Archive for ‘Germany’

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Huanqiu Shibao: Will Turkey turn East?

Chinese media provide relatively very little opinion on the coup attempt in Turkey and its aftermath, and prefer to quote foreign media. However, the choice of information sources may indicate where Chinese media pay special attention, and the article translated here ends with a bit of expertise from Chinese academia.

The following is a translation of a press review of sorts, originally from Huanqiu Shibao, and republished by china.com, a news portal in a number of languages (including Mandarin), that is apparently operated by Global Broadcasting Media Group, which in turn is operated by China Radio International (CRI). Global Broadcasting Media Group, as CRI’s investment vehicle, is also known as “Guoguang”. The following article – or my translation of it, for that matter – may or may not reflect the quoted sources accurately.

Links within blockquotes added during translation.

The BBC reported on July 20 that the purge of so many people had led to concern among international observers, and that the United Nations were working on making sure that Turkey maintained the essence of the rule of law, and protected human rights. Germany, on July 20, condemned the growing purges by the Turkish government even more directly. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said, “we see actions almost daily that damage the rule of law, with measures whose force exceeds the seriousness of the problems.” Some of the measures were deeply disturbing, and unconstitutional.

英国广播公司20日报道称,如此众多的人员被清洗已经引起国际观察家的关注,联合国在努力确保土耳其坚持法治精神和维护人权。德国20日则更为直接地对土耳其政府升级整肃行动表示谴责。德国政府发言人斯特芬·塞伯特说,“我们几乎每天都看到破坏法治的新举动,措施力度超出了问题的严重性”,有些措施是令人深感不安、违背宪法的做法。

Associated Press quoted EU Parliament speaker Martin Schulz as saying that Turkey was now carrying out “retaliation” against opponents and critics, and the debate about the reintroduction of the death penalty was “absolutely worrying”. The EU has warned that such a move would spell the end of EU accession negotiations with Turkey.

美联社援引欧洲议会议长舒尔茨的话说,土耳其正在对反对者和批评者实施“报复”,围绕恢复死刑展开的争论“非常令人担忧”。欧盟已经警告,这样做将意味着土耳其加入欧盟谈判的终结。

A White House statement on Tuesday said that President Barack Obama, during a telephone conversation with Erdogan, “had urged respect for the law while investigating those involved in the coup, in a way that would strengthen public trust in the democratic system.” However, the problem US-Turkish relations were facing go far beyond the protection of rule of law and of democracy.

美国白宫在周二的声明中说,总统奥巴马在与埃尔多安的电话中“敦促对参与政变者的调查应该遵守法律,并以增强公众对民主体系信心的方式进行”。但对美国来说,美土关系需要面对的问题远不止维护法治和民主。

According to a “New York Times” report, Turkish officials, including the foreign minister, demanded on July 19 that America extradite Fethullah Gülen. On that day, the White House confirmed it had received electronic documents from Turkey that was meant to serve as evidence. However, it was not clear if a formal request for extradition had already been made. “The ministry of justice will examine this material in accordance with the extradition treaty between our two countries,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. CNN said that according to the extradition treaty between America and Turkey, treason [as a reason for extradition] did not apply, but Turkey had given exactly that reason for its request. When asked if the Turkish government had any evidence for this, Turkish deputy prime minister Kurtulmus said that Turkey knew clearly that Gülen was the manipulator behind the scene, just as America knew that bin Laden had been the conspirator of “9-11”.

据美国《纽约时报》报道,包括外长在内的土耳其官员19日要求美国交出居伦。当天,白宫证实已经收到土耳其提供的作为证据的电子文档。但不清楚土方 是否已经正式提出引渡要求。“司法部和国务院将根据两国之间的引渡条约审视这些材料。”白宫发言人厄内斯特说。美国有线电视新闻网(CNN)说,根据美土 达成的引渡协议,叛国罪并不适用,但土耳其正是以此提出引渡居伦。在被问及土政府对此有何证据时,土副总理库尔图尔穆说,土耳其明确知道居伦在幕后操纵, 就像当年美国知道拉登是“9·11”主谋一样。

David Ignatius, a “Washington Post” columnist, writes that within the clamor of the coup aftermath, the US-Turkish relations, which had already been tense, could get into new difficulties, with the demand of extraditing Gülen as the most immediate test. Given the US and EU concern about the Erdogan government’s human rights record, this issue would be complicated. There were serious differences between the two sides about strategies of strikes against IS in Syria. During the past few years, the American-Turkish relations had come across as those between friends who were breaking up.

