Cosas de España/Galiza
Madrid, says someone reviewing a new hotel, is now ‘the style centre and glamour capital of Europe’. Not only that: It’s overtaken the traditional tourist favourite, Barcelona, on every economic indicator. Well, anyway, I like the place and am glad I have the excuse of a daughter there to visit it every month or so. Not that I’ll ever be availing myself of its style and glamour.
One of the city’s big draws is, of course, the Prado and today we learn that the art gallery is going to do what Smell-O-Vision promised for the cinema decades ago.
Interesting to note that the most notorious/violent resident in our biggest local jail is called Igor el Ruso. . .
I’ve said there are at least 12 local newspapers available in Pontevedra city. Today I came across a 13th – Nós, all in gallego. Nosotros in Castellano.
Arrogant, incompetent and corrupt: war is shattering our delusions of the German elite. Held hostage by Putin, its establishment is suffering a full-scale nervous breakdown: See below for a (very) hard-hitting critique of the most powerful European nation.
A British historian looks at recent French presidents.
Are Germany and France really ‘spinning apart’, risking the survival of the EU? Check here.
Social Media/Quote of the Day
A broad cultural change is taking place beneath the radar of awareness. One symptom is the way the verb “to share” has undergone transmogrification. Twenty years ago it was an “other- directed” concept related to giving a portion of something to someone else. Today, it is “inner-directed” or, as the Merriam-Webster dictionary puts it, “talking about one’s own thoughts, feelings or experiences”.
I’ve only just learned that there is an asá to go with así. Like aquí and acá, I guess.
‘The dead-tree media’: Newspapers. cf. MSM: Main stream media, which presumably covers more than just the press
Finally . . .
There is a modern version of decades-old Smell-O-Vision called Olerama. Olorama Technology’s professional scent generators allow smells to be successfully introduced. What our conceptual fathers (Laube and Todd) started, we have successfully implemented! Olorama Technology can be installed in cinemas or in homes: More here.
To amuse . . .
For new reader(s): If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.
Arrogant, incompetent and corrupt: war is shattering our delusions of the German elite. Held hostage by Putin, its establishment is suffering a full-scale nervous breakdown: By Daniel Johnson, The Telegraph
It is too early to say who will win the war in Ukraine, but one nation has already suffered a catastrophic loss of prestige: Germany. The political and business leaders of Europe’s biggest economy have not only failed to give Ukrainians the help they so desperately need, but in their dealings with Russia they have been exposed as at best naive – and at worst complicit.
This week the German leadership crisis deepened when Olaf Scholz, the Chancellor, claimed to be delivering on his promise to send arms to Ukraine — but was revealed by the tabloid Bild to have secretly refused every item of heavy equipment requested by Kyiv. After Scholz had crossed tanks and artillery off the list, an aid package said to be worth €1 billion (£836 million) had been reduced by more than two thirds.
Meanwhile Berlin has been stonewalling on sanctions, claiming that its industry and consumers cannot bear the pain of cutting off energy supplies from Russia. A decade ago, the Germans lectured Greeks and other southern Europeans about austerity, telling them that “an end with horror is better than a horror without end”. Now, as President Zelensky told German MPs a month ago, they care only about protecting their economy.
Annalena Baerbock, the Foreign Minister, says it is impossible to cut Russian oil imports to zero before the end of the year, while gas will take much longer. Yet Lithuania, a much poorer and more vulnerable country, has already stopped both.
It is only just dawning on the German public that the Russian gas and oil that supplies their homes and cars, along with their European Union partners, is paying for Putin’s war machine to the tune of £250 billion a year. If that cash flow were cut off by sanctions, the Kremlin would have no choice but to end the war.
As things stand, however, the conflict will probably be over long before the Germans stop importing Russian energy and start sending Ukraine the weaponry it needs to win the battle now raging in Donbas.
As the American historian Timothy Snyder put it: “For thirty years, Germans lectured Ukrainians about fascism. When fascism actually arrived, Germans funded it, and Ukrainians died fighting it.”
It is no exaggeration to say that the German establishment is now suffering a full-scale nervous breakdown. Observers are shocked by the extent of incompetence and even corruption that has left the country dependent on Russia and unwilling to unravel ties to the Kremlin going back decades. The apologies and excuses keep coming, but they only serve to deepen the crisis.
One of the lamest excuses came from the German defence minister Christine Lambrecht, who protests that she cannot send Leopard and Marder tanks without leaving her own forces under-equipped. Yet her own most senior general, Alfons Mais, admits that the German Bundeswehr had been “stripped bare” over many years by complacent politicians.
