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Why pacifism in rose-tinted glasses doesn’t let Germany break up with Russia

Olexandra Zakharova
project manager The Page, political columnist
What Berlin needs to grasp about pacifism. Photo: Pixabay

What Berlin needs to grasp about pacifism. Photo: Pixabay

In some odd way, being Germany is at once hard and easy. No, "easy" isn’t the right word. It’s not easy, but rather convenient in certain aspects. And the convenience is of the imperial kind. Here’s why.

It’s convenient to brandish a pacifist stance while being a country that once went on an invasion spree, toppling nations like card castles and killing hundreds of thousands. And afterwards, not all those responsible for this continent-wide terrorism were punished for their crimes. They wrote memoirs, composed music, and gave lectures while their victims' families didn't even have a body to bury or a grave to mourn on.

So, after having reflected on this indisputably discomforting experience of an invader, a terrorist, and a Nazi country, who does this pacifist nation choose as a partner to atone for its crimes?

The USSR, and later Russia — that is, another empire with a death toll and a centuries-long history of occupation to match those of Germany. Ukraine appeared for Germany as part of the World War II experience no earlier than 2022, when the Germans suddenly realized that this country had also been completely occupied by their ancestors.

Moreover, Germany has spent years romanticizing Russia. It gave Putin applause during the brutal war in Chechnya, while its politicians and businessmen (who are often the same person — think Gerhard Schröder, tightly bound by Gazprom money) blathered on that it’s not war but trade that makes a difference — Wandel durch Handel, the notorious German creed.

In those very years, Russia’s been weaving its taut economic web around Germany — as well as Europe in general, but especially Germany. Meanwhile, Germany was happily unaware of the price of its comfort. The country drew on the opportunity to develop, celebrating tolerance and diversity, while the government supported vulnerable groups socially and built a social economy where people would feel protected.

They were so well protected that for them, war became a distant and alien thing from the past, something only third-world countries could experience. You don’t fight your partners, and you don’t care about children dying in Georgia or Ukraine while you enjoy being protected. You just need to negotiate.

Just negotiate with the terrorists so that we can further trade with them.

Because money makes a difference. If you cannot negotiate, why not let us negotiate for you? Why don’t you want to give up a part of your home? Do you even know how much your stubbornness costs us? We’ve done the math; here’s the bill.

So, while Germany (and, frankly, the rest of Old Europe) was walking into the same wall as during WWII in 2008 and again in 2014, Russia used their own narratives and weaknesses against them.

No doubt, the situation has changed after nearly a year of a full-fledged war in Ukraine. But be not deluded: it changed only circumstantially and only because the Ukrainians stubbornly and persistently refused to give up. Yes, the Ukrainian army turned the tide of the war thanks to western weapons, but the western weapons arrived only because not giving them (or at least not starting to give) in the spring of 2022 meant "losing face", which Emmanuel Macron is so concerned about when speaking about Vladimir Putin.

Would NATO be certain to use military force if Ukraine fell and if Russia went further west and took Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, or Poland (or even all of them)? Or would instead France and Germany reiterate their talks about "lesser evil" and "hard-earned peace", as countless as they are meaningless? They could certainly let Russia keep something for itself so that Old Europe could further flourish, trading with the aggressor, granting asylum to some refugees, and awarding Nobel Prizes to "fighters for the freedom of Poland, Estonia, and Russia" all at once.

Germany’s stance is not just the pacifist stance of someone who experienced World War II. It’s also the stance of a former invader conveniently partnering with the actual invader to redistribute the world. And if Old Europe fails to change quickly enough, it is in a certain way doomed.

The Germans most likely see it differently. But 2022 was a game changer exactly because of Ukraine’s emerging agency that burst onto the global scene. Ukrainians have kept fighting but also protesting whenever they discover someone plotting to partition their country without giving them a say — it would have been so much cheaper after all.

As the German columnist Jan-Philipp Hein puts it in his piece for The Guardian, the Germans are, most probably, genuinely shocked because they’ve been forced to see the world without rose-tinted glasses to grasp the fact that a terrorist cannot be defeated by pacifist talks. Even Jesus didn’t succeed in it — he was crucified.

Most probably, the Germans struggle to wrap their heads around the fact that the money and comfort they’ve been cherishing are also indirectly linked with the murder of people in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria, and Ukraine. The fact that their peace-above-all stance turned out to be hypocritical. These things are indeed hard to swallow. Especially when it’s so convenient not to.

The same way Russian liberals cannot (and don’t want to, to be honest) grasp why everyone tells them about collective responsibility — after all, they’ve never really supported Putin. Their leaders of thought, from musicians to politicians, reassure them that they don’t need to feel guilty for doing nothing out of fear of going to jail. Hold on, visit your therapist, and just ignore the war news. Just turn off the TV, and the war vanishes. Don’t steam yourself up.

This story can easily be expanded to a broader context — beyond Ukraine and even beyond Europe. Thus, we will notice that, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at the World Economic Forum 2023 meeting, the Global South is, for some reason, frustrated and angry with the West. Meanwhile, it’s less angry with Russia because Russia keeps lying that it does care about it.

The Global South is Russia’s favorite cop-out when it talks about starving African children, but it’s also an overused cover-up of the UN, which says it does "everything" to ensure the exportation of food and fertilizers from Ukraine and Russia — a noble effort that, unexpectedly, doesn’t lead to peace. However, there was no war in 2020 to impede the delivery of western COVID-19 vaccines to Africa, which arrived, if at all, after a months-long delay, at a time when the United States was already doing booster shots.

It’s not only Russia that hasn’t gotten rid of its imperial nature — it persists in other countries as well, taking different forms and hiding under the guise of fancy talks and goals. Especially in Berlin and Paris. And you can still be heard only after you, battered and bloodied, bury a hundred thousand invaders and say: "We need more tanks, please, it was already overdue yesterday, for soon this blood will run down your streets."

And this is certainly what should be changed in the so-called civilized world, not after the war but as soon as possible. So that we wouldn’t have to fight and, eventually, that comfortable peace may come, and not only in Germany. The peace once promised to the world by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt when establishing the Atlantic Charter in 1941 and laying the groundwork for the UN. The "peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries" and "in freedom from fear and want."

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