Sunday, 28 September 2014

Three letters on the occasion of a forthcoming exhibition at the British Museum and a six-week series of broadcasts on the BBC have been sent for publication but it remains to be seen whether they will be.

While a new perspective on German culture is long overdue, as is a departure from the cliche's of Germany being a country identified only with nazis, jack boots, lederhosen, the SS and the the perpetrators of the holocaust, there also needs to be a proper assessment of the role played by the GDR in modern German history away from the cliches of it being reduced to the 'stasi state' and a successor to the nazi dictatorship.

27 September 2014

Dear Sir/Madam

Two of the iconic cultural figures mentioned in Neil MacGregor’s article (Made in Germany in Guardian Review - 27 September), Ernst Barlach, and Käthe Kollwitz, were celebrated and promoted in the GDR (East Germany), although the former was a committed Christian and the latter a pacifist. 
I hope the new exhibition in the British Museum and the BBC series accompanying it will not simply remove the contribution made to German culture by the GDR, as is usually done. After all, two of the greatest theatre men of the twentieth century, Bertolt Brecht and the Austrian opera director Walter Felsenstein, worked and produced some of their best works there and were supported and heavily subsidised by the government. And Heiner Müller, one of Germany’s best modern dramatists was a GDR citizen.The country’s orchestras, under conductors like Kurt Masur were world famous for the excellence of their music-making, the renowned tenor Peter Schreier and baritone Olaf Bär also learned their handiwork there. This welcome exhibition should be an opportunity to reassess German culture, but without the distorting lenses of the Cold War.

28 September 2014

Dear Sir,
To open his article on German culture (Made in Germany in the Guardian’s Weekend Review - 27 September), Neil MacGregor highlights a wetsuit used by someone attempting to flee East Germany. This is the asinine equivalent of exhibiting a hood used by British troops in their maltreatment of Northern Irish and Iraqi prisoners as an icon of British culture!
He also equates the ‘two [German] dictatorships’ by writing of the ‘…situation under both the Nazis and the Stasi.’ It needs to be stated unequivocally that the Nazis were the government of 1930s Germany, imprisoning tens of thousands of political dissidents, torturing and murdering hundreds of thousands of others in concentration camps for racial and political reasons. The regime also carried out a cultural witch-hunt, burning books and demonising ‘decadent’ artists. The Stasi did not run the GDR, it was merely a very powerful security apparatus, but always under the control of the Socialist Unity Party. It did not imprison thousands or torture its perceived enemies, even if it was often heavy handed and unjust. MacGregor also re-iterates the incredible, often used, but unsubstantiated figure of  ‘…one in three of the population were informing on their friends’ to the Stasi. The GDR was a socialist state, even if centrally and bureaucratically governed, and most people lived their lives with little or no relations or connection with the state security services.
MacGregor also writes about Meissen in the same distorted vein: ‘ …so the factory set up by August the Strong received commissions to make official portraits of the leaders of the East German Communist state.’ The factory’s main role in the GDR continued to be to produce traditional first class Dresden porcelain, but it did indeed make small ceramic medallions, mostly commemorating German cultural figures like Goethe, Lessing and Schiller and extremely few of ‘communist figures’.

