Marie-Louise Beck: “Thinking in the key of guilt before Russia is too deep in German political memory”
The week spoke with Marieuise Beck, a former member of the Bundestag from the Soyuz 90 / Greens and co-founder of the German NGO Center for Liberal Modernity (Zentrum Liberale Moderne), about preserving historical memory, Germany’s historical responsibility to Ukraine and political aspects. .
When you were a member of the Bundestag, you initiated round tables in Ukraine and Germany on the historical responsibility of Germany to our country. Now the Center for Liberal Modernity, of which you are a co-founder, is also doing many projects related to historical memory in Ukraine and other post-Soviet states, including those related to the history of the Holocaust in this area. Why are these projects so important to you?
– I was born in 1952, which is quite close to the times of Nazism. There were seven children in my family, I am the youngest. My eldest brother was born in 1935, which means that my parents were adults when Nazism was raging here. I have always wondered what they did when the Jewish people were exterminated and expelled from Germany. They should see and realize it. After the war, my family left the Soviet zone of occupation and moved to the Western Allied sector. There were many stories in my family about the war, but the Jewish victims were never mentioned. It was a kind of taboo. Since then, overcoming this taboo has become a red line for my political work.
The Holodomor is one of the most important and painful pages in the history of our country, although it is still little known in the EU (especially in the West). In your opinion, what messages should Ukraine use there, in particular in Germany, to hear and understand about the Holodomor?
– We need to start with historical facts. If they know about them, there will be a better understanding of why many Ukrainians are against being pushed under the Russian umbrella again. Even advice on why Ukraine does not want to become a neutral country like Finland does not sound convincing to many Ukrainians because of their historical experience. Timothy Snyder calls the area between the Russian Empire and Germany “bloody lands.” People living in this part of Europe have experienced catastrophes that came from tsarist and then Stalinist Russia, then the Soviet Union and later Putin’s Russia. They survived the German occupation, the brutality of the Wehrmacht, the SS and police battalions. They were called “Slavic villains” and deported as forced laborers to Germany, and the Jewish population was almost exterminated. If this part of history was better known in Germany and the EU, our public would better understand why Ukraine aspires to be a free and sovereign nation. This is what the Maidan stands for.
Again, we need to start with the historical facts. It took a long time to realize that Poland is a European neighbor. That is why it also takes time for us to take for granted that Ukraine is our European neighbor and that it must become part of the EU. So far, almost no one has heard the word “Holodomor”. Not to mention the fact that millions of people were tortured to death under the pretext of Stalin’s struggle against the kulaks. And there are many signs that on Ukrainian soil it was not just a struggle against the kulaks, as in the Volga region or in Kazakhstan – here Stalin wanted to erase any idea of the Ukrainian nation. He sought to destroy culture and language, he wanted to break Ukrainians. A petition has now been submitted to the Bundestag to call the Holodomor a “genocide.” I’m afraid it will be rejected, primarily because of discussions, whether the term “genocide” in this case really corresponds to those of its components, which were defined after the extermination of the Jewish people. I think we should focus on spreading facts about him that are still unknown. As does Agnieszka Holland in her film The Price of Truth or Anne Applebom in Red Hunger. I want people to talk about the facts. As we did in the case of Armenia. It took a long time for the murder of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire to be recognized as genocide.
However, the Armenian genocide also took place before the Holocaust. That is why Ukraine sees this issue as somewhat controversial, as Germany recognizes the killings of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as genocide, but does not want to do so with regard to the Holodomor.
– In the case of Armenia, there is a very clear ethnic difference. The problem with the Holodomor is that Stalin’s struggle against the kulaks was in other parts of the USSR, such as the Volga region and Kazakhstan. And the debate is whether, in addition to the struggle against the kulaks, which also affected Russian farmers, there was an additional goal – to really destroy the Ukrainian national idea. This is what makes recognizing the Holodomor a genocide more difficult than in the case of the Armenians.
Nowadays, it is very difficult to present the real facts, because you can always get a lot of propaganda in return. What should be the presentation of Ukrainian history for those who know little about it, so that there is a chance to resist Russian propaganda?
– There is a wonderful Chinese saying: grass will not grow faster if you plow it. You can use all the channels available to you, but in order to deal with such profound historical facts, especially when you have propaganda from the other side, you need to be patient. Take, for example, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is certainly a very decent and respectable man. But when he speaks of historical guilt and responsibility to Russia (this is Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s interview with the Rheinische Post on February 6, Ed.), He forgets that Germany attacked the Soviet Union, not Russia in 1941. This meant an attack on today’s Belarus and Ukraine. And he should also know that this war was fought mainly on the territory of “bloody lands” with the Soviet army, which included soldiers even from the republics of Central Asia.
In Germany, the first trials for the murder of the Jewish people took place in the 1960s. And the war ended in 1945. Fortunately, the Allies forced the Germans to look at the surface of what happened in their country during the Nuremberg Trials, but it is a tiny surface. In fact, there were hundreds of thousands of those who became part of the crimes. It has been a long time since we started working on this on our own or within our judiciary. If we take into account the first trial, the prosecutor was a brilliant young judge who first left Germany and later returned after the war as a prosecutor in this case. His name was Fritz Bauer. There was so much hatred for him when he was the prosecutor in the Auschwitz case. In other countries, Germany is often talked about, that no other state has gone so far and dug as deep into its own history as we have. However, we should not overestimate this. The country’s authorities were forced to do so. Imagine a picture of the Allies forcing ordinary Germans to visit concentration camps.