美国《华盛顿邮报》专栏作家大卫·伊格拉蒂尔斯撰文说,在政变之后的喧嚣中,华盛顿和安卡拉之间业已紧张的关系将陷入新困境,要求遣返居伦是最直接 的考验。考虑到美欧此前对埃尔多安政府人权记录的批评,此事将相当复杂。在叙利亚打击IS的战略上,双方已经分歧严重。近几年的美土关系向外界展示了一对 朋友如何一拍两散。

Could Turkey become an ally of Russia? Russia’s [online paper] Vzglyad writes in an editorial that Turkish prime minister [Yildirim] had already said, Ankara could review Turkish-US relations if America refused to extradite Gülen. Russia’s Izvestia quoted the Russian Academy of Sciences Oriental Institute’s Gadzhiev as believing that while it was premature to say that Turkey would completely turn to Russia, there could be some change. German Global News Network*) commented that a coup was now changing Turkey, and possibly the Middle East. Turkey didn’t trust America any longer, and the Middle East’s future could become more complicated.

土耳其可能因此成为俄罗斯的战略盟友吗?俄罗斯《观点报》以此为题评论说,土耳其总理已经表示,安卡拉或因美拒绝交出居伦而重新审视与美国的关系。 俄罗斯《消息报》20日援引俄东方学研究所专家加日耶夫认为,虽然说土耳其的对外政策将全面转向俄罗斯为时尚早,但会有所变化。德国全球新闻网评论说,一 场政变正在改变土耳其,也将改变中东。土耳其不再信任美国,中东的未来将更加复杂。

But Li Weijian [apparently a researcher from Shanghai International Issues Research Institute – not previously mentioned in the article] thinks that Erdogan’s intention is to broaden his presidential powers and pave the way for the implementation of domestic policies and of diplomacy, and this wouldn’t necessarily constitute fundamental regional or global change. In an interview with “Huanqiu Shibao” he said, Erdogan had always maintained [an approach of] benefitting from West and East alike, and would keep to this strategy.

但李伟建认为,埃尔多安的意图在于扩大其总统权力,为内政外交政策的实施铺平道路,这未必会对地区关系和世界格局构成彻底改变。他在接受《环球时报》记者采访时说,埃尔多安一直以来秉持在西方与中东间左右逢源,这一战略会继续。

(Huanqiu Shibao special correspondents from Turkey, Germany, Egypt – Ji Shuangcheng, Qing Mu, Wang Yunsong and Huanqiu Shibao reporter Bai Yunyi, Ren Zhong, Zhen Xiang, Liu Yupeng]

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*) Not known to me, or not under this name – JR

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

My main online Playground …

… is currently there »

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Shortwave Logs, April/May 2016: Okeechobee and the World

The Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival was going to “put Okeechobee on the map, worldwide”, organizers of the event were quoted in September last year.

But listen, toffee-nosed little startup: Okeechobee, Florida, has been on the world map for decades. WYFR, a religious shortwave broadcaster, operated transmitters there from the late 1970s to 2013, and relayed Radio Taiwan International (initially “Voice of Free China”) broadcasts to the Western hemisphere.

QSL Card, RTI Taipei, Taiwan

The easier way to get a QSL card confirming Okeechobee:
write to Radio Taiwan International (Spanish service)

Even the end of the world (and of all world maps, for that matter) was announced from Okeechobee. Granted, the studios were based in California, but anyway.

The WYFR transmission site was bought by WRMI, another broadcaster in Florida, in 2013, less than half a year after WYFR had ceased operation. WRMI’s broadcasting schedule looks like a who-is-who of European broadcasters who abandoned shortwave in recent years, and who now re-appear on WRMI. The schedule looks pretty complicated to me, but if you switch on your radio somewhere in northern-central Europe during the second half of the night, you are likely to hear some of them on 11580 kHz: Radio Ukraine International from 23:30 to 23:59 UTC, and then Radio Slovakia, for example.

Later in the night (or early morning), it will be  Ralph Gordon Stair, a usually ill-tempered preacher. So to quite a degree, the transmission site has remained religious, because Stair buys tons of airtime, via satellite and shortwave – from WRMI not least.

