Andreas Umland reviews “Die Ukraine und wir: Deutschlands Versagen und die Lehren für die Zukunft. Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag, 2022. 248 pp. ISBN 978-3-96289-180-0.
When the prominent German radio journalist Sabine Adler published her book “Ukraine and Us: The German Failure and Lessons for the Future,” in August 2022 in Berlin, this was an event by itself when viewed in the concept of German intellectual life. The other reason why it attracted high attention was obvious: the escalation of Russia’s war against Ukraine following the full-scale invasion in February 2022 had put Germany's previous political and economic approach to Eastern Europe under question. For three decades, the interests and worries of Ukraine, as the second largest state in Europe, had been partly overlooked by Berlin while Russia’s political and economic elites had been extensively courted.
Adler traces the historical, political, economic, and cultural background to the fundamental failure of Germany’s policy towards the post-Soviet space during the period 1991-2021. Her analysis focuses not only on the sources and start of the 2022 war, but also on Germany's previous role in relation to the country Russia had invaded. Being one of Germany’s long-standing Eastern Europe experts, she outlines how German political omissions, lobbyism, double standards, and a mendacious form of pacifism indirectly co-prepared Moscow’s attack on Ukraine.
As a result, Adler’s critical 2022 review of Berlin’s Ukraine policy continues to represent a landmark in public discussion of German politics. Influential parts of the German media said the following in their reviews of the book:
· “A dramatically revealing book”- Christian Thomas for Frankfurter Rundschau;
· “An authoritative contribution to enlighten [the readership about German-Ukrainian relations]" - Natascha Freundel for RBB Kulturradio;
· “Adler evaluates [Germany’s relationship to Ukraine] with wisdom and the sharpness of a razor" -Viola Schenz for Süddeutsche Zeitung;
· “Adler manages with her book to hold a mirror up to us. She points out the errors in [our] thinking." - Paul Toetzke for Liberale Moderne;
· “This book explains a lot. You will be wiser afterwards." - Jörg Thadeusz for WDR 2;
· "This [book] might be unique at the [current] moment, with its degree of depth and sharpness." - Bernd Schekauski for MDR Kultur.
There had already been, earlier critical assessments of Berlin’s over-appreciation and misunderstanding of Russia as well as far too lenient treatment of Moscow’s imperial policies. Previous landmarks included the following monographs:
· Gerd Koenen, Der Russland-Komplex: Die Deutschen und der Osten 1900-1945 [The Russian Complex: The Germans and the East 1900-1945]. München: C. H. Beck, 2005;
· Thomas Urban, Verstellter Blick: Die deutsche Ostpolitik [A Biased View: Germany’s Eastern Policy]. Berlin: Tapeta, 2022
· Rüdiger von Fritsch, Zeitenwende: Putins Krieg und die Folgen [Changing Times: Putin’s War and Its Repercussions]. Berlin: Aufbau, 2022.
Koenen’s influential book was republished with a new foreword in 2022.
Published six months before Adler’s book, the study by Urban had been completed just before Russia’s full-scale invasion and appeared in bookstores in March 2022, three weeks after it began.
Rüdiger von Fritsch is a former German ambassador to Moscow whose book was published in May 2022, and who has since become one of the most prolific German mass media commentators on Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Several important new studies by various journalists have come out after the declaration of the famous Zeitenwende (change of times) by Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Feb. 27 2022 and publication of Adler’s book in the following August. Among the most important and profound additional studies are, in chronological order of their appearance:
· Michael Thumann, Revanche: Wie Putin das bedrohlichste Regime der Welt geschaffen hat [Revenge: How Putin Created the Most Dangerous Regime of the World]. München: C.H. Beck, 2023;
· Reinhard Bingener and Markus Wehner, Die Moskau-Connection: Das Schröder-Netzwerk und Deutschlands Weg in die Abhängigkeit [The Moscow Connection: The Schroeder Network and Germany’s Path to Dependence]. München: C.H. Beck, 2023;
· Winfried Schneider-Deters, Russlands Ukrainekrieg und die Bundesrepublik: Deutsche Debatten um Frieden, Faschismus und Kriegsverbrechen, 2022-2023 [Russia’s Ukraine War and the Federal Republic: German Debates on Peace, Fascism and War Crimes, 2022-23]. Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag, 2023.
Other books have thus provided important insights before and after Adler produced her study. Her book was one of the most consequential contributions to the currently ongoing German rethinking of the so-called Ostpolitik (literally: Eastern policy) after the end of the Cold War in 2022 and remains so in 2023. The German attitude towards Eastern Europe, in turn, has been one of the most significant influences on European international relations as a whole. That was the case in the past, is still so today, and will presumably also be the case in the future. It is a relationship destined to determine where Europe will be moving in the next few years.
Adler is (like myself) an East and not West German with a considerable part of her life spent in the former Soviet bloc. With her background in the so-called German Democratic Republic (GDR), Adler brings to the table a somewhat different viewpoint on Russia, Ukraine, and Germany’s role in Eastern Europe, in comparison with West Germans. Adler combines her particularly long-standing and strong skepticism towards Putin, an expressive sympathy for Ukraine and other former Soviet republics with the views of a number of other influential former East German analysts of Eastern Europe.
They include, among others, the late Werner Schulz, a long-term German Green Party member of both the German and European parliaments, Stefan Meister of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), Jörg Forbrig of the German Marshall Fund (GMFUS), and Andre Härtel of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). Like these prolific Eastern Europe experts, Adler has, for more than two decades now, been among those German analysts of the post-Soviet world who have, with their written publications and oral interventions, prepared the ground for the recent radical turn in Berlin’s attitude to Russia and Ukraine.
Adler’s book is now being prepared for publication for a wider audience in an English-language version by Stuttgart’s ibidem Press, which will be distributed outside of Europe by Columbia University Press. This translation will provide the interested public outside Germany with a glimpse of the inner workings of German Ostpolitik. Non-German readers should keep in mind, however, that Adler’s book was primarily written for a German audience. It was especially addressed for readers among the political and intellectual elites of the Federal Republic, and, in particular, those living or working in Berlin.
As I’ve tried to indicate, Adler’s book is not the only recent tome that can provide a critical appraisal of German policies towards Russia and East Central Europe. There are a number of such recent German books which deserve translation into other languages, and a readership outside Germany. Yet, Adler’s study still represents the only such investigation specifically focusing on Ukrainian-German relations within Berlin’s wider ranging Ostpolitik. Moreover, what she has written not a dry academic study; it is a book aimed at a broader audience.
Adler’s fascinating exploration should also be of interest to a non-German and wider readership interested in the evolution of Berlin’s position vis-à-vis Kyiv and Moscow. It creates a vivid illustration, documentation, and interpretation of recent German debates, concepts and policies regarding Ukraine, security in Eastern Europe, and the Russian threat. Whoever wants to understand Berlin’s past, current and future of relationship with Kyiv needs to read Adler’s book.
Andreas Umland is an analyst at the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS) at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.
The views expressed in this opinion article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
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