Dear Madam/Sir,

The author of the feature Made in Germany in the Guardian’s Weekend Review (27th September) writes that ‘Later that year the Russians removed the entire art collection [from Dresden after allied bombing in February 1945]. This may convey the impression that they stole the collection, but in fact they removed it to keep it safe and returned every single piece once the Gemaelde Gallerie was restored. Russian forces took great care to prevent looting of art treasures in Germany and in fact, immediately the war was over, promoted the rapid re-establishment of theatres and music-making, as well as encouraging and supporting artists to begin working again.
It was Britain and the USA that carpet bombed what was widely acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful and culturally-rich cities in the world. They did this with no reflection on what they were destroying - an architecturally unique city containing an immense collection of some of the world’s most valuable art works. The war was clearly coming to an end; Russian troops were poised on the Czech-German border only miles away from Dresden and the city was packed with refugees fleeing the front. By any measure that destruction was a an act of human and cultural barbarism.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Building up to a Third World War?
It is always tempting the gods to cite the past as a prediction of the future or to draw false parallels, but history can teach us lessons even if our leaders rarely choose to learn from them.
The Middle East and indeed the whole Islamic world is in catastrophic turmoil with no clear protagonists or outcomes. This has led to an unprecedented destruction of cities and infrastructure across the whole region, millions of refugees and traumatised families. We know this is largely as a result of western meddling and military incursion, but the meddlers are now at a loss to find the magic to put the genie back in the bottle and are seemingly indifferent to the enormity of the human cost. 
Concurrently, we have a dangerous escalation of civil conflict in Ukraine at the heart of Europe. Since the end of the Second World War, Europe and the world have not faced such an incendiary situation. The parallels with the situation before both the First and Second World Wars are striking, as are the blindness to the dangers and the refusal to learn the necessary lessons by the political elite. In fact they themselves are deliberately distorting history and fanning the flames of conflict for ulterior motives.
Using particularly inflammatory rhetoric, Cameron tells European leaders that ‘to appease Putin over Ukraine as Britain and France did with Adolf Hitler in the run-up to the Second World War’ would be encouraging Russian expansionism. He told them ‘Putin had to be stopped from seizing all of Ukraine’. Such comments are not only offensive to Putin and the Russian people but a grave insult to the men and women who sacrificed their lives in their millions to save us from German fascism.
Without proper evidence, the Pentagon and the US administration have accused Russia of firing rockets from Russian territory into Ukraine. As ‘proof’ James Clapper, Director of US National Intelligence, presented some grainy, indistinct satellite images. But EU leaders are once again willing to accept this ‘evidence’ at face value and follow the US lead in escalating the Ukrainian conflict. Clapper is well-known as a notorious liar: he has misinformed the US public on a number of occasions, under oath in the senate. Interestingly the satellite photos he showed were not from the National Security Agency or other US spy sources, but from a private satellite company, Global Scope.
A memorandum to German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, by the the steering group of the US organisation,Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), in response to the war in Ukraine is salutary. It addresses allegations from the US and NATO of a Russian invasion in support of rebel forces. In the memorandum they urged the Chancellor to be suspicious of US intelligence. They stated that satellite photos released to the press are not a sufficient basis for the claim of an invasion, likening it to the case for war in Iraq (a reference to the dodgy ones used by Colin Powell in the UN to justify the invasion of Iraq), and suggested the claims of a Russian invasion are a cover for a series of successes by the rebels.
Western media have completely  ignored the mounting refugee crisis in eastern Ukraine, but according to United Nations estimates almost 730,000 people have now left Ukraine and moved to Russia this year because of the war in the east of the country. Some 87 per cent of the forced migrants are from the Lugansk and Donetsk regions. The Ukraine government is bombing and shooting at its own people who feel they will only be safe in Russia.
At the beginning of June, the number of refugees coming to Russia from eastern Ukraine was 2,600. By August 1, that total had increased to 102,600 people. Russia’s Federal Migration Service says that there are currently about two million Ukrainians in Russia, of whom 600,000 are from south-eastern Ukraine and 36,000 are living in temporary accommodation.

The mounting attacks on Putin make no reference to the centuries old historical links between Ukraine and Russia and the fact that Kiev is one of the cradles of the Russian nation. Nor do these attackers recognise the fact of a Russian-speaking minority living in the eastern Ukraine who have been subject to discrimination and attacks by the non-elected Kiev regime, comprising extreme nationalist and fascist elements.
A Western consensus depicting Putin as an imperialist, land-grabbing dictator is a concerted attempt to demonise Russia once more and return to the cold war cliches. 
The governments of the former Soviet republics are, with the exception of Belarus, extremely hostile to Russia, an attitude born out of historical circumstances. However, this hostility is being cynically played upon and fanned by the West. The choice of the Polish ex-prime minister Donald Tusk as the new EU president of the European Council is also significant. He is an avid Russophobe and aggressively pro-EU . 
Western consensus depicting Putin as an imperialist, land-grabbing dictator is fallacious and dangerous. He nor the Russian government or its people have any designs on the former republics. This is a completely concocted justification for supporting the illegitimate Ukrainian regime and to frighten the other former Soviet republics into joining the ongoing war. There is no evidence whatsoever for such allegations. Apart from anything else the Russian government would hardly be so stupid as to wish to once more conquer the countries which so recently won their independence and whose populations are largely hostile to Russia.
Putin is the elected leader of a democratic country, even if that democracy is flawed and elections are not completely free and transparent. NATO has been expanding inexorably eastwards, despite clear assurances given by Bush to Gorbachev not to do so, and hostility to Russia is being actively encouraged and even fomented by the US. The West encouraged the overthrow of a legitimate Ukrainian government, however corrupt, and has welcomed the new one, installed on the back of an armed coup. Putin and the Russian government have been remarkably restrained vis a vis the escalation in Ukraine and western threats and draconian trade boycott. NATO’s very recent decision to set up ‘rapid response units’ to deal with the so-called Russian aggression will only make a war between Russia, the US and Europe more likely and less difficult to prevent.