Stair considers himself a prophet and shows some interest in the future of Donald Trump,  New York City, and US-North Korean relations.*)

Whichever way you look at it, Okeechobee is likely to remain on the world map. Until doomsday, anyway.

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The A-16 broadcasting season started on March 27 (and will end late in October). The following is a list of some of my listening logs during the past few weeks, in northern Germany.
International Telecommunication Union letter codes used in the table underneath:

ALB – Albania; ARG – Argentina; AUS – Australia; D – Germany; KRE – North Korea; KOR – South Korea; NZL – New Zealand; PHL – Philippines; SVNSlovakia Slovenia; USA – United States of America.

Languages (“L.”):

C – Chinese; E – English; F – French; G – German; K – Korean. The table underneath might appear messy unless you click the headline of this particular post – or it may remain invisible unless you click “continue reading”.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Beijing: Foreign Experts wanted to avert more PR(C) Disasters

Life’s hasn’t been nice to China Radio International (CRI). The propaganda juggernaut hasn’t been mentioned in the nation’s chairman’s new year addresses in recent years (as had been a time-honored custom during previous decades), it had been described as a bottomless pit of waste by Keith Perron (a former CRI presenter himself), and the international broadcaster’s borrowed-boats strategy probably caused some chuckles in the industry, too. Other “international” media outlets from the Middle Kingdom aren’t really effective either. Whenever they catch attention, it’s for anchors losing it, or similar not so-work-related reasons – at least in Western countries.

CRI’s German service is a brilliant example of how propaganda on a foreign audience simply can’t work. On the past two Sundays, they broadcast the same edition of their “listeners forum”, with just one listener quoted there (maybe he was the only one who wrote in), and later on, a “report” on electrical power supply in Tibet (also the second time on two consecutive Sundays). That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any listeners – some actually appear to be listening religiously, and Beijing’s propaganda is in no position to abandon these early Christians. But it appears to be a small flock. And given the truthful (and therefore highly unpleasant) representation of Beijing’s attitude towards Tibet, for example, it can’t be a big audience.

If you, as a government or collective dictatorship, can’t bring yourself to destroy some quarters of the state-owned industrial sector (as prescribed by the neo-liberal foreign press), you certainly cannot break an unsinkable aircraft carrier with thousands of jobs up, either. But you can still do two things. Measure number one is to keep the ineffective bathing tub*) in your coastal waters, while venturing into international waters with some international expertise. That, at least, appears to be on Xi Jinping‘s mind – Xi is the guy who hasn’t mentioned CRI in his new-year addresses.

And while the foreign expertise is going to work for you, you can kick all those foreign correspondents out who treat China unfairly. That would be measure number two. In fact, measure number two has been practiced for ages.

(On a private note, I’m not sure if putting lipstick on the pig will really make the pig look nicer, or more convincing. But then, the pig has little to lose – and I’m going to watch the experiment with some curiosity.)

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Note

*) Given the wide range of languages and target areas, there may be CRI brances which are a success story, in terms of feedback from the audience, etc.. But I haven’t heard of them yet.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pinneberg Meteorological Broadcasting Station

The Pinneberg shortwave broadcasting service, operated by Deutscher Wetterdienst (DWD, German Meteorological Service) has caught the attention of one of neighboring Hamburg’s newspapers, the Hamburger Abendblatt. In their Pinneberg category, they describe the 42-K-inhabitants town as meteorological radio’s navel of the world (that’s the opposite of the butt of the world), and provide a bit of technical information: 16 transmitters for short-, medium- and shortwave are reportedly in use at the Pinneberg site, and the shortwave signals among them “can easily circle the world”, but that the service reportedly focuses mainly on the North Atlantic, the North Sea, the Baltic, and the Mediterranean Sea.

DWD is part of the German ministry of transportation. According to Hamburger Abendblatt, the now DWD-operated Pinneberg service was established in the 1930s, then as a Ministry of Aviation overseas transmission site.

Four technicians make sure that the site runs smoothly – they do not do the weather reports, however, according to a technician quoted in the report – the spoken ones (see GERMANY. 5905.00, *1204-1221* there) are computer voices. There is a local color to them, however, as they come with a distinctly northern German accent. In my place, less than 100 km south-west of Hamburg, reception of the daytime transmissons on 5905 kHz requires neither USB mode nor anything beyond the built-in telescopic antenna of an ordinary shortwave receiver. (I haven’t tried the evening transmission yet.)

