"Revanchism in Germany."
Russophobia, revenge, and the corruption of memory.
The Scrum is pleased to bring Diana Johnstone back into its pages. In this exceptionally insightful piece the distinguished Europeanist leads us into those nether regions wherein we find the deep roots of the Ukraine conflict in unfinished ideological business and animosities driven by—is there another word?—the ugly sentiments that persist beneath the surface of the apparently placid surface of the German federal republic. In my estimation Ms. Johnstone is singularly capable of leading us into these dark places, there to shine a light that we may understand them and their malign influence on our world.
This piece first appeared in Consortium News.
— P. L.
PARIS, 12 SEPTEMBER—The European Union is girding for a long war against Russia that appears clearly contrary to European economic interests and social stability. A war that is apparently irrational—as many are—has deep emotional roots and claims ideological justification. Such wars are hard to end because they extend outside the range of rationality.
For decades after the Soviet Union entered Berlin and decisively defeated the Third Reich, Soviet leaders worried about the threat of “German revanchism.” Since World War II could be seen as German revenge for being deprived of victory in World War I, couldn’t aggressive Germany’s Drang nach Osten, its impulse to press eastward, be revived, especially if it enjoyed Anglo-American support? There had always been a minority in U.S. and U.K. power circles that would have liked to complete Hitler’s war against the Soviet Union.
It was not the desire to spread communism, but the need for a buffer zone to stand in the way of such dangers that was the primary motivation for the ongoing Soviet political and military clampdown on the tier of countries from Poland to Bulgaria that the Red Army had wrested from Nazi occupation.
This concern waned considerably in the early 1980s as a young German generation took to the streets in peace demonstrations against the stationing of nuclear “Euromissiles” that could increase the risk of nuclear war on German soil. The movement created the image of a new, peaceful Germany. I believe Mikhail Gorbachev took this transformation seriously.
On 15 June 1989, Gorbachev went to Bonn, which was then the modest capital of a deceptively modest West Germany. Apparently delighted with the warm and friendly welcome, Gorbachev stopped to shake hands with people along the way in that peaceful university town that had been the scene of large peace demonstrations.
I was there and experienced his unusually warm, firm handshake and eager smile. I have no doubt that Gorbachev sincerely believed in a “common European home” where East and West Europe could live happily side by side united by some sort of democratic socialism.
Gorbachev died at age 91 a month ago, on Aug. 30. His dream of Russia and Germany living happily in their common home had, soon after his visit to Bonn, been fatally undermined by the Clinton administration’s go-ahead to eastward expansion of NATO. But the day before Gorbachev’s death, leading German politicians in Prague wiped out any hope of such a happy end by proclaiming their leadership of a Europe dedicated to combating the Russian enemy.
These were politicians from the very parties—the Social Democrats and the Greens—that took the lead in the 1980s peace movement.
Drang nach Osten.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is a colorless SPD politician, but his 29 August speech in Prague was inflammatory in its implications. Scholz called for an expanded, militarized European Union under German leadership. He claimed that the Russian operation in Ukraine raised the question of “where the dividing line will be in the future between this free Europe and a neo-imperial autocracy.” We cannot simply watch, he said, “as free countries are wiped off the map and disappear behind walls or iron curtains.”
To be noted: The conflict in Ukraine is clearly the unfinished business of the collapse of the Soviet Union, aggravated by malicious outside provocation. As during the Cold War, Moscow’s defensive reactions are interpreted as harbingers of Russian invasion of Europe, and thus a pretext for arms buildups.
To meet this imaginary threat, Germany will lead an expanded, militarized E.U. First, Scholz told his European audience in the Czech capital, “I am committed to the enlargement of the European Union to include the states of the western Balkans, Ukraine, Moldova, and, in the long term, Georgia.” Worrying about Russia moving the dividing line West is a bit odd while planning to incorporate three former Soviet states, one of which, Georgia, is geographically and culturally very remote from Europe but on Russia’s doorstep.
In the “western Balkans,” Albania and four extremely weak statelets left from former Yugoslavia—North Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and widely unrecognized Kosovo—mainly produce emigrants and are far from E.U. economic and social standards. Kosovo and Bosnia are militarily occupied, de facto NATO protectorates. Serbia, more solid than the others, shows no signs of renouncing its beneficial relations with Russia and China, and popular enthusiasm for “Europe” among Serbs has faded.
