On the 80th anniversary of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, President Putin published an essay in die ZEIT in which he discreetly ignored all the details of the war of extermination and again appealed for cooperation. The media reaction was shameful.
Let’s take a sober look at what happened in Germany last week. Exactly on the 80th anniversary of the German attack on the Soviet Union, which cost this country almost 27 million dead, the Russian president himself published an essay in the former flagship of the détente policy, the title of which already signaled a willingness to reconcile: “Be open, despite the past”.
Putin spares the Germans from details
It is worth studying Putin’s reasoning more intensively. Already in the first movement it is noticeable that he avoids the classic Soviet choice of words and comes far towards Germany. He does not speak of the “fascist raid”, but of the “raid of the National Socialists” on the USSR. Likewise, the Russian president avoids going into all the terrible details of this most barbaric of all wars. He does not mention the exact number of victims, nor does he detail the German crimes. Even the word “war of extermination” he does not take in his mouth.
With a full three short sentences, he graciously passes over the most brutal atrocities of the German aggressors: “For the Soviet people, this marked the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the bloodiest in the history of our country. Tens of millions of people died. The economy and culture suffered immense damage.“One will admit: Putin could not have met the Germans more discreetly!
Putin mentions below the achievements of the Red Army in” saving Europe and the whole world from enslavement”, remembering" with gratitude the allies of the anti-Hitler coalition", as well as " the fighters of the Resistance and the German anti-fascists who brought the joint victory closer."
The Russian president uses a total of eight sentences in his essay to refer to the bloody past of the war against the Soviet Union for two sections.
Criticism of the West and promotion of a new cooperation
What follows can be divided objectively into three argumentation steps: Putin praises the achievements of the peoples of Europe in overcoming alienation and returning to mutual trust and respect in order to “draw a line under the European tragedies of the first half of the last century”, explicitly mentioning the historical reconciliation “between our people” and “the Germans in East and West of the now united Germany, which played a colossal role in shaping such a Europe”. He then describes from his point of view the genesis of the new tensions in Europe, for which he primarily blames the now five NATO eastward expansions. Furthermore, the Russian president complains that many countries, above all Ukraine, have been confronted on the Western side with the artificial alternative of “joining either with the collective West or with Russia.“The West organized the coup d’état against President Yanukovych and thus” provoked the division within Ukraine and the withdrawal of Crimea from the Ukrainian state.”
However, all this does not prevent Putin from pleading “for fair and creative cooperation” in several attempts: “Tensions are increasing, the risk of a new arms race is palpable. We are missing out on the enormous opportunities that cooperation offers us.“And here he again explicitly takes up a vision that ultimately goes back to Mikhail Gorbachev and that post - Soviet Russia had repeatedly submitted to the states of Western Europe: “This also underlines our suggestion to create a common cooperation and security space from the Atlantic to the Pacific, which could include various integration formats, including the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union.”
And Putin ends in a conciliatory way, even finding some self-critical undertones here: “We simply cannot afford to carry around the burden of past misunderstandings, offenses, conflicts and mistakes. A burden that prevents us from solving current problems. We are convinced that we have to admit and correct all these mistakes. Our common and undisputed goal is to ensure the security of the continent without dividing lines and a unified space for equal cooperation and collective development in the interests of the prosperity of Europe and the whole world.”
With this plea, almost twenty years after his famous speech in the Bundestag following 9/11, mostly in German, for which he received a standing ovation, Putin once again proves to be a Russian ‘Westerner’ who still sees Russia’s future in a united European area.
This alone was a sensation against the background of an impending new Cold War and the continuous bashing of Russia in recent years, which would have deserved a detailed reception and explicit appreciation in the German media. But how did they react?
Lie, scandal – howler-The echo in the mainstream
Even TIME itself, probably for fear of its own courage, could not resist garnishing Putin’s text with a detailed note, which not only described the genesis of the publication in detail, but also provided the correct terminology to the reader, who was anticipated as confused: Putin’s “exit” of Crimea was promptly corrected in “breach of international law” and “annexation”, whereby one could not take it, the threatening undertone was unmistakable, to point out that both the also the EU like – most importantly! - all commentators of the TIME would use this terminology. (By the way, the quality medium showed how much it thinks of its independent intellectual readership.) In addition, as a precaution, replies to this text were announced “in the coming days and weeks”. This set the tone for the following reactions.
And of course the now due Shitstorm was not long in coming.
The shrill outcry of the BILD newspaper on the same day was foreseeable. For the chief political reporter there, Peter Tiede, the text “in sum: a lie” and its imprint in the TIME was nothing less than “a scandal”.
