The Paler the West, the More Luminous Vladimir Putin (Die Zeit, Germany)
"One might well ask whether we journalists aren't partly
responsible for a caricature of the West that allows Putin to appear more
luminous than he is. Did we really mean to demonize the United States during
the surveillance affair? Did we write the E.U. to death during the euro crisis,
failing to adequately explain the advantages of the West and our free Europe?
For those who don't have an appreciation for the West, even someone like Vladimir
Putin can become a luminary."
do Alice Schwarzer, GregorGysi (Die Linke Party),
and Alexander Gauland of Alternative
for Deutschland have in common? They are all promoting a better understanding
of Russia. In the debate about the proper European response to Russia's
annexation of Crimea, a strange coalition is emerging in Germany that if not
finding Russia's behavior perfectly correct, at least considers it understandable.
What are the motivations for thinking that the first annexation in Europe since
the Second World War is at all "OK?"
of all: There are lots of Germans who find this new division in Europe a great
cause of concern. They regret that the continent's 25 good years have come to
an end and fear the damage that "spiraling" sanctions would create for everyone.
These are people who not only understand Russia, but know and love Russian language
and culture. These are not the Germans we wish to discuss here.
is about those who willingly turn a blind eye to the Europe-wide dangers of Russia's
actions. Last week, GregorGysi
gave a speech in the Bundestag that illustrates the problem. Equating Kosovo
with Crimea, which [German feminist] Alice Schwarzer
is also doing, blurs the fundamental differences between these two
interventions. In the case of Kosovo, NATO intervened only after long,
unsuccessful struggle in the U.N. Security Council, when hundreds of thousands
of Kosovars were already fleeing the country. No one annexed Kosovo.
a time when there was no threat to a single Russian life or limb, Russian
troops occupied Crimea. Moscow didn't convene the Security Council - it annexed
Crimea over the course of two weeks. Not out of a humanitarian emergency, but strategic
Dreaming of a
Gysi's speech was really oozing with was his
anti-Americanism and contempt for Europe. That puts him in the same boat as the
anti-European right-wing members of the Alternative for Deutschland and right-wing
extremists. Together they form the first group of those promoting greater
understanding for Putin.
the right and left, anti-Western sentiment is a long-standing unholy German
tradition that many thought was a thing of the past. It pays to re-read the rantings of German communists and representatives of the
so-called conservative revolution of the 1920's. Even then, there were defenders
of Russia who barely knew the country, but who extolled it at the expense of
second group consists of enthusiasts who love a Russia that no longer
exists: A non-capitalist, slow, unsullied world, with an authenticity and depth
that can only be truly experienced in Siberia, or in the hours-long liturgy of
the Orthodox Church. Gerhard Schröder seemed a little taken with this on his first
visit to Russia as he stood with Putin in Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the
Savior. This, too, is a German tradition that finds its origins in social criticism
of the 20th century. Of course, that doesn't suit Schröder,
but then he quickly discovered Russian capitalism, which he liked just as much.
third group consists of representatives of the German elite who were once fans
of the United States. The "disappointed transatlanticists"
have more often than not experienced the Cold War in its entirety. These are real
politicians who today say: Maybe it's not a bad thing to have Russia keep the
U.S. in check after the Americans disappointed us so profoundly with their
interventions in Iraq and elsewhere. From this corner, we often hear calls to
grant Russia a sphere of influence, and to hold great-power talks with
Moscow about Ukraine's place in Europe.
Against a German
policy of responsibility
fourth group consists of those who never understood the eastward expansion of
the European Union. They already found Poland's admission to the E.U. erroneous,
and Romania completely inappropriate. Turkey and Ukraine? Can't be done! Often
these are the same voices that are most reluctant about certain German foreign
policy activities. No Africa program, no peace operations. Only trade, no action. The new policy of responsibility that Foreign
Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and President
Joachim Gauck are hoping to pursue has not been
well-received by this group. In the case of some, an anti-Europe element also
plays a role: Why don't we do more for Germany, instead of giving billions to
Brussels and Greece?
are many reasons for this kind of thinking, but one might well ask whether we
journalists aren't partly responsible for a caricature of the West that allows
Putin to appear more luminous than he is. Did we really mean to demonize the United
States during the surveillance affair? Did we write the E.U. to death during
the euro crisis, failing to adequately explain the advantages of the West and our
free Europe? For those who don't have an appreciation for the West, even someone
like Vladimir Putin can become a luminary.