revolution was not easy. Nazis were not easy people to talk or negotiate with. By the same token liberal democracy was not seen yet seen in the positive light it now is – for many the clash between communism and fascism was one where people took sides. Amy Buller’s unique knowledge of Germany, her organisational skills demonstrated while leading the SCM and her commitment to her faith were seen as ideal qualities to build trustworthy links with Germany.

Buller persisted in talking to the extremists until the moment it could no longer be legitimately done.  That is when war was declared on 3 September 1939. But in the midst of the conflict she insisted in trying to understand the ideas that had radicalised German youth in particular so that the Allied governments knew how to deal with the young enemy once Nazism was militarily defeated.

Planning for peace

So here we are in 2016 and the book is just beginning to arrive in German bookshops under the name Finsternis in Deutschland. I hope it will give German readers an insight into the way some of the English were thinking about the future of Germany while Bomber Command was pursuing its air bombing campaign. It shows that it wasn’t all kill, kill, kill, although even Amy Buller acknowledged that in late 1943 there was very little other choice to bring an end to what was clearly a brutal dictatorship. It reminds us that war is not just kill or be killed, but that there has to be a plan of how to deal with the peace before victory. It also shows that at a time when extremists rule the roost it is important to recognise that those who believe in an open society must still champion those ideals, however dangerous or fruitless it seems in the midst of conflict.

A new English edition of Darkness over Germany will be published in March 2017.

Law & politics

After war and displacement

Brad Blitz Middlesex UniversityHow do the experiences of war and forced migration affect the mental health and well-being of the displaced? This is one of the questions at the heart of a Swiss government-funded research project focusing on the experiences of displaced women in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo involving Professor of International Politics Brad Blitz.

While the war in Bosnia ended more than 20 years ago and the conflict in Kosovo was concluded over 15 years ago, the long-term effects of readjustment in the post-conflict context has attracted relatively little interest. This is in spite of massive investment from the European Union, which seeks to incorporate the former Yugoslavia, by means of formal accession and association agreements and through aid and development ‘road-maps’.

Limited literature

There are multiple explanations for the lack of interest in the long-term effects of displacement. Many monitoring organisations which had gathered data during the immediate post-war period scaled down and have now left the region. Staff who previously worked in UN agencies or at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), often on six to 12-month contracts, have moved on to subsequent conflicts in Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan, or to regional offices in the Middle East. In addition, Bosnia and Kosovo in particular enjoyed limited capacity for social science research and for the best part of 20 years relied on international experts to design surveys and gather demographic data, until donor fatigue eventually brought such research to an end. Moreover, there is actually very little academic interest in the post-conflict experiences of former refugees. The literature tends to be limited by both geographical interest and temporality; that is we find some studies which focus on particular regions, but there is a shortage of comparative and longitudinal research on the return context, especially decades after the conclusion of wars.

A family mourns during a funeral at the Lion's cemetery in Sarajevo, 1992 - Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev (Mikhail Evstafiev) via Wikimedia Commons
A family mourns during a funeral at the Lion’s cemetery in Sarajevo, 1992 – Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev via Wikimedia Commons

Yet Bosnia and Kosovo are especially interesting to study for social scientists. They are divided societies with divisions forged not only between ethnic groups but also between political affiliations which reflect interests that emerged during the conflicts. In the case of Bosnia, these interests are structured around those who remained during the war and those who were settled abroad but eventually returned. In highly network-based societies, these divisions have frustrated the post-conflict settlement, and both the above states have made slow progress on the road maps set out by European Union institutions.

In response to the lack training and tradition of applied research, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation has been funding a series of activities under the Regional Research Promotion Programme for the Western Balkans (RRPP). Between 2008-15, the RRPP has provided more than £5 million to foster and promote social science research in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Researching the psycho-social effects of displacement

Under the leadership of Dr Selma Porobic, herself a refugee from Bosnia who was settled in Sweden, colleagues from Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo secured funding under the RRPP to devise a multi-country project to examine the psycho-social effects of displacement among women. The research team included 22 researchers and multidisciplinary teams in three countries, and sought to compare the experiences not only among people settled in the three locations but also among different categories of migrant (internally displaced (IDP), returnees and refugees). While refugees, IDPs and returnees may enjoy different levels of protection, there is little comparative analysis of how their treatment in the return context impacts on their eventual integration in the post-conflict state.

There are many psychological sources of stress, not least of which includes high rates of unemployment

What is particularly novel about this project is the way it combines several sub-projects including ethnographic and interview-based research with a large psychometric study aimed at individuals. The psychometric study seeks information about levels of stress, anxiety, quality of life, self-esteem among others. In addition, the project will engage Middlesex University researchers in a forthcoming visual ethnography project.

Quality of life

Further to a workshop held in Belgrade, Serbia from 9 to 11 February 2016, the team of scholars from the region were joined by Dr Rajith Lakhsman and myself to get to grips with the early findings. Initial results from the project suggest that after about 17 years the differences between these three categories of migrant are ironed out and all find some acceptance of their situation, even those who may still be based in collective centres and may have endured multiple displacements. Nonetheless, there are many psychological sources of stress, not least of which includes high rates of unemployment that undermine the reintegration of migrants, and the potential capture of human capital acquired abroad, in the case of former refugees (i.e. returnees).

The research team is about to embark on a large number of qualitative interviews into quality of life and other psycho-social indicators and will carry out more extensive analysis of the data which has been generated by the survey. One interesting finding is the degree to which displacement appears to have created new forms of social capital – clearly by necessity – which in turn has forced returnees to become more resilient. The net result is potentially lower levels of stress and anxiety. This has important implications for the management of refugee reception, in particular housing policy.

Brad Blitz teaches on the MA Migration, Society and Policy at Middlesex.