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OSCE: Strains and Renewal in the Security Community

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On 1 August 2015, the Helsinki Final Act, the birth certificate of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) turned 40.

The Final Act signed in Helsinki’s Finlandia Hall was the result of three years of nearly continuous negotiations among government representatives meeting for the most part in Geneva, Switzerland as well as years of promotion of better East-West relations by non-governmental peace builders.

Basically one can date the planting of the seeds that grew into the OSCE as 1968 in two cities: in Paris and Prague. The student-led demonstrations in Paris which sent shock waves to other university centers from California to Berlin, showed that under a cover of calm, there was a river of demands and desires for a new life, a more cooperative and creative way of life.

In Prague, the Prague Spring of internal reforms and demands for a freer European society was met by the tanks of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact in August. Yet some far-sighted individuals saw that 1968 was a turning point in European history and that there could be no return to the 1945 divisions of two Europes with the Berlin Wall as the symbol of that division. Thus, in small circles, there were those who started asking “Where do we go from here?”

A Security Community: A Halfway House

In 1957, Karl W. Deutsch (1912-1992) published an important study Political Community and the North Atlantic Area (Princeton University Press). Karl Deutsch was born into a German-speaking family in Prague in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His family was active in socialist party politics and became strongly anti-Nazi. Seeing what might happen, Deutsch and his wife left Prague in 1939 for the USA where he became a leading political science-international relations professor. I knew Karl Deutsch in the mid-1950s when I was a university student at Princeton, and he was associated with a Center on International Organization at Princeton. It was there that he was developing his ideas on types of integration among peoples and States and that he coined the term “security community” to mean a group of people “believing that they had come to agreement on at least one point that common social problems must and can be resolved by processes of peaceful change.” For Deutsch, the concept of a security community could be applied to people coming together to form a State: his approach was much used in the 1960s in the study of “nation building” especially of post-colonial African States. A “security community” could also be a stage in relations among States as the term has become common in OSCE thinking. For Deutsch, a security community was a necessary halfway house before the creation of a State or a multi-State federation. Deutsch stressed the need for certain core values which created a sense of mutual identity and loyalty leading to self-restraint and good-faith negotiations to settle disputes.

Core values established and quickly disappeared

During the negotiations leading to the Helsinki Final Act, a set of 10 core values or commitments were set out, sometimes called the OSCE Decalogue after the “Ten Commandments”. “Sovereign equality, respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty and non-intervention in internal affairs” set the framework as well as the limitations of any efforts toward a supranational institution. The two other related core values were “the territorial integrity of States and the inviolability of frontiers.”

The core values were not so much “values” as a reflection of the status quo of the Cold War years. By the time that the Charter of Paris for a New Europe was signed in November 1990, marking the formal end of the Cold War, “territorial integrity and the inviolability of frontiers” as values had disappeared.

The 1990s saw the breakup of two major European federations − that of Yugoslavia and the USSR. Most of the work of the OSCE has been devoted to the consequences of these two breakups. Yugoslavia broke into nearly all the pieces that it could with a few exceptions. I had been asked to help support the independence of Sandzak, a largely Muslim area in Serbia and part of Montenegro. I declined, having thought at the time that with a few modifications the Yugoslav federation could be kept together. I was wrong, and the OSCE is still confronted by tensions in Kosovo, renewed tensions in Macedonia, an unlikely form of government in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as social issues of trafficking in persons, arms, drugs and uncontrolled migration.

The breakup of the Soviet Union has led to a full agenda of OSCE activities. The republics of the Soviet Union had been designed by Joseph Stalin, then Commissar for Nationalities so that each republic could not become an independent State but would have to look to the central government for security and socio-economic development. Each Soviet republic had minority populations though each was given the name of the majority or dominant ethnic group called a “nationality”.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union, there have been recurrent issues involving the degree of autonomy of geographic space and the role of minorities. The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh had already started before the breakup, but continues to this day with its load of refugees, displaced persons and the calmer but unlikely twin, the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. Moldova and Transdniestria remain a “frozen conflict” with a 1992 ceasefire agreement. The armed conflicts in Chechnya and violence in Dagestan highlighted conflicts within the Russian Federation. The 2008 “Guns of August” conflict over South Ossetia between Russia and Georgia showed that autonomy issues could slip out of control and have Europe-wide consequences.

A Cloudy Cristal Ball

Predictions, especially about the future, are always difficult. In 2013, the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Leonid Kazhara, said “ We wish to contribute to the establishment of the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian security community free of dividing lines, conflicts, spheres of influence and zones with different levels of security…There is a pressing need to, first of all, change our mindsets from confrontational thinking to a co-operative approach. I am confident that Ukraine, with its rich history, huge cultural heritage and clear European aspirations is well placed for carrying out this mission.”

Today, Ukraine’s rich history has a new chapter, recreating old dividing lines and spheres of influence. The shift in “ownership” of Crimea indicates that “territorial integrity of States” is a relative commitment. The large number of persons going to Russia as refugees and to west Ukraine as internally-displaced persons recalls the bad days of displacement of the Second World War. NATO has dangerously over-reacted to events in Ukraine.

It is not clear that the current leaders of the 57 governments of the OSCE have the wisdom or skills to lead to a renewal of the Security Community. Yet when one looks at the photos of the government leaders who did sign the Helsinki Final Act 40 years ago, there are few faces indicating wisdom or diplomatic skills so perhaps all is not lost today. Very likely, as in the period between the events of 1968 and the start of government negotiations in 1972, there will need to be non-governmental voices setting out new ideas and creating bridges between people.