One of Ms Lambrecht’s least impressive predecessors, Ursula von der Leyen, ordered troops to use broomsticks instead of rifles in exercises. She was later promoted by Angela Merkel to become President of the EU Commission.
The greatest scandal revolves around the Nord Stream gas pipeline. Over nearly two decades, this project has been assiduously pushed by a nexus of German politicians and Russian state corporations. It started with Gerhard Schröder, whose father died on the Eastern Front and who seems to have made it his mission to make amends by serving Russian interests. In 2005 he moved seamlessly from Social Democratic Chancellor to Nord Stream chairman and the boards of Gazprom and Rosneft.
One of his protégés is Scholz, who has belatedly tried to distance himself. Schröder is now subject to sanctions and his party is now in the process of expelling its former leader.
Other senior Social Democrats have clearly been implicated too, including the former Foreign Minister, now President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. As German head of state, Steinmeier has delivered many solemn speeches about past German crimes, not least last year at the Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial in Kyiv. So closely associated is he with the pro-Russian policy of Angela Merkel’s coalition government, however, that when the German President proposed a visit to Kyiv, he was informed by Zelensky’s office that he would not be welcome.
Such a snub is unprecedented and was made all the more painful for Germans by the embarrassing contrast with Boris Johnson’s cordial welcome in the Ukrainian capital. Instead of trying to make amends, though, Steinmeier’s colleagues denounced the Ukrainian ambassador, Andrij Melnyk, who has been outspoken in his criticism of the Berlin establishment. Another former leader of the Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, even accused Melnyk of peddling “conspiracy theories about Germany”.
Unfortunately for Scholz, Steinmeier and Gabriel, the Kremlin’s conspiracies to corrupt German politicians are all too real. One case in point concerns Manuela Schwesig, the Social Democratic First Minister of the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Documents published by Die Welt show that she set up a foundation at the behest of the Russian-controlled Nord Stream 2 corporation to circumvent possible US sanctions and covertly promote the project in the German media.
Ms Schwesig now faces an inquiry and possible criminal investigation, along with calls for her resignation. What has shocked Germans is the way in which a rising star of the centre-Left allowed herself to become “Putin’s puppet”. She has insisted she has done nothing wrong.
The tentacles of the Kremlin reach much more widely into the German economy than just the energy industry, however. Until the invasion of the Crimea in 2014 forced Angela Merkel to impose limited sanctions and Putin turned to Xi Jinping’s China for technology, Germany was Russia’s largest trading partner. And only after tanks rolled into Ukraine two months ago did German companies such as Volkswagen, Mercedes, BMW and Adidas start to curtail their exports to and manufacturing plants in Russia.
The cultural kudos of Russia in Germany and vice-versa is impossible to overstate. Their history of mutual admiration goes back at least to the 18th century, when an obscure German princess rose to become Catherine the Great. The Tsarina invited Germans to settle in Russia to teach the peasants how to farm. Descendants of the “Volga Germans” were deported to Siberia by Stalin, but in the 1980s and 90s millions of them emigrated to Germany, where they now form a pro-Putin lobby group.
The cardinal importance of good relations with Moscow has been an axiom of German statesmen since Otto von Bismarck, even if his dictum “make a good treaty with Russia” was interpreted with the utmost cynicism at times. It was the Germans who smuggled Lenin across Europe to unleash his Bolshevik revolution on Russia. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918 imposed a Carthaginian peace on the Russians and created the first independent Ukraine, later crushed by the Red Army.
At Rapallo in 1922, the German Foreign Minister and AEG electrical magnate Walter Rathenau made the first treaty with the Soviet Union, enabling Russo-German trade to boom. Though Rathenau was assassinated by anti-Semitic terrorists, Hitler emulated him by striking a deal with Stalin, the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact of 1939, which carved up Poland and unleashed the Second World War.
The war of annihilation that began when the Nazis launched Operation Barbarossa in 1941 has left terrible scars on all the peoples involved. In so far as Hitler had a rationale for his invasion and the extermination of Jews and others that followed in its wake, it was his desire for Lebensraum (“living space”) in Ukraine, the “breadbasket of Europe”. Hitler had his headquarters there and even visited Mariupol in winter 1941.