Not surprisingly, reception appears to be good in the Russian town of Semiluki, too:

But even on the opposite side of the world (if Pinneberg is the navel of the world, guess what the opposite is), a portable receiver can do a good job – a Sangean ATS-909X receiver in this case, used in Hira, New Zealand, according to a Youtube user:

Recently posted schedules suggest that broadcasts can be heard

from 06:00 to 06:30 UTC,
from 12:00 to 12:00 UTC, and
from 20:00 to 20:30 UTC,

[Update May 21: there’s no evening broadcast]

all of them on 5905 kHz, seven days a week.

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Update:

The signal is usually there in time, and signs off after exactly 30 minutes,, but the actual shipping reports may begin with a delay of four or five minutes, and also end a few minutes early. If you hear nothing on the full hour, a bit of patience may be useful.
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Friday, April 15, 2016

Monument Policies (1): Poland

As Poland celebrates 1,050 years of Christianity in Poland, the country’s right-wing government is pushing the country’s European heritage as the EU steps up its criticism, writes Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international media platform. The news article seems to reflect the general angle of the German press on Polish current affairs quite well, although  milder than some German-language reports, even at DW itself, where a headline in February read Polen: Muslime unerwünscht (“Muslims unwelcome”, a choice of words that triggers memories of “Jews unwelcome”, a notice on many German doors, especially once the Nazis had come to power. Dirty German history at Poland’s expense, in only two words.

Coverage on Poland

DW: How ugly of you, Poland

Not all is well between Brussels and Warsaw, as an article by DW correspondent Barbara Wesel reflected in December, after the Polish government’s attack on the country’s supreme court, and its state media:

Polen is the biggest net recipient of EU funding in all of Europe. And Warsaw is wrong if only sees the European capital as the main cashier’s window. From there, obligations accrue, too. The number one obligation is to observe the rules of the club. If Jarosław Kaczyński believes he can impudently defy them, he needs to be disabused. Unfortunately, there are barely ways of imposing official financial sanctions, but maybe all sorts of mistakes can be found in future Polish project proposals… Rudeness like that of the Law-and-Justice party chief needs to be answered with rudeness.

Polen ist der größte Netto-Empfänger von EU-Fördermitteln in ganz Europa. Und Warschau irrt, wenn es in der europäischen Hauptstadt nur die Hauptkasse sieht. Daraus erwachsen auch Verpflichtungen. Erste Pflicht ist auf jeden Fall, die Regeln des Clubs einzuhalten. Wenn Jaroslaw Kaczynski glaubt, er könne sich frech darüber hinweg setzen, muss er eines Besseren belehrt werden. Leider gibt es in der EU kaum Möglichkeiten, offiziell finanzielle Sanktionen zu verhängen. Aber vielleicht finden sich ja allerhand Fehler in künftigen polnischen Projektanträgen… Auf einen so groben Klotz wie den polnischen PiS-Parteichef gehört ein grober Keil.

This kind of creative anger – probably indicative of the general mood among the political class in the City of Brussels – is a somewhat unpleasant sight, especially when Germans wield the financial club. Nothing is forgotten in Poland: no pressure, no words, which above all shouldn’t come from German mouths, will dissuade us, German news magazine Der Spiegel quoted Jarosław Kaczyński in January.

Kaczyński’s policies may be facing widespread opposition in Poland by now – but with comments like these, he may be able to reach some of his opponents, too.

Brussels and Berlin seem to understand that. While wide swathes of German press coverage is pulling Polish policies to pieces, German and EU diplomacy remain … well … diplomatic.

And the real dark clouds, from Warsaw’s point of view, are gathering in the West, from the direction of another complicated neighbor. That would be Russia. When it comes to the Katyn massacre, for years, “the blame for the killings was alternately attributed to the Germans and the Russians”, a Radio Poland continuity announcement informed the station’s listeners on Wednesday (7th minute), Poland’s official day of remembrance. The report that followed the announcement was more accurate, stating that the Soviet Union (the Soviet NKVD) had been responsible.

In the same broadcast, German journalist Boris Reitschuster is interviewed (20th minute) about his latest book (to be published on Friday, April 15) about Putin’s Secret Army. (Whatever may be said about the book (in terms of reliability or otherwise), conservative press people appear to be fans, while liberal and leftist publications don’t display nearly as much fascination.)

