The issue of German political correctness is highly relevant to any discussion of the present East-West confrontation over Ukraine, because in practical terms Europe's "universal values" provide justification in German mainstream thinking for cutting ties with Moscow
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When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the possibility of German reunification arose, there were forebodings in France and the U.K. that there could be trouble ahead. As President Francois Mitterand reportedly joked with regard to his own misgivings, he liked Germany so much that he wanted there to be two of them.
At a minimum, Germany’s European allies feared that the new, more powerful Germany would break free of the constraints of the European Economic Community and NATO to define an independent path serving its own interests. There was particular concern that Germany might strike a strategic deal with Russia to secure the peace in Europe without the Americans and at the expense of the West.
However, with the encouragement of both Russia and the United States, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl seized the opportunity and proceeded posthaste with reunification while remaining firmly anchored to the other member states of the EEC and NATO.
When after reunification Germany decided to move its capital to the city in the East which forged the German nation, Berlin, new concerns were expressed by its Allies. Now there was fear of a change in the political culture of the country from Western liberalism and free thinking to Prussian military tradition and social conservatism.
Here again the concerns were misguided and it has since turned out that the greater danger to German political thinking was not its own traditions but in what it has borrowed recently from the West. Far from reverting to Prussian conservatism and militarism, Germany since reunification has fallen under the spell of the latest trends in political correctness coming from Brussels. Germany has adopted not only the acquis, the entire body of EU law, but also EU mythology. This means first of all universal values that act as a comprehensive smoke screen for national egoism, one that is more persuasive than mere deference to France, Germany’s cover before the EU, ever could be. Promotion of universal values also enhances feelings of self-righteousness, serving as an antidote to sins of the past.
Both parties of the German coalition government, representing the bulk of the country’s political establishment, share enthusiasm for the secular religion that has settled in the European Institutions. We may call this a religion because it rests on unprovable postulates that are taken on faith by its believers to be the highest truth.
The first article of this modern day catechism is that foreign policy must be built on values of democracy and protection of human rights plus rule of law. It is outdated at best and immoral at worst to ground foreign policy on national interests. Another key article of faith is that authoritarian regimes cannot live in peace with democratic nations. This is so because authoritarian regimes are necessarily brittle; they do not enjoy the support of the people and when challenged by domestic opposition parties they must deflect attention from themselves by inventing enemies abroad, undertaking acts of aggression that build international tension and facilitate isolation from the greater world.
It is a matter of the greatest irony that these tenets, which support active meddling in the domestic affairs of other states in the name of cherished values, should be upheld today precisely in Germany, the battleground of the Thirty Years War. That highly destructive war was fought over the efforts of the Counter-Reformation Catholic Church and its imperial protectors to achieve regime change in the Protestant lands in the name of universal values. The Westphalia Peace, which established modern European relations between sovereign nation-states was supposed to put an end to such pretensions. Till now.
The issue of German political correctness is highly relevant to any discussion of the present East-West confrontation over Ukraine, because in practical terms the aforementioned articles of faith provide justification in German mainstream thinking for breaking with Moscow, ending business as usual with a regime that gets poor grades in democracy, human rights and rule of law. The allegedly authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin is held up as a textbook case of aggression abroad. In the view of the political establishment in Brussels and in Berlin, the annexation of Crimea and assistance to separatists in Donbass are instrumentalized by Putin and his entourage to rally the nation to its side
Meanwhile the change of neighborhood whereby the federal capital is now within commuting distance of Poland has brought about additional negative changes in German thinking about Russia that, when taken all together, helped to provoke the crisis in and over Ukraine.
The past twenty-five years have witnessed dramatic economic integration of Germany with the new EU Member States to the East, in particular Poland. The economic benefits of this integration may well far outweigh the benefits of the strategic partnership with Russia that Germany has just kicked over by its leadership on EU sanctions. Economic integration has been facilitated by political accommodation. In the past several years relations with Poland have moved on from high tension when the Kaczynski brothers were in power to cordiality with Donald Tusk’s government because of policy concessions by both sides.
Part and of this accommodation has been Germany’s turning a blind eye to the revanchist views of the Eastern neighbors with respect to Russia. Thus, Germany has shown far more sympathy for the hysterical warnings coming from Warsaw, Vilnius and Riga of a Russian danger than have France, Italy and the other founding members of the EU. This is all the more important now that Germany controls all the EU Institutions, where candidates it nominated and backed now head the European Council, the Commission and the Parliament, down to its chairman of the committee on foreign relations.
In conclusion, it is high time for Germans to take inventory of their own prevailing political correctness and to weigh the practical implications of democracy promotion versus the prudent dictates of Realpolitik, an approach to international relations of which they were the authors. Universal values do not allow for compromise, and deny diplomacy its proper place. Universal values are practiced by Diktat. Such political correctness can ineluctably lead to a new world war.
Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of the American Committee for East West Accord Ltd in Brussels. He is the author of Stepping out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations. This is article originally appeared in Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft.
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