1 1 Fascism Belittlers and Russia Sympathizers the German Debate on the Ukrainian Crisis Author: Kai Struve (Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg) Translation: Anne Boden 1. Introduction The German discussion of the protests and the people s revolt in Ukraine prompted by President Viktor Yanukovych s refusal to sign the European Union Association Agreement at the EU summit in Vilnius on 28/29 November and of the subsequent occupation of Crimea and Russia s destabilization of eastern Ukraine reveals significant lines of conflict that are rooted in German history and the history of German-Russian relations. From the beginning, the events in Ukraine received a comparatively high level of attention in the German public sphere, and this increased further following the occupation of Crimea. At the same time, the debate in Germany was probably more contentious than in other countries. The discussion of Germany s stance vis-à-vis Russia in recent times soon displayed traits of a German soul-searching on the question of whether the values of a liberal-democratic culture are indeed firmly rooted in German society The Euromaidan 2.1 The failure of the Association Agreement 1 Given the number of reports and contributions to the debate, the following analysis cannot be exhaustive. It is based mainly on articles in national German newspapers up to the middle of April 2014.
2 2 When Yanukovych suspended the planned signing of the EU Association Agreement a week before the EU summit in Vilnius on 28/29 November 2013 and announced negotiations with Russia instead, most German media interpreted this as a conflict between the EU and Russia. In the view of many commentators, Russia had forced the Ukrainian Government to abandon the prospect of convergence with the EU by using threats of trade barriers and other means of economic pressure. 2 Already at this stage, they believed that Russia was not led primarily by fears of economic disadvantages as a result of Ukrainian convergence with the EU, but by a view of Ukraine as part of its own sphere of influence. 3 At the same time, some commentators criticized the EU for having been too hesitant and indecisive in its handling of Ukraine, i.e. for not offering Ukraine a firm prospect of membership and for failing to sign the Association Agreement quickly enough in 2012 because of the political trials against the former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and others. Others, including the former German EU commissioner Günther Verheugen, claimed that the EU had not made it clear enough to Russia and Eurosceptic segments of Ukrainian society that no new dividing line should be allowed to arise as a consequence of Ukrainian convergence with the EU. Verheugen and others were also critical of the fact that EU policy towards its eastern neighbours had not taken Russia s position sufficiently into consideration. 4 By contrast, other domestic motives behind Yanukovych s political U-turns and the protests, insofar as they were not connected with the question of Yulia Timoshenko s release, did not receive much coverage at first. With a view to the 2015 presidential elections, for Yanukovych, the decision not to sign the Association Agreement was also about securing loans to avoid 2 See, for example: Stefan Kornelius: Spalter Putin erreicht sein Ziel, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 21 November 2013, (http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/gescheitertes-eu-abkommen-spalter-putin-erreicht-sein-ziel ); Ulrich Krökel: Janukowitsch besteht die Mutprobe nicht, Die Zeit, 29 November 2013, (http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/ /janukowitsch-osteuropa-europaeische-union); Benjamin Bidder: EU-Abkommen auf Eis: Putin bringt Ukraine auf Ost- Kurs, Spiegel-Online, 21 November 2013, (http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/eu-abkommen-auf-eis-putin-bringt-ukraine-auf-ost-kurs-a html). 3 See, for example, Michael Stürmer: Europa hat gegen Russland verloren vorerst, Die Welt, 2 December 2013, (http://www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article /europa-hat-gegen-russland-verloren-vorerst.html). 4 Gescheitertes Abkommen mit der Ukraine: "Das Problem lag wohl in erster Linie in Brüssel", Günter Verheugen interview with Thielko Grieß, Deutschlandfunk, 30 November 2013, (http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/gescheitertes-abkommen-mitder-ukraine-das-problem-lag-wohl.694.de.html?dram:article_id=270613).
