Guilt and repentance in Berlin

Hans-Hermann Tiedje, former advisor to Helmut Kohl, has entered the debate about German culpability in the current war in Ukraine. It is the biggest mistake in the history of the Federal Republic, says the well-known journalist, and all those who are politically responsible should disappear from the scene. Here are excerpts from his text in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.




“All of Europe will become fascist, and that will keep the peace.” Such misconceptions are nothing new. The misconception quoted comes from the German writer Thomas Wolff, who is mentioned in the memoirs of the American ambassador William Dodd. It was September 4, 1936, in Berlin. Three years later, Hitler invaded Poland at 5:45 a.m. and started World War II.


The main thing is to survive, however and under whoever, whether as a fellow traveler or a helper, that is the traditional attitude toward life, and that attitude is not forbidden. However, as the example of Hitler shows, it is a historically demonstrably wrong attitude. Almost eighty years after the fall of Hitler, this attitude is once again widespread, most of all in circles that previously yearned above all for global equality and justice.




Those who understand Putin

Vladimir Putin didn’t wait until 5.45 a.m. like Hitler once did, but invaded Ukraine at 4.45 a.m. local time. Since then, the world has been divided. Into a civilised world, where we live, and into a world of despots and usurpers, a world in which the opinion of citizens has no weight. In Germany, in the face of the mass murder in Ukraine, four types of attitude have come to the fore: the Putin manipulator, the Putin understander, the Putin hater and the Putin appeaser.


The prototype of the manipulator is considered to be former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who is now facing expulsion from the party. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is the personification of an appeaser. Perhaps Scholz’s approach is even the right one, who knows today? Perhaps many who distrust him today will thank him. After all, Putin’s appeaser from the start did not rule out a future with a war criminal – meaning Putin. This is called realpolitik.


And those who understand Putin? This type is embodied by AfD faces like Alexander Gauland or Tino Chrupalla. “Putin shouldn’t have done it, but NATO so irritated him, poor guy, that he couldn’t help himself.” The complete opposite is hatred of Putin. In my perception, it is felt by all those people, millions and millions, who do not want to endure that someone – like Hitler once did – is flooding Europe with mass killings.


Steinmeier: “I was wrong too.”

Four types of attitudes, four classifications. But they do not represent the full spectrum: there is also the one who “also made a mistake”. This type of politician retrospectively refers to his actions as a “mistake” but would rather not be reminded of it. Here we are dealing with someone who misjudged Putin. The most famous example is German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.




Merkel’s policy is suddenly all wrong

Angela Merkel has been Chancellor for sixteen years and is probably the main culprit in the Putin disaster. However, she is not aware of any guilt and recently declared, “Putin hates the West.” So far, no one has asked her why she did not tell the Germans sooner. Did she not want to frighten the citizens, i.e. the voters, and therefore kept her insight to herself? One would like to know. But it would be much more important to finally find an answer to the question: Should a responsible politician have put his country in a situation where it cannot defend itself at all? Today, Merkel says she has nothing to reproach herself for. Berlin’s “Tagesspiegel” notes: “The verdict of historians is likely to be somewhat different.”


This also applies to Sigmar Gabriel, who was for fourteen months relatively briefly joint foreign minister, but is the only one to admit the “utter failure” of German foreign policy. Heiko Maas, who ran German foreign policy for almost four years and was taken seriously by few, has disappeared without a word.


So the responsibility does not lie with Gerhard Schröder, Putin’s paid lobbyist with a perception disorder (“Putin is a flawless democrat”)… After all, Schröder was an openly paid Putin adviser for seventeen years and his actions were transparent. With Steinmeier it is different, he is in office and “also made a mistake”. But this is not a failed restaurant recommendation. No, it is a question of the fate of the country, the most costly mistake in German post-war history or, as Gabriel admitted, “the biggest failure of German foreign policy since the beginning of the Federal Republic”.


The damage is enormous and runs into hundreds of billions of euros. There is a need to help Ukraine, to strengthen the Bundeswehr, to mitigate the social consequences of the war. The economic costs of Merkel and Steinmeier’s mistakes are enormous. However, the Federal President remains in office and in his speeches he is calling for accountability.




Those who have always been critical of Putin have been the target of ridicule

This brings us to Wolfgang Schäuble, another politician who misjudged Putin. Schäuble: “I was wrong, we were all wrong.” Can we call that an assumption? Schäuble is wrong and responsibility is socialized: if Schäuble is wrong, everyone is wrong. But Arnold Vaatz was not wrong. The former vice-chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary faction presented a book on Ukraine and its history in 2015; and he regularly warned the CDU/CSU parliamentary faction about Putin’s intentions.


Vaatz’s concerns were triggered by Putin’s claim that the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union. Vaatz inferred Putin’s plan from this: The greatest geopolitical task of the 21st century will be the restoration of the Soviet Union. As CDU MPs confirm, Vaatz was not taken seriously by Merkel and other members of his parliamentary group, scornfully mocking such distrust of the man in Moscow.


What does an oath actually mean for such politicians? The oath of federal presidents, federal chancellors and federal ministers reads, “I swear to devote my energies to the welfare of the German people, to increase their benefits, to avert harm from them, to uphold and defend the constitution and federal laws, to faithfully discharge my duties and to do justice to all (so help me God).” If God does not help and everything goes wrong – what is the responsibility of the office holders? That they say, “I made a mistake too,” and just move on?


Guilt and repentance in Berlin – things sort themselves out. Putin has not only hit tens of thousands of people with his bombs, but as if by chance also the heads of many Greens, such as Anton Hofreiter, Annalena Baerbock, Robert Habeck. Six months ago, they wanted to create peace without weapons. That was yesterday’s mistake, the Greens are quickly forgetting. This flexibility sets them apart from the Social Democrats.




Of course there will be peace in the end, whenever, however and with whatever restrictions. Because history teaches us that morality has little to do with politics. But the German politicians who fell for Putin and lost face can now show themselves for what they are. No amount of make-up will help them anymore.


Hans-Hermann Tiedje (73), a media manager, former head of the Bild newspaper, was, among other things, a personal adviser to Chancellor Kohl in his election campaign. Translation by the editors.

This article was translated from the Czech version published at Časopis Přítomnost.

published: 1. 8. 2022

Datum publikace:
1. 8. 2022
Autor článku:
Hans-Hermann Tiedje