Dancing with “Luv” behind the Berlin Wall

From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2022 by Uwe Bahr

The band “Luv” from Holland was very popular in both Germanys at the end of the 70’s, and of course we in the East saw it all on West TV. Coincidentally, I recently came across one of their old songs, which triggered strange-seeming memories in me of experiences I hadn’t written down at the time.

The Dutch Girl Band “Luv”, performing their “Oh, Yes I Do” in 1979.

In 1979/80, when the “state-owned” Magdeburg Housing Combine built a boarding school for the Technical University “Bruno Leuschner” in East-Berlin, my bearded colleague Burkhardt Zitzke, only a year older than me and already married, had brought his cassette recorder with him. On the ceiling of the fourth or fifth floor he had it turned up to full volume, while we both tried to imitate the dancing of “Luv” on the edge of the chasm, which was not easy to do. In our construction workers’ clothes with gloves and helmets on our heads, we probably offered a strange sight. In the midst of our fun performance, we earned the laughter of the residents of the already completed neighboring boarding school, who passed by below. They knew what we were performing, of course.

The western song resounded undisturbed for hundreds of meters. Only a few miles away ran the Berlin Wall; in the same Karlshorst district where we worked was the headquarters of the Soviet Secret Service (KGB).

Our construction team had their beer bottles in buckets of water to keep them cool. Unimaginable today.

We were anything but “brainwashed by the socialist system,” as some know-it-alls claim these days, who in reality lack a certain amount of knowledge about true historical backgrounds. We knew the truth in our divided country from many circumstances and did not believe the hate slogans of the communists against our own relatives in the West. On the other hand, no one ever called me into their office for a rebuke at that time, as happened forty years later in a company called Walmart for me telling them the truth. The facts also include that we did silly things when we were young in a supposed society of communism, but these pranks were harmless compared to what happens in a country of our time, where gun violence is the order of the day – for we did not harm anyone.

I have no reason to defend in retrospect the dictatorial unjust state of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in which I was born, and I can document my opposition from back then – but private gun ownership was absolutely unthinkable for it was simply forbidden. Common sense says that was the right thing to do, of course. In 29 years, I have experienced a single homicide, when a police colonel shot his wife, then himself, in his home. By profession, of course, he was allowed to carry a gun.

Anyone who believes they must own a gun for self-defense is not supporting a free country, but a sick society where guns will not solve a single problem. A clear “no” against weapons should actually be the explicit attitude of true Christians – one would think. However, most of them read out of their Bible what seems to them advantageous for their purposes of justification.

Here is the refreshing band “Luv” from Holland. The girls are well into their sixties in the meantime: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-baUQDHabU

Dangerous Turnaround

From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2022 by Uwe Bahr

Just a week ago, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) warned that the delivery of German tanks and other heavy weapons to Ukraine could lead to an expansion of the conflict and even to a nuclear war.

Yesterday, the head of government – once again – performed a total about-face. Contrary to all earlier assurances and under massive pressure from the U.S. and other allies, the German government now wants to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons in the form of the Gephard tank, reportedly in “mid double-digit quantities.”

The consequences could be fatal: For the first time since 1945, Germany risks becoming a warring party. The arms deliveries prolong the war and the dying in Ukraine, which likes to present itself as a European model country.

Instead of supplying weapons, the German government should work together with other European states to develop a neutrality guarantee for the Ukraine. As uncomfortable as it may sound at the moment, long-term security in Europe can only be achieved with Russia. There are a few intelligent people even in Washington who realize that. Unfortunately, this will not change the fact that the U.S. cannot live without enemy images, both internally and externally. Virtually all of American society is steeped in such notions.

This Must Also Be Said

From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2022 by Uwe Bahr

It sounds like a staircase joke, but it’s not: Although the war between Russia and Ukraine has been raging for seven weeks, Ukraine continues to collect money from Russia for the transfer of natural gas through its country. Currently, this amounts to $1.2 billion annually.

At the same time, they accuse Germany and others of being dependent on Russian energy.

Yesterday, Germany decided to provide Ukraine with one billion Euros for military aid. Along the way, Germany is taking in hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees who are immediately eligible for health insurance on a scale that not only most Ukrainians, but even U.S. citizens, can only dream of.