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Finnish Plans for an Arctic Railway  –  Geopolitics Are Intervening

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Authors: Juho Kähkönen and Soili Nystén-Haarala*

NATO Applicant Finland is an Arctic Country with No Access to the Arctic Ocean.

Finland, with a land border with Norway, Sweden, and Russia, is sometimes described as an island because it is located on the northern coast of the Gulf of Finland and the eastern coast of the Gulf of Bothnia of the Baltic Sea. The 832-mile border with Russia has gained plenty of attention in the present geopolitical situation. The lifeline from the Baltic Sea to the North Sea goes through the narrow Danish Straits. Finnish cargo is mainly transported to and from the ports of the Baltic Sea. Before the war on Ukraine, Finnish trains ran to the east up to China through Russia.

Access to the Arctic Ocean is limited to the narrow roads through Norway, which are not qualified for the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), the major European transport corridors. The closest European TEN-T corridor turns west to Sweden at the bottom of the Gulf of Bothnia. Knowing this, it is no wonder that dreams of access to the Arctic Ocean emerge every now and then.

Map of existing infrastructure

Most recently, the idea was embraced  when the government of Juha Sipilä, with Anne Berner as the Minister of Transportation and Communications, was in power (May 2015 – June 2019). Anne Berner negotiated the future of transportation infrastructure and the Arctic Ocean railway with her Nordic colleagues in Norway and Sweden. In the early phases, the regional politicians in Finnish Lapland mostly either supported or adopted a positively curious attitude towards the proposed railway.

Nevertheless, the plan was later buried with both Norwegian and Finnish reports for their respective ministries in 2018. The reports found the plan lacked feasibility because of excessive costs. However, the Regional Council of Lapland still wanted to maintain the option for a railway in their regional plan. This attempt finally failed in 2021, and the plan was officially buried also in Lapland. The discussion on the plan was strongly polarized between the supporters and the opponents.

Vision of Arctic Railway

The way the prospects of the plan were presented reflected the ideas of economic connectivity and interdependence between Europe, Russia, and China – dreams, which after the Russian brutal attack on Ukraine turned out to be built on false perceptions of an economically dependent Russian Bear and an everlasting peace in Europe. Even after the Russian occupation of Crimea in 2014, the future was full of expectations for economic prosperity; the opening of the Northeast Passage shortening the distance between Rotterdam and Shanghai by 26 percent and between Rotterdam and Yokohama by 37 percent. In addition to the railway, there is a plan to build a tunnel from Helsinki to Tallinn under the seabed. The Arctic railway, together with the tunnel, would connect the Asian and European markets through Finland and the melting Northeast Passage.

Chinese funding was sought for both of these mega infrastructure investments in railroad transportation. Chinese investments in Finland, however, have almost all failed, either because of financial difficulties of the Chinese investors or reservations of the Finnish Military and the Ministry of Defense. For some reason, both Chinese and Russian investments in land property often happened to target areas of strategic military importance. Additionally, one of the five options for the Arctic Ocean railway presented in the reports from 2018 was building a connection across the border to the Murman railway connecting Murmansk and St. Petersburg. The connection was not considered dangerous because rails are easy to dismantle, and cyberwar is a more likely prospect than traditional land warfare. However, Russia’s attack on Ukraine has shown that land warfare in Europe has not disappeared, and Russian military forces might arrogantly try to invade the country across the whole 832-mile-long border.

However, the actual opening of the Northeast Passage is, under any circumstances, still far in the future. It is not yet possible to navigate those dangerous waters without the expensive aid of Russian ice-breakers. Furthermore, European politicians turned a blind eye to the growing geopolitical tensions,  for instance, the increasing threat of nuclear weapons in the Kola Peninsula next to Finnish and Norwegian borders. Nevertheless, it is common knowledge that the Arctic and its raw materials are of highly strategic military and economic importance for Russia. Even after the occupation of Crimea in 2014, Arctic cooperation was in the Arctic Council maintained as “the separate island of cooperation” while political tensions between superpowers increased. The Russian attack on Ukraine underlines the political risks associated with the transportation routes through the Russian economic zone. It is no wonder Finland is now applying for NATO membership, and developing the eastern transportation connection is forgotten.

National Interests Suppress Indigenous Rights

The Arctic Railway plan met strong resistance from the Sámi people, the only Indigenous people in Europe. As the supreme political body of the Sámi in Finland, the Sámi Parliament saw the railway as a threat to their culture and the reindeer herding in the heart of their culture. Oddly enough, the resistance and support from such allies as the Greenpeace seemed to come as a surprise to the supporters of the railway in Helsinki.

The region itself has a long history of ignoring the Sámi and seeing them as troublemakers resisting plans to develop the region. The Sámi are a small nation (77 00 – 103 00 depending on calculations) living in the northern areas of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. In Finland there are slightly more than 10 000 registered Sámi who vote in the elections of the Sámi Parliament.