Adding these member states will achieve “a stronger, more sovereign, geopolitical European Union,” said Scholz. A “more geopolitical Germany” is more like it. As the E.U. grows eastward, Germany is “in the center” and will do everything to bring them all together. So, in addition to enlargement, Scholz calls for “a gradual shift to majority decisions in common foreign policy” to replace the unanimity required today.
What this means should be obvious to the French. Historically, the French have defended consensus rule so as not to be dragged into a foreign policy they don’t want. French leaders have exalted the mythical “Franco-German couple” as guarantor of European harmony, mainly to keep German ambitions under control.
But Scholz says he doesn’t want “an E.U. of exclusive states or directorates,” which implies the couple’s final divorce. With an E.U. of 30 or 36 states, he notes, “fast and pragmatic action is needed.” And he can be sure that German influence on most of these poor, indebted and often corrupt new member states will produce the needed majority.
France has always hoped for an E.U. security force separate from NATO and in which the French military would play a leading role. But Germany has other ideas. “NATO remains the guarantor of our security,” said Scholz, rejoicing that President Biden is “a convinced trans-Atlanticist.”
“Every improvement, every unification of European defense structures within the E.U. framework strengthens NATO,” Scholz said. “Together with other E.U. partners, Germany will therefore ensure that the E.U.’s planned rapid-reaction force is operational in 2025 and will then also provide its core.
This requires a clear command structure. Germany will face up to this responsibility “when we lead the rapid-reaction force in 2025,” Scholz said. It has already been decided that Germany will support Lithuania with a rapidly deployable brigade and NATO with further forces in a high state of readiness.
In short, Germany’s military buildup will give substance to Robert Habeck’s notorious statement in Washington last March that: “The stronger Germany serves, the greater its role.” The Green’s Habeck is Germany’s economics minister and the second most powerful figure in Germany’s current government.
The remark was well understood in Washington: By serving the U.S.-led Western empire, Germany is strengthening its role as European leader. Just as the U.S. arms, trains, and occupies Germany, Germany will provide the same services for smaller E.U. states, notably to its east.
Since the start of the Russian operation in Ukraine, German politician Ursula von der Leyen has used her position as head of the E.U. Commission to impose ever more drastic sanctions on Russia, leading to the threat of a serious European energy crisis this winter. Her hostility to Russia seems boundless. In Kiev last April she called for rapid E.U. membership for Ukraine, notoriously the most corrupt country in Europe and far from meeting E.U. standards. She proclaimed that “Russia will descend into economic, financial, and technological decay, while Ukraine is marching towards a European future.” For von der Leyen, Ukraine is “fighting our war.” All of this goes far beyond her authority to speak for the E.U.’s 27 members, but nobody stops her.
‘No matter what voters think.’
Germany’s Green Party foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, is every bit as intent on “ruining Russia.” Proponent of a “feminist foreign policy,” Baerbock expresses policy in personal terms. “If I give the promise to people in Ukraine, we stand with you as long as you need us,” she told the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy-sponsored Forum 2000 in Prague on 31 August, speaking in English. “Then I want to deliver no matter what my German voters think, but I want to deliver to the people of Ukraine.”
“People will go on the street and say, we cannot pay our energy prices, and I will say, ‘Yes, I know, so we will help you with social measures…. We will stand with Ukraine, and this means the sanctions will stay also ’til winter time even if it gets really tough for politicians.’”
Certainly, support for Ukraine is strong in Germany, but, perhaps because of the looming energy shortage, a recent Forsa poll indicates that some 77 percent of Germans would favor diplomatic efforts to end the war—which should be the business of the foreign minister. But Baerbock shows no interest in diplomacy, only in “strategic failure” for Russia—however long it takes.
In the 1980s peace movement, a generation of Germans distanced itself from their parents and vowed to overcome “enemy images” inherited from past wars. Curiously, Baerbock, born in 1980, has referred to her grandfather, who fought in the Wehrmacht, as somehow having contributed to European unity. Is this the generational pendulum?