3 3 national bankruptcy as a consequence of a misguided economic policy and the large-scale theft of state funds by him and his family. While the IMF (supported by the EU) demanded reforms and greater transparency in state finances, Russia made the rejection of the Association Agreement a precondition of granting Ukraine a multi-billion dollars loan The protests in Kiev For the most part, the protests that began in Ukraine in November 2013 were viewed sympathetically in the German media. German correspondents in Ukraine were quick to point out that the demonstrations in Kiev should not be understood as a phenomenon deriving from a political and cultural division of the country into a Russian-oriented east and an EU-oriented west, but were driven rather by a broad movement in support of the rule of law and responsible governance standards in the European Union, but not in Russia or other potential member states of the Eurasian Union Putin strives for. 6 Nuanced reports from Ukraine by German television and newspaper journalists, including Konrad Schuller (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), Jörg Eigendorf (Die Welt) and Steffen Dobbert (Zeit), or interviews by German experts on Ukrainian politics, most notably Andreas Umland, Gerhard Simon and Wilfried Jilge, contributed greatly to a better understanding of events. A number of newspapers also published contributions by Ukrainian intellectuals (e.g. the writers Yuri Andrukhovych and Serhiy Zhadan or the journalist Mykola Riabchuk), who brought the perspective of Ukrainian civil society into the discussion. 7 5 Janukowitsch-Vertrauter: "Putin will die Sowjetunion neu errichten", Der Spiegel, , (http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/janukowitsch-vertrauter-putin-will-die-sowjetunion-neu-errichten-a html). 6 See, for example: Daniel Brössler: Warum es in der Ukraine um Europas Zukunft geht, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 23 January 2014, (http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/krise-in-kiew-warum-es-in-der-ukraine-um-europas-zukunft-geht ); Gerhard Gnauck: Schon jetzt hat sich die Ukraine europäisiert, Die Welt, 17 February 2014, (http://www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article /schon-jetzt-hat-sich-die-ukraine-europaeisiert.html). 7 Juri Andruchowytsch: Wenn du überleben willst, knie nieder, Die Welt, 6 December 2013, (http://www.welt.de/kultur/article /wenn-du-ueberleben-willst-knie-nieder.html); Serhij Zhadan on the protests in Kharkiv Die Menschen wollen das ganze System neu starten, Die Welt, 31 January 2014, (http://www.welt.de/kultur/literarischewelt/article /die-menschen-wollen-das-ganze-system-neu-starten.html); Ukraine: interview with four authors: Die da oben dürfen alles, alle anderen dürfen nichts, FAZ, 7 February 2014, (http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/buecher/the-
4 4 However, this view of the protests as a fight for the rule of law and against the erosion of democracy had to contend with forceful attempts by the Yanukovych regime and later mainly by Russia to denounce the protestors in Ukraine and the occupiers of the Maidan as fascists and anti-semites, as banderovcy (named after Stepan Bandera ( ), the leader of the radical nationalist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN: Організація Українських Націоналістів)). The image of radical nationalists from western Ukraine as brutal German collaborators during World War II has a long Soviet tradition and goes back in particular to the struggle of Ukrainian nationalists against the re-establishment of Soviet rule in western Ukraine after Extreme right-wing groups did in fact make up a relatively high proportion of the Maidan protestors in Kiev and symbols of radical Ukrainian nationalism, including portraits of Stepan Bandera and red-and-black OUN flags, were prominent. The western Ukrainian opposition party Svoboda, which supported the Maidan, drew on the tradition of Bandera s OUN. After gaining about ten per cent of votes in the last parliamentary elections, Svoboda toned down its position and none of its representatives attracted negative attention by making extreme rightwing or anti-semitic statements during the protests on the Maidan. Indeed, it was the Yanukovych regime that drew on anti-semitic stereotypes to discredit the opposition. 9 Much German media attention was also paid to the so-called Right Sector, an amalgamation of various militant Ukrainian nationalist groups, which played an important role as part of the men/ukraine-vier-autoren-im-gespraech-die-da-oben-duerfen-alles-alle-anderen-duerfen-nichts html); Im Gespräch: Mykola Rjabtschuk: Wer hat die Scharfschützen beauftragt?, FAZ, 21 February 2014, (http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/im-gespraech-mykola-rjabtschuk-wer-hat-die-scharfschuetzen-beauftragt html). 8 The OUN and the UPA are in fact responsible for serious (better: large?? serious klingt für mich etwas schwach); crimes committed during World War II. However, the image of these organizations disseminated in Soviet propaganda was massively distorted. Until now, the strong politicization of opposing interpretations has stood in the way of a more critical debate on these issues in Ukraine. See John-Paul Himka: Debates in Ukraine over nationalist involvement in the Holocaust , in: Nationalities Papers 39 (2011), On Svoboda, see Anton Shekhovtsov: From electoral success to revolutionary failure. The Ukrainian Svoboda party, Eurozine, 5 March 2014 (http://www.eurozine.com/articles/ shekhovtsov-en.html).