Reindeer herding is a livelihood that requires much space as pastureland; reindeer can move freely in forests, which mainly belong to the State in the Finnish Lapland. Reindeers migrate and live with lichen, plants, and mushrooms. These half-tame animals are the property of reindeer herders, which as a profession is not ethnicity-based in Finland. Reindeer herding increasingly competes with other industries and infrastructure building. Reindeer herding is not just a traditional livelihood but also an industry in the market economy. Although the Sámi lives in a modern way in mixed communities, they still have strong kinship ties and an awareness of their own culture, which is distinct from the mainstream culture. The railway building option (Rovaniemi – Kirkenes) the Finnish Government preferred would have crossed the area of several Sámi reindeer herding cooperatives and disconnected the reindeer migration routes. It would have weakened the profitability of reindeer herding, a livelihood that has kept the remote areas of Lapland inhabited.

Throughout history, the Sámi have experienced racism and contempt from the main population. Their languages were not taught at schools before the 1970s. Just like Indigenous children in North America, they were sent to boarding schools, far away from home, to study in Finnish. Their voices were not heard, and their rights were not respected, for example, when the rivers in Lapland were harnessed for waterpower and forests were cut because of national interest after the World War II. Bad treatment has left scars and a considerable mistrust of the state power. The Sámi have fought for their rights in Norway, Sweden, and Finland, however, and have managed to make the state power recognize their rights.

In the new Finnish Constitution of 1994, the Sámi were granted cultural autonomy. A special Homeland Area was established in Upper Lapland. Within this area, the Sámi have the right to education in their own languages and the right to deal with authorities and in courts in their languages. They also have a Sámi Parliament, the representative self-government body, which plans and implements the cultural self-government guaranteed to the Sámi as an Indigenous people. The Sámi Parliament must be consulted when any project in the Homeland might affect their culture.

Reindeer herding and, for example, fishing are recognized as a part of Sámi culture. The duty to negotiation was drafted based on the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) principle of the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989 (No. 169). However, the Sámi Parliament and the Finnish government interpret the duty to consult differently way. The Sámi interpret the FPIC as a duty to ask for permission from the Indigenous population. The authorities, who should consult the Sámi, see it as a duty to consult and strive for a jointly agreed decision. If a joint agreement cannot be reached, the authorities can continue with the project. An even bigger problem is that authorities do not always remember to consult the Sámi. The existence of this duty is still relatively unknown, and if we add the earlier ways of conduct to ignorance, it is no wonder that the Sámi are suspicious of the Finnish state.

The Arctic railway plan is a typical example of conflicted relations between the Sámi and Finnish authorities. The sudden appearance of the plan astonished the Sámi and caused anxiety among reindeer herders about the future of their business and livelihood. The state authorities were also surprised by the strong Sámi reactions and emphasized that there was no project yet, only a discussion. The Sámi brought their position to international awareness through various media channels, while the supporters of the railway in Lapland boosted the idea to the EU and in Asia. The plan highlighted a conflict in the four municipalities of the Sámi Homeland Area, where the Sámi, with one exception, form only a minority of the population. The burial of the plan at the governmental level was mainly due to economic reasons, but abolishing the railway from the long-term regional plan can be seen as the victory of the Sámi and reindeer herding.

Is the Plan Actually Buried?

Following the Russian war on Ukraine, the multiple times buried attempt to build a railway from Finland to Norway has gained interest again. Member of Parliament from Lapland Mikko Kärnä brought the Arctic Railway back to the discussion by stressing that Finland would face significant challenges if transportation on the Baltic Sea were disturbed. This viewpoint reflects the understanding of Finland as an “island.” In practice, 80 percent of Finnish foreign trade goes through the Baltic Sea and as the transportation connection in northern Finland is poor, a railway to Norway would strengthen Finnish security of supply.

Soon after this comment, the Parliamentarian Committee on Transportation and Communication organized a visit to northernmost Finland, where the Arctic railway had been planned. The committee chair, MP Suna Kymäläinen explained the reason for the visit telling that Finland had to prepare for the scenario that traffic on the Baltic Sea would decline and analyzed how the export and import would be organized in such a situation. Currently, the roads connecting Finland to Norway are narrow and in poor condition.

The ongoing war reveals how the planned Arctic Railway is not tied only to the melting Arctic Ocean and shipping through the Northeast Passage. Instead, northern connections show how Finland is not an island but how the infrastructure development has focused on southern Finland around the capital for decades. The situation should not surprise anyone in Helsinki, as the authorities and politicians from the north have underlined for decades how weak the infrastructure in the north is and criticized how resources have been mainly used to develop southern infrastructure.

There is only one short rail track on the Finnish side still to be electrified, but the Arctic Ore Railway as well as the port of Narvik already operate at the limit of their capacity. The fact that the Swedish state mining company LKAB is already talking about strengthening the railway might indicate that the state is on board. Renovating the overloaded railway is, however, going to be a long and expensive project. Sweden has gradually built and electrified the railway from Southern Sweden to the Finnish border. The main driver of this project was the needs of the highly developed industry in northern Sweden – at least up till the port of Luleå.

The connection from Luleå to the Finnish border, however, could also have connected Sweden to the Russian market across Finland. Whereas for Finland, this track through Sweden to Narvik harbor, suddenly turned out to be a strategic corridor to the west in case the Baltic Sea corridor would close. As Sweden applied for NATO membership together with Finland, northern connections have a robust defense interest. In case of war, the Norwegian port of Narvik would be a priority to supply resources to the European Arctic. In Norway, a long-time NATO member country, the transport connections to Finland have re-emerged in the defense debate. The new geopolitical reality reveals how the northern connections would be essential for the national security of supply. However, we should not forget the rights of the Sámi people.