To be fair, it should not be forgotten that the Ukrainian leadership is not made up of innocent people – and never was. After the breakaway from the Soviet Union, they had great words about themselves, and now, after years of corruption, they are very demanding towards the West, as if acting like a bulwark against the aggressor Putin and thereby protecting Europe.

My country, Germany, should not send them weapons, because that will only prolong the war and possibly make the country a warring party, widening the conflict. But the international pressure is intense, as are the alliance obligations.

While a few in Europe and the USA are earning themselves silly from the production, use and stockpiling of weapons, it hits – as always – the suffering civilian population whose majority would like nothing more than to live in peace. But the dying in Ukraine continues – and who knows for how long.

Memo From Camp David

When George H. W. Bush and the German Chancellor Conferred on the Future about Germany and beyond

From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2022 by Uwe Bahr

It should all happen very quickly: Three months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU) traveled to the United States to reassure himself of American support for Germany’s future plans toward state unity.1 At a meeting at Camp David on February 24, 1990, he easily found the backing he had been hoping for from U.S. President George H. W. Bush. However, the Americans were primarily concerned not only with German reunification, but also with the expansion of NATO.

In the meantime, a public memorandum about the Camp David meeting exists and can be viewed online.2 It illustrates how, in the period immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West was keen to shift its sphere of influence together with EU and NATO to the East and closer to Russia, the legal successor of the then still existing Soviet Union.

Excerpt of the memorandum of the conversation between then U.S. President George H. W. Bush and then German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, at Camp David on February 24, 1990, released by the National Security Archive. The marked comment of the American President is telling.

In contrast, there is little sign in this conversation of plans for compromise or even peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union within the framework of a future security structure in Eastern Europe. One participant in the conversation is intent on a possible reunification of Germany under the protective shield of the Americans; the Americans themselves see their supremacy in the world after the end of the Cold War as their most important interest in the context of “a new world order”. Both sides unfold their strategy at the expense of the disintegrating Soviet Union. The fact that the Soviets possessed nuclear weapons and that up to half a million of their soldiers were stationed in the GDR is completely ignored, as is Moscow’s reaction to the surprise opening of the Wall on November 9, 1989, which could have turned out quite differently.

I had been born and raised in the GDR, the frontline state of the Cold War, and even on the morning after the opening of the Wall, my father did not trust the situation: “The Russians will not tolerate this, they will send their tanks again.” His “again” referred to June 17, 1953, when workers’ uprisings in East Berlin and other cities had brought the GDR to the brink of collapse and the Ulbricht regime could only hold on to power through Soviet military intervention.

But this time, in the fall of 1989, the Soviet tanks and soldiers stationed on GDR soil remained in the barracks during the crucial hours. The reform policies of Mikhail Gorbachev, brought about by huge economic problems in his own country and mass protests in several Warsaw Pact states, ushered in the end of the Cold War; a development that culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Whoever looks at Europe today and sees a despicable war, which hardly anyone thought possible especially after 1989, should remember the recent historical development of the past three decades. There is no justification for Russia’s war against Ukraine – but the historical causes of the current catastrophe go back further than pointing to Europe’s and Germany’s dependence on Russian energy supplies. The terrible suffering of the affected people in Ukraine could have been prevented by more than one side if the Western powers, including Germany, had had the honest intention of building trust with the successor state of the Soviet Union instead of cornering it.

Notes:

1 Kohl had the valid fear that the chance for reunification, which had been offered to the Germans as suddenly as it had been unexpected, might not last long, so that swift action was the order of the day. This was especially true of the Soviet Union’s position, whose concession the German chancellor saw as a singular opportunity in history.

2 The published memorandum of February 24, 1990, can be read here: Memorandum of Conversation between Helmut Kohl and George Bush at Camp David. | National Security Archive (gwu.edu)

As a side note: It’s quite amusing that no small number of people in the U.S. believe Ronald Reagan brought down the Berlin Wall. In truth, Reagan did not pressure the Soviets, but took successful steps of détente with them toward disarmament, undoubtedly paving the way for what was to follow a short time later. His words at the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987, remain unforgotten: “Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” In contrast, American foreign policy under his successor, George H. W. Bush, very quickly returned to Cold War practices.