The Nazi occupation left Ukraine devastated, but because it was seen merely as part of the Soviet Union, the Germans never felt the need to atone for what they had done there — as they did in Poland and, especially, Russia. The fact that some Ukrainians, embittered by Stalin’s genocidal famine (the Holodomor), had collaborated with the Nazis contributed to the postwar lack of sympathy in Germany for Ukrainian national aspirations. Conversely, Russians were taught that Ukrainian nationalists were by definition Nazis; in 1959 their wartime leader, Stepan Bandera, was assassinated in Munich by the KGB.
After Ukraine became independent in 1991, the Germans did not pay much attention to it. Instead, they doubled down on their long-standing policy of investing in Russia. Even when Putin took over — intimidating, interfering with and in some cases crushing his neighbours in the service of his imperialist designs — politicians in Berlin turned a blind eye.
Some even believed the Russian propaganda line that Ukraine was full of neo-Nazis, even though its president was Jewish and its parliament (unlike the German Bundestag) had no far-Right parties. Not until war and genocide returned to Europe, the prevention of which had supposedly been the basis of their postwar system, did the scales fall from German eyes.
How could this have happened? The answer lies in the very German tradition known as Ostpolitik (“eastern policy”). The architect of this strategy was Willy Brandt, the charismatic statesman who also modernised the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) and led its return to office in 1969.
As mayor of West Berlin when the Wall was built in 1961, Brandt had witnessed first hand the tragedy of a divided city, country and continent. He stood beside John F. Kennedy when the President told the beleaguered citizens of Berlin: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” But he knew that the Americans would not risk war to bring down the Berlin Wall, let alone to reunite Germany.
Realising that these goals could only be pursued in an atmosphere of détente, Brandt set about building bridges to the Kremlin and to the East German Communists, beginning with a “policy of small steps” to improve life on both sides of the Wall. This “networking” became known as Ostpolitik.
Brandt himself was brought down by a spy scandal in 1974, but Ostpolitik endured and evolved under his successor Helmut Schmidt. It was even adopted by their centre-Right opponent, Helmut Kohl, who had been a fierce Cold Warrior but seized the opportunities offered by Mikhail Gorbachev’s opening to the West.
As the Telegraph correspondent in Germany, I and other journalists accompanied Kohl to Moscow in 1988. I vividly remember the exalted sense of history with which the German Chancellor imbued his relationship with the Soviet President, exchanging soft loans in hard currency for political concessions. This was the background to the opening of the Iron Curtain and the fall of the Berlin Wall a year later.
I also recall interviewing the head of the Deutsche Bank, Alfred Herrhausen, who was there in Moscow to sign the cheques. A formidable figure, later assassinated by far-Left terrorists, Herrhausen saw the role of German high finance and trade in idealistic terms, as an indispensable part of Ostpolitik. By bankrolling the Russians, he was acting as the vanguard of democracy and also laying the groundwork for new markets for German industry.
As we now know, the Wall did fall and Germany was reunited. The German political and business establishment, particularly the Social Democratic Party, felt vindicated. Before he died in 1992, Willy Brandt, the father of Ostpolitik, declared that “our time, like hardly any before, is full of possibilities— for good and ill”. Neither he nor anyone else then foresaw that Ostpolitik towards Russia would be continued in a way that would prove disastrous.
German leaders had always wondered how to compensate for their country’s lack of energy resources. Middle East oil was unreliable. During the Cold War, nuclear power seemed to be the future, but in the 1970s and 80s the environmentalist movement, whose political arm was the Greens, stopped Germany following France by developing small reactors and energy independence.
In the post-Soviet era, however, Russia quickly developed into the supplier of cheap oil and gas to Europe. Hence the rapid shift of the German economy towards reliance on Russia for its energy, especially after Angela Merkel’s decision a decade ago to phase out all nuclear reactors.
Nord Stream 1, the gas pipeline under the Baltic that bypassed Ukraine, was opened in 2011 with great fanfare by German, Russian, French and Dutch leaders. The new Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which doubled capacity, was intended by the Kremlin to ensure that German consumers and industry remained permanently dependent on Russian gas. Angela Merkel and her SPD coalition partners consistently refused to accept that Nord Stream had political and strategic as well as economic significance.
The Germans even allowed Russian companies to control large parts of their energy storage facilities and refineries, meaning that when the invasion of Ukraine began in February, stocks of oil and gas were low. This was another factor in persuading Berlin that an early exit from Russian hydrocarbons was impossible.
Even coal, the only fossil fuel that Germany has in abundance, was mostly imported from Russia, partly for environmental reasons but mainly because it was cheaper.
