Thursday, December 21, 2006

Has Germany been Finlandised (and has Britain)?
by Charles Grant


During the Cold War, Finland was a prosperous, liberal democracy. But its leaders felt unable to criticise the Soviet Union, particularly on questions of foreign policy. They were scared of what their big neighbour might do to them, especially since it had invaded them in the Second World War. People living further from the Soviet Union, in comfortable Western Europe, sneered about ‘Finlandisation’ – the inability of a small and relatively weak country to criticise a big and potentially hostile neighbour. But maybe the Finns were the best judge of how to handle the Soviets.

Under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, German foreign policy became very pro-Russian. Schröder is proud of his friendship with President Vladimir Putin, and has refused to criticise the roll-back of democratic freedoms in Russia during the past few years. Chancellor Angela Merkel, from the CDU party, takes a slightly different line: when she has met Putin, she has made a point of raising concerns over human rights in Russia. But overall German policy remains very pro-Russian. The SPD-controlled foreign ministry, in particular, is very reluctant to criticise Russia.

Germany has good reasons for wanting close relations with the Russian government. Much of its gas comes from Russia, which is also an important export market. Germany’s big businesses lobby hard, and effectively, to deter the government from becoming too critical of the Putin regime. And of course, given the Second World War, and the many millions of Germans and Russians who died fighting each other, there will always be a special relationship between these two countries. There are very many reasons why Germany and Russia should be friends, and co-operate together on dealing with a whole host of common problems.

But a strange event earlier this month suggests that the ‘Finlandisation’ of Germany may be going too far. Sabine Christiansen presents the most influential television programme in Germany, and has interviewed everybody from Bill Clinton to Tony Blair to George Bush. In one recent programme she interviewed half a dozen studio guests about the situation in Russia, in the light of the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, and other recent news. She had invited Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion, and now a leader of the liberal opposition in Russia, to take part. Then the invitation was withdrawn at the last minute. The reason, according to the Financial Times of December 16th, was that the Russian ambassador to Germany said that he would not take part in the show if Kasparov was there. According to the FT piece, two people who work on the Sabine Christiansen programme confirmed the story. However, both the presenter herself and the Russian embassy in Berlin deny that Kasparov was cancelled because of Russian government pressure.

If the FT piece is true, it is alarming that an influential TV programme seems so unwilling to annoy the Russian government. But Germany may not be the only country to be have been Finlandised. Britain has not been so uncritical of events in Russia as has Germany. However, the British government is very nervous about what happens in Russia, mainly because of the massive investments made by Shell and BP. If British-Russian relations took a major turn for the worse – and with the Litvinenko affair, they have already deteriorated in recent months – the security of those investments would be called into question. That is why the British government has handled the Litvinenko affair with kid gloves. Ministers are loath to suggest that anyone linked to the Russian state could be involved in the murder of Litvinenko. They wish the affair would just go away.

Smaller EU countries tend to be more outspoken on human rights questions in places like Russia and China. It is easier for them to be outspoken, for they often have fewer commercial interests at stake. Foreign policy is inevitably a messy business, in which principles have to be balanced against the national interest. So if a government refrains from criticising malpractice in countries such as Russia or China, it may be understandable. But if a top television programme in a leading EU country tries to limit debate on a controversial current affairs topic, for fear of annoying a foreign government, it is surely unacceptable.

Charles Grant is director of the Centre for European Reform.

7 comments:

oulematu said...

One issue is that Germany and other large EU member states are prepared to sacrifice human rights for a few bread crumbs thrown to them by China and Russia.

However, what's also worrying is that their political leaders, such as Schroder in case of his cushy marketing job at Gazprom, are willing to do things (such as participating in the economically nonsensical project of a pipeline through the Baltic Sea as opposed to the cheaper and more useful alternative of a pipeline through Eastern European mainland) that - at the very least - create an impression of impropriety and conflict of interest. Not that the German authorities seem to be very eager to investigate this case for potential corruption. I guess even in Western Europe there's justice only for some and the big fish can hardly ever be found corrupt.

Anonymous said...

The energy debate is picking up speed. The cold facts are that in the next two, perhaps three, generations classic fossil based enrgy will have gone. Today those nations who supply energy are beginning to flex their muscles for future advantage. Their window of opportunity is not so large - so expect dramatic action.

The onyl ultimate counter will be alternative fuel based on nuclear or solar energy (wind, ocean currents, direct solar heat and others - even Hydrogen as fuel will need energy to produce Hydrogen).

The question is have the energy dependent and technologically advanced nations the stomach for investment in these sources early enough, or will we wait and allow the current suppliers to squeeze us over the next few decades.

Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen said...

