Times have changed in Germany since Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize and spoke before 200,000 enraptured fans in Berlin. Only 6,000 turned out to hear him when he returned last year. Meanwhile, the media there, particularly since the recent events in Ukraine, has been resurrecting themes that were familiar during the Cold War. The political left is beginning to turn to Russia, and the political right is decrying the weakness of the Obama Administration. For example, while the overall tone of the main news magazine, Der Spiegel, has been anti-Russian, Jakob Augstein, whose column “When in Doubt, to the Left,” appears there regularly, wrote a couple of days ago:
Media and political pundits want to breathe new life into an old “face of the enemy” (Feindbild): the evil Russian. As far as Russia is concerned, the West is in once again stuck in the same rut as in the cynical days of yesteryear, when US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger publicly expressed his hope that the superpower in the East would go under “with a whimper, not with a bang.” Hillary Clinton just compared Putin to Hitler. That’s how one recommends oneself in the US as a potential Democratic presidential candidate. Meanwhile, the Russia policy of the two East Germans Merkel and (German President) Gauck is as resentful as if they were exploiting their offices for private trauma therapy.
Meanwhile the polls are showing that the public isn’t inclined to tag along. A majority of Germans do not consider Putin unreasonable for viewing the Crimea as a Russian sphere of influence. (As opposed to Putin) the tendency to ignore and violate borders is a characteristic of the West. It constantly seeks to fish in troubled waters (“periklitieren”), to use one of Bismarck’s favorite expressions, outside of its own sphere of influence. Or, more to the point, it claims the whole world as its sphere of interest. That’s just the problem.
The West can never get enough, and is therefore insatiable… The Asians have finally drawn their own conclusions: the lamb must now itself become the wolf.
It’s clear from the reader comments that appeared after a recent Spiegel article on the crisis that Augstein hasn’t misrepresented German attitudes. The article itself, entitled, “The Ukraine: Obama Expresses Scorn for Ukraine as a Regional Power,” includes the understated byline, “This isn’t how de-escalation should look.” Some typical examples:
The ineffectual US President dares to shoot his mouth off like this? He never seems to come up with anything concrete and positive except stupidities… I demand that his Nobel Peace Prize be revoked. (whiteelephant1)
The US is clearly on the path of escalation… It would be nice if the German media would adopt a more critical attitude, and not always just go along with everything the US/EU says. Putin isn’t the danger. The danger comes from those who now sense an opportunity to finish Russia once and for all. That’s what this is really about. (mc6206)
Very nice, Mr. Obama, just keep playing with fire. After all, thank God there’s a buffer zone between Russia and your homeland in case Russia loses its nerve. It’s called EUROPE! (Korf)
If Russia is just a “regional power,” and one has more important problems to deal with, why these hysterical attempts to isolate Russia and portray her in a bad light. Who is supposed to be swallowing such stupidities from Obama? (itf)
Well, we’re not exactly seeing a return to the last super-eruption of anti-Americanism in Germany that reached its climax about 15 years ago, but the honeymoon is clearly over.
UPDATE: Der Spiegel just published its take on an interview with former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt that appeared in the weekly newspaper, Die Zeit. Schmidt is a highly intelligent man whose memoirs are well worth reading, and who can hardly be described as anti-American. Der Spiegel headlines the interview, “Former Chancellor Schmidt Defends Putin’s Ukraine Policy.” The byline reads, “Helmut Schmidt finds the actions of Russia in the Crimea ‘completely understandable,’ and considers sanctions ‘dumb stuff’ (dummes Zeug). No doubt the situation in Ukraine is dangerous – however, in the former Chancellor’s opinion, the West is at fault.”
A few excerpts from the article in Der Spiegel:
Schmidt was highly critical of the way in which the Crimea crisis has been handled in the West. He referred to the sanctions imposed on Russia by the European Union and the USA as “dumb stuff.” In Schmidt’s opinion, attempts to impose further sanctions would be misguided. For the most part they would have merely symbolic value, “but they would affect the West just as much as the Russians.
Schmidt’s words provide support to those taking part in the debate in Germany who favor looking at things from the Russian point of view. Former Chancellor and party colleague Gerhard Schröder recently spoke in similar terms.
According to Schmidt, the situation in Ukraine is “dangerous, because the West has worked itself into a frenzy.” (literally, “has become terribly excited”) As a result, “the overwrought reaction in the West has naturally led to a similar overwrought reaction in Russian public opinion and politics.” Referring to the (reserved) policy of Chancellor Angela Merkel the 95-year old said, “In this case praise for the caution of the German Chancellor is appropriate.”
So far the editorial narrative at Der Spiegel has been mainly anti-Russian. However, there has been a shift to a more circumspect approach lately, with articles critical of right wing nationalists in the current Kiev regime, taking note of western media darling Yulia Timoshenko’s hateful tirade against Putin in an overheard telephone conversation in which she said she was “ready to pick up a machine pistol and shoot this piece of crap in the head,” suggesting the use of nuclear weapons to kill Russians, and so on. It is noteworthy that the German Green Party, which has tacked to the right in recent years, immediately condemned Schmidt’s comments, while the Party of the Left, positioned to the left of the German Socialist Party (SPD), praised his remarks.