There was no official mention of the tragedy in Poland during the communist rule nor much was said in the West, which is also guilty of concealing evidence of the Stalinist crime,

Radio Poland said on Wednesday.

Maybe it’s this mood that defines the current mission of Polish remembrance policies: 500 monuments to the Soviet soldiers, who drove the German Wehrmacht out of Poland in 1944/1945, are scheduled to be demolished (CNBC) or removed (Newsweek).

It’s not the first action of this kind, but it is now reportedly the Polish state Institute for National Remembrance (INR) that calls on regional authorities to dismantle the monuments. It could become a comprehensive measure.

And at the same time, Polish media discuss the positive symbols that shall replace those from the communist era. A Radio Poland press review, still on April 13:

Back to Rzeczpospolita now which claims that President Lech Kaczyński, who was killed in the plane crash in Russia six years ago, deserves a dignified memorial in the Polish capital. Having in mind, however, deep divisions in Polish society surrounding the circumstances of the crash, it is not a good idea to erect such a memorial in front of the presidential palace, as is proposed by the Law and Justice Party. The Rzeczpospolita columnist thinks that hospitals, schools and libraries built from public funds and named after the late president would be a better way of remembering President Kaczyński, and of bridging the divides within Polish society.

The presidential palace in Warsaw may have to wait for its copy, but this what the presidential memorial might look like.

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Notes

纪念“卡廷惨案”受害者的橡树, CRI, April 14, 2016
Instructions Importantes, CRI, April 12, 2016
Lech Kaczyński, 1949 – 2010, April 10, 2010

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Friday, April 8, 2016

The Panama Papers: Invested, but not Koppied

You needn’t be there yourself, but should your money? Those places are beginning to look like those parties you simply have to get an invitation to, if you want to matter: the “havens” where (many of) the rich and beautiful put their money. The Virgin Islands, for example. Or Panama. Or Luxemburg? Not sure. Ask a bank.

Reportedly, some members of Vladimir Putin‘s tight-knit inner circle do it. Reportedly, Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan (成龍) does it. So do Thais. Lots of Indians, too. And maybe many Americans, but elsewhere.

Others, also reportedly, did so in the past. One of them even says that he lost money in the game.

But not so fast. Media tend to scandalize everything, don’t they?

According to ICIJ, the documents make public the offshore accounts of 140 politicians and public officials. The documents don’t necessarily detail anything illegal, but they do shine a light on the shadowy world of offshore finances,

National Public Radio (NPR) informs its listeners.

So, let’s not jump to conclusions. The problem, either way, is that the investors’ countries’ governments can’t get a picture of what is there. And once an investor is found on a list like the “Panama Papers”, with investments or activities formerly unknown to his country’s fiscal authorities (and/or the public), he’s got something to explain.

Like Argentine president Mauricio Macri, for example.

So, it’s beautiful to have some money there.

Unless the public begins to continuously ask questions about it.

Timely Exits from Paradise

If British prime minister David Cameron is right, the money he and his wife earned from an offshore trust were taxed. His problem, then, would be the general suspicon of the business.

The Cameron couple reportedly sold their shares in question in 2010, the year he became prime minister.

“Best Effect” and “Wealth Ming” reportedly ceased operations in 2012 and/or 2013. That was when CCP secretary general and state chairman Xi Jinping took his top positions. The two companies had been run in the Virgin Islands, and Deng Jiagui (邓家贵), husband to Xi’s older sister, had been the owner, Singaporean paper Zaobao reported on Tuesday.

And then, there’s Tsai Ying-yang (蔡瀛陽), one of the 16,785 Taiwanese Mossack Fonseca customers, the law firm the “Panama Papers” were leaked from. According to his lawyer, Lien Yuen-lung (連元龍), Tsay Ying-yang terminated his Koppie Limited company as soon as in 2009, the year following its establishment, so as to cut the losses – 30 percent of the investment, according to a phone interview Lien gave Reuters, as quoted by the Straits Times.

Tsai Ing-wen hasn’t commented herself, and maybe, she won’t any time soon. It doesn’t seem that too much pressure has mounted so far. But questions are asked all the same. On Wednesday, KMT legislators William Tseng (曾銘宗), Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), and Lee Yan-hsiu (李彥秀) told a press conference that in the “many cases” where the Tsai family had encountered controversy, Tsai Ying-yangs name had emerged, and this “gave cause for doubts” (會起人疑竇).