The Federal Republic prides itself on being a model of liberty, democracy and the rule of law. It has done much to redeem itself for the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity. But in the course of its dysfunctional love affair with Russia, Germany has allowed itself to become hostage to the world’s most dangerous dictatorship.
Driven by a fatal juxtaposition of gullible idealism and ruthless realpolitik, the country’s political elite had persuaded itself that the mantra “Never again” had no implications for its attitude to the Kremlin. Had Russia not suffered more than any other country at the hands of the Nazis? How then could a Russian leader have been transmogrified into something more sinister than anything that postwar Europe had witnessed: a cold-blooded killer with Hitlerian delusions and armed with a vast nuclear arsenal?
Thanks to the strength of the German economy, still the fourth largest in the world, the Berlin establishment is at once arrogant and self-righteous. Yet the cast of characters that dominated German politics for a generation has been outwitted, outmanoeuvred and outgunned.
From the self-aggrandising showmanship of Gerhard Schröder to the dogged materialism of Angela Merkel and the moral cowardice of Olaf Scholz, they are all technocrats, incapable of grasping grand strategy, let alone anticipating the vicious logic of Putin’s megalomania. All have been revealed as hopelessly out of their depth. These latter-day kaisers have no clothes.
For a brief moment, a week or so into the war, it looked as though Scholz might have listened to his inner voice. He spoke of a Zeitenwende, a moment of truth. Telling Germany that it had an absolute moral obligation to give Ukraine whatever was in its power might have blown apart his coalition or blown up his leadership, but it could have made a hero of him if he had chosen to follow through. Instead, he has been rowing back from the promise of that moment ever since.
For fear of becoming a “war party”, Scholz and his Social Democratic comrades are denying Ukraine the tanks, planes, missiles and artillery without which it cannot resist Putin’s “special operation” — a sinister echo, incidentally, of the Nazi term Sonderbehandlung, meaning extermination.
There are some German leaders who understand the fatal consequences of the Scholz government’s policy. Unfortunately, the leader of the opposition, Friedrich Merz, has not yet offered a clear alternative, but his fellow Christian Democrat, Norbert Röntgen has spoken out strongly for the delivery of all forms of military equipment and for an immediate boycott of Russian oil and gas.
He is scathing about Scholz and his coalition: “I cannot recall when a German government has caused more foreign political damage than in the present situation, when the fate of Europe’s future is at stake.”
The only member of the present government who seems to have an inkling of what is at stake is the Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock. A Green, she led the polls briefly a year ago, only to be mocked by the German establishment for having been a competitive teenage gymnast, the implication being that nobody that accomplished on the trampoline could possibly be bright enough to be Chancellor of Germany.
Yet Baerbock has consistently been tougher on Russia than any of her ministerial colleagues and she is visibly uncomfortable with having to defend Scholz’s failures on arms and sanctions.
On the centre-Left, many Germans are regretting the fact that Olaf Scholz rather than Annalena Baerbock became Chancellor after last September’s election. And on the centre-Right, they regret the fact that they fought that election under the leadership of the pro-Russian Armin Laschet rather than Röttgen.
In fact, the important division that is emerging in German politics is not between Left and Right, but between the doves of the pro-Russian political establishment and the hawkish dissidents who want to give wholehearted backing to Ukraine.
It is not inconceivable that the “traffic-light coalition” and its three parties will split. A parliamentary realignment could produce a new coalition of hawks from all the major parties under the leadership of Annalena Baerbock. She would join the other warrior women of the North who now lead Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Lithuania. With Norbert Röttgen as her Foreign Minister, Germany under Chancellor Baerbock could face the world with some confidence.
Most likely, however, politics in Berlin will stagger on under the status quo. Scholz’s only virtue is that the rest of his party, the largest in the coalition, are just as compromised by appeasement as he is. The German Social Democrats are the oldest centre-Left party in Europe, even older than the Labour Party or the now almost defunct French Socialists. Unless they wake up and ditch an Ostpolitik that has long since become an albatross around their necks, they are doomed.
The tragedy of the German elites is that in striving to be equal to a noxious past, they rendered themselves unequal to the demands of the present. It isn’t conscience that has made cowards of them all, but the imbecile conviction that Europe could never again fall under the spell to which Germany once succumbed. It has indeed happened again — in Russia.
Germany is no longer a great military power, but it can make itself Europe’s arsenal of democracy. The German people owes that much to Ukraine, to its allies and to itself.