In the same horn, but a little more sophisticated, Thomas Franke came across on Deutschlandfunk, also on June 22nd. Supposedly clever, Franke first tried a quote from the TIME founder Marion Gräfin Dönhoff, according to which it was the essence of liberalism “not to defame deviant ideas and not to pursue criticism of the existing as heresy, but to protect the minorities and to practice openness to the opposite”, in order to immediately pull the joker out of his pocket, that this was of course not an opinion piece, but a” propaganda article”, " so full of lies that it would take too long, refute them individually.“With which the clever author, in a bold all-round blow, avoided the trouble of invalidating even a single one of them! Even more lucrative than the Putin - appeared Franke apparently the TIME-bashing: “With Putin, the ‘time’ has given a platform to an irreverent person who systematically opposes discourse and considers liberalism obsolete. The editorial board has made itself a henchman of the Russian president.“A day later, he repeated in SWR2:” Sure, it’s great to have Putin in the paper. This increases circulation. But you do not have to print everything and certainly nothing that is so poisoned.”
To Deutschlandfunk, however, Franke’s comment did not seem to be enough, so that Samira el Ouassil was allowed to talk alliterately about the “disinformation of a despot” on the same Wednesday, a “disturbing signal” that “a wide-ranging, German-language weekly magazine” had given room.
In the Süddeutsche, on the other hand, a Nils Minkmar was laconic on June 23. “Howler” was simply the headline about his Putin - and TIME-crack. Similarly differentiated as Franke arguing, Minkmar postulated in original spelling: “To such an article belongs in this case the warning note, which is contained here flawless propaganda.”
Playing off the victims of the former Soviet republics against each other
And on the same day – one does not want to be lumped – then followed the first of the announced “replies” in the meanwhile heavily scolded TIME. Former Polish Defence and Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski opened the dance. Sikorski used the now very popular argumentation technique in the West to play off the former, now independent Soviet republics and their victims against each other, which he also combined with the also popular technique of insinuating something to the opposite side, which they did not say at all: “Russia”, so Sikorski completely correct, “was not the part of the country that was attacked by Germany first. It was the territories of the Belarusian and Ukrainian Soviet republics.”
True. How could it have been otherwise, given the undeniable geographical conditions! Unfortunately, Putin had already put a stop to his polemical calculation the day before. The Russian president had simply written: “Exactly 80 years ago, on June 22, 1941, the National Socialists, having conquered all of Europe, invaded the USSR.“Not a word about the fact that they attacked first Russia, and only then Ukraine or Belarus! Sikorski dealt with the history of Russian nuclear missiles stationed in the Kaliningrad oblast in a similarly original way. They are said to have threatened Europe even when he was defence minister, between 2005 and 2007. Nor does it say that it represents a Russian defense measure against the Western “missile defense system”, which Russia perceives as a threat and which was stationed in Poland, among other places.
The final argument, which was expected in this context, but was still missing, was finally allowed to deliver on 24 June, and also in the TIME, the long-time transatlantic-turned ex-Maoist and, together with his agile wife, head of the think tank “Liberal Modernism”, the green Ralf Fücks: Putin’s plea for a Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok aims, of course, to “finally decouple us from the US and exchange Western ties for an alliance with Moscow. There has always been fertile ground for this in Germany, from the far left to the far right.“Similarly, six weeks earlier, in the same quality medium, Fücks‘ ex-comrade and brother in spirit, the sensitive schöngeist Alan Posener had toned down and quickly recommended to the” cultural left “to” break away from the idea that peace with Russia at almost any price was a moral duty because of the German raid on the Soviet Union in 1941.”
50 Years Ago you were further
Gradually, one seriously wonders what the Russian president can actually do to successfully promote trust in Germany. Should he perhaps stand up again in the Bundestag and ask for forgiveness for the fact that the Wehrmacht invaded his country in the summer of 1941 and left only scorched earth and 27 million dead there three years later?
One thing is certain: many offers in this direction will soon no longer exist. No one requires German publicists and politicians to follow Putin’s argument one-on-one. The scandal is that all conciliatory sentences are deliberately overlooked or, unchecked, summarily relegated to the realm of propaganda, even perfidious lies.
But why not take Putin at his word and test him? From one day to the next, Mr Fücks, Europe would certainly not change its alliances! And would there really be only one either-or?
At the end of the 1960s, the West continued to be there: Despite the invasion of the Warsaw Pact countries, Poland was by the way very much involved and the bloody suppression of the Prague Spring in the summer of 1968, men like Willy Brandt and Egon Bahr courageously launched their policy of détente a little later, which decades later led to German unification and the end of the (first) Cold War.
By the way, the most important journalistic ally one day was – die ZEIT!