Geopolitics Amplify the Clash between National Interest and Sámi Rights

The discussion about the Arctic Railway reflects the polarized relationship between the Sámi and the Finnish authorities. The Sámi feel that they are never safe and that this time, their rights might be sacrificed at the shrine of national safety. Despite the new concerns about the security of supply, the state authorities now seem to take smaller, more realistic steps to improve transportation connections. A connection through the Swedish Ore Railway to Narvik in Norway is now a realistic option.

Perhaps a quicker way to improve access to the Arctic Ocean is to renovate national road 21 (E8) from Tornio to Tromsø harbor in Norway along the Swedish border. The demands to invest in the road, which is in a dangerously poor condition, had not been noticed in Helsinki before the Russian attack on Ukraine. Strengthening the existing infrastructure to the Arctic Ocean is supported in northern Finland. Improving existing roads and railways does not considerably increase the damage to reindeer herding either. The increased needs for security of supply, however, indicate that the rights of the Sámi are not the first priority in national transportation development. The Arctic Railway across the Sámi Homeland is on the agenda again. Strengthening democracy and taking the minorities’ differing worldviews seriously would be a more civilized way of coexisting in the western world and something the Nordic countries could be expected to do better.

*Soili Nystén-Haarala, Professor of Commercial Law, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lapland.

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The War America Is Waging Against Europe

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Europe is more dependent upon Russia for the fuels that heat it in winter, cool it in summer, heat its water year-round, and energize its factories, than is any other part of the world, but heavy pressures from Washington have driven its leaders — most of them (other than Ursula von der Leyen, Robert Habeck, and Annalena Baerbock) very reluctantly — to slash imports of Russian fuels, and to cut them drastically in October, and then eliminate them almost totally soon after that, in December, when the coldest weather will set in. Cutting those fuel-supplies will cause fuel-prices in Europe to soar. This will be nothing less than the planned immiseration of the peoples of Europe, and it has been planned in Washington, and is being carried out by its vassal-heads-of-state in Europe.

All of this is being done in order to punish Russia. Washington is obsessed with its hatred of Russia, and has been ever since 25 July 1945.

Washington’s obsession for regime-change in Russia (i.e., for Washington to control Russia like it does the rest of Europe) will produce an economic crash in Europe, before this year is out.

The inevitability now of that economic crash is the clear message which Jorge Vilches documents in great detail at the Saker Blog, on June 18th, under the headline “No fuels for Europe”, citing as his sources, and linking through to, the Wall Street Journal, Trading Economics, the Washington Post, Lathan & Watkins law firm, Bloomberg News, Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air, the Guardian, CNBC, Fast Company, OilPrice dot com, S&P, and other well known sources, which might not be telling the truth about some other things, but are reporting truthfully about this. The Vilches article leaves little room for doubt that Europe’s leaders have sealed death-warrants for their nations’ economies by complying with Washington’s demands to do what Washington requires them to do in order to defeat Russia. Whether Washington will defeat Russia or not, this is going to destroy Europe. Here is how and why:

It wasn’t mere bravado when Russia’s RT News headlined on June 19th “EU warned of years of high gas prices ahead”, and opened: “Gas prices in the EU will remain high for several more years, Russia’s vice-premier and former energy minister, Aleksander Novak said on Friday, warning of serious problems across Europe when the autumn-winter period starts.” 

This is clearly to be a suffering by the peoples of Europe that’s brought on by the U.S.-stooge leaders of Europe, who follow orders from Washington, far more than they serve the basic needs of their own peopleeven of the people who had voted for them.

Europe has been, not only since the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, but ever since 1945 in its western parts, U.S. vassal-nations. The only significant differences among the main political parties in Europe are the extents to which they adhere to their instructions from Washington.

Europeans will now be experiencing intensifying impoverishment in order for their imperial masters in Washington to be able to turn the screws even tighter against Russia, which they hate so much for not buckling to the empire (as the rest of Europe has done).

This action against Russia is allegedly being carried out because ‘Putin started the war in Ukraine on 24 February 2022.’ But that’s a rabid lie. Obama started the war in Ukraine, in February 2014, to replace Ukraine’s democratically elected and neutralist President, by a rabidly anti-Russian regime that would then quickly proceed to eliminate the people in the parts of Ukraine that had voted overwhelmingly for the Ukrainian leader whom Obama had overthrown (Obama wanted the new, anti-Russian, regime, to be permanent, ‘democratically’ permanent). The coup worked. (The subsequent ethnic cleansing was only partially successful.)

The neoconservative (U.S.-imperialist) American regime did that — transformed Ukraine into Russia’s enemy, on Russia’s very borders. For example: During 2003-2009, only around 20% of Ukrainians had wanted NATO membership, while around 55% opposed it. In 2010, Gallup found that whereas 17% of Ukrainians considered NATO to mean “protection of your country,” 40% said it’s “a threat to your country.” Ukrainians predominantly saw NATO as an enemy, not a friend. But after Obama’s February 2014 Ukrainian coup, “Ukraine’s NATO membership would get 53.4% of the votes, one third of Ukrainians (33.6%) would oppose it.” However, afterward, the support averaged around 45% — still over twice as high as had been the case prior to the coup.

Putin, prior to 24 February 2022, had done all he could, short of invading Obama’s Ukraine, in order to reverse what Obama had done. This was a matter of Russia’s essential national security, in order to prevent U.S. missiles from ultimately becoming placed on Russia’s border, within only a five-minute flying-distance away from hitting Moscow.

