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Detente Policy and Media Hysteria

by Antje Vollmer
Antje Vollmer is a Green politician who was vice-president of the German Bundestag from 1994 to 2005. She urges a robust public debate over the new hardline German foreign policy that forgets the war and Russian help in German reunification. What has the politics of regime change brought? Sanctions are always at the expense of the population. Detente policy is supported more by the population than by politicians and journalists.

Interview with Antje Vollmer

[This interview published on April 24, 2018 was titled "Whoever supports moderation with Russia needs to dress warmly" and is translated from the German on the Internet, The Green politician, Antje Vollmer, was vice-preside3nt of the German Bundestag from 1994 to 2005.]

"We see a constant rearmament – with words," Antje Vollmer says in the interview with the NachDenkSeiten news portal. The former vice-president of the German Bundestag warns forcefully of a further intensification of the conflict with Russia and criticizes politics, media, and her own party. Whoever stands up within the Green party as a pacifist and advocate of a détente policy is like an "alien from a distant star." This interview focuses on the détente policy of the old Germany and the new orientation of German foreign policy by the "post-reunification elites."

The Green politician is not caught in false alarmism. Vollmer is an experienced politician. She was vice-president of the German Bundestag from 1994 to 2005 and a Green delegate in the Parliament. What the doctor of theology observed for several years makes her very worried. The pillars of détente policy that were erected by politicians of the old Germany to avoid a war with Russia were torn down by the post-reunification elites. Vollmer hopes for an open discussion about détente policy that marked Willy Brandt and the consequences of a new hard-line German foreign policy.

Vollmer and other personalities joined in two appeals before this interview. In December 2014, Vollmer and more than "60 personalities from politics, economics, culture and the media" initiated an appeal "No War Again in Europe! Not in our name!" The appeal died away.

Then on April 12, 2018, Vollmer again turned to the public. With four other politicians, she warned of the danger "of a third and final world war." However, the media did not take up the appeal published by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

Do we face a third world war, Ms. Vollmer?

We face an extremely polarized situation between the West and Russia. In this situation, little incidents could lead to a further escalation that then could not be controlled anymore. That is a great danger. A false analysis of a threat could be just as dangerous as a real threat.

Can you describe this polarized situation?

We see stereotypes built on both sides. A hysterical mobilization often occurs in the media. A constant rearmament is planned and carried out – militarily and with words. With this concoction, little occasions or confrontations could run in incalculable ways – since earlier negotiation possibilities are not active any longer.

You are an experienced politician. How do you explain this polarized situation? Were fatal positions taken? The conflict with Russia was not created overnight.

My thesis is that a fundamental change of German foreign policy took place around 2005 and the turn of the millennium.

What do you mean?

The wrong conclusions were drawn from the events of the revolution of 1989 and the fall of the Iron Curtain. The West fancied itself the victor of history and dreamt of more regime changes worldwide. The merits of the détente policy were denied. The considerable contribution of the Soviet Union to the miracle that these changes in Europe happened largely nonviolently was gradually forgotten.

Now, you are turning a second time to the public with well-known personalities in an appeal concerning Russia.

Yes, there was already an appeal in 2014 on the occasion of the Ukraine crisis. Over 60 prominent personalities signed that appeal. I cannot ever remember a list like that: a former President of the German Republic, a former German chancellor, different prime ministers, German secretaries – from the most different parties – and well-known persons from art, culture, churches, unions and farm organizations. We urgently warned against trivializing the war danger in Europe as only a phenomenon from the past.

What was the reaction?

Many gave a weary smile to our appeal. The media invented the label Russia-sympathizer. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper only noted it as a news item without publishing the specific points.

Did this appeal also have a far-reaching significance beside its message?

This was a collective public warning from representatives of the old Germany and its civil society about carelessly changing the basic coordinates of German foreign policy that were valid across the parties from Willy Brandt and Helmut Kohl to Hans-Dietrich Genscher. We saw the main supports of this old foreign policy were torn down little by little. These supports once provided stable security architecture in the heart of Europe and de-escalated possible conflicts between East and West.

