The political party-spectra of various EU and NATO member states are transmuting with frightening speed. Such hitherto peripheral phenomena as ethnic nationalism, demagogic populism and plain anti-rationalism are taking hold in American and European high politics, public life and mass media. The various new illiberal, authoritarian and crypto-racist forces are often dovish vis-à-vis Russia. Some are outrightly pro-Putinist. The pro-democratic pathos of Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution and Kyiv’s enthusiasm for EU as well as NATO accession is alien to the West’s newborn nativists.
GERMAN POLITICS’ COUNTER-CYCLICAL EVOLUTION
To surprising degree, Germany has resisted so far the latter all-Western trend. In part, it has even developed in the opposite direction. A right-wing populist party, it is true, with ideas similar to those of other new nationalist politicians in Western countries, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), has emerged. The AfD has recently entered the federal as well as all regional parliaments of the FRG. Apparently, the nationalist party will become a permanent feature of German politics, and an important factor in East German regional affairs. The populist party is now also – resembling the role of the AfD’s nationalist brethren in other EU states – the most outspokenly pro-Russian political force in the Bundestag.
Yet, the AfD remains isolated and stigmatized within German federal-level politics. There seems to be an upper ceiling for the AfD’s national electoral support significantly below 20%, and little chance for the right-wing populists to ever enter a federal coalition government. In some ways, the AfD’s recent entry into the Bundestag and presence in German mass media has been even good for Ukraine. That is because the AfD’s undisguised support for the Putin regime – including public endorsement of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and open cooperation of some AfD activists with the Kremlin – is contributing to a delegitimization of similar approaches among Germany’s left-wing politicians and intellectuals.
To be sure, many latently anti-American German socialists and social democrats are still dovish vis-à-vis the Kremlin. Yet, pacifist Putinversteher (Putin-understanders) find it, in view of the AfD’s enthusiastic embrace of Russian discourses and policies, more difficult to justify this or that pro-Moscow position in public in leftist terms. Within the Social Democratic Party and partly even within the Left Party as well as in their associated think tanks, the Friedrich Ebert and Rosa Luxemburg foundations, gradually a less lenient approach towards the current Russian regime is taking hold.
In Germany’s center-right spectrum, future prospects for pro-Ukrainian trends may also look better than some imagine. Many Ukrainian political observers are worried by the forthcoming departure of Angela Merkel from German politics. Merkel has been heavily engaged with Kyiv during the last years, and earned herself many friends in Ukraine. Yet, some of the currently probable alternatives to Merkel in the Chancellery may be not that bad for Ukraine.
In her first foreign policy statements, the recently elected head of the Christian-Democratic Union, new Minister of Defense and a possible successor of Merkel as Chancellor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, for instance, has been largely hawkish on Russia. Another rising star of Germany’s center right, the European People’s Party top German candidate in this year’s European parliamentary elections, Manfred Weber, is also hawkish on Russia, and even opposes openly the Nord Stream 2 project. Germany’s new President of the European Commission Ursula van der Leyen is a committed Atlanticist, and has distinguished herself, in the German context, with relatively critical remarks on Putin’s Russia.
Moreover, if Kramp-Karrenbauer were to become Chancellor, one of her currently close advisors, a current Deputy General Manager of the CDU, Ministry of Defense official and Ukraine expert Nico Lange might enter Germany’s next government in a prominent position. Lange was the head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s Kyiv office in 2006-2012, and thus knows Ukraine well. He speaks some Ukrainian and is personally acquainted with many Ukrainian politicians, diplomats, intellectuals and activists. Lange’s possible further advance into Germany’s executive would mean that, for the first time, a major European power could have an accomplished expert on today Ukraine in its leadership. This is in distinction to the US’s or Canada’s governments whose various former or current Ukrainian diaspora members had or have little first-hand experience with Ukraine’s peculiarly post-Soviet political affairs.
A recent personnel change in Germany’s liberal center-right party may also be to the advantage of Ukraine. In April 2019, the Free Democratic Party elected, as its General Secretary, the 38-year old East German lawyer Linda Teuteberg. To be sure, many East German politicians – especially, on the left and right ends of the FRG’s party spectrum – tend to be dovish on today Russia and disinterested in Ukraine. Yet, a minority of East German parliamentarians, intellectuals, journalists and experts are, on the contrary, especially hawkish with regard to post-Soviet authoritarianism – probably, out of their first-hand experience with its Soviet-era roots. The include, for example, the former Member of European Parliament, Werner Schulz, or the current head of the Tbilisi office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation, Stefan Meister.