The war in Ukraine certainly didn’t start in February 2022. Overtly, it started in February 2014. But, actually, it had started by no later than June 2011, as being in the planning stages by the Obama regime. That’s when what might be WW III started to be planned. We wouldn’t even know about this if Julian Assange had not told us about it.

Cutting-off Russia’s essential fuel-supplies to Europe is merely a continuation of that war, which was already being planned by Obama in Washington, by no later than June 2011. Obama even said in 2014 that Europe is “dispensable.” That’s the attitude of an imperialist, toward a colony (or group of colonies). It’s the attitude of America’s rulers, toward their stooge-regimes. The peoples of Europe are now paying the prices for that, and those prices will be sky-high, as the weather turns cold. Of course, those leaders will be blaming Putin (for what they themselves actually did).

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The Thrill of Amber – Germany’s Historical East – A Plea for Humanity

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Escape from Königsberg, Prussia, January 1945

My dearest father,

…. We were going to go out and, all of a sudden, planes came and – rum, rum – the bombs fell without any alarm. And from then on things became very unsettled and we heard the very loud artillery fire.

…. and wanted to go back to the Reich, because it was high time. Sunday afternoon we tried to get on a steamer, but we were always shot at…. That night we took an icebreaker to Pillau, for it was very quiet. In the morning we arrived in Pillau and immediately got on a large freighter, the Göttingen, and after 8 days arrived in Swinemünde and from there we went to Güstrow by train…

Now I want to close and let’s hope that the war will end soon.

(Güstrow, February 10, 1945, excerpt from a letter from my mother Eva-Maria to her father Paul Kuhrau.)

For my Mama

1944, some months before fleeing from Königsberg

The conquest of East Prussia

Immeasurable suffering and misery all over the world. That describes the years 1944/1945, which were certainly among the most terrible times in human history. And in one of the harshest winters in East Prussia, a horrible chapter of German history began: the conquest of East Prussia by the Red Army. Full of rage and the desire for revenge, whipped up by the ideologies of the Nazi dictatorship and by Stalinism, two great powers clashed, Germany and Russia. Soldiers on both sides of the blind ideological delusion brought immeasurable suffering and death to the people. One victim on the German side was the civilian population of East Prussia. Hitler and his advisors had little connection to eastern Germany.[1] The Wehrmacht was weak there; it was important to hold the western front. Germany’s east was left to its own fate. Evacuation was repeatedly rejected – “East Prussia will be held, evacuation is out of the question.[2] For reasons of propaganda, the fortress of Königsberg was not to be abandoned. In the end, the order to evacuate East Prussia came much too late.

And so, the East Prussian civilian population, the majority of them elderly, women and children, were knowingly sacrificed. Thus, they fell into the hands of the soldiers of the Red Army, who, blinded by the propaganda against all things Prussian, took cruel revenge, especially on women and children. “The Red Army has conquered in the course of Operation East Prussia, the home of German imperialism.”[3] Fear, rape and murder were the order of the day.

The Weeping Soldier and the Baby – On board the freighter Göttingen, January 1945 

My maternal relatives – my grandma with her three children – fled on an icebreaker from Königsberg on the evening of January 28, 1945 and arrived in Pillau the next morning. Carrying some 3,000 refugees and 2,500 slightly wounded people, the freighter Göttingen left Pillau the same day about 7 pm. My Mama, her mother and her sisters slept on the floor in the radio cabin. Suddenly the radio operator was shaking all over and called out that the Gustloff had been hit. That night, 28 survivors were rescued from the freezing water.  My Mama saw how two soldiers took a dead woman out of the Baltic Sea who was still holding her baby in her arms, which was crying terribly. When the soldiers were both on board, one took the baby from the dead mother’s grasp and also started crying bitterly. Mama said she would never forget that image: the crying soldier with the baby in his arms.   

Everyone disembarked in Swinemünde. And only a few days later the Göttingen was also torpedoed and sank on February 23, 1945, off Libau-Reede. Five hundred people died.[4]

Those who were lucky finally arrived in West Germany, traumatized by the terrible experiences of expulsion and fleeing over the backwaters (Curonian Lagoon), the Curonian Spit or the Baltic Sea. From now on, all displaced persons had to rebuild their lives far away from their beloved homeland. They accepted their fate without complaint. There was no time to process the traumas of war. Thus, human suffering and longing for the beloved homeland remained buried in their souls and under the rubble and ruins of Germany.

Uprooting and a lonely death

An estimated 14 million refugees had to leave their homes, losing everything, all their belongings. Approximately 2 million died while in transit. Germany lost a quarter of its territory.[5] Refugees and displaced persons who, unlike those in 2015, were not welcomed with applause and teddy bears.

On the contrary, they were not welcomed by the majority of West Germans, who feared having to share their possessions with these “barbarians from the East.” For many, the eastern territories were backward and the people who lived there were only uneducated “Gesocks.”[6] Few recognized that Prussia was in many respects much more advanced than West Germany. Since there was no such welcome as in 2015, the Allies had to organize the forced quartering of the new arrivals.

My maternal family was housed in Barmstedt, Schleswig-Holstein, in a room only 12 square meters in size. That is where my grandparents lived with their three children. All the furniture and carpets were removed in front of them, only a picture with a biblical saying still hung on the wall. My grandmother then asked the lady of the house to please take the picture down as well, because, after all, they were not able to sit on it. Which the woman then did, red-faced.