There is reason to surmise that current German Russophobia draws much of its legitimization from the Russophobia of former Nazi allies in smaller European countries.
While German anti-Russian revanchism may have taken a couple of generations to assert itself, there were a number of smaller, more obscure revanchisms that flourished at the end of the European war that were incorporated into United States Cold War operations. Those little revanchisms were not subjected to the de-Nazification gestures or Holocaust guilt imposed on Germany. Rather, they were welcomed by the C.I.A., Radio Free Europe, and Congressional committees for their fervent anticommunism. They were strengthened politically in the United States by anticommunist diasporas from Eastern Europe.
Of these, the Ukrainian diaspora was surely the largest, the most intensely political, and the most influential, in Canada and the American Middle West. Ukrainian Fascists who had previously collaborated with Nazi invaders were the most numerous and active, leading the Bloc of Anti-Bolshevik Nations with links to German, British, and U.S. Intelligence.
Eastern European Galicia, not to be confused with Spanish Galicia, has been back and forth part of Russia and Poland for centuries. After World War II it was divided between Poland and Ukraine. Ukrainian Galicia is the center of a virulent brand of Ukrainian nationalism, whose principal World War II hero was Stepan Bandera. This nationalism can properly be called Fascist not simply because of superficial signs—its symbols, salutes, or tatoos—but because it has always been fundamentally racist and violent.
Incited by Western powers, Poland, Lithuania, and the Habsburg Empire, the key to Ukrainian nationalism was that it was Western, and thus superior. Since Ukrainians and Russians stem from the same population, pro-Western Ukrainian ultra-nationalism was built on imaginary myths of racial differences: Ukrainians were the true Western whatever-it-was, whereas Russians were mixed with “Mongols” and thus an inferior race. Banderist Ukrainian nationalists have openly called for elimination of Russians as such, as inferior beings.
So long as the Soviet Union existed, Ukrainian racial hatred of Russians had anticommunism as its cover, and Western intelligence agencies could support them on the “pure” ideological grounds of the fight against Bolshevism and Communism. But now that Russia is no longer ruled by Communists, the mask has fallen, and the racist nature of Ukrainian ultra-nationalism is visible—for all who want to see it.
However, Western leaders and media are determined not to notice.
The Yugoslav prelude.
Ukraine is not just like any Western country. It is deeply and dramatically divided between Donbass in the East, Russian territories given to Ukraine by the Soviet Union, and the anti-Russian west, where Galicia is located. Russia’s defense of Donbass, wise or unwise, by no means indicates a Russian intention to invade other countries. This false alarm is the pretext for the remilitarization of Germany in alliance with the Anglo-Saxon powers against Russia.
This process began in the 1990s, with the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Yugoslavia was not a member of the Soviet bloc. Precisely for that reason, the country got loans from the West that, in the 1970s, led to a debt crisis in which the leaders of each of the six federated republics wanted to shove the debt onto others. This favored separatist tendencies in the relatively rich Slovenian and Croatian republics, tendencies enforced by ethnic chauvinism and encouragement from outside powers, especially Germany.
During World War II, German occupation had split the country apart. Serbia, allied to France and Britain in World War I, was subject to a punishing occupation. Idyllic Slovenia was absorbed into the Third Reich, while Germany supported an independent Croatia, ruled by the Fascist Ustasha party, which included most of Bosnia, scene of the bloodiest internal fighting. When the war ended, many Croatian Ustasha emigrated to Germany, the United States, and Canada, never giving up the hope of reviving secessionist Croatian nationalism.
In Washington in the 1990s, members of Congress got their impressions of Yugoslavia from a single expert, 35-year-old Croatian-American Mira Baratta, assistant to Senator Bob Dole, who was the Republican presidential candidate in 1996. Baratta’s grandfather had been an important Ustasha officer in Bosnia, and her father was active in the Croatian diaspora in California. Baratta won over not only Dole but virtually the whole Congress to the Croatian version of Yugoslav conflicts blaming everything on the Serbs.
In Europe, Germans and Austrians, most notably Otto von Habsburg, heir to the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire and member of the European Parliament from Bavaria, succeeded in portraying Serbs as the villains, thus achieving an effective revenge against their historic World War I enemy, Serbia. In the West, it became common to identify Serbia as “Russia’s historic ally,” forgetting that in recent history Serbia’s closest allies were Britain and especially France.