5 5 Maidan s self-defence forces. 10 Claims that the Euromaidan represented a threat to Jews and other minorities were sometimes accepted at face value in the German media. However, they were corrected by other reports that provided a truer assessment of the actual significance and role of right-wing groups The stance of the Federal Government and German political parties The response of the German Government reflected the prevailing trend in the public discussion of events in Ukraine. The government criticized Russia, was generally sympathetic towards the aspirations of the Maidan protestors, and urged Yanukovych and his government to seek a compromise with the opposition. 12 Criticism of this stance came mainly from the left-wing party Die Linke and media aligned with it. 13 By contrast, the other opposition party, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, championed the cause of the Maidan demonstrators early on, as evidenced in statements by Rebecca Harms, parliamentary party leader of the Greens in the European Parliament and Marieluise Beck, member of the German parliament. 14 Die Linke politicians criticized the support given by Western politicians to the Ukrainian opposition as a factor in the aggravation of the situation, and they 10 On Svoboda and its leader Oleh Tjahnybok, see Steffen Dobbert: Die Nationalisten als Revolutionstreiber, in: Die Zeit, 6 December 2013, (http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/ /ukraine-protest-swoboda-maidan); for a well-informed, nuanced assessment, see Konrad Schuller: Ohne Wolfsangel, FAZ, 10 February 2014, (http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/europa/die-ukrainische-opposition-ohne-wolfsangel html). 11 See, for example, Konrad Schuller: Der jüdische Kommandant vom Majdan, FAZ, 17 February 2014, (http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/europa/ukraine-der-juedische-kommandant-vom-majdan html). On the accusations of anti-semitism in the debate on Ukraine, see Anetta Kahane: Das plötzliche Interesse für Antisemitismus, Berliner Zeitung, 21 April 2014, (http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/meinung/kolumne-das-ploetzliche-interesse-fuer-antisemitismus, , html). 12 See, for example: The Government Declaration of Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel on 29 January 2013, (http://www.bundesregierung.de/content/de/regierungserklaerung/2014/ bt-merkel.html). 13 See the reports in Neues Deutschland and in Junge Welt, for example, Klaus Joachim Herrmann: Go West! nicht zum Spottpreis, Neues Deutschland, 25 February 2014 (http://www.neues-deutschland.de/artikel/ go-west-nicht-zumspottpreis.html); Hannes Hofbauer: Im Geiste von Stepan Bandera, Neues Deutschland, 20 February 2014 (http://www.neues-deutschland.de/artikel/ im-geiste-von-stepan-bandera.html); Thomas Eipelbauer: Faschistische Hegemonie, Junge Welt, 8 March 2014 (http://www.jungewelt.de/2014/03-08/021.php). 14 See: On the activities of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, see also On the different positions represented by the Greens and the left, see Matthias Meisner: Kampf um die Krim bei Twitter, Tagesspiegel, 16 March 2014, (http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/russlandukraine-gruene-gegen-linke-kampf-um-die-krim-bei-twitter/ html).