That’s how it was back then. That’s probably how the majority of Germans treated their own countrymen. West Germans were prejudiced against the newcomers, who were after all “subhuman” – the “refugee horde.” The attitude was widespread, especially in Schleswig-Holstein, because it had taken in the highest percentage of refugees in Germany, with displaced persons comprising about one-third of the state’s total population in 1950.[7]  This was another reason why my family had a particularly hard time of it in Barmstedt.

The refugees from Germany’s eastern territories were never integrated into society. Nor was such an integration wanted, since the newcomers were reminders of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi dictatorship and thus also of western Germans’ own guilt during that time.  Both sides refused to think or speak about what had happened. It was more of a silent assimilation. Even the numerous associations formed by refugees had a very hard time, were often politically instrumentalized by the political parties and, since the 1970s, branded as revanchist.[8]

In order not to attract further attention, most of the refugees worked quietly building their new lives and tried to forget the horror of their time on the run. Now a second displacement and disappearance began. For with the collective silence, the recollections of Germany’s East were also erased from memory.

This historical East, “the land of dark forests and crystal lakes,[9] was to be banished forever. Not only had the refugees lost their homeland and all their possessions, now all memory of towns like Königsberg, Tilsit, Insterburg, Cranz, Rauschen was also to be banished. They endured immeasurable suffering, which became unspoken pain and often ended with a lonely death in an anonymous nursing home many years later, especially during the pandemic in 2020. This is how Germany has thanked this war generation. It is shameful.

Fortunately, this generation of the war grandchildren is more at ease and consciously accepts the legacy of their parents, so that the times and the lives of this generation, who basically suffered the fate representative of all Germans, are kept alive in the “culture of remembrance”.

Even today, there is still a gap between those who lost their homeland and those who did not have to suffer this fate. I, too, as a war granddaughter, always feel different, apart and often alienated in many situations. A stranger in my own country.

What remains even today is an amputated, broken Germany; lost are the wealth, beauty and nature of a vast landscape, the rough wide Baltic Sea, a unique natural and cultural landscape with its elks, Trakehner[10] and precious, golden amber – Germany’s historical East.

They are losses that have never been quantified. In addition, everything Prussian has been erased from Germany’s “culture of remembrance.” What remains is a highly traumatized German population that, with the mantra of “collective guilt,” has had no chance to develop an identity with the fatherland and a healthy sense of patriotism.  Even then, the media worked closely with the victorious powers to keep the Germans attuned to this fraught collective guilt, using targeted propaganda, especially at schools and universities, to nourish it and to maintain the influence of the United States in Germany.

Keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” Spoken by NATO’s first secretary general, Lord Ismay, those words are still valid today.

Victims of war

Have we learned nothing from past wars? It seems as if humanity has not made any progress. As in the conquest of East Prussia, in all wars it is the civilian population, mostly the women, children and elderly, who suffer the most. War crimes are the result, as in the winter 1944/1945. As they happen now, during in the current war in Ukraine.

It has now been proven that the generation of war children passed on, unaware, the horror, suffering and misery of the war to their own children, to the generation of so-called war grandchildren, my generation. I am thus all the more shocked by the current situation in the world, and especially in Germany. Because given the majority’s clear support for arms deliveries to Ukraine, Germany seems to have learned nothing from the madness of the two world wars and the atrocities that happen when people are displaced from their homes and must flee for their lives.

War is war and is horrible no matter which country has been identified as the instigator by the public. People die, war crimes happen, and the main victims are and always will be the civilian population.

Vietnam, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, the 9/11 attacks – to name just a few of the horrific events the world has experienced. In Ukraine, a proxy war between two nuclear powers, the US and Russia, is raging in the middle of Europe. Here, too, the civilian population is suffering. Here, too, people are fighting each other, fueled by the hatred and delusion of ideological propaganda.  But who is actually fighting each other? Is it not basically a fraternal people? Is it not the “Kievan Rus, the Old East Slavic Great Empire, Old Russia or Kievan Russia, the cradle of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus?”[11]

No one wants war

Fear and hatred towards people from other countries are most effective as propaganda tools to steer the masses in the desired direction. No one wants war – propaganda purposefully leads people into wars. And numerous industries benefit. People are diving deeper and deeper into division and fear. A deep-seated fear where all logic, reason, and sense of proportion, has been eliminated. When emotions take over, reason is turned off, and the propaganda has achieved its goal.

In the German population already traumatized by war, “the German angst” finds particularly fertile ground.

Thus, blindly controlled, humans are robbed of their humanity. People with other opinions on the virus, on the responses to it, on the Ukraine war, on the role of the US, on NATO are systematically denigrated and censored; and not only in dictatorships or authoritarian regimes.

Moreover, increasingly frightening images are coming out of China. The authoritarian country with its merciless zero-Covid strategy is timidly criticized by the West.  Democracy, freedom of opinion and a self-determined life seem to be a thing of the past. People are being turned into digitalized files. The social credit system is making its way from China to Europe.

“If you can’t do anything, go into politics”

In its current composition, Germany’s government seems to be the manifestation of this sentence. And in Germany, we probably now have a generation in government that is not comprised of war grandchildren – otherwise they would certainly be advocating loudly for the arms build-up. Who can seriously believe that arms supplies lead to ceasefire and peace? Division and fear have made any factual dialogue impossible. Our democracy has been replaced by a party state, almost like that in China. Government representatives, or actually representatives of the people, are only interested in securing their sphere of power. For quite some time, it has not been about “the people” or even about people and their needs. The human race is increasingly losing its humanity.