In September 1991, a leading German Christian Democratic politician and constitutional lawyer explained why Germany should promote the breakup of Yugoslavia by recognizing the Slovenian and Croat secessionist Yugoslav republics. This was former CDU minister of defense Rupert Scholz at the 6th Fürstenfeldbrucker Symposium for the Leadership of the German Military and Business, held 23—24 September 1991.
By ending the division of Germany, Rupert Scholz said, “We have, so to speak, overcome and mastered the most important consequences of the Second World War … but in other areas we are still dealing with the consequences of the First World War”—which, he noted “started in Serbia.”
“Yugoslavia, as a consequence of the First World War, is a very artificial construction, never compatible with the idea of self-determination,” Rupert Scholz said. He concluded: “In my opinion, Slovenia and Croatia must be immediately recognized internationally…. When this recognition has taken place, the Yugoslavian conflict will no longer be a domestic Yugoslav problem, where no international intervention can be permitted.”
And indeed, recognition was followed by massive Western intervention, which continues to this day. By taking sides, Germany, the United States and NATO produced a disastrous result—a half dozen statelets, with many unsettled issues and heavily dependent on Western powers. Bosnia-Herzegovina is under military occupation as well as the dictates of a “High Representative” who happens to be German. It has lost about half its population to emigration.
Only Serbia shows signs of independence, refusing to join in Western sanctions on Russia, despite heavy pressure to do so. For Washington strategists, the breakup of Yugoslavia was an exercise in using ethnic divisions to break up larger entities, the USSR and then Russia.
Western politicians and media persuaded the public that the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia was a “humanitarian” war, generously waged to “protect the Kosovars”—this after multiple assassinations by armed secessionists provoked Serbian authorities into the inevitable repression used as pretext for the bombing.
But the real point of the Kosovo war was that it transformed NATO from a defensive into an aggressive alliance, ready to wage war anywhere, without U.N. mandate, on whatever pretext it chose.
This lesson was clear to the Russians. After the Kosovo war, NATO could no longer credibly claim that it was a purely defensive alliance.
As soon as Serbian President Milosevic, to save his country’s infrastructure from NATO destruction, agreed to allow NATO troops to enter Kosovo, the U.S. unceremoniously grabbed a huge swath territory to build its first big U.S. military base in the Balkans. NATO troops are still there.
Just as the United States rushed to build that base in Kosovo, it was clear what to expect of the U.S. after it succeeded in 2014 to install a government in Kiev eager to join NATO. This would be the opportunity for the U.S. to take over the Russian naval base in Crimea. Since it was known that the majority of the population in Crimea wanted to return to Russia, as it had been from 1783 to 1954,, Putin was able to forestall this threat by holding a popular referendum confirming its return.
Revanchism in the E.U.
The call by Chancellor Scholz to enlarge the European Union by up to nine new members recalls the enlargements of 2004 and 2007 that brought in 12 new members, nine of them from the former Soviet bloc, including the three Baltic States once part of the Soviet Union.
That enlargement already shifted the balance eastward and enhanced German influence. In particular, the political elites of Poland and especially the three Baltic States were heavily under the influence of the United States and Britain, where many had lived in exile during Soviet rule. They brought into E.U. institutions a new wave of fanatic anticommunism, not always distinguishable from Russophobia.
The European Parliament, obsessed with virtue signaling in regard to human rights, was particularly receptive to the zealous anti-totalitarianism of its new Eastern European members.
Memory as weapon.
As an aspect of anticommunist lustration, or purges, Eastern European states sponsored “memory institutes” devoted to denouncing the crimes of communism. Of course, such campaigns were used by far-right politicians to cast suspicion on the left in general. As explained by European scholar Zoltan Dujisin, “anticommunist memory entrepreneurs” at the head of these institutes succeeded in lifting their public information activities from the national, to the European Union level, using Western bans on Holocaust denial to complain that while Nazi crimes had been condemned and punished at Nuremberg, communist crimes had not.