6 6 also seized on the smearing of the Euromaidan and the interim government established after Yanukovych s departure as fascist. 15 Thus approximately 40 Ukrainian academics engaged in research on the history and current status of radical Ukrainian nationalism found themselves labelled Faschismusverharmloser ( fascism belittlers ) by Ulla Jelpke, MP for Die Linke, after they issued a joint statement at the beginning of February explaining that the protests in Ukraine were not an extreme right-wing attempt to topple the government, but a mass movement in support of the ideals of liberal democracy Reader commentaries in Internet forums Reader commentaries on reports on Ukraine in the online editions of German newspapers were, however, characterized by a markedly critical attitude towards the prevailing media interpretation of events outlined above, particularly after the Russian occupation of Crimea. 17 Many of these commentaries saw the crisis in Ukraine as the consequence of a quasi-imperial policy pursued by the EU or the West, which sought to draw Ukraine into their spheres of influence. They emphasized the fascist elements of the Euromaidan and pointed out that in Germany too, any illegal occupation of public squares and other public buildings would have been ended in a short time by the police. 18 These readers showed little awareness that this was a revolt against the criminal abuse of power by a regime that had eroded the rule of law and was now apparently trying to put further obstacles in the way of democracy. They ignored 15 On the opposing views expressed by the speakers of the Green Party and Die Linke in German parliamentary debates on the situation in Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea on 20 February 2014 and 13 March 2014, see: German Bundestag, Stenographic report, 17 th Session, and thereafter; German Bundestag, Stenographic report, 20 th Session. Here, Gregor Gysi (Die Linke) demanded that the German government end its cooperation with the Ukrainian government because of the involvement of fascists and claimed that there had been attacks on Jews (ibid., 1524). 16 Ulla Jelpke: Faschismusverharmloser, Junge Welt, 15 March 2014 (http://www.jungewelt.de/2014/03-15/021.php). A German version of the appeal, initiated by Andreas Umland, was published on the website of the Heinrich Böll Foundation: 17 Jakob Augstein voiced similar criticism of the reporting : Die Mär vom irren Iwan, Der Spiegel, 31 March 2014, (http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/augstein-kolumne-putin-und-der-westen-in-der-krim-krise-a html). For a discussion of one-sided reporting, see Hannah Beitzer: Blick aus der Blase, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 19 March 2014 (http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/berichterstattung-ueber-die-krim-krise-blick-aus-der-blase ). 18 This finding is based on a cursory reading of reader commentaries, rather than on a systematic evaluation. There were, of course, several commentaries that expressed opposing views.
7 7 the criminal methods used by the regime to fight the protests intimidation, kidnapping and murder and were unmoved by the fate of the Maidan protestors shot dead by security forces in the period from 18 to 21 February. Here, they demonstrated a remarkable ignorance with regard to democratic values, the reasons for which soon became a focus of discussion in the German media. 3. The Crimea crisis 3.1 The occupation of Crimean as failure of Germany s policy towards Russia With the occupation of Crimea, events in Ukraine gained a new international dimension. In the German public sphere it soon became clear that this marked a fundamental break in relations with Russia. There was broad public approval for the German Government s approach of condemning Russia s actions without closing the door to dialogue. The fact that Russia s territorial expansion by military means was thus accepted to all intents and purposes and only countered with the mildest of sanctions since sanctions exist, 19 did prompt some disquiet, but only rarely strong critique. By contrast, there was vociferous criticism of the German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen when she thought aloud about strengthening NATO s presence in Eastern European states against the background of considerable concerns of eastern NATO members after Russia s annexation of Crimea. 20 At the same time, it was clear that the Russian occupation of Crimea meant also the failure of the previous policy of the West in particular Germany towards Russia. While Vladimir Putin had hitherto been seen in German politics and the public sphere as a political partner (albeit 19 Volker Ulrich: Wie Putin spaltet, Die Zeit, 10 April 2014, (http://www.zeit.de/2014/16/russlanddebatte-krimkrise-putin). 20 Von der Leyen fordert mehr Militär an Nato-Grenzen, Der Spiegel, 22 March 2014, (http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/krim-krise-von-der-leyen-fordert-mehr-praesenz-der-nato-a html); Florian Gathmann: Von-der-Leyen-Vorschlag: Koalition streitet über Nato-Präsenz im Osten, Der Spiegel, 23 March 2014, (http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/krim-krise-koalition-streitet-ueber-nato-im-ukraine-konflikt-a html).