Servants of the US

The guiding principle of the Bundeswehr is WE SERVE GERMANY. But is it really so? If this motto is to be fulfilled, Germany would first have to define its own interests in order to be able to act in the interests of the German people.

The only problem is that, since the end of the Second World War, the mantra of collective guilt has been systematically perpetuated. There is a lack of healthy patriotism. Thus, it is hardly possible to define one’s own national interests and to enter with them into interactions with other states.

Looking at today’s Ukraine-Russia war, it cannot be in Germany’s interest to have a bad relationship with Russia. Quite the contrary: the Germans and Russians are connected by a great, albeit in part very painful history, as Vladimir Putin noted in his famous speech to the Bundestag in September 2001: “…. I would like to emphasize that history, like oceans, not only divides but also connects. It is important to interpret this history correctly.

There used to be a peaceful Putin, one who extended his hand to all of us; the German government at the time unfortunately rejected it. Where would we be today if we had taken a step towards Putin? Certainly not virtually on the brink of a third world war.

It is in Germany’s interest to maintain a good political and economic partnership with Russia in order to achieve a geopolitical balance, especially in Eurasia. Germany’s location – in the middle of Europe – obliges it to do just that. But this is not in the interests of the US and the UK. The US’s goal is to continue to secure world leadership and the dominance of the dollar. A strong German-Russian partnership would be a great danger politically and economically, especially since the US would then also lose its geopolitical influence in Eurasia. But also, the current war is forcing China and Russia closer together and could in the end endanger the US’s goal of securing world leadership as well.

A strong German-Russian alliance would shift the geopolitical balance to the east and give Germany a leading role on the world political stage. But that is precisely what is not wanted. To maintain control in Europe and in Germany, it is important to keep Germany firmly in the NATO alliance. NATO serves only US interests, not European or German interests.

Basically, we Germans should be grateful to Russia and especially to Gorbachev for the reunification of our country. In order to placate the other Western nations, Germany had to ensure that it would become a “European Germany” and that it would join and subordinate itself to the EU and NATO. After all, an empowered Germany must be prevented by any means. To ensure this is not forced on the country from the outside, an affinity for the EU had to be engendered among the German population.

The nation

The French geographer and geopolitician Jacques Ancel (1879–1943), among others, can be a good source of inspiration and reflection to get through this time of global madness more or less unscathed mentally. Ancel shaped a very human vision of French geopolitics. According to Ancel, man is the creator of the global world order and togetherness. The identity of the heart in which “human groups achieve a harmonious equilibrium and … finally recognize boundaries derived from a common memory, history, culture, and language.” Thus, “human groups [are what] achieve a harmonious balance, ultimately recognizing borders based on a common memory, history and language.” The result is “a nation of the heart in and of itself, non-rational.” Thus, the way is paved for the emergence of the much-needed nations of the heart.

In fact, history is a strength and not a weakness. According to Ancel’s vision, Germany, Poland and Russia might be at the crossroads of arbitrary borders and of borders of civilization. There are, on the one hand, the so-called arbitrary borders, which are more fraught, more strategic borders that have resulted from military pretensions. The borders of civilization, on the other hand, are more permanent as these borders are based on a common memory, common history and common language arising from a group of humans in equilibrium. The borders of civilization are “nevertheless more complicated because they are the object of numerous political and commercial interpretations” – even if the commercial justifications aim at “clearing a path” and not “enclosing” as the military justifications do.

According to Ancel, the boundary is “a political isobar that establishes for a certain time the equilibrium between two pressure areas: the equilibrium of mass and the equilibrium of forces.”[12] Thus, the real problem is not a question of borders. Because borders will always exist, especially in a globalized world. “There are no problems of borders. There are only problems of nation.” In the same spirit: “A solid nation, one in harmony, exists even without visible borders.”

Jacques Ancel consequently argues for man as creator.  “One does not revise borders, except by force; one changes the mind or the attitude.”  If you look at today, we are very far away from this change in attitude.

It can also be helpful to remember what Helmut Kohl said in the Bundestag on June 23, 1983 about the state of the nation: “…. there is only one German nation. Its existence is not at the disposal of governments and majority decisions. It has grown historically, a part of Christian, European culture, shaped by its location in the middle of the continent. The German nation thus existed before the nation-state, and it has outlived it; that is important for our future.”[13]

The thrill of amber, or nature answers in German

 “Culture has never known borders. Culture has always been our common good and has united peoples.” Vladimir Putin – September 25, 2001

To my great happiness, I have experienced for myself how true this quote is – when I was to travel for the first time to the homeland of my ancestors, to Germany’s historical East, to East Prussia, Könisgberg (today Kaliningrad), and West Prussia, Schneidemühl (today Pila).

From the very first moment, I was overwhelmed by a strong sense of connection to a region I only knew from stories told by my parents and grandparents.  And yet I was constantly surrounded by a sense of déjà vu – feeling I know it all, I’ve been here before. I heard Polish or Russian spoken and yet I had a feeling as if someone was “dubbing the film I was going through.”