Do you have a feeling that Western politicians are starting to forget about the annexation of Crimea? Ukraine launched the Crimean Platform late last year. How else can the West’s attention be drawn to this problem?
– I do not think that they forget, but they think (and this is a kind of realistic expectation) that the Kremlin will not return it in the foreseeable future. But now it is important to return to international law. You know, almost no one in Germany believed that the GDR and Germany would ever unite. But there were bright minds who simply decided to adhere to the legal status and not to recognize the GDR as a sovereign state, but to leave it in the status of a part of the German people. In 1989, we were able to see how ingenious this idea was, how important it was to adhere to this status. I think that no one in Europe or the United States doubts the status of Crimea and the fact that it is part of Ukraine.
In my opinion, the impression that he is forgotten is that when you have a long way to go, you will not talk about him every day. Again, it is important to me that we understand the history of Crimea. The West does not know enough about the fact that Joseph Stalin deported Crimean Tatars, and they were able to return to their homes only during Gorbachev’s time. There is also no understanding of the drama of the fact that for a short period of time we had almost the same thing as what we call ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. I think it is extremely important now to talk about ethnic cleansing, the repressive regime and human rights violations. Of course, you can’t give up on a legal issue. It will remain and no one will touch it. But now we need to focus on what is happening in Crimea, put these issues on the agenda of the Council of Europe, speak at the UN level,
The question of completing the construction of Nord Stream 2 is becoming more and more common. For Germany, is this project Realpolitik or just the money and interests of certain politicians?
– I think it all started with interests. Again, let us return to a history in which there is a tradition of Russian-German formal ties. Germany has a developed metallurgical and machine-building industries, and Russia supplied it with ore for this industry. I think that relations in the energy sector are a modern version of that cooperation in the metallurgical and machine-building industries. We all know the history of Nord Stream 1. It was prepared by a man who was our chancellor, which is very unpleasant for Germany (this is Gerhard Schroeder, who was the chancellor of Germany in 1998-2005, and since 2017 heads the board of directors of Rosneft. – Ed.) And who simply jumped on this project. So, I think that first of all it is an interest, besides economic. However, it is absurd because it creates a lot of stress in the EU. Germany always says that we are very economically strong, we are at the heart of the EU,
But Nord Stream 2 is undermining that confidence. What has German politics done? It has taken a position where it does not oppose industrial and economic interests. She defined the pipeline as a normal economic project, such as selling sugar or salt. And this is exactly what German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently showed. Sigmar Gabriel (former Foreign Minister of Germany) and Gaiko Maas (incumbent German Foreign Minister) insist that this is an economic project that has nothing to do with politics. However, President Steinmeier has now said that we need him as a bridge in relations with Russia. So, here he made it clear that this is a political project. I don’t think the president even realized what he had done. When he says that this is our last bridge to Russia, he contradicts all those who said that this is an economic project. The problem is that such thinking in terms of guilt before Russia is too deep in German political memory. In addition, there is no division that the war against the USSR is not equal to the war against Russia. And this is a key thesis.
How do you see the role of Ukraine among its neighbors?
– Since last year, we have been working in our Center (and will continue to do so, because we have the support of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs) on the Eastern Partnership Plus project. We unite the civil society of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, because we believe that the three of them are very different from Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan. All six countries are under the roof of the Eastern Partnership, but Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are slightly different. What do we want to do? We seek to coordinate the steps of these three countries and the pressure from them to move closer to and join the European Union. What we need politically in this regard is to let the EU know that it is not yet the whole of Europe. In the West, we have forgotten how geographically and culturally large Europe is and that its division in Yalta was too bad to be forgotten. For example, when we talk about the EU, then often just say Europe. I have taken part in many roundtables entitled, ‘Homosexual Rights in Europe’, but it was only about the EU. That is why they do not even imagine that the EU is not the whole of Europe.
Earlier, we had a really big progress with Poland. There was a serious prejudice against her. But now everything is fine. If you go to Berlin and go to construction, you will first hear the Polish language there. Here in Bremen, where I live, there are also many Poles and they are now well received. There are no problems. I think that there will be much more normal between Germany and Ukraine after the end of the pandemic, when cheap airlines will start flying again. Affordable flights are extremely important for a change of consciousness. If it is possible to fly to Lviv and Odessa again, people will be able to see what European people are there, and that they are not like Leonid Brezhnev or his wife, but quite fashionable and modern, that there are good restaurants, startups, etc. in the cities. , ie the situation is changing. It will not change, if Viktor Medvedchuk manages to bring everything back. The fact that he and his political force want to return to Ukraine can be seen in Belarus. Alexander Lukashenko’s regime is not only cruel, but also gray and boring. When I started visiting Belarus, I had the feeling that I had returned to the GDR. I couldn’t believe it. The GDR was a completely boring country, gray, without joy and imagination, terrible. More and more Belarusians want to be modern and live the Western way of life. And this is what you have in Ukraine.