Treating Russia on an equal footing

Treating Russia on an equal footing

The speech by Matthias Platzeck (SPD) in Dresden

by Karl Müller

The opinion exists that anyone who criticises the EU and Nato states’ policy towards Russia must at the same time believe everything in Russia to be in apple-pie order. This opinion is not correct. There is no country in this world in which “everything is in apple-pie order,” and of course this also applies to Russia. Indidentally, there is no serious Russian voice that would claim anything of the kind. On the contrary, most Russians, as well as the responsible politicians in the country, are quite outspoken about the fact that their country is facing enormous tasks. One would appreciate being able to count on support from abroad in the accomplishment of these tasks – but not at the price of the loss of self-determination.
This is not a Russian whim, but valid and binding international law which cannot be too often called to mind. “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” So it says – in these exact words – in the first paragraph of Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights – both from 1966 and signed by almost all EU and NATO countries.
But in the 1990s of the past century, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia made starkly opposite experiences, and this had catastrophic consequences for the country and its people. All this is known and well documented and has often been expressed. And yet many leading forces in many EU and NATO countries are still acting as if the 1990s had been the years of freedom and democracy in Russia. And right up till today, the attempts to directly influence Russia have not subsided – with the big difference that today, Russia and its policy – unlike in the 1990s – are no longer willing to allow them.

Matthias Platzeck

Matthias Platzeck was born in Potsdam in 1953 and lived in the GDR until the turnaround. Still in GDR times, he involved himself in environmental questions and in this way joined the Alliance 90 at the time of the turnaround. (The Alliance later united with the West German Greens and as Matthias Platzeck opposed this, it led to his leaving the party.) He was without party affiliation for a few years, before he became a member of the SPD (the German Social Democratic Party). From 1990 to 1998, he was the Minister of Rural Development, Environment and Agriculture of the Federal State of Brandenburg, in 2002 he was elected Minister President of that state, an office which he held until 2013, but then resigned for health reasons. In 2005, he became Federal Chairman of the SPD, but he only held this post until 2006. Since March 2014, Matthias Platzeck has been chairman of the German-Russian Forum.
On 19 February 2017, Matthias Platzeck gave a one-hour speech at the Dresdner Schauspielhaus as part of the series “Dresdner Reden” (Dresden speeches). These were organised by the Schauspielhaus together with the “Sächsische Zeitung” (“Saxon Newspaper”). This address deserves the greatest attention, although only a small number of media reported on it and atlhough the speaker was strongly attacked for it in the newspaper of his own party, the “Vorwärts” (“Forwards”), by the speechwriter of today’s German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (also SPD).

Dresden speech 2017

The complete speech by Matthias Platzeck can be found at: www.sz-online.de/nachrichten/brauchen-europa-und-russland-einander-wirklich-3617266.html?bPrint=true. It is also worthwhile to listen to it. It can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofhQOCH1cOQ (both in German)

Dresden address

Matthias Platzeck’s speech makes a refreshing change from what one is accustomed to from our mainstream media. Even so, or perhaps precisely therefore, the speaker received a lot of applause for his address at the Dresden Schauspielhaus, and he and his opinions also have a very good reputation in East Germany. Even large numbers of the readers of the “Vorwärts” were in favour of Placzeck’s positions.
In Dresden, Matthias Platzeck spoke about his personal relationships with Russia and the Russians. He paid tribute to the Russians with whom he had personally been involved, and also appreciated the Russian culture and the great importance of the German-Russian relations in history.
Then he said: “Please understand me correctly, if today, in this address, I will be [...] treating what is on my own doorstep and addressing those aspects which according to my mind are not adequately taken into consideration, or of which I simply disapprove, in the way we deal with Russia in the West and particularly in Germany. This does not mean that I am in agreement with everything that is going on in Russia. [...] But I always try to look closely and also, despite all the criticism I might have, to understand the other side [...]. For me this is a minimum requirement in dealing with each other – especially if the dealings are to be peaceful.”

Criticism of the popular image of Russia

Matthias Platzeck described the image of Russia that has by now been widely disseminated in Germany: “On television and radio, in magazines and newspapers, in the political discussion, we are met with a one-dimensional image of Russia and the Russians. The voices concerned with differentiation have become scarce.” There is an image of Russia, “based on prejudices and stereotypes, some of which are centuries-old.”
At the core of these prejudices lies the firm opinion, that “Russia and the West do not belong together; Russia and the West – they are fundamental opposites. One could also say that Russia and the West – they are enemies.”

Russia’s negative experiences

Matthias Platzeck then talked about the negative experiences Russia made with the “West” after 1990: “The changes in the 1990s discredited the terms” ‘democracy’ and ‘liberal market economy’ in Russia. The entire economic and social system collapsed [...], crime got out of hand, murders were the order of the day; The excesses of an unbridled capitalism gave immense wealth to a few, the so-called ‘oligarchs’, but left the many impoverished. For the majority of the population, social stability and a functioning, reliable state have been a top priority ever since the chaos of the Yeltsin years. Their return to their own strength, to national traditions and mentalities is an almost inevitable consequence of these negative experiences [...].” [emphasis mine]
Also Germany, on which Russia had pinned high hopes after 1990, contributed to these negative experiences and showed no willingness to take those Russian experiences seriously. On the contrary, “Germany was more interested in instructing the young [Russian] democracy with a raised index finger. As a partner and a power factor, Russia was no longer taken seriously.” Platzeck recalls Vladimir Putin’s speech to the German Bundestag and his offer of cooperation in 2001. “The outstretched hand was never grasped by German politics. Putin’s speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007 then proved to be an alarm call, which made it clear that Russia saw its security interests threatened by the American hegemony and the NATO-East expansion.”