An inner compass lovingly guided me through the streets of Königsberg and Schneidemühl; I stood in front of my dad’s parents’ house in Gartenstrasse, saw the garden where he played and walked along the little river, just like he did. I stood in front of the gate of the abandoned barracks in Kanonenweg in Königsberg. On the left of the bel étage, the first floor, was the apartment and I saw the kitchen window from which my Mama often climbed out as a child, holding on to the window and shouting “Help me down or I’ll jump.” A soldier was always immediately on hand to help my Mama down. I went down the Kanonenweg, then Cranzer Allee, as my Mama had described to me, to the Oberteich where she had always had an ice cream.

I watched the people, Poles and Russians, listened to the bells of the Könisgberg Cathedral, which we had always heard at Christmas played from a record, and as I recalled my grandparents’ teary eyes, I felt their longing for “the land of dark forests.”

For me, these are still poignant moments that I always remember with great pleasure. Everywhere in West Prussia, in the historic towns such as Osterode, Allenstein, Tannenberg, Elbing, Marienburg and Rastenburg, all the way to Masuria, in East Prussia, in the former Cranz, along the Curonian Spit, to Rossitten, I felt a strong source of strength, my source, which has been omnipresent within me and guided me through my life ever since. The people, Poles and Russians, were all extremely loving and I always felt welcome. As soon as they noticed that I am German and that my family is from here, they responded joyfully in German. Fortunately, all hatred was gone. Landscape, nature and culture are connecting and enveloping us all with love and protection.

In particular, I felt this on the Curonian Spit, on the brisk Baltic Sea shore with its waves. I shouted into the wind, “Grandma, Grandpa, I’ve come back!” And I heard their laughter. And when I walked through the “forest of dancing trees” on the Curonian Split and the strong winds were rustling through the boughs, I looked up at the sky and nature was whispering in German – identity of the heart.

I’ve come back – finally, back to the roots.

Listening to the Curonian Spit

Katja Banik

www.katjabanik.com

Specialist in geopolitical issues, doctorate from Sorbonne Nouvelle University;

speaker and guest lecturer on geopolitical, economic and political issues, focusing on Jacques Ancel’s geopolitical vision of “the identity of the heart.”

Author of articles published on moderndiplomacy.eu, russiancouncil.ru (RIAC) and worldscientific.com, and author of the book Les relations Chine-Europe à croisées des chemins, published by L’Harmattan, Paris. Katja is the descendant of ancestors who lived in East and West Prussia. Her family on her mother’s side had to flee from Königsberg in East Prussia in January 1945 and, on her father’s side, from Schneidemühl in West Prussia. She increasingly connects the themes of identities, roots and borders in her geopolitical views.

References and reading tips

Ancel, Jacques (1938):  Géographie des frontières, Gallimard.

Banik, Katja (2021): A clear view eastwards: Russia and Germany, www.katjabanik.com

Banik, Katja (2021): Without roots, no future. Decoupling ideologies, www.katjabanik.com

Banik, Katja (2019):  Europe and China in a globalized world. The geopolitical impacts of Belt and Road, worldscientific.com 

Banik, Katja (2016): Les relations Chine-Europe: à la croisée des chemins, L’Harmattan.

Banik, Katja, Jan Lüdert (2020): Assessing Securization: China’s Belt and Road Initiative, E-International Relations, e-ir.info

Bode, Sabine (2009): Kriegsenkel. Die Erben der vergessenen Generation, Klett-Cotta.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew (1971): Between two ages: America’s role in the technotronic era, Greenwood Press.

German Bundestag: Minutes of Vladimir Putin’s speech in the German Bundestag on 25.9.2001.

https://www.bundestag.de/parlament/geschichte/gastredner/putin/putin_wort-244966

General Lasch (1959): So fiel Königsberg, Gräfe und Unzer Verlag.

Großbongardt, Klußmann, Pötzl (eds., 2020): Die Deutschen im Osten Europas. Eroberer, Siedler, Vertriebene. Bassermann Verlag.

Kossert, Andreas (2009): Kalte Heimat: die Geschichte der deutschen Vertriebenen nach 1945, Pantheon Verlag.

Putin (2021): Being open, despite the past, Die Zeit.

https://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2021-06/ueberfall-auf-die-sowjetunion-1941-europa-russland-geschichte-wladimir-putin/komplettansicht

Ratzel, Friedrich (1941): Erdenmacht und Völkerschicksal, Alfred Kröner Verlag.

Teltschik, Horst (2019): Russisches Roulette: vom kalten Krieg zum kalten Frieden, CH Beck.

Schön, Heinz (2004): Die Tragödie der Flüchtlingsschiffe. Gesunken in der Ostsee 1944/45, Motorbuch Verlag.

Wagener, Martin (2021): Der Kulturkampf um das deutsche Volk. Der Verfassungsschutz und die nationale Identität der Deutschen. Lauverlag

Video: Sturm über Ostpreußen – Ostpreußen im Inferno 44-55 Teil 1.


[1] Sturm über Ostpreußen – Ostpreußen im Inferno 44-45, Teil 1

[2] General Lasch, p.32

[3] General Lasch, p.10

[4] Schön, p.110

[5] Kossert, p.9

[6] Riff-raff

[7] Kossert, p.59

[8] Kossert, p.190

[9] Hymn of East Prussia

[10] Famous horses from Trakehnen (East Prussia)

[11] Lexas Weltgeschichte: Kiewer Rus

[12] Jacques Ancel

[13] Martin Wagener, p.119

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