8 8 often difficult), and Russia had been viewed as a country that was on a path, however circuitous, to democracy and the rule of law, now a confrontation reminiscent of the Cold War had returned. By contravening the international norm that state borders must not be altered using military force, the Russian Government had turned its back on fundamental principles enshrined in the European political order since the Second World War. 21 The project of a partnership for modernization with Russia seems to have come to an end, at least for the time being. In its place, a policy has emerged that has to focus on a containment of Russia s ambitions, even as it continues to seek dialogue with Russia. 22 Thus Russia has induced a conflict over spheres of influence, which it had previously accused the EU or the West of instigating. 3.2 The Russia sympathizers and their motives It is perhaps not surprising against this backdrop that many people in Germany have argued for more understanding of Russia in the context of its occupation of Crimea and attributed responsibility for the crisis to the West or the new government in Ukraine. These voices reflected the unacknowledged dashing of expectations and hopes with regard to Russia, for which not Putin s regime but others were now blamed. Branded Russland- or Putin-Versteher ( Russia- or Putin-sympathizers ), these people failed to take account the legitimate character of the movement in Ukraine, but also the views the democratic opposition in Russia, 21 Various comparisons of Putin with Hitler were based on Putin s claim that, by occupying Crimea and intervening in eastern Ukraine, Russia was trying to protect the ethnic Russian or Russian-speaking population in Ukraine. The Russian president was called Putler on Ukrainian- and Russian-language websites; Hillary Clinton then compared Putin s politics with those of Hitler in the 1930s; and Wolfgang Schäuble was strongly criticized for his comparison of the occupation of Crimea with the German occupation of the Sudetenland in See: Fragwürdiger Vergleich: Clinton zog Parallele zwischen Putin und Hitler, Der Spiegel, 5 March 2014, (http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/ukraine-konflikt-clinton-zog-parallele-zwischen-putin-und-hitler-a html); Florian Gathmann, Philipp Wittrock: Ärger um Schäuble: Merkel distanziert sich von Putin-Hitler-Vergleich, Der Spiegel, 31 March 2014, (http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/krim-krise-schaeubles-putin-hitler-vergleich-sorgt-fuer-wirbel-a html). 22 On continuities and changes in the stance of the new social democratic foreign minister Steinmeier vis-à-vis Russia, see: Jakob Mischke, Andreas Umland: Germany s New Ostpolitik. An Old Foreign Policy Doctrine Gets a Makeover, in: Foreign Affairs, 9 April 2014, (http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141115/jakob-mischke-and-andreas-umland/germanys-newostpolitik).
9 9 which denounced the occupation of Crimea and organized mass demonstrations in Moscow and other cities against it. There were, however, also other motivations for the stance adopted by the Russia sympathizers. Former federal chancellor Helmut Schmidt probably attracted the most attention of any of them when, in an interview in the German weekly Die Zeit, he challenged the view that Russia s actions in Crimea were a breach of international law with very dubious arguments and wondered whether there is any such thing as a Ukrainian nation. 23 Of the arguments in favour of the thesis that a misguided Western policy had precipitated the crisis in Ukraine, one of the most common was that in NATO s eastern expansion, the West had pursued a policy that Russia could only have perceived as aggressive. The West was now seeing the consequences of its failure since the 1990s to establish a joint security system with Russia in place of NATO. 24 An important argument here was that under Gorbachev, the Soviet Union had voluntarily relinquished its authority over the socialist states including the GDR and had thus ushered in the political changes of 1989 and German reunification. 25 The German Russia sympathizers who voiced their opinions during the Crimea crisis comprised people with very different motivations. They included representatives of German industry who do not want to jeopardize their dealings with Russia and thus avoided an explicit critique of Russian policy, but also people employed by Russian companies. 26 Fears about the negative economic consequences of a more serious confrontation with Russia, not least with regard to energy supply, influenced the German position vis-à-vis Russia in and beyond these circles. Russia sympathizers dominated in the political party Die Linke, where many still seem 23 Putins Vorgehen ist verständlich. Helmut Schmidt über Russlands Recht auf die Krim, die Überreaktion des Westens und den Unsinn von Sanktionen, Die Zeit, 27 March 2014, (http://www.zeit.de/2014/14/helmut-schmidt-russland). 24 Reinhard Mutz: Die Krimkrise und der Wortbruch des Westens, in: Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 4/2014, 5 10 (auch unter: https://www.blaetter.de/archiv/jahrgaenge/2014/april/die-krimkrise-und-der-wortbruch-des-westens#_ftnref5). 25 Helmut Schmidt and Gerhart Mutz argued thus in the aforementioned texts. For an opposing view, see: Heinrich August Winkler: Die Rückkehr des völkischen Nationalismus, in: IP-Die Zeitschrift, 17 April 2014, (https://zeitschriftip.dgap.org/de/ip-die-zeitschrift/themen/die-rueckkehr-des-voelkischen-nationalismus). 26 Former federal chancellor Gerhard Schröder is the most prominent example. See: Günther Bannas: Schröder erklärt Putin: Er handelt wie ich, FAZ, 10 March 2014, (http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/ukraine-gerhard-schroeder-erklaert-putins-politik html).