An Emerging KMT Opposition Pattern

William Tseng may become a regular questioner, concerning the financial affairs of Tsai’s family people. One of the “controversies” he had quoted had been the issue of a press conference on March 24. There, with different KMT colleagues,  but the same kind of artwork on the wall behind the panel, showing the suspect of the day, Tseng dealt with the issue of Academica Sinica president Wong Chi-huey‘s daughter’s role as a shareholder of OBI Pharma Inc..

KMT legislators press conference artwork

KMT representations:
Mind the guys in the background

One of his fellow legislators, Alicia Wang (王育敏), raised the issue of the company’s shareholder structure (and neatly placed Tsai’s brother there, too, maybe just to make his name available for quote by Tseng on other occasions:

“President-elect Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) brother and sister-in-law are also shareholders, and so is Wong’s daughter, Wong Yu-shioh (翁郁秀). Are others involved?”

Diplomatic Relations, but no Tax Treaty

The “Panama Papers”, as far as they concern Taiwanese customers, contain not only individuals, but companies, too: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (founding chairman Morris Chang, who served Taiwan as APEC representative in 2006), TransAsia Airways (more recently in the news for the tragic Flight 235 crash), Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation, Wei Chuan Food Corporation (in the news since 2013), and the Executive Yuan’s National Development Fund.

The Development Fund was not a taxable organization, Taiwan’s foreign broadcaster Radio Taiwan International (RTI) quotes finance minister Chang Sheng-ford. He used the example to make the point that to suggest that some 16,000 keyword search results for Taiwan in the “Panama Papers” did not signify 16,000 cases of tax evasion. That’s just not the way to look at it.

Chang reportedly also said that while, “if necessary”, Taiwan would establish a Panama Papers working group and start investigating the most high risk people and agencies for tax evasion, the country had no tax treaty with Panama. Also, a Taiwanese anti-tax evasion law had not yet been passed.

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Related

The Panama Papers
Achselzucken schadet, Der Freitag, Apr 7, 2016
The Panama Papers, FoarP, Apr 6, 2016

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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Germany: Is “The Ivan” Back?

The Russians are coming was a standard line when I was a child. Sometimes, everyone into the blockhouses would be added. it was meant to be fun, but there was an underlying fear in it.

Another term for Russians in general would be The Ivan*) (probably an echo from “Ivan the Terrible”). At least in West Germany, fear of Russia was part of collective post-war identity – much more so than in Britain or France.

There may be many possible explanations for this, and I tend to believe that it was a combination of several factors (Germany being subject to allied, including Soviet, control being one that lasted particularly long) was one of them. West Germany’s existence and raison d’être as a frontline state was another. And then, there was a widespread inclination among many Germans to see their country as a victim in the first place, rather than as an initiator of Nazism and boundless war.

By 1983, it had become evident, at least in certain quarters, that the USSR had lost most of its expansionary power. In terms of soft power, Moscows message had become about as attractive as athlete’s foot, and in military terms, the “Evil Empire” was grossly overestimated.

But there was a narrative, and as usual (when the narrative is well crafted), it prevailed over facts. On March 31, 1983, US president Ronald Reagan told a Los Angeles World Affairs Council Luncheon that

In the last 15 years or more, the Soviet Union has engaged in a relentless military buildup, overtaking and surpassing the United States in major categories of military power, acquiring what can only be considered an offensive military capability. All the moral values which this country cherishes-freedom, democracy, the right of peoples and nations to determine their own destiny, to speak and write, to live and worship as they choose—all these basic rights are fundamentally challenged by a powerful adversary which does not wish these values to survive.

Der Spiegel, back then a center-left and liberal German newsmagazine, took issue with Reagan. While the USSR was certainly no paper tiger, and while it was true that Soviet military had seen a huge push during two decades under Leonid Brezhnev (with American military budgets being  reduced by some 2.5 percent per year during the Nixon, Ford, and Carter presidencies), the USSR’s military power wasn’t as strong as first reported.

Shortly before a paper was published by US secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger (also in March 1983, and supportive of Reagan’s March-31 remarks), the CIA had retracted all its US statements concerning Moscow’s military budget:

military expenditures had been overestimated by fifty percent. Rather than by three, four, or more percent, there had been growth by a maximum of two percent since 1976.

