The strange German love of Russia

Apparently he has 24. February, that day, when the Russian army launched a frontal attack on Ukraine, everything changed. The EU, previously only rarely closed in relation to Russia, was suddenly united like never before. She imposed harsh sanctions, took in war refugees, delivered weapons. Even Germany distanced itself from its state pacifism. The Ukrainian flag has been omnipresent ever since, you get the impression, the West would stand shoulder to shoulder against the war policy of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

That this impression is deceptive, becomes apparent with only a cursory glance at the Internet. Governments may decide, what you want, there is dissatisfaction among the population. In the comments section under articles about the war shows, that Putin in this country after the 24. February has a sizeable following. The rising inflation, the impending gas bottlenecks and the horrendous prices are reducing enthusiasm for Ukraine. That goes so far, that by many not Putin, but the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj is seen as a warmonger, than that man, that prevents peace. If the former actor Selenskyj is not immediately described as a puppet – as a puppet in the hands of the real mastermind of the war, US President Joe Biden.

They're not necessarily Russians, who speak or write like this. From my Russian friends living in Vienna – here it is appropriate, speak openly of your own experiences – many were shocked by the outbreak of war. The inclination, the kleptocratic, to romanticize mafia-like Putin regimes, in him – for example – to see a promising conservative counterpoint to a decadent Europe, is often much less pronounced with them than with some Austrians or Germans.

But where does this peculiar inclination towards Putin and Russia come from?, which is particularly large in the German-speaking area? Secure, on the far right, Putin has scored points for years with his opposition to ultra-liberal gender politics, at (Alt-)Left with anti-NATO rhetoric.

Nevertheless, the approval for the Russian President is difficult to explain: The still living trauma from the Second World War – the expulsions, the rapes, prisoners of war in the Gulag – are not exactly advertising for a close relationship with Russia. A long Cold War followed, who kept alive old fears of the danger from the East. The threat from the Soviet Union was always present. Of the two superpowers, the western one was, the USA, clearly the more popular: It offered freedom instead of communism and, with the Marshall Plan, laid the foundation for the development of prosperity in the post-war period. The USA also opened a window to the world, shaped the lifestyle of entire generations. Pop culture was and is English, the cultural ties to the transatlantic superpower are very close. Moscow had and has that “American way of life” little to oppose.

Nevertheless, there has always been a sentimental inclination towards Russia, especially in Germany. The gigantic empire in the east was alien and mysterious enough, to fire the fantasies and arouse an interest, which, for example, never applied to the near neighbor Poland. Even his emphasis on Catholicism triggered resistance in Protestant Prussia.

Russia, on the other hand, was suitable as a projection screen for Prussian Germany – much like Germany for Russia. The other embodied that, what you missed in yourself: Here the Kantian rational state of Prussia, well organized and efficient, an example. There the fermentation, indefinite, Border crossing, maybe also revolutionary-rousing, also the inwardness, the mystical “russian soul”, which in turn dem “German beings” had a lot to give. A being again, that was thought to be romantically backward-looking. According to a common slogan, the world should heal on him.

what world? Probably those bald ones, rationale, materialistic, meaningless, technoid world of the West, against the early forms of which people in Germany rebelled as early as the Romantic period. Conversely, there was always the civilizing aspect – partly also racially colored – arrogance towards Russia. The Eastern Europe historian Gerd Koenen, the one about the German “Russia complex” wrote a book, speaks of one “Mixture of fear and fascination, from empathetic understanding and phobic defense”, von “latent power fantasies and alliance options on the Berlin-Moscow axis”, which could almost never be fully implemented, but still kept the heads busy.

In particular, a look at the interwar period shows, that the relationship of Germany, hurt by the Versailles Treaty, to the newly created one, communist great power in the East by no means only from resistance and fear of the “red tide” was destined from Asia – as one might think after Hitler's war of extermination and the Cold War. Even within the nationalist German right there was – despite all rejection of “Bolshevism” – Points of contact for cooperation with Russia.

This was there for that reason alone, because both pariah states had a thirst for revenge against the West: The Treaty of Rapallo, the before 100 years between Weimar Germany and the newly founded Soviet Union, In addition to mutual recognition, it also had a strategic revisionist component. A secret military cooperation was agreed, until the fall 1933 lasted. They quickly approached each other: During evening maneuver talks, Koenen wrote in a recent post, high-ranking officers of the Reichswehr and Red Army, for example, were of one mind, “that Poland, as a bulwark of the Versailles powers in Eastern Europe, must be wiped off the map, which would otherwise have to be cleaned up on a large scale” – long before the Hitler-Stalin pact. Even the Nazis had a Russophile wing in the 1920s, which in addition to the depth of the Russian soul also the brutal, unbourgeois radicalism of the Bolsheviks impressed. The young Joseph Goebbels, who was initially repelled by Hitler's plans for the eastern part of the country, belonged to him.

Conversely, Moscow always relied on Berlin: Did Vladimir Ilyich Lenin still dream of world revolution?, for which he saw Germany as the decisive country – the Soviet revolutionary leader used the image of Germany and Russia as “two chicks under the shell of imperialism”, who should break through this together -, that's how it was for Stalin later, to bring the old tsarist empire areas in association with Germany back under Russian control. Was 1939 also succeeded.