Teuteberg seems to belong to the latter rather than former camp. She has, like Angela Merkel, a special East German understanding of post-Soviet affairs. Because of her legal background, she seems to have little patience for Putin’s violations of international law in, among other countries, Ukraine.
THE RISE OF THE GERMAN GREEN PARTY
The, for Kyiv, most relevant positive recent trend in the FRG, during the last couple of years, has been the rise of popular support for the most vocally pro-Ukrainian German political party, the Union 90 / The Greens. Once a minor force in Berlin, the left-liberal Green party is today, in opinion polls, regularly pulling ahead of the Social Democrats, and on second place – after the Christian Democrats – within the FRG’s party landscape. The Green party plays also an increasing role in West German regional politics and has recently started to make serious inroads into East German state parliaments.
The Greens are thus poised to significantly enlarge their Bundestag faction, in the next federal elections currently scheduled for 2021. Given recent changes in German voter preferences, the Greens may take more than 20% of the vote and about a fourth of the seats in the Bundestag, if not more. If so, the new factional constellation in Germany’s next parliament will mean that they enter the next federal government. In a best-case scenario for them, even the next chancellor could come from the Greens – whether in a coalition with the center right (in case the also overtake the CDU/CSU), or in an alliance with the social democrats and left.
In view of their high concern for minority and women rights, the Greens have an especially critical view of Putin’s imperialism, authoritarianism, machoism, clericalism and traditionalism. For somewhat similar reasons though, neither the German federal nor the EU parliamentary Greens have so far found significant party-political allies in post-Soviet Eastern Europe, including in and above all Ukraine. The often conservative, national and anti-leftist ideologies of pro-democratic forces in the successor republics of the USSR have made their rapprochement with left-liberal West European parties, including the various Green groups, a difficult task.
Nevertheless, the German Greens have by now gone through a 30-year engagement with Ukraine reaching back to the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. Over the last decade, the so-called “realo” wing of the Greens (i.e. the realists as distinguished from the radically pacifist fundamentalists) and the party-related Heinrich Boell Foundation have taken an increasingly open pro-Ukrainian position, especially in connection with the Euromaidan uprising. Among some German Greens, the Revolution of Dignity’s emancipatory impetus is seen as partly similar to the impulses of the 1968 West German student protests that gave birth to the Green movement, and of the 1989-1990 East German anti-communist uprising. Out of the latter revolution, today’s alliance of the West German Green party with the late GDR’s opposition alliance “Union 1990” (Bündnis 90) emerged in 1993.
One of the, until recently, highest ranking Green politicians with a special interest in Ukraine, the former head of the European Parliament’s (EP) Green faction Rebecca Harms, was, in 2016, awarded the Anniversary Medal “25 Years of Ukrainian Independence,” by then Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Harms left the European Parliament in 2019, yet remains active in Ukrainian affairs. Like Harms, two other German Green veteran politicians, Marieluise Beck and Ralf Fuecks, have recently left high politics. Yet, Beck and Fuecks founded, in 2017, a pro-Atlantic and anti-authoritarian think-tank in Berlin, LibMod: Zentrum Liberale Moderne (Center for Liberal Modernity). With its popular events and special reports, not the least on East European affairs, LibMod is already getting attention among German politicians and intellectuals. It has been running, since 2018, a special Ukraine project which includes the website Ukraine verstehen (Understanding Ukraine) that publishes brief German-language analyses of current Ukrainian affairs, on a weekly basis.
Moreover, a vocal group of younger pro-Ukrainian politicians and activists are continuing the line earlier taken by Harms, Beck and Fuecks in the German and European parliaments, as well as in the Heinrich Boell Foundation. In the Bundestag, among others, Omid Nouripour and Manuel Sarazzin pay special attention to Ukraine. In the Europarliament, the recently elected German Green MEPs Viola von Cramon and Sergey Lagodinsky have a special interest and sympathy for post-Euromaidan Ukraine. The rise of the Greens in German popular opinion is thus good news for Kyiv. Given this and other positive developments, Berlin’s approach towards Kyiv will, over the next years, gradually improve. For these and other reasons, Ukraine’s Germany-policy should be fundamentally rethought.
ANDREAS UMLAND is a Nonresident Fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, Principal Researcher of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Jena, as well as General Editor of the book series “Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society” and “Ukrainian Voices.” The text appeared originally as a blog for the Polish journal New Eastern Europe.