European Energy Trap

The original failure is not the energy dependence of Europeans from Russia

From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2022 by Uwe Bahr

One can imagine how the situation would be now with an American president Donald Trump. Someone in Moscow would rub their hands, and the unity in the appearance of the Europeans would hardly be as determined as it is at present. Hopefully, politicians from Brussels to Berlin and London to Paris remember in this hour that already the next president of the United States might not be a transatlantic friend like Joe Biden.

While his approval rating is dropping dangerously at home, Biden can score points abroad and improve the U.S.’s international standing. But that doesn’t sit well with many of his compatriots, who think along the lines of “America first” and thus in reality support autocratic aspirations – a dangerous path that Trump had already led the U.S. down. Biden’s increasing unpopularity is unlikely to change due to the fact that the Europeans now actually want to buy environmentally harmful fracking gas from overseas.

It is hard to understand why ludicrous sanctions exist against Russian private citizens while the real lever that helps finance Putin’s war on Ukraine is left untouched. Germany, for example – according to Robert Habeck (Alliance 90/The Greens), Federal Minister of Economics and Climate Protection, – is still dependent on Russian natural gas until mid-2024 and is using this argument as justification to continue trading with Russia. A unified and convincing policy against Putin looks different, who now wants the natural gas to be paid for in rubles. Perhaps Germany will experience its decisive showdown next week, when one of the two sides will have to relent. So far, it is hard to imagine that Putin will give in.

A loss of Russian gas supplies would have a devastating impact not only on the German economy and most private households, but also on the entire European market. For the announced gas supplies from America can only cover ten percent of Europe’s demand in the short term.

There has long been criticism that Germany and Europe have become too dependent on Russia, and now we are seeing the consequences. But Germany’s energy agreements – given the country’s long and guilt-laden history with Russia – were seen not least as a guarantee of mutual trust by building reciprocal dependencies. It was assumed that the Russians would have no interest in completely throwing themselves over with us if they themselves have advantages through economic cooperation.

The project has failed. But how to solve the world’s problems without a giant country like Russia? Russia cannot be downgraded or dissolved. Isolated, it would be a constant threat to world peace.

The long-term mistakes were not made in the energy sector, but in geostrategic matters. The West, under U.S. leadership, has not made consistent efforts since the 1990s to integrate Russia into security structures while providing security guarantees to bordering countries without integrating them into NATO and thus not cornering Russia.

From the very beginning there have been no serious efforts to transform the former Soviet Union into a partner after its disintegration. If this had happened, even in America today hardly anyone would be talking about Europeans’ energy dependence on Russia.

German State Secretary: Refugees across the Atlantic as well

From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2022 by Uwe Bahr

Visiting a shelter for Ukrainian refugees today in Hannover, Lower Saxony, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) said every country in Europe must take in refugees. She added: “We must also bring people across the Atlantic.” Given the dramatic situation in Germany and the economic capability of the countries on the American continent, she could only have meant Canada and the USA.

The German Foreign Minister’s demand is more than justified. The refugees from Ukraine are clearly an overall responsibility of the West due to its misguided policies towards Russia in the 1990’s. In concrete terms, this means that all NATO countries should be required to accept refugees from Ukraine, as the Alliance as a whole has been moving its external border closer and closer to Russia since 1999, thereby unnecessarily provoking the country. Of course, this does not entitle Russia to the war in which it is now bogged down. But the disintegrating Soviet Union should have been treated more carefully by the West, instead of pushing it into the corner of a possibly Asian peripheral power via the American Wolfowitz Doctrine.

Germany’s Secretary of State Annalena Baerbock (Alliance 90/The Greens).

In the meantime, it has almost been forgotten that in 1990 there were even brief considerations of admitting the Soviet Union to NATO.

At that time, there were many opportunities to integrate Russia into European security structures based on reciprocity. These opportunities have been punitively squandered. A prudent policy by the West would have made this bonding possible under the acceptance not to impose Western-style democracy on Russia. Anyone who was able to observe the political upheavals in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980’s from close quarters knows that this is true.

Now the European Union expects ten million refugees from Ukraine – that would be a quarter of the country’s entire population. This represents an enormous social burden and at the same time an opportunity for the entire West, including the U.S., to show its true Christian commitment.

