From that day back in late February, to be exact February 24, I have been fascinated with the war in Ukraine. The names of unpronounceable places, rivers and people have sucked me in to the plight and history of Ukraine. Place names such as Zaporizhzia or family names like Ovcharov who come from Russian occupied Enerhodar.
I lived in West Berlin in the 1980s, the Berlin Wall still divided East and West and Berlin was that spot on the earth that divided East from West
In 1984 on a visit to Krakow with university students we visited a Protestant priest in the East German Polish border city of Görlitz. We brought him contraband West Berlin newspapers. It was early morning and he treated us to a lovely breakfast. I can still remember his telling us that the East German State was bankrupt, economically and morally, and could not survive for much longer. I dismissed what he was saying as a pipe dream. Indeed, I thought he was something of a crank. I was wrong. Five years later the Wall was torn down. The priest was a prophet.
In those first years after the fall of the Wall it seemed really possible that there could be a great detente between Europe and Mother Russia. The fall of the Iron Curtain had changed the face of the world east of the River Elbe and the flow of people and goods between East and West was growing by the day.
Gorbachev was loved in the West but treated with suspicion in Mother Russia and then Yeltsin ran Russia into the ground, which helped make Gorbachev the villain of the peace. Russians felt humiliated, they had lost their empire. A nobody by the name of Vladimir Putin suddenly came on the scene and was elected Russian President. It is said that while he was deputy mayor of St Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, he became the point man between the KGB old guard and the Mafia, who between them were in control in Russia’s second city.
While all this was happening the West had its eyes on those former Iron Curtain countries and far too quickly and insensitively Nato flags began appearing in the Baltic States, Poland, Hungary, Albania, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Croatia, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia. Imagine if countries aligned to Russia placed troops in Cuba, Trinidad or Mexico even with the permission of the governments of those countries?
But that’s the reality now but nothing can justify the brazen imperialism of Vladimir Putin, who is taking many pages out of Hitler’s playbook. The similarities between the two men are quite extraordinary. Hitler dreamed and shouted about returning to the ‘Fatherland’ Danzig, now Gdansk, and all the German-speaking parts of Europe. Putin is trying to pull exactly a similar stroke.
There is a discussion taking place right now in Berlin whether or not they should send tanks to Ukraine. The idea that German tanks would come face-to-face with Russian tanks on Ukrainian soil is mind boggling.
But this time round, the Germans are on the side of right and Russians on the side of the aggressor.