10 10 to hold on to previous allegiances and enemy concepts and do not recognize that fascism is rather on the rise in Russia, not in Ukraine. However, there were also Russia sympathizers among former supporters of the 1980s West German peace movement, long-standing critics of NATO, as well as social democrats shaped by Willy Brandt s Ostpolitik. Against their views, many commentaries highlighted the fact that Russia s policy towards Ukraine is not actually in Russia s real interest because that would lie in strengthening cooperation with the EU in order to modernize the country, but stems rather from the fears of the ruling elite around Putin that it will lose its grip on power in Russia, if a successful path to reform in Ukraine becomes an example for Russia Russia and Ukraine in the German historical consciousness But Russia sympathizers could also be found on the conservative end of the political spectrum, where some were apparently not averse to Putin s nationalist and imperialist argumentation. As on the political left, here buried aspects of the multifarious German Russia complex still seem to play a role. Integral to this complex are an established idealized image of Russia that draws on Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, and also the traditions of a Prussian/German- Russian hegemony in Eastern Europe going back to the time of Friedrich the Great, Catherine the Great, and Bismarck. 28 While Russia is thus deeply embedded in the German cultural and historical consciousness, when it gained independence in 1991, the Ukraine was a decidedly unexpected nation for Germans too. 29 The historical and cultural existence of the Ukrainian nation is still not perceived as a given in the current German debate, and as in Russia some 27 See, for example, Berthold Kohler: Über die Krim hinaus, FAZ, 10 March 2014, 1; Friedrich Schmidt: Medwedjews Doktrin und Putins Politik, FAZ, 26 February 2014, 2; Stefan Troebst: Putins Schuss in den eigenen Fuß, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 31 March 2014, (http://www.nzz.ch/meinung/debatte/putins-schuss-in-den-eigenen-fuss ). 28 Gerd Koenen: Der Russland-Komplex. Die Deutschen und der Osten , München 2005; Martin Schulze Wessel: Rußlands Blick auf Preußen. Die polnische Frage in der Diplomatie und der politischen Öffentlichkeit des Zarenreiches und des Sowjetstaates , Stuttgart See also the interview with Gerd Koenen: Die Stimmen kommen von links und rechts, Deutschlandfunk, 17 March 2014, (http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/russland-berichterstattung-die-stimmenkommen-von-links-und.694.de.html?dram:article_id=280261). 29 Andrew Wilson: The Ukrainians. Unexpected Nation. New Haven 2002.
11 11 apparently view it as a somewhat bizarre aberration brought forth by the rushed dissolution of the Soviet Union. 30 While the German stance vis-à-vis Russia continues to be determined to some extent by the memory of German crimes committed during the Second World War, the image of Ukraine is shaped above all by the image of the banderovcy as brutal collaborators of German rule, which derives from Soviet propaganda and has been revived by opponents of the Maidan and in state-controlled Russian media. Yet in fact, the Ukrainian territories suffered no less under German rule than other occupied Soviet territories. While all areas of Ukraine were occupied by the Germans during the Second World War, this was only the case in part of today s Russia The discussion of reader commentaries on the Internet and in opinion polls Without a doubt, the position of Russia sympathizers is a minority one in the German public debate and it has been criticized in many contributions to the discussion. However, to an even greater extent than before the Crimea crisis, reader commentaries on the Internet paint a different picture. As Die Zeit journalist Bernd Ulrich put it, in the Crimea crisis two thirds of all citizens, voters and readers disagree with four fifths of the political class. 32 In Ulrich s view, 30 Thus Jörg Baberowski, Professor of Eastern European History at Berlin s Humboldt University, argued: The Ukraine is a child of Soviet nationality policies and made the case for a right to separation from parts of Ukraine, without, however, mentioning that this right had just been asserted in Crimea by the same Russian armed forces that had denied it in bloody wars in Chechnya. See: Die Zeit Nr. 12, 13 March 2014, (http://www.zeit.de/2014/12/westen-russland-konflikt-geschichteukraine). For a criticism of Baberowski s theses, see: Ulrich Schmid: Das ist eine Nation, Die Zeit Nr. 13, 20 March 2014 (http://www.zeit.de/2014/13/ukraine-contra-teilung). See also the controversy between Jens Jessen and Andreas Kappeler, Jens Jessen: Teufelspakt für die Ukraine, Die Zeit Nr. 14, 28 March 2014 (http://www.zeit.de/2014/14/ukraine-unabhaengigkeit); Andreas Kappeler: In Kiew entstand die Nation, Die Zeit Nr. 15, 3 April 2014 (http://www.zeit.de/2014/15/ukraineplaedoyer-eigenstaendigkeit).tsee also Andreas Kappeler s nuanced account of Ukrainian-Russian relations, Andreas Kappeler: Russlands imperiales Erbe: Der große Bruder und die kleine Schwester, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 19 March 2014, (http://www.nzz.ch/aktuell/international/auslandnachrichten/der-grosse-bruder-und-die-kleine-schwester ). 31 For a criticism of the distorted German memory of World War II, see: Timothy Snyder: Spielchen mit der Vergangenheit, in: Der Spiegel, 17 February 2014, ; and idem: Putins Projekt, FAZ, 13 April 2014, (http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/die-gegenwart/ukraine-putins-projekt html). 32 Ulrich: Wie Putin spaltet.