Never an equal dialogue partner

Matthias Platzeck mentions other Russian offers for cooperation which were never taken up, and concludes: “It is important to take into account that after the signing of the Paris Charter [in November 1990], Russia has never actually become an equal dialogue partner for the Western world, and not even for Germany.”
First and foremost, Russia missed a convincing Western response to its security needs. But why did the West not establish a European security order which would have been accepted from all sides? For Matthias Platzeck this was and still is an expression of western hubris.

Russia’s need for safety has been ignored

“The fact that this topic did – and still does – not find a sympathetic ear in the West certainly had much to do with the ‘triumphalism’ that took hold of the Western world after the end of the Cold War. Russia was the clear loser, the West was in possession of the only saving world formula, and was convinced that everything it did was right. So, out of this arrogance, the German policy with regard to Russia concentrated primarily on ‘re-education’ about Western values.” On the other hand, “the integration of Russia in Europe as a partner on an equal footing, the integration of Russia into a common European security architecture, that is to say the concerns which Russian policy has repeatedly drawn our attention to over the years, these have not been taken seriously at all – not even by us Germans, who are connected to Russia by a tragic history.”

Germany lacks respect for the Russian war victims

This is “perhaps the most painful disappointment on the Russian side”: “Germany, which from 1941 to 1945 had carried out an extermination war of unprecedented proportions against the Soviet peoples, showed, according to what the Russians felt, a lack of recognition.” And: “The great act of reconciliation achieved by the Russian people was not adequately appreciated, even though it ended with the gift of German unity to the Germans. Moreover, the reunited Germany showed a lack of due respect for the victims in Russia.” In the past few years Germany has been thinking about all sorts of historical events, but not of the day when the “Wehrmacht” attacked the Soviet Union: “On that day there was a peculiar silence in Germany. The 75th anniversary of the attack on the Soviet Union was not a day of official commemoration, neither in the ‘Bundestag’ nor in the form of any events planned by the Federal Government.”

Double standards applied in the Ukraine question

As far as developments in Ukraine are concerned, “things are painted in black and white [...]: It is always the others who are to blame.” The discourse on the topic is “emotionally so charged [...] that there is no room for differentiated analysis, let alone for self-critical analysis. Resentment and irrational fears have won the upper hand and are eagerly fueled, old enemy images and prejudices are being reanimated” – on both sides – that is, namely also on the part of the EU and NATO states.
Matthias Platzeck criticises the “double standards” of the West; one wants to teach Russia about international law, but has “condemned oneself as untrustworthy […]”, for example by means of the violations of international law in Kosovo and Iraq or by the military activities in Libya.”

Suggestions for a new start

Matthias Platzeck does not stop at the analysis. He makes suggestions as to how things may become better: “We must, as it were, restore everything to what we began with in connection with Russia and call out a zero-hour for German-Russian relations. Such a re-launch involves that we treat Russia as an equal partner and create eye-level – in our meetings and in our negotiations. In addition [...], we must welcome the idea of accepting and respecting differing concepts based on different traditions, views and ways of thinking. [...] We have to concede to Russia that it will go its own way and that it will alone determine its steps towards democracy and the way in which this democracy will be shaped in the nearer and farther future.”

Votes for an understanding

At present “votes for an understanding with Russia are most likely to be expected from the population and the economy [...]”. Matthias Platzeck mentions a survey by the German Körber Foundation in 2016. According to this, “a clear majority of 81 per cent of Germans expressed their wish for closer relations between the two countries. Even 95 per cent of Germans thought that a political reconciliation between Russia and the European Union was important.” And: “The results were similarly clear in Russia.”
Finally, Matthias Platzeck discussed the importance of the German-Russian Forum and the necessary next steps. He sums up as follows: “I think that Germany and Russia, as well as the European Union and Russia, might superbly complement each other as partners on the continent – with opportunities and advantages for both sides. Nor will we be able to solve global crises rationally and permanently without the involvement of Russia. Today we are dealing with a highly complex multipolar world in which complex interrelationships and interdependencies must be taken into account, in which almost everything is connected with everything else. Matthias Platzeck continued, “we should do our utmost in Europe to ease and improve our relationship with Russia. We should also consider offering some commitment and effort in advance and we should begin to lift sanction unilaterally. This may also help to bring movement to the gridlocked situation on the continent.”
The potential of relations was “gigantic [...]. However, an essential prerequisite for cooperation is a security regulation for the European continent in which Russia is integrated as an equal partner. For without or even against Russia [...] there will be no stability and no security in Europe. [...] Germans and Russians have a common geographical and a common cultural home in Europe. [...] Germans and Russians do not face each other with a cold heart, and that makes me confident and encourages me in my opinion that heading into the future together with Russia will be very promising.”    •
(Translation Current Concerns)

Our website uses cookies so that we can continually improve the page and provide you with an optimized visitor experience. If you continue reading this website, you agree to the use of cookies. Further information regarding cookies can be found in the data protection note.

If you want to prevent the setting of cookies (for example, Google Analytics), you can set this up by using this browser add-on.​​​​​​​