The tactic of the anticommunist entrepreneurs was to demand that references to the Holocaust be accompanied by denunciations of the Gulag. This campaign had to deal with a delicate contradiction, since it tended to challenge the uniqueness of the Holocaust, a dogma essential to gaining financial and political support from West European memory institutes.
In 2008, the E.P. adopted a resolution establishing 23 August as “European Day of Remembrance for the victims of Stalinism and Nazism”—for the first time adopting what had been a fairly isolated far-right equation. A 2009 E.P. resolution on “European Conscience and Totalitarianism” called for support of national institutes specializing in totalitarian history.
Europe is now haunted by the specter of a new memory. The Holocaust’s singular standing as a negative founding formula of European integration, the culmination of long-standing efforts from prominent Western leaders … is increasingly challenged by a memory of communism, which disputes its uniqueness.
East European memory institutes together formed the “Platform of European Memory and Conscience,” which, from 2012 to 2016, organized a series of exhibits on “Totalitarianism in Europe: Fascism—Nazism—Communism,” traveling to museums, memorials, foundations, city halls, parliaments, cultural centers, and universities in 15 European countries, supposedly to “improve public awareness and education about the gravest crimes committed by the totalitarian dictatorships.”
Under this influence, the European Parliament on 19 September 2019 adopted a resolution “on the importance of European Remembrance for the Future of Europe.” This went far beyond equating political crimes by proclaiming a distinctly Polish interpretation of history as European Union policy. It goes so far as to proclaim that the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is responsible for World War II—and thus Soviet Russia is as guilty of the war as Nazi Germany.
Stresses that the Second World War, the most devastating war in Europe’s history, was started as an immediate result of the notorious Nazi-Soviet Treaty on Non-Aggression of 23 August 1939, also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and its secret protocols, whereby two totalitarian regimes that shared the goal of world conquest divided Europe into two zones of influence;
Recalls that the Nazi and communist regimes carried out mass murders, genocide and deportations and caused a loss of life and freedom in the 20th century on a scale unseen in human history, and recalls the horrific crime of the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazi regime; condemns in the strongest terms the acts of aggression, crimes against humanity and mass human rights violations perpetrated by the Nazi, communist and other totalitarian regimes…
This, of course, not only directly contradicts the Russian celebration of the “Great Patriotic War” to defeat the Nazi invasion; it also takes issue with the recent efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin to put the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement in the context of prior refusals of Eastern European states, notably Poland, to ally with Moscow against Hitler.
But the E.P. resolution
is deeply concerned about the efforts of the current Russian leadership to distort historical facts and whitewash crimes committed by the Soviet totalitarian regime and considers them a dangerous component of the information war waged against democratic Europe that aims to divide Europe, and therefore calls on the Commission to decisively counteract these efforts…
Thus the importance of memory for the future, turns out to be an ideological declaration of war against Russia based on interpretations of World War II, especially since the memory entrepreneurs implicitly suggest that the past crimes of communism deserve punishment—like the crimes of Nazism. It is not impossible that this line of thought arouses some tacit satisfaction among certain individuals in Germany.
When Western leaders speak of “economic war against Russia,” or “ruining Russia” by arming and supporting Ukraine, one wonders whether they are consciously preparing World War III, or trying to provide a new ending to World War II. Or will the two merge?
As it shapes up, with NATO openly trying to “overextend” and thus defeat Russia with a war of attrition in Ukraine, it is somewhat as if Britain and the United States, some 80 years later, switched sides and joined German-dominated Europe to wage war against Russia, alongside the heirs to Eastern European anticommunism, some of whom were allied to Nazi Germany.
History may help understand events, but the cult of memory easily becomes the cult of revenge. Revenge is a circle with no end. It uses the past to kill the future. Europe needs clear heads looking to the future, able to understand the present.
Courtesy of Consortium News.
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The US has been getting away with murder (literally) for decades. One wonders how long it will take Europe to realize that they have sold their soul to the devil. Will it be when the populace rises up or will it be when their businesses start to fail and take their economies with them? What goes around comes around. Bullshit walks and money talks but the US doesn't really have money anymore. All we have is very fancy toilet paper.
good piece. sadly, facts and accurate historical memory are proving impotent against IT demagogues