Thus, this appeal was a revolt of the old Germany against the elite of the post-reunification time and their new agenda in foreign policy – a foreign policy that described itself as "supporting human rights" and propagating high values while operating with aggressive methods: with sanctions, regime change attempts and double standards in the question of violating international law etc. We hoped for an open debate over the question whether and why the basic coordinates of German foreign policy have changed and whether this is good for the country.

Is that discussion still pending?

Absolutely. We must ask: What does it mean for Germany, for the European Union, and for our European future if the post-reunification elites follow the new foreign- and security policy? After more than twenty years, the question about the benefits and results of this policy must be allowed. What successes can this new conservative policy really show?

After seeing how this policy was carried out, one must conclude that the "post-reunification elites" are rather well-positioned. They have opinion leadership in politics, in the media and in nearly all think-tanks. They seem afraid of the open discussion in the media. They are also seldom put in question. Refusing the debate is easy. They hardly ever face the necessity of giving an account of the successes and failures of their concept of politics in the real world.

What happened with the second attempt? What lessons did you learn?

We learned from the first experiences. We know in advance the media had no interest in carrying on a debate on principles. Therefore, we thought we could publish an article if a discussion did not arise through the appeal. In the heated atmosphere, we wanted the Skripal affair to reach the new German government.. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper published the article…

I saw a strong mono-cultural pressure for unity by political decision-makers, particularly in Germany. Angela Merkel is a master at forming a united front. She understands it as her task in the European Union to assume the role of team leader. She has a gene in forming oversized coalitions. Behind that is much anxiety that everyone must fall in line or adjust. Otherwise, the whole country blows up.

Thus, there is an enormous domestic pressure that makes dissent very hard. For deterrence, there is always a villain who stands outside: one time Putin, one time Urban and one time Tsipras. This is a method of power: an inner pressure of adjustment on pain of exclusion. There is a strong media support in this project of forging Europe's unity with pressure. I saw it in the reporting, for example, in an extreme concept of the enemy in Putin and Russia that has irrational characteristics and goes far beyond necessary and legitimate criticism.

What motivates this reporting?

This reporting has much to do with ignorance. People are not seriously interested in Russia. In some media, today's Russia is pictured as the direct continuation of the Soviet Union or Stalinism. Stereotyped thought-patterns and prejudices are not scrutinized anymore. There is no open curiosity about contemporary Russia…

A fraction in the Kremlin oriented strongly in the West does not play any role in this reporting. This different knowledge about Russia is not only found in the media. Real Russia experts in the Federal Foreign Office are much rarer compared to earlier years.

One could say sarcastically: a journalism and a politics that have a real interest in the land and people and in presenting Russia from different perspectives would stand in the way of building enemy pictures.

That could certainly happen. Knowledge makes life increasingly difficult. Nevertheless, there is a great difference in how people in Germany see and desire relations to Russia and how the elites in parties and the media judge…

How did this heated situation arise?

I believe the roots lie in the euphoria of the post-reunification era. Politicians and journalists abandoned and forgot their core function and their profession and became activists…

In an interview with Hesse radio, you said the reporting on the Skripal case has characteristics of prepared war propaganda. Those are harsh words.

When journalists become activists, they have an additional power over public opinion through the transmission of their medium. Karl Kraus delved into this explicitly in the "Last Days of Humanity" when he interpreted the aggressiveness in the public media slowly increasing before 1914 as preparation and habituation to belligerent conflicts.

Therefore, we must urgently raise the question how we can have a quality journalism again that keeps a distance without which no judgment is possible. We need journalists who can question their own emotions and curb themselves in their activist role.

What is your opinion of the political talk shows on television? What is striking to you?