Such subtleties, however, didn’t put Ronald Reagan off-message. His story remained the same; the Soviet Union was about to put an end to [a]ll the moral values which this country cherishes.

Fourty-year-old statistics like those debted in the early 1980s are hard to verify (or falsify). But in at least one respect, the Spiegel authors, in 1983, were wrong: contrary to what they believed (quoting “experts”), America proved able to finish the USSR off in a gargantuan arms race, and the factors that lead to the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991 were pretty much the weaknesses that the Spiegel authors themselves had pointed out less than a decade earlier.

The rest, as they say, is history. The world, from Alaska to Siberia (the long way round, of course), and from Pole to Pole, happily awaited huge peace dividends. After all, we had reached the end of history.

But Russia felt squeezed by NATO – understandably, the Baltic nations and Poland had felt rather urgently that they needed a strong reassurance against potential future Russian expansionism. (Not everyone appeared to trust the story about the end of history, and besides, a democratic society doesn’t necessarily live in a peaceful, unaggressive state.

Germans have viewed Russia – and the Soviet Union – differently since the mid-1980s. By 1987, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had overtaken Ronald Reagan, in terms of popularity here. That didn’t change after the USSR’s demise: while Gorbachev was seen as a failure, or even a “sellout” of sourts, among many Russians, Germans considered him “the” man who had made German unification possible. And Boris Yeltsin‘s Russia, even if not looking terribly respectable at the time, certainly didn’t look like something to fear either.

In an article in Germany’s weekly Die Zeit, a Moscow correspondent stated in May 1994 that once again, a majority of Russians considered the end of the USSR a greater calamity than its beginnings, and that Russian reformers had not been successful in “learning from the West”, as stipulated by Yeltsin two and a half years earlier.

Yeltsin had to accept that the safeguarding of authority, which had for centuries been based on expansion rather than on enlightenment, could not be redesigned with a new constitution alone.

Jelzin hat einsehen müssen, daß Herrschaftssicherung, die seit Jahrhunderten durch Ausdehnung statt durch Aufklärung erfolgte, mit einer neuen Verfassung alleine nicht umgestaltet werden kann.

Only pacts and compromises with conservative forces could save the “autumn” of Yeltsin’s presidency, the correspondent wrote.

In economic terms, a Stratfor paper dating from November 1999 suggested that veterans of perestroika, such as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin or former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, could strip the oligarchs of their wealth and influence, and enact more centrist policies.

To quite an extent, this seems to be what Vladimir Putin‘s presidency has done. In its early years, it continued the ideological consolidation started by Yeltsin himself, and his administration began to implement a policy that the “Zeit” Moscow correspondent described as west-oriented as a matter of principle, but moving away from America in particular. […] In America, however, the “Zeit” article quoted Yeltsin, forces were concentrating that would like to keep Russia in a state of controllable paralysis. That said, Putin  – in the eyes of investors – may have arrived at a point similar to Yeltsin’s, by now. Too little appears to move, economically.

When reading the press these days – certainly the German press -, you might be forgiven if you think that Russian policies had fundamentally changed since the 1990s. But they haven’t. There has been a remarkable Russian continuity – and a tendency in the West to disregard realities in Russia, and in its remaining sphere of influence.

When late German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle told Moscow in December 2013 that it was “not appropriate” for the EU “to ask third parties for permission before inviting the Ukraine to develop into Europe’s direction”, this represented widespread western- and central European illusions.

Russia, too, is a European country – most Russians live on the European continent, and Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Volgograd not least, are European cities. The discriminatory – and self-centred – approach of equating Europe with the EU has done much to its recent crises, be it on its eastern, be it on its northwestern boundaries.

There is an important difference to make: it would have been unethical if NATO had refused Polish or a Baltic country’s accessions, and it would have been particularly unethical if Germany a main author of Polish partition and loss of the Baltic states’ sovereignty,- had demanded such a refusal.

But in Ukraine, there had been no consensus to join an alliance with the West. In a row, administrations closer to Moscow or closer to the West had been elected, but there had been no continuity. There was Russian intervention, but there had been unwarranted Western interference prior to that. I have no doubt that any Russian leader, be it Putin, Yeltsin, or Gorbachev, would have reacted just the way Putin did. That was no matter of conviction; it was a matter of geopolitics.