A Human Disaster

From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2022 by Uwe Bahr

In 2015, Germany mastered the refugee crisis with flying colors – it is remarkable how a million people were integrated into what was already Europe’s most populous country. But now I am anything but optimistic. Special trains from Warsaw carrying Ukrainian refugees reach the German capital Berlin almost at hourly intervals. 10,000 people arrive here alone every day.

The solidarity of the local population still holds.

At Berlin’s main train station, numerous signs in Russian and Ukrainian warn young women in particular not to accept overnight offers from private individuals. Most refugees are women and children. If they do not register upon arrival, every trace is lost. The police patrol everywhere.

On the tarmac of Berlin-Tegel Airport, which was shut down in November 2020 and where my wife and I had landed just three years ago, an arrival center was opened where refugees are registered, cared for and then transported on to other federal states in Germany. The City of Leipzig has already signaled that it has reached its intake capacity.

The German government now assumes that one million refugees from Ukraine will end up in Germany, almost 300,000 of whom are already in the country. But this figure is vague, because no one knows how long the war will last. And it can hardly be assumed that most of the refugees want to return to their destroyed country.

By comparison, the U.S. is about 27 times larger than Germany, but it has barely four times as many inhabitants.

This is the largest movement of refugees in Europe since 1944/45, when 14 million people from the former German eastern territories were fleeing the approaching Soviet army at the end of World War II. One of them was my father from East Prussia.

Spied on by Communists

The Secret State Police of the GDR had me in their sights

From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2022 by Uwe Bahr

The vernacular called the Ministry for State Security of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) summarily “Stasi” or “Peek and Listen.” It was not as harmless as it sounded on the surface. The Stasi, abbreviated for “Staatssicherheit”, was not a civilian secret service, but a military institution.

They called themselves the “shield and sword of the party,” the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). Under this emblem they observed, denounced, blackmailed, harassed millions and destroyed the lives of thousands: The Stasi.

When this German Democratic Republic went down, I was 29 years old. Like most people, I didn’t dare in the communist dictatorship to be a real resistance fighter. I was rather one of those who often stood there with clenched fists in their pockets and often burned their mouths – sometimes close enough to expose themselves to the danger of the State Security Service. So, I was more of a dissenter, of which there were a few. Otherwise, the non-violent revolution that swept the country in the fall of 1989 and led to the fall of the Berlin Wall would not have been possible. There is no way to make a revolution with people who have adapted to a ruling system.

Anger pent up over the years about the government, which had not been freely elected, erupted into this revolution. It was about freedom rights and democracy, with freedom of travel at the top of the list. It was like a kettle that suddenly boiled over, setting off a chain of events that led to the fall of the Wall more by accident than design.

Of course, I knew at the time that the Stasi existed – but not how intensively they spied on people in their own country. I could not imagine having people in my immediate environment who cowardly and secretly passed on information about me to a communist power organ. Yet in the course of the last few years, I have read more and more books about the Stasi and its practices. Remembering my own experiences, especially in 1985, when I got into serious trouble because of political remarks, I became curious after so long about my own situation at that time – especially how close I came to being harmed. So, I would like to have certainty.

Now I have proof.

Invalid since 1990: Third page of my GDR identity card, issued December 27, 1988.

Unlike the secret documents in the other states of the former Warsaw Pact, the Stasi files were made accessible after German reunification. Anyone who wishes to do so can submit an application and try to find out whether he or she was classified by the GDR secret service as a “person potentially dangerous to the socialistic state”. I filed such an application a year ago and have now received the notification.

In the decisive passage of the letter from Berlin to me it says: “[Our] research has shown that you were recorded in the files of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic. The registration indicates that documents on your person may exist.” Due to the high number of application processing, it can take up to two years before I can receive more detailed information. If this information exists, of course I would like to know what the communists wrote down about me and who was set on me. Because even for the aliases of the spies, their clear names can be requested.

In the months following the fall of the Berlin Wall until German reunification on October 3, 1990, the Stasi had attempted to destroy as much evidence of its espionage activities as possible. In most cases, the documents were shredded, but to this day the Stasi Archive in Berlin is still trying to piece together these mountains of paper scraps with the help of computer technology.

The End of Globalization

From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2022 by Uwe Bahr

The headline to my blog page is “Wind of Change.” However, this is not how I imagined the changes – I have to say that honestly. It is a caesura in the lives of people, especially in Europe, that was considered unthinkable just a few weeks ago.