12 12 the commentaries reveal not so much a pro-russian stance per se as a deep distrust of Western policies and in particular the USA, which has been reinforced by other wars in contravention of international law (e.g. in Iraq) and, more recently, by the NSA affair. Given everything they have been used to legitimize in recent years, talk about the rule of law and democracy is increasingly perceived as cynical and only produces anti-western and anti-american reflexes. 33 Internet commentaries are by no means representative of the stance of the German population. Surveys show a clear increase in the level of distrust of Russia and the perception of a threat emanating from it. However, this does not mean that people think that Germany or the West should enter into a more explicit confrontation with Russia over its expansion into Crimea and attempts at destabilizing Ukraine. Thus in a survey conducted in late March 2014, a clear majority were against a greater NATO presence in Eastern Europe and a majority were in favour of Germany occupying a middle ground between the West and Russia instead of positioning itself firmly in the Western alliance. 34 In another survey, 33 per cent of respondents believed that there were good reasons for the annexation of Crimea by Russia. A relative majority of 43 per cent agreed with the following statement: Even if the West does not agree with Russia s politics, it should try to understand Russia s politics and negotiate with Russia. That s the only way to influence Russia. 35 This statement corresponds with the strategy of the German government. It was unequivocal in its criticism of Russia s actions in Crimea. However, like other Western states, it has accepted the annexation of Crimea, at least for the time being, and hopes to resolve the crisis by lending economic and political support to the new government in Kiev and by dissuading Russia from further destabilizing the situation or even annexing eastern Ukraine. 33 See also Sebastian Fischer: Deutsche Sicht auf Russland: In der antiamerikanischen Nische, Der Spiegel, 18 April 2014 (http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/ukraine-und-russland-anti-amerikanismus-in-deutschland-a html). 34 ARD-Deutschlandtrend 4/2014, 3 6 (http://www.infratest-dimap.de/uploads/media/dt1404_bericht.pdf). 35 Renate Köcher: Allensbach Umfrage: Ein gefährliches Land, FAZ, 15 April 2014, (http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/allensbach-umfrage-zum-russlandbild-der-deutschen html).
13 13 4. Conclusion On the whole, the current Ukraine crisis has shown the remarkable strength and political relevance of memories of the Second World War. This is clear not just in the defamation of Western-oriented political groups in Ukraine as fascists and banderovcy, in the comparison of the change of government in Kiev in the end of February 2014 with the 1941 German invasion in many Russian media, and in the considerable impact of such images in eastern Ukraine and Russia. 36 The memory of the Second World War also determines German attitudes to Russia, which tends to be seamlessly equated with the Soviet Union. From this perspective, good and friendly cooperation with Russia is seen as the result of a successful reconciliation after the German crimes of World War II, while a new confrontation seems to evidence the failure of that reconciliation. However, the same German duty deriving from the Second World War applies no less to Ukraine and other Eastern European states, which now find themselves increasingly threatened by Russia. Above all, the memory of the Second World War obliges us to strengthen the principles of the rule of law and democratic participation in domestic politics and in resolving conflicts between states in accordance with the norms and treaties of international law. Both has been called into question by the current Russian government. 36 See also Konrad Schuller: Sagen Sie Merkel: Wir wollen eure Panzer nicht, FAZ, 20 April 2014, (http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/europa/ukraine-krise-sagen-sie-merkel-wir-wollen-eure-panzer-nicht p3.html?printpagedarticle=true#pageindex_3).