Against a New Cold War, For a Rendezvous With Reality

Speech at the Bundestag, 19 March 2015, in response to Angela Merkel’s government’s statement on the European Council, 19-20 March 2015

Mr. President, honored ladies and gentlemen, Mrs. Chancellor!

At your best times, German foreign policy had two priorities: European integration and a good neighbor policy toward Russia.  It should give you food for thought, Mrs. Merkel, if you would listen, that nationalism and strife in Europe, nearly ten years since you assumed the office of Chancellor, are thriving like never before, and as regards Russia, a policy of outreach has given way to a new Cold War.

The head of the influential think tank Stratfor, with striking bluntness, recently explained the precise US interests in Europe: the chief interest of the United States is to prevent an alliance between Germany and Russia, since — to quote — “united they are the only force that can threaten us,” i.e. threaten the US.  This perceived threat to US interests has been successfully neutralized for the foreseeable future.  That process started when the EU sought to pry countries out of their economic and political cooperation with Russia in the framework of the Eastern Partnership.  Mrs. Merkel, naturally this was aimed at Russia, but it was also contrary to the interests of the countries involved.  You, not Russia, pushed them to the either-or.  As a result, Ukraine has lost much of its industry.  Today, the country is bankrupt, where people go hungry, shiver from cold, and have wages lower than in Ghana.

But the confrontation with Russia has not only destroyed Ukraine — it has damaged all of Europe.  It is, in fact, an open secret that the United States is stirring the conflict with Russia for economic reasons.  When the US government talks about human rights, it actually means drilling rights or mining rights.  Right now in Ukraine a hell of a lot of shale gas to frack is in prospect.  If now, in the framework of the Energy Union, you mention new pipelines and increasing independence from Russian gas, then you should tell the people in honesty what that means: increasing dependence on much more expensive and ecologically devastating US-fracked gas.  I do not consider that a responsible view.

The list is long, Mrs. Merkel, of former German leaders who have criticized your Russia policy.  On that list we find the names of your predecessors Gerhard Schröder, Helmut Kohl, Helmut Schmidt, and even Hans-Dietrich Genscher.  Perhaps this is what led to your retreat.  In any case, it is correct that you, with French President Hollande, took the initiative: Minsk II has really led to significantly fewer deaths there in recent weeks than in the preceding weeks and months; the door to a peaceful solution has been opened.  This is naturally an important new situation, and you, Mrs. Chancellor, and the French President deserve recognition.

However, the person on whom peace and security in Europe depend must now follow the path of Minsk II with consistency and backbone.  This is naturally a problem, since consistency and backbone have not exactly been your strong suit.  According to the OECD, both sides have repeatedly violated the ceasefire.  You, Mrs. Merkel, have just insisted again that the sanctions against Russia will not be lifted until Minsk II is implemented.  Of course, it is not acceptable when the shooting persists from the ranks of the insurgents, but when Ukrainian troops — or the Nazi battalions fighting for them — keep right on shooting, that is equally unacceptable, and yet against the latter we hear no critical word from you.  Why do you not come forward with words of censure when the Ukrainian government, notwithstanding the threat of bankruptcy, this year budgets four times as much for arms as it did last year?  This does not exactly assure us that the path to peace has particularly committed supporters in the Ukrainian government!

Furthermore, the US and Great Britain sending military advisors and delivering weapons can be deemed an act of torpedoing rather than supporting the peace process.  But do you now envision sanctions against the US and Great Britain?  I believe it would be better to admit that this whole business of sanctions was a huge mistake through which Europe shot itself in the foot.  That is why the sanctions should not be extended.

We do not need any more tanks.  We also do not need a 3,000-strong NATO intervention force in Eastern Europe that protects nobody but instead puts all Europe further at risk.

Helmut Schmidt got it right when he warned already in 2007 that, when it comes to world peace, there is far less threat from Russia than from America, and that the NATO is only a tool to maintain US hegemony.  And if that is correct, then we are left with only one logical conclusion: that Europe must finally make its own policy, independent of the United States.

