A big few days for German diplomacy
Can Germany's Chancellor pull Putin back from the brink?
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Scholz joins Twitter
While many people are focusing on Olaf Scholz’s visit to Kiev today and the subsequent trip to Moscow tomorrow, the big news is surely that the Chancellor is now on Twitter.
The famously taciturn Hamburger has picked up 80 thousand followers in less than 24 hours and is already tweeting feverishly to his favourite hashtags: #Bundespresident, #DankeFürDieFollows and of course #ImpendingWarInEurope.
After a chorus of complaints from the German media that the new Chancellor had gone missing during the Ukraine crisis, Scholz’s advisors have presumably convinced him that journalists will start quoting him a lot more if he fires off a couple of tweets every day.
And so it has proved.
Some people are billing his trip to Moscow on Tuesday as a last chance to avoid war after the CIA claimed in a leaked report that Putin was planning to start his invasion on Wednesday.
Scholz and his team have avoided describing his diplomacy in such final terms but he said on Twitter that “we are experiencing a very, very serious threat to peace in Europe.”
On Monday morning their pugnacious ambassador to Berlin, Andrij Melnyk, demanded a delivery of 12,000 anti-tank rockets and a thousand anti-aircraft missiles.
But it doesn’t seem like that was an offer Scholz was willing to make. At a press conference in Kiev on Monday, he said Germany would bring forward financial support of €150 million.
Meanwhile Ralf Mützenich, faction leader for the Social Democrats in the Bundestag, repeated a popular opinion in Scholz’s party by saying that the US was responsible for Russian aggression.
Mützenich said that decisions made under George Bush to end arms control treaties agreed during the Cold War had worried the Kremlin. He said that he could “understand” the Russian point of view and that Moscow “also has legitimate security concerns.”
In the January 10th newsletter I wrote about Markus Söder, the leader of Bavaria, who always has a close eye on his polling figures. After winning the Green party did surprisingly well in the 2018 state election, Söder quickly switched from talking tough on immigration to hugging trees.
I also commented in the article that Söder’s popularity as the head of Team Vorsicht (Team Careful) during the pandemic was beginning to fade - the latest polling showed his popularity crumbling.
Well, now the Bavarian supremo has gone and done a real Söder - he’s unexpectedly refashioned himself as the loudest critic of the current pandemic restrictions.
In a complete Alleingang, he declared that he wasn’t going to impose the nationally agreed vaccine mandates in the care sector next month. Söder had been the first to call for those very mandates last year, but he now describes them as “not a solution” and “ineffective against the current omicron wave.”
He has also had a change of heart on lockdowns. While his former comrade on Team Vorsicht, health minister Karl Lauterbach, has been resisting calls for an end to restrictions, Söder has pressed forward with plans to allow the unvaccinated back into restaurants, bars and hairdressers.
The CSU leader says that his new stance has been brought about by the fact that Bavarian hospitals are coping well with the Omicron wave. That’s true: there aren’t even half as many Covid patients on hospital wards now as there were in December.
Some analysts feel though that his U-turn could have more to do with the fact that the CSU are worrying that they might not win their usual pounding majority at next year’s state election if Söder sticks to his increasingly unpopular Covid course.
End to restrictions by March 20th
Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong: but I don’ think that anyone in Germany other than Herr Lauterbach is aware that it is currently illegal to hold a private party with more than nine other people. I was at a birthday party with close to double that number at the weekend and nobody even mentioned the rule as a joke.
Anyway, unconfirmed media reports on Monday suggested that up to 20 people will soon be able to meet privately indoors, as the government reacts to falling infection numbers by getting rid of the rules it claims have saved Germany from the worst of Omicron.
A three-step process of Lockerungen will end in wonderful relief on March 20th when Germany will have its own Freedom Day. On March 4th, the unvaccinated will be allowed back into restaurants and hotels. On March 20th, all rules except for mask mandates on public transport and in shops will be abolished, according to a report in Die Welt.
What Members are reading
On Wednesday, I looked back on the life of one of Germany’s most successful entrepreneurs, who passed away last week. His life’s work was dedicated to a very German belief system - anthroposophism.
On Friday, I took a closer look at the debate on trans identity, which has been heated up by a plan to enable people to change their sex via a simple appointment at one’s local Standesamt. Germany’s most famous feminist has criticized the law… and has faced quite the backlash...
Quote of the week
“Everybody likes Berlin. I don't. I like the sunshine, but in Berlin the winters are cold and long. Besides, Berlin is too dirty and too lazy. What is wrong with this city? Nobody cuts a tree or sweeps the streets here. Everything is so broken!”
- Chinese exiled artist Ai Weiwei in conversation with Neues Deutschland
Picture of the week
Frank-Walter Steinmeier was re-elected as German President on Sunday with a thumping majority after the governing parties plus the CDU all backed him. The SPD man is known for his thick white hair and owl-ie features. Do you recognize him in this picture from his student days?
On last Wednesday’s article on anthroposophy, one reader commented that:
“To link the anthroposophical philosophy with the Querdenker is unfair. It seems to be a popular bullying tactic to label anyone with a different view than the mainstream media a conspiracy theorist or Querdenker. This is insulting and othering and must stop.”
The context of the comment is the strength of the Querdenker movement in Baden-Württemberg, where anthroposhophy is also particularly popular (three of Germany’s five anthroposophic hospitals are in Baden-Württemberg).
I visit Baden-Württemberg quite regularly and I would say anecdotally there does seem to be quite a bit of cross-over between anthroposophism and the Querdenker movement. It is probably also true that there is more of an inclination among them to believe in conspiracy theories like the Great Reset.
It makes sense that a belief system that places such weight on individual freedom would be against the most draconian state interventions that we’ve experienced in recent times. The Querdenker movement is itself a large and diverse protest against these measures. A whole host of different people attend Querdenker demos.