Now, Germany’s federal government intends to counter Russian espionage, propaganda, and disinformation in Germany, writes German daily Die Welt. What they mean is, that Russian and pro-Putin publications have blown several issues in the news – issues that have recently troubled many Germans – out of proportions, or given them a slant that favored narratives from the fringes, rather than the much-conjured “center” of German society.

If the German public can be persuaded by domestic propaganda to swing back from a rather “russophile” (since the 1980s) to a rather anti-Russian attitude again (as from the 1940s to the 1970s) remains to be seen. But if the political class have their way, it is going to work that way.

That said, there are surprises, once in a while. In May 2015, Joachim Gauck, not particularly famous for being a friend of the Russian people, gave a speech in the Westphalian town of Schloß Holte-Stukenbrock, a prisoner-of-war campsite during World War 1 and, more notoriously, World War 2. What Gauck said, was this:

We have gathered here today in Schloß Holte-Stukenbrock to recall one of the worst crimes of the war – the deaths of millions of Red Army soldiers in German prisoner-of-war camps. They died in agony without medical care, starved to death or were murdered. Millions of prisoners of war for whose care the German Wehrmacht was responsible under the law of war and international agreements.

Saying that was laudable, especially as most Germans I know aren’t even aware of this chapter in their history. But there is a catch: to say something only once hardly changes anything. Only regular repetition – as anyone with just a faint idea of how propaganda works can tell you – will make sink inconvenient truths like these sink in. Most Germans I know aren’t actually aware of the scale of German warcrimes against Soviet war prisoners. And to make the warprisoner story sink in isn’t deemed desirable: neither by most of Germany’s media, nor by the German population in general, many of whom would like to see a Schlußstrich, a “final stroke” underneath the complete chapter of Nazism.

Some time in the early 1980s – prior to Gorbachev’s tenure as Soviet party secretary -, the West German foreign office published a booklet for use in school classes. Our school was a rather conservative environment, but the booklet made it into our classroom anyway. Titled “Aufrüsten-Abrüsten” (Armament-Disarmament), it was a try to educate us in foreign politics, and I don’t remember much of it. But there was a remarkable line in it which basically said that, no matter to which conclusions we, as school students, might come concerning the Soviet Union’s role in Europe, we should develop some sympathy – even if not necessarily acquiescence – in the light of the past.

I guess that this booklet had much to do with the man at the helm of the foreign office at the time – Hans-Dietrich Genscher, German foreign minister from 1974 to 1992, who died on Thursday. As phobic as West German feelings against the “East” might have been back then, there seemed to be an understanding, at least in some substantial quarters of the political class, that you can’t have peace without trying to understand those who may (or may not) become your foes, and that your own decisions may matter in the process.

This understanding may no longer be here, and I’m wondering how much misery it may take before we will regain some common sense.

____________

Notes

*) Max Frisch, in his novel “Homo Faber”, raised a modest monument for German anti-Russian sentiment, in the shape of an, as it turns out later, otherwise/actually/mostly quite likeable German philistine:

No German desired re-armament, but the Russian forced America into it, tragically, which I, as a Swissman […], couldn’t judge, because I hadn’t been to the Caucasus, he [the German] had been in the Caucasus, he knew the Ivan, who could only be taught a lesson with weapons. He knew the Ivan! He said that several times. Only possible lesson through weapons!, he said, because nothing else would impress him, the Ivan —

I peeled my apple.

Distinction between Herrenmenschen and Untermenschen, as advocated by the good Hitler, was, of course, nonsense; but Asians remained Asians —

I ate my apple.

Kein  Deutscher  wünsche  Wiederbewaffnung,  aber  der  Russe zwinge  Amerika  dazu,  Tragik,  ich  als  Schweizer   (Schwyzzer, wie  er mit Vorliebe sagte)  könne  alldies  nicht   beurteilen,  weil  nie im Kaukasus gewesen,  er sei  im  Kaukasus gewesen,  er  kenne den Iwan, der nur durch Waffen zu belehren sei. Er kenne den Iwan!
Das  sagte  er mehrmals. Nur durch Waffen zu  belehren!  sagte  er, denn alles andere  mache  ihm keinen Eindruck,  dem  Iwan   –

Ich  schälte meinen Apfel.

Unterscheidung   nach  Herrenmenschen   und   Untermenschen, wie’s  der  gute  Hitler  meinte, sei  natürlich  Unsinn;  aber  Asiaten bleiben Asiaten –
Ich  aß meinen Apfel.

____________

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