They are a mirror-image of the reporting. Hardly any guests try to knowledgeably explain or understand the Russian side. The label "Russia sympathizer" has long been a reason not to listen. The people who assume this role of publically understanding Russia could be counted on one hand.

Genuine dissident qualities for this unloved role are vital. They stand rather alone in the scenery. Ms. Krone_Schmalz is slandered by journalism… CEOs fear sanctions. Whoever supports moderation in dealing with Russia, whoever openly addresses errors on one's side and in one's camp must dress warmly.

In your appeal, you wrote memories of the world war fade. Do journalists and politicians sometimes lack understanding what a massive war would mean for everyone?

War experiences are traumas that should not be counted as advantages. Both postwar German republics and the politicians of this era were traumatized or at least marked by the war experiences in the East and West.

The decision-makers of the old Germany were very conscious that no ocean separates us and Russia. Therefore, they always emphasized a balancing policy between the West and the potential adversary in the East. Thus, we were deeply rooted in the West but knew we had to seek an understanding with the East. This consciousness existed across the parties. It can be found with Egon Bahr, Willy Brandt, Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Helmut Kohl.

How do you see the positioning of the new German foreign secretary Heiko Maas toward Russia?

The new elites of Germany think and act differently than their predecessors. It is very sad to see that the new SPD foreign secretary finds the détente policy of his own party outdated. To the new elites, détente policy no longer fits the contemporary age… A much harsher course is followed toward Russia. Heiko Maas categorically rejects the whole détente policy even though its inventors were social democrats.

I am astonished about this. I ask myself all the time why there is a rebellion against this change of strategy and breach with its own best traditions.

The new foreign secretary seeks to be close to the sensationalist Bild newspaper and to the "Atlanticists" in all foreign policy editorials. This is new. In the past, the harshest anti-communist propaganda always came from the Bild newspaper and the Springer press. Articles against the authoritarian Russia that is no longer communist are regularly printed in ZEIT, Spiegel, Sueddeutsche, FAZ and even in taz.

A problem may exist for us as a society with this orientation of politics and the media since complex and multilayered analyses are necessary.

What does that show us?

The détente policy is anchored much more strongly in the population than in politicians and journalists.

How can we break out of this muddled situation?

I appeal urgently to the SPD to defend its past détente policy – against the new foreign secretary, its secretary of state, journalists and the media.

Civil society must carry on the debate about the changed coordinates of the new German foreign policy in its own interest. Those responsible for these new concepts must be forced to show what the promised positive results of their policy look like. What has the policy of regime change brought? Are we nearer to peace in Europe and the world? Is Europe's unity more secure today? Is its democratic radiance more glowing than in the 1990s?

This is an appeal to politics and the media. How can citizens act in this situation? What should citizens do regarding the disparities in the reporting?

The net rebels. The doubts that journalists should express in the media are found on the Internet. For example, resistance against a propagandistic and one-sided reporting that we witnessed for many days in the case of Skripal is found in the net. This contradiction in the net is hard to interpret as a campaign of right-wing populists or Russian hackers although this is attempted.

What is really lacking is power on the streets. To cite one example, the Greens had their congress in Berlin when the latest attacks of American, British and French bombers hit their targets in Syria. In the past, Greens would have immediately taken to the streets: End the bombardments! Respect international law! But this congress danced and continued meeting.

As a pacifist and advocate of a modern détente policy, you within the Greens are an alien from a distant star. That détente policy and the civil rights movement were effective together was a stroke of luck. The precious knowledge of 1989 led to success and to a nonviolent change of the world. I do not know a single positive example that sanctions boldly interpreted as nonviolent yield nonviolent results. Sanctions are always at the expense of the population, ruin whole political economies and lead politically to an extreme estrangement between the states.


Gabriel Krone-Schmalz, “The West Must Take the First Steps to Détente,” February 15, 2018, and

Albrecht Mueller and Joachim Kleppe,“Ultimatums instead of Diplomacy,” April 19, 2018,
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