When the war in Ukraine ends one day, Putin will be sitting on a pile of rubble that he conquered, isolated from most of the world. He is already turning to China as an ally because there is nothing else left for him. Once again, humanity is facing a division into hostile power blocks: We are returning to a phase of power politics that defined the European modern era from the 15th into the 20th century and that we thought we had overcome – but that we have now fallen back into.

These are anything but good prospects for the West, because it believed – correctly – that all problems of mankind can only be solved globally, which means: with at least the largest powers of this earth on one and the same side. Because the climate crisis, the hunger crisis in the southern part of the globe, and the refugee movements, such as now from Ukraine, do not stop at national borders. Instead, achieving these goals will now be even further away.

Where Trump had failed for the time being with his “America First” policy, Putin is now much more advanced in his own, Russian sense (which is why the two got along so well). This means: Only what I want counts – and I can enforce that by any means, even by force if necessary (see storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021). Such political means fall under the category of “autocracy.” That was the concession for the stunning decision of 75 million Trump voters in the U.S. in 2020, many of whom believe to this day that this election was rigged.

From now on, globalization in its true sense will no longer be practicable, because the world community is falling back into power blocks, with all these global problems becoming a matter of negotiation that always result in mediocre compromises instead of really tackling the problems. Moreover, the world sees itself divided into two ideological, fundamentally opposed camps: Authoritarian states on the one hand, democratic ones on the other – with even the U.S. a shaky candidate, as Christian pseudo-conservatives reject progress in a fierce determination to fight anything that threatens their supposed values.

In addition, there is a threat of social unrest in countries like Germany, because the reversion to high levels of armaments means that budget funds are being reallocated to unproductive areas like the military, which are then – logically – lacking elsewhere. Unlike people in the U.S., however, Germans are not used to being abandoned by their welfare state. The German government is already talking about subsidizing gasoline and heating costs so that the burdens on citizens do not rise ad infinitum.

Putin has succeeded in destroying the global world order. The consequences will be catastrophic worldwide. This will also be felt by those who still live with their heads in the sand and believe that they alone can solve their country’s problems with feigned ostentation.

The “Me First” policy will come with a dear price.

Only China can make Putin see Reason

From my Writing Room
Copyright © 2022 by Uwe Bahr

Putin will never succeed in bringing all of Ukraine under his control. I am sure that is not his intention either. Contrary to Western assumptions, the man is not a lunatic, far from it – he knows how to play his cards. He is a Machiavellian. Therefore, he also knows what could exceed the forces of his country.

If anyone at all can mediate in this conflict, it is not the Americans, and certainly not the Europeans. Europeans no longer play any role at all in the big decisions. China – to the detriment of the USA – has the decisive key role to play. If Putin listens to anyone at all, it is Chinese leader Xi Jinping. For the same reason, all channels of communication with Putin must be kept open if the war in Ukraine is to be ended as quickly as possible. As things stand, there will be no other way.

Even then, Putin is unlikely to back down from his demands: Recognition of Crimea as Russian territory, the same for the Donbass, but above all: a guarantee by the West of Ukraine’s neutrality. If peace is wanted – and this peace must come – then this is the price that the West will have to pay for its reckless policy of hubris toward Russia.

The only other possibility would be to bring Russia to its knees militarily or, in the end, even economically. Neither seems very realistic, as Biden’s “no” vote on fighter jets from Poland for Ukraine underscores. It would provoke Russia even more with devastating consequences for the whole of Europe. Here, the West is already showing signs of giving in. And the more the West fights Russia with sanctions, the more it brings the majority of patriotic Russians to Putin’s side.

Even the pictures of protests in Moscow do not change that. For more than a generation, the majority of Russians have wondered what the country actually fought for and won in World War II – only to lose so much again afterwards under its own concession. One has to put oneself in this position of Russian patriots – of a country which was, after all, allied with the USA in the last Great War. All this is directly related to the war in Ukraine.

The other victorious nation, the United States, after the destruction of Hitler’s Germany and with far fewer casualties than the Soviet Union, did not shrink a square inch, did not lose power, although it too has since instigated unjust wars in other parts of the world.