“I am quite sure that the European crisis has its roots in a mistaken rationalism” –Edmund Husserl, University of Prague, 1935
Modern Western Civilization presents us with a Janus-like face: On one side Renaissance Humanism which begins in Italy in the 14th century with Petrarch, on the other side Enlightenment Rationalism which begins in France in the 17th century with Descartes.
After Descartes, there is a dangerous tendency to separate the two cultural phenomena and consider Humanism either anachronistic, or superseded by 18th century rationalism. The inevitable result has been sheer confusion in the area of cultural identity. Consequently, at the crossroad of a critical juncture of the new polity called European Union, there is a pervasive talk of a “democratic deficit,” that very democracy that ought to be integral part of Western Civilization and underpins the very concept of freedom and autonomy.
We are in urgent need of cultural guides to show us how to better harmonize the two above mentioned phenomena. I’d like to suggest that one such guide is Emmanuel Lévinas’ humanistic philosophy. In as much as it challenges the Western rationalistic philosophical tradition, it is extremely important for the emergence of a renewed European cultural identity. It explores in depth the threats to the authentic cultural identity of Europe, how modalities of thinking powerfully affect other ideas and shape a whole cultural milieu, sometimes with less than desirable consequences.
A few background biographical details may be useful to better understand Lévinas. He was born in Lithuania in 1906. In 1923 he moves to Strasbourg to study under Husserl and writes a doctoral dissertation on his philosophy. There, he also comes in contact with Heidegger’s philosophy. The dissertation on Husserl’s phenomenology gets published in France in 1930 and reveals that, even at this early stage, Lévinas is beginning to take his distance from Heidegger. He enlisted in the French army, was captured in 1940 and spent the remaining five years of the war in two prisoner-of-war camps.
Upon being liberated he returns to Lithuania and finds-out that his parents and siblings had been killed by the Nazis, while his wife, whom he had left behind in Paris, had survived thanks to the help of French nuns who hid her. He became a teacher and administrator in an institute for Jewish education in Paris (l’alliance Uneversel Juif); there he begins to study traditional Jewish texts under the directorship of the Talmudic sage Mordechai Shoshani to whom Elie Wiesel (who also studied with him) devotes a chapter in Legends of Our Time.
In 1961 Lévinas defends the first of his two major philosophical works (Totality and Infinity) before the philosophy faculty of the Sorbonne becoming a professor of philosophy. His second major work bears the title of Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence.
Those are the basic events that dramatically change Lèvinas’ thinking. Prior to World War II he had merely criticized elements of 20th century Western thought; afterward he begins to attack the whole European philosophical tradition, especially its culmination in Heidegger’s thought, for what he considers its indifference to the ethical and its “totalizing of the other.” He begins to indict western philosophers in general for an uncritical reliance on vast concepts, such as Hegel’s “Spirit,” or Heidegger’s “Being,” which assimilate countless individuals to rational processes, thus negating their individuality.
To be sure Kierkegaard had also criticized this totalizing Hegelian tendency, countering it with his existentialist philosophy. Those who understood his critique only too well, promptly proceeded to relegate his thought to the theological within a false dichotomy (shown absurd by Thomas Aquinas way back in the 13th century) of philosophy/theology, thus insuring that Kierkegaard would never be as influential as a Hegel or a Heidegger.
In any case, Lévinas too argues that this taken-for-granted totalizing mode of doing philosophy in the West denies the face-to-face reality in which we—philosophers included—interact with persons different from ourselves. He argues that this “face-to-face” realm is not the same thing as the realm of abstract concepts. It possesses its own texture which is primarily an ethical one.
In this domain we are challenged by “the otherness of the other person.” It is this “otherness,” which is an integral characteristic of human life, but the Western philosophical tradition has overlooked and even negated it, thus contributing to the dehumanization of Man.
Lévinas’ life and thinking were deeply affected by the trauma of the Nazi genocide, better known as the Holocaust. But what is unique about his thinking is that it refuses to make those monstrous events its core subject matter. As Derrida, who admired Lévinas’ philosophy, aptly expressed it once: the danger of naming our monstrosities is that they become our pets.
Lévinas’ writings provide no extensive discussion of the Holocaust itself; therefