Catherine the Great: Over
two centuries ago, the monarch declared
Crimea Russian 'henceforth
and for all time.' So why all the fuss now?
'Fissures' in Europe: Putin, Propaganda, and Patriotism (Handelsblatt, Germany)
"The 'right to self-determination of peoples' that has been
held up with such ceremonial pathos in Europe is an ambivalent category. In
reality, Europe only wants the 'right to self-determination' for nations
exactly as they currently exist. ... Not only does the Crimea crisis unmask the
heavy-handed superpower aspirations of Russia and its attention-hungry
president, it also uncovers Europe's inner weaknesses, as well as the continent's
ambiguities. Putin serves only too well as a scapegoat."
There is a fissure
running through Germany: Russia's detractors are confronted by increasing numbers
of Putin sympathizers. In the process, the precarious mélange of the European
identity is being revealed. Five insights from the Ukraine crisis.
the Crimean crisis, the political debate is slowly opening up. There are suddenly
Putin sympathizers and the winds of propaganda are abating. In the process, the
delicate mélange of the European identity is being revealed. Five observations
on the Crimean debate:
First of all, the
problem of time
look at the conflict using different time horizons as frames of reference. When
Putin critics think of Europe, they have in mind European nations as they were
structured in1898. To them this is a standard considered inviolable. Russia
sympathizers, such as Social Democrats like Helmut Schmidt all the way to conservatives
like Peter Gauweiler, are opening up new
perspectives. They see that Crimea has been profoundly Russian as far back as
the time of Empress Catherine
the Great: “henceforth and for all time (1783).”
this crisis, the idea that somehow European history didn't begin until 1933, an
idea especially prevalent in Germany, is proving to be a case of wearing
blinders. Europe's long lines of conflict and identity are underestimated and
shape the continent so profoundly that their power unfolds again and again. Clearly,
the national boundaries of 1945-1989 are not the ultimate and most pleasing configuration
Ukraine, Western Europe is engaged in a struggle against the East, just as it
has been for centuries. The years 395 (after the death of Theodosius I when the Roman
Empire was divided) and 1054 (when Europe split into an Orthodox
and a Catholic world) are suddenly relevant again. Along this historical
line of demarcation, as in the Balkans, it is very difficult for stable nations
to develop, which is why Ukraine is such an unstable construct.
in turn, is already looking East on the grounds of historic responsibility differently
from that of the French or Spanish. Pipelines, vehicle exports and Champions League
matches are not all that connects us with Russia. A common history of slaughter
in the millions during world wars influences our judgments of Russia's points
of view. That is why there is greater tolerance for Russia among the Germany's older
generation than among the young.
problem of dominance
critics accuse Russia of practicing intervention and hegemony. Russia
sympathizers, JakobAugstein for one, point
to the fact that the West does the same. In fact, the West pushed NATO's boundary
further and further toward Russia and built up upgraded it military
capabilities, although promises to the contrary were made in 1989.
the same time, with a missionary zeal, we energetically expand the E.U.
eastward. We attempt to enforce our political, cultural, and economic standards
in Eastern Europe as if that were a matter of course.
short: Objectively speaking, there is a strategic power struggle for Ukraine -
a classic struggle for dominance. Criticism of hegemonic practiced is simply a
rerun of old patterns from the Cold War. That is why Atlanticists
and friends of America are more likely to be found on the side of Putin's
critics, while NATO detractors revive Western self-criticism.
problem of autonomy
Europeans, the Crimean conflict exposes deep concern about the integrity of
their own countries. The aversion some Western Europeans have against position
that the inhabitants of Crimea should decide for themselves in which country
they live, which is at minimum understandable, says a lot about the unstable
conditions in Western Europe.
obviously, Catalonia doesn't want to belong to Castile; the Basque Country does
not want to submit to Madrid; Corsica wants to escape from France; Scotland from
England; and Venice wants out of Italy. Bavaria might even want more autonomy
within its federal republic. In other words, in fighting the Crimean “taboo,”
Europe also fights the unleashing of its own bonds. There are concerns that the
genie of regional autonomy will fly out of its bottle.
is becomes clear that the “right to self-determination of peoples” that has been
held up with such ceremonial pathos in Europe is an ambivalent category. In
reality, Europe only wants the “right to self-determination” for nations
exactly as they currently exist.
this is ahistorical
and questionable in its legitimacy, because the borders of Europe have been in
constant flux for centuries, and who is to say whether it wouldn't be wiser or
at least more popular to peacefully redraw them from time to time? By what
right does Europe deny Crimean Russians the right to be Russian? By the same
right that it denies Catalonians the capacity to declare Catalonia a free
problem of identity
the Crimean crisis is also the question of what Europe really is. Is it the Occident
united by Christianity? If so, moving regional borders would be a politically
marginal issues. It is a grocery store of economic interest? In this case, too,
the Crimean crisis would never have arisen, as commerce tends to be borderless.
Is Europe a democratically constituted federation of states with strong
democracies? In this case too, it should have been possible to find a
diplomatically acceptable path for the Crimean question.
the mask of Europe has fallen away, for Europe is not in fact unified, but remains
caught up in the nationalism of the 19th century. Even with globalization and E.U.
integration, nation states are still the all-deciding moment for this Europe.
That is why it's possible a conflict in Crimea today to feel as it did 200
problem of 'Realpolitik'
the long years of lightweight diplomacy, German foreign policy apparently lost its
capacity to practice hands-on, interest-driven Realpolitik.
In the Crimean crisis, it would have been Germany's duty as Europe's leading
power to resolve the conflict early on with clear power negotiations, rather
than to leave the field to the U.S.
with Russia is not only possible, one has an obligation to do so. One could
have exchanged Crimea for multi-billion euro agreements for rehabilitating and
stabilizing the remaining Ukraine. One could have demanded that the Russians
pay a price - natural gas guarantees for Eastern Europe and Germany,
disarmament, reparations, anything.
lurching from naïveté to ineptitude, we thought we could categorize Ukraine as
“Western” at our own discretion. And one is still counts on somehow hemming
Russia in by threatening sanctions. But that will not work, and Germany can ill
afford such sanctions. Making ridiculous threats is proof of failed Realpolitik.
only does the Crimea crisis unmask the heavy-handed superpower aspirations of
Russia and its attention-hungry president, it also uncovers Europe's inner
weaknesses, as well as the continent's ambiguities. Putin serves only too well
as a scapegoat. The repressive czar of an oilgarchy; a
dissenter who treats homosexuals and journalists like annoying flies; a militarist
and former member of the KGB who places the right of the strong above legal
strength; the lower-class macho man - it's so easy (and repeatedly justified)
to simply view Putin as Europe's villain.
yet, the generalizations with which the media and politics judge the modern, but
actually quite nuanced Russia, are sometimes quite surprising. Ironically, on
the 100th anniversary of stumbling into World War I, Europe is cutting out
masks and stencils of mutual consideration out of national resentment. That can't
be good.So if the debate is now open
and therefore more objective, one has to be relieved.