May 8 1945 was the day Germany unconditionally surrendered, bringing the Second World War to an end, at least in Europe. Now war has once again returned to this continent.
After a few weeks of what seemed like dithering, Chancellor Scholz seems to have embraced the reality of this war. There is no choice, he said: Germany must do everything in its power to support Ukraine. That includes supplying heavy weapons.
“We will continue to do so,” vowed Scholz in his TV address on Sunday evening. He made clear that German weapons deliveries will continue, beyond the ‘Gepard’ tanks and howitzers that Germany has already promised to send to Ukraine.
From May 8 comes a commitment
“Never again” is the lesson Germany has drawn from World War II, a war in which Nazi Germany brought endless suffering to the people of Ukraine. In view of Russia’s current war of aggression, Scholz has now said that this “never again” is the basis for Germany’s special responsibility and obligation towards Ukraine.
Furthermore, defending law and freedom, alongside those who have been attacked, is the legacy of May 8, said Scholz.
The chancellor has been on Ukraine’s side from the very beginning. Just three days after the Russian invasion, Scholz proclaimed a “Zeitenwende” — a paradigm shift in German politics — in a speech to the Bundestag, and told the nation that from now on, many things would be different.
But the strong words were not immediately followed by strong action. Germany initially found it very difficult to decide how to provide Ukraine with adequate military support. The German defense minister initially spoke of the delivery of 5,000 steel helmets to Ukraine as a great feat. That was simply embarrassing.
But putting all the blame on Olaf Scholz is not quite fair. The chancellor does not act alone; he needs the approval of his coalition partners and, of course, the support of his own party. This he did not get to the fullest degree. There is widespread and deeply rooted pacifism in the center-left Social Democrats party (SPD). For many party members, “creating peace without weapons” is not just a slogan, but a fundamental belief.
Initially, there was strong resistance within the party to arms deliveries to a war zone. This resistance is also widespread in German society. Not everyone in this country likes the idea of Germany supplying tanks.
But the longer the war in Ukraine has gone on, the more obvious it has become that the Russian army is rampaging, murdering, raping, and torturing. It has become clear that this war cannot be ended through dialogue. No one can ignore this now.
The policy of détente has failed
But it was not only pacifism that stood in the SPD’s way. For decades, the SPD believed in dialogue with the Soviet Union and later with Russia. Its chancellor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Willy Brandt invented the policy of détente with its slogan “change through rapprochement,” which later the government under Chancellor Angela Merkel from the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) transformed into “change through trade.”
For far too long the belief was upheld, that Russia only had to be integrated economically in order to preserve the peace. For too long, the SPD was focused on Russia and ignored the warnings of the other Eastern Europeans. Now it has fallen flat on its face with this strategy.
Acknowledging the failure and drawing consequences from it was a process that has taken Olaf Scholz and his party some time. The chancellor has made the transition, as the speech shows. He took a stance and explained his position, and he hit the right tone. That’s good. Previously, his decision-making process was perceived internationally as dithering and hesitant. That has hurt Germany.
Now the German citizens have been told that the war will probably last for a long time, and it will have consequences for all people here in Germany, too. Olaf Scholz has promised that he will do everything in his power to prevent damage to the country. He also wants to refrain from doing anything that could be seen as entering the war, and he wants to proceed jointly with Germany’s allies.
After the speech, there should be no more ambiguities, because the chancellor cannot go back on the words he has now found. That’s the best prerequisite for him to travel to Kyiv now.
This text was originally written in German.
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