It’s time to burst the red balloons 

How did Europe’s wealthiest state come to finance the greatest tyrant of the 21st Century?

Artillery Row

It was at Koln airport that I began to lose it. I’d been looking on the train at the horrific pictures from Mariupol and Bucha then, right by the security gates, I saw the huge digital posters, blue and yellow, with  #StandWithUkraine accompanied by a great big peace sign.  

Not #SendUkraineWeapons or #StopBuyingRussianGas but ‘Peace!’, an utterly unserious response to Europe’s gravest crisis since the Second World War. And all the more infuriating since the well-intentioned people behind the poster represent a nation that, more than any other, has financed and tacitly encouraged Putin’s rampage.

German intellectuals grew to feel superior to the crude Brits and Americans

I’d spent the weekend at a wedding. Amid disapproving glances from nearest and dearest, I was checking my phone, fascinated by turmoil in Berlin over oil and gas imports, weapons sales and ties between the German establishment and Putin’s regime.  I nearly lost my appetite for the nuptial currywurst when I read Gerhard Schroeder defend himself to the New York Times: in an interview, “(he) spoke with undiminished swagger, arguing in essence that, well, if he got rich, then so did his country. When it came to Russian gas, everyone was on board, he pointed out, mocking his detractors over copious amounts of white wine”.

Schroeder is the poster boy for the hard-headed, selfish side of the German state. The powerful constituency that tends to the interests of the car and chemical giants, seeks out cheap energy from Moscow and trade deals with Beijing, human rights be damned, and all the while forcing Greece and other weaker EU partners into austerity rather than spend any of its vast trade surplus to help them. 

But there’s another part of the coalition that’s got Germany into such a moral mess; the left leaning children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren of the Nazi era. People who are decent, kind, impeccably apologetic about their country’s dark history, glaringly green and passionately pacifist.  They dominate local government, public services, education and the media. And, yes, at weddings they still play 99 Luftballons — Nena’s punky anti-war classic from 1983. 

I lived there — or my girlfriend, now wife did — in the 1980s and I saw this political spirit evolve. “Atomkraft Nein Danke” was the universal slogan, along with the omnipresent peace logos and a reflex anti-Americanism. I was there in the 90s too, covering huge anti war protests, well protests against America’s wars to be precise. “No blood for oil baby!”

There was always a fey unworldliness baked into to this German brand of green leftism.  All and any protest movements got “bundled” so if you were anti-nuclear you were probably also wearing a PLO badge or, just as likely, putting an IRA poster up in the student dorm. Forget the threat from the East, because the real problem is obviously the trigger-happy cowboy land of, to quote Nena herself, “Jet Fighters, superheroes and Captain Kirk”. 

And it’s not just naivety. Safe in their comfy European home, protected by NATO bases, German intellectuals grew to feel superior to the crude Brits and Americans.  Look at the famous clip of the delegation from Berlin at the UN sniggering and eye rolling as Donald Trump makes the perfectly reasonable (yes I know!) point that putting all your energy eggs into a basket owned by Vladimir Putin, whilst failing to pay anything close to the NATO standard 2% of GDP for defence, was, just maybe, a bit of a mistake.  

It’s a strange alliance, this marriage of Gerhard and Nena, but it’s driven Germany’s key policy choices since reunification.  On the one side a Greta Thunberg-worshiping pacifist lobby that doesn’t want nuclear power at any price and definitely won’t pay for a decent military, and on the other the men, and it is mostly men, who smelled cheap gas, lavish and debauched oligarch lifestyles and trade surpluses swelling larger than their stomachs. Germany could be rich, safe and smug….all at the same time. Alles gut!

Smugness had reached saturation point

And so it came to pass that these nice decent Germans, the descendants of a fascism that shames them still, ended up being part of a clear though unspoken national decision to fund the fascism of the 21st Century. And this all continued with barely a word of criticism even after Putin’s hospital bombings in Syria, his conquest of Crimea, his political murders, his goons shooting down a civilian airliner packed with EU citizens and his WMD assassinations in the UK. 

I got back from Germany to discover that the smugness had reached saturation point with an open letter to Chancellor Scholz from a depressingly long list of “artists and intellectuals” calling, yes of course, for peace rather than any actual help to Ukraine.  Actually it’s worse. They implore Scholz to back off from his limited moves to send Zelenskyy the military aid he’s craving and “do everything you can to achieve a ceasefire and a compromise, which both sides can accept”.

Maybe that should be directed to Moscow: the place where they decided to send cruise missiles to Kyiv while the UN Secretary-General was in town last week. Meanwhile there’s a real danger that the Ukrainians will be overwhelmed on the new battlefields of the Donbas unless Scholz and others rush them the heavy weapons that they need. Because, going back to the song one more time, “super high tech jet fighters” can come in really handy now and again. 

The authors of this miserable diatribe finally come up with a statement so awful that it would take a new long compound German word to capture just how cynical and patronising it is. They manage to accept that Russia is the aggressor, but claim: “Even legitimate resistance to an aggressor is at some point an intolerable disproportion.”

Disproportion Mein Arsch! In a world threatened by wolves, these are the words of sheep. In a world of death pits and rape gangs there is nothing here but virtue signalling moral mush.  Compare this with the clarity and toughness of other European leaders, especially the “warrior women” in charge of Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, and Lithuania. 

And I wonder what Ukrainian “artists and intellectuals” think of such pompous logic chopping as they battle for their lives. Maybe they look at their neighbours and conclude that their reluctance to get into this fight is not about Ukraine after all. Perhaps it just represents a culture that automatically sees any kind of patriotic struggle as simplistic chest beating, the kind of thing that Captain Kirk might like but makes sophisticated people like them roll their eyes…and play an oddly comforting old pop song.

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