Sorry guys, but real politicians (especially those in power) have to make decisions based in what their population (their voters) want, or at least on what they think their population wants. And if citizens have to choose between getting their gas (and therefore their daily comfort) or the human rights of some unknown citizens in Russia, the choice is quickly made.
This is how politics works. If you do not like it, start playing internet games. Politics has very little to do with morality, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Foreign policy is a messy business indeed, and during its practice, most times values and principles are not balanced against national interests, but sacrificed instead. Especially when it comes to smaller countries, their foreign policy is usually lost in the name of the national interests of superpowers or larger countries, without often any chance to find justice.
Yes, morality and justice are not equal parties in politics, as our world is still based on the nation-state system. But I find it more unacceptable and quite disturbing when influential members of a democratic society submit to the likes and dislikes of higher interests of another country, rather than when governments do the same. Unfortunately, it is often that governments submit to influential economic interests, both in Europe but especially in the USA; but when submission reaches the levels of the press and civil society, there is something seriously wrong, worthy of serious attention.

Jimmy said...

Great article! I must say it summs up everything what is really going on in power politics in EU.

Anonymous said...

Every time I read comments in western media about relations with Russia, retreat from democracy in Russia, need to punish members of western governments for establishing good relations with that country etc. I can't avoid thinking that those journalists are breaded somewhere specifically, probably in same laboratory, and than brainwashed to the point where all their thoughts are identical. I can't find another explanation why everything they write about Russia is so same and represents so little truth. Here are few questions I'd love them to answer, but I doubt that any of them could:
1. If there is so little freedom in Russia, why millions of Russian tourists, who travel worldwide in any given day come back home instead of trying to stay in the country they visit. Why Russian borders are open so any citizen can leave the country at any time?
2. If Putin is so bad tyrant and oppresses the freedoms and democracy how can this 'bastard' possibly maintain steady popularity over 70%, confirmed several times by many foreign agencies? Is there ANY other politician in the world who has same or similar rating of public support?
3. Should Russia run new gas pipeline to Germany through the territory of Poland - country, who's president Kaszynsky, while being major of Warsaw, named one of Warsaw squares after Chechen leader Shamil Basaev - for a while most wanted man in Russia, blamed for attack on hospital in small russian town Budyonovsk? What relation for example America would have with country where new square would be named Osama Bin Laden Plaza? Would USA even consider any trade deal which could benefit such country or would this country gain american bombing raid instead?
4. Is freedom of expression and freedom of press, with no censorship, would be a good idea in country of 126 nationalities with different cultural and religious background, or could uncensored article written by some idiot where he/she expresses his/her real thought lead to armed conflict or civil war in such country? Would freedom of press in lets say Germany tolerate if I published the article where I'd express deep dislike to say jews and/or niggers, could I say that I sincerely hate gays in german newspaper?
5. Without being strong and sometimes harsh, like Putin, how can one keep together the country of 22 million sq.km territory, 11 time zones, 126 nationalities, about 80 languages, all religions you can think of and with worlds largest arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Could Mr. Nice Guy, instead of Putin, guarantee that such country will not fall apart overnight and next day Europe will wake up to learn that now they have to deal with 50 small countries eager to make money selling this arsenal to whoever wants to pay?

Anonymous said...

Every time I read comments in western media about relations with Russia, retreat from democracy in Russia, need to punish members of western governments for establishing good relations with that country etc. I can't avoid thinking that those journalists are breaded somewhere specifically, probably in same laboratory, and than brainwashed to the point where all their thoughts are identical. I can't find another explanation why everything they write about Russia is so same and represents so little truth. Here are few questions I'd love them to answer, but I doubt that any of them could:
1. If there is so little freedom in Russia, why millions of Russian tourists, who travel worldwide in any given day come back home instead of trying to stay in the country they visit. Why Russian borders are open so any citizen can leave the country at any time?
2. If Putin is so bad tyrant and oppresses the freedoms and democracy how can this 'bastard' possibly maintain steady popularity over 70%, confirmed several times by many foreign agencies? Is there ANY other politician in the world who has same or similar rating of public support?
3. Should Russia run new gas pipeline to Germany through the territory of Poland - country, who's president Kaszynsky, while being major of Warsaw, named one of Warsaw squares after Chechen leader Shamil Basaev - for a while most wanted man in Russia, blamed for attack on hospital in small russian town Budyonovsk? What relation for example America would have with country where new square would be named Osama Bin Laden Plaza? Would USA even consider any trade deal which could benefit such country or would this country gain american bombing raid instead?
4. Is freedom of expression and freedom of press, with no censorship, would be a good idea in country of 126 nationalities with different cultural and religious background, or could uncensored article written by some idiot where he/she expresses his/her real thought lead to armed conflict or civil war in such country? Would freedom of press in lets say Germany tolerate if I published the article where I'd express deep dislike to say jews and/or nigros, could I say that I sincerely hate gays in german newspaper?
5. Without being strong and sometimes harsh, like Putin, how can one keep together the country of 22 million sq.km territory, 11 time zones, 126 nationalities, about 80 languages, all religions you can think of and with worlds largest arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Could Mr. Nice Guy, instead of Putin, guarantee that such country will not fall apart overnight and next day Europe will wake up to learn that now they have to deal with 50 small countries eager to make money selling this arsenal to whoever wants to pay?