It was those peoples who suffered from this policy “intermediate europe”, who had to secure their existence between Moscow and Berlin – such as Poland or the Baltic states. Any kind of German-Russian cronyism still reliably triggers fears of a revival of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, especially in the conservative-national Polish governing party PiS. Experts have their say on state television, who claim, Germany wants to be part of the EU “fourth kingdom” build up. Arguing against this is not always easy: Even after passionate debates, I may not have convinced my Polish mother-in-law of the harmlessness of today's Germany. Berlin stays Berlin, and Russia anyway “kingdom of evil”.

No wonder, that in Warsaw the stars & Stripes of the US flag shine brighter than in this country. To be an appendage in a German-dominated Europe, is anything but tempting, at least for the PiS – moreover in view of sharp ideological contrasts to the left-liberal dominated Union. One sees oneself more than ever as the standard-bearer of the West, the civilized world in – as you say – insecure East Europe. The desire, to question this civilization and its achievements, as it is now very pronounced in the academic milieu in the West, is low. After all, belonging to Western civilization in the border area of ​​Eastern Europe acts as a central anchor of one's own identity, which was repeatedly threatened by its dangerous neighbor to the east. Relations with western modernity and the supremacy USA are unencumbered and friendly.

Different in Moscow. There, the relationship to the West has been deeply divided since the reforms of Peter the Great: The West, rival and counterpart, acted as a role model, than the other, whose level they strived to reach – with tremendous deprivation and sacrifice. The desire, to be ahead on the axis of progress itself, was seldom satisfied – such as the Sputnik shock. Western modernity worked as an ideal, but at the same time remained something alien, unloved, grafted onto orthodox Russia from without. There was always resistance, resistance to it. Even today, Russia builds its identity in the tradition of “Third Rome” as a conservative counterpoint to the radical-liberal “Gayropa” on.

But there was also resistance to western modernity in Germany, And not just in romance. Even before the First World War, people were whispering about the profound German soul and culture, that of the plates, superficial, mercantilen, sterile, materialistic western civilization and could bring salvation to the world. After the war, youth movements like the Wandervogel preached a return to nature, anthroposophical circles emerged, one searched in “noble savages” the natural counterpart to the corrupt civilization of money. From such longings it was not far to anti-Semitic conclusions. In fact, in the 1920s you can find yourself in a book as unsuspicious as it is brilliant like Egon Friedells “cultural history of modern times” not just ideas, the desolate materialistic Western civilization can only be saved by Germany or Russia, but also anti-Jewish overtones. And this, although Friedell himself was certainly not an anti-Semite and, moreover, of Jewish origin – and after the “connection” 1938 committed suicide in Vienna.

In this country, Jews were mostly perceived as standard-bearers of modernity. Theirs were characteristics such as agile, Busy and enterprising attributed. Because they were considered better adapted to the supposedly hard, capitalist world of modernity, trade was one of the few sectors for centuries, in which they were allowed to work. In the interwar period, all political camps looked for alternatives to western liberalism: From Spenglers “Prussian socialism” A wide range of longings stretched from the Marxist variant to the National Socialist community. Citizens and workers felt threatened by competition, sought protection from the possible isolation in Western liberalism in the community among equals.

Most of these alternative designs are now history. Nevertheless, the moving behind it has not completely seeped away in this country. For example, the resentment against the United States, which some people feel surprisingly quickly, could be a legacy of the anti-modern and anti-Western attitudes of the past. Also is noticeable, that science- and skepticism about modernity always finds a particularly good resonance in the German-speaking world – whether it is about opposition to the Atom- and genetic engineering, about organic farming, anti-vaccination or alternative healing practices. Die – in many cases probably not unjustified – It rises, that a technological development that got out of hand destroys the remaining untouched nature and robs people of the air to breathe, is widespread. People are also more afraid of freedom here than overseas, fears too much market economy.

Today's decidedly modern Germany has always been a Janus-faced country: Long overslept and stayed behind, one “late nation”, After unification by Prussia, the country stormed to the forefront of technical progress. At the same time, however, there was always a whole squad of critics of this development, and the technical criticism in particular reached a high level in Germany. The widespread search for a life close to nature also made some people look to Russia, a country, which has always seen itself as an alternative to the West. That there was a group in power with the Bolsheviks, which wanted to take western technological development to the extreme, didn't have to bother – Old Russia must still be slumbering somewhere, which, loosely based on Dostoyevsky, should speak the redeeming word to the world.

Despite all Germany's ties to the West, the bridges to Russia have not been completely torn down even today – for example, there is a strong inclination towards Moscow within the New Right. Conversely, the controversial Russian Eurasia ideologue Alexander Dugin makes extensive use of Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger and thinkers of the German “conservative revolution” the 1920s. the putty, holding this coalition together, is today's rejection of western modernity. Whatever one may judge about this rejection – one thing should be clear: The hummus for anti-modern attitudes is still deep in this country.




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