Mr. Juncker has put forward the thesis that we need a European army to show that we are serious about defending European values against Russia.  I believe this proposal shows just one thing: how far Europe has strayed from what the founding fathers of the European Union once wanted.  Back then it was all about — as you have just said yourself — peace, democracy, and solidarity.  Never again should nationalism and ethnic hatred divide the European countries.  But to defend these values, no armed battalions are needed!

If you want to defend democracy, Mrs. Merkel, then see to it that the European countries are at last ruled by elected governments — not by financial markets, not by the one-time investment banker Mario Draghi, and, please, not by you either.  If you want democracy, then stop the so-called free trade agreements, stop the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that would make elected governments just a farce.  That would be a defense of European values!  That would be a defense of democracy, finally exposing these unspeakable negotiations on the TTIP and similar agreements!

If you want a united Europe, then stop humiliating other countries and imposing programs that rob their young generations of their future.  Stop prescribing so-called structural reforms in Europe that only lead to growing inequality and an ever-larger low-wage sector.

Here in Germany meanwhile, in consequence of these policies, three million people, in spite of having a job, are so poor that they cannot stay warm, do not have enough to eat, and certainly cannot go on a vacation!  Instead of trying to explain this export-promotion policy, it is high time — and very much in Europe’s interest — to correct it, not least because it is the German wage-dumping that is stifling the other countries of the monetary union.

Finance Minister Schäuble recently instructed the Greek government: “Well, governing is always just a rendezvous with reality.”  Here one can only say: That would be good!  Well, it would be good if only the German government, too, could finally experience its own rendezvous with reality.  Because it was not SYRIZA but rather the sister parties to the CDU/CSU and SPD that over the decades racked up the huge debts, so that they and the upper crust could stuff their pockets.  The reality is also that Greece was hopelessly in debt already in 2010 and that it was an irresponsible misuse of German taxpayers’ money to pay with it the Greeks’ debts to the banks.  That is why we said no to that back then.  Back then we already called for a haircut.  Those who advance credit to one already overloaded with debt will presumably never see their money again, but the responsibility is on you, Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Schäuble, and not on the new Greek government, which is now hardly two months in office.  The reality is also that under the protectorate of the troika that you still treasure so much, whose criminal activities you can see in the excellent documentary by Harald Schumann, the Greek debt just got bigger and the Greek billionaires got richer.  And you want to keep it up?  Then I can only say, “Good night!”

If you want our money back, get it from those who took it, and they were not the Greek pensioners and nurses: it was the international banks and the Greek upper crust.  Incidentally, you could help the Greek government recover its money from them.

As for the whole debate over possible reparations, I can only say that, no matter how the claims may be evaluated judicially, the least that can be expected from the German state is a minimum of sensitivity in dealing with the issue.  I must say: That you are still laughing is really sad.  In view of how German occupiers ravaged Greece, and a million Greek men and women lost their lives in this dark chapter of German history, I find the flippant remarks from you, Mr. Schäuble, and from you, Mr. Kauder, simply disrespectful, and I am ashamed.

To remind you that there is another way to deal with history, may I, in closing, quote from the speech of Richard von Weizsäcker on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Liberation — I am just finishing, Mr. President — the speech concerned principally Russia and Eastern Europe, but it naturally also holds good for Greece:

If we think about what our eastern neighbors had to suffer during the war, we will better understand that balance, détente, and peaceful neighborly relations with these countries remain the central tasks of German foreign policy.  What matters is that both sides remember and that both sides respect each other.

Yes, only when we remember, and only when we respect each other — only then will we find a way back to a policy of being good neighbors, both inside the EU and with Russia.

Sahra Wagenknecht is Vice Chair of the Left Party in Germany.  This translation is adapted from Tom Winter‘s (9 April 2015) and‘s (10 April 2015).  Click here for a German transcript of the speech.