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Germansplaining: The chancellor’s tank U-turn reveals a lack of communication skills

Olaf Scholz's change of heart came overnight. So fast that the chairman of his own SPD parliamentary group missed it

Image: The New European

It’s open letter season in Germany! Recipient: His hesitant highness Olaf Scholz. Author: I wish it were Bridgerton’s Lady Whistledown, but instead it is a mix of German real-life intelligentsia who seem to suffer from acute attention deficit. Or worse.

Letter No 1 – signed by ex-journalists, an ex-president of parliament, ex-professors and a singer-songwriter (no retirement age for them) – demanded a complete halt to arms supplies for Ukraine.

It also called for an end to all hostilities, mainly directed at Russia, but also – alas – as Herr Putin seems to be deaf in that ear, suggested that Ukraine should simply capitulate to spare itself from further harm.

Worse than such a malignant-poised-as-pacifist pamphlet being written in the first place was only that it didn’t get enough attention to stop a similar, second letter.

Letter No 2 was published by EMMA magazine, signed by 28 non-ex and politically diverse, rank-and-file intellectuals and artists: among them legendary feminist Alice Schwarzer, who founded the magazine in 1977, novelists Martin Walser and Juli Zeh, Germany’s ultimate chansonnier Reinhard Mey, philosophers, professors, publishers, stand-up comedians, theatre and TV actors.

This time, the letter-writers did garner some attention.

Here, in brief, is their reasoning. The war caused by Russia is all very shocking and inhumane, but we must refrain from any actions that would provoke Putin and make him hurt us, too. Namely, sending tanks, as Putin could use this as an excuse to start a third world war – and the Atomkrieg must be prevented at all costs (to clarify: costs borne by the Ukrainian people, not the Germans).

Genuine German supremacy doesn’t get any better than this extract: “We warn against a double misconception: that the responsibility for an escalation to a nuclear conflict should only concern the original aggressor and not also those who, with one’s eyes open, deliver a motive for a possibly criminal course of action. And secondly, that only the Ukrainian government is responsible for the decision about the ethical justification of further ‘cost’ of human lives among Ukrainian civilians. Morally binding norms are universal.”

End of sermon.

To disenfranchise the democratic Ukrainian government from sovereign decision-making… oxygen levels on Moral Mount Everest must be very low.

But although it is by now blatantly obvious that Mad Vlad doesn’t need an excuse to expand his aggression, the “don’t provoke Putin” sentiment in Germany is not just limited to the few prominent minds mentioned above.

The chancellor and many of his social democrats told the public for weeks that heavy arms from Germany were an absolute no-go.

For a time, the majority of the population was with them.

After pictures of the Bucha massacre emerged, the polls showed a mood swing: a clear majority was now in favour of sending tanks to Ukraine. This majority has since shrunk; the polls are shifting back and forth. And in an interview with Der Spiegel, the chancellor explained yet again why German tanks must not be sent. We can’t spare them. Ukrainians don’t know how to use them. And: “I am doing everything to prevent an escalation which leads to World War III. There must not be a nuclear war.”

You wonder why Putin regularly hints at using the A-bomb? Because it works! At least in parts of Germany.


This time, pressure from the media, the public, international allies and other political parties was too strong: while the magazine containing Scholz’s quotes was still for sale at the newsstands, the tank issue made a U-turn towards Ukraine.

The chancellor’s change of heart came overnight. So fast that the chairman of his own SPD parliamentary group missed it.

Even Olaf Scholz fans, who continue to praise his level-headedness, concede that the chancellor needs to up his government’s communication skills. He could learn a lot from his Green coalition partner.

To everyone’s astonishment, one of their prominent members, Toni Hofreiter, suddenly rattles through arms classifications as if he owned a shooting range in Texas.

It was Joschka Fischer, the first Green party foreign minister, who paved the way for the Bundeswehr’s controversial Nato engagement in Kosovo. Now Fischer’s successor, Annalena Baerbock, is actively promoting arms supplies for Ukraine.

It seems that the Greens – when in government – have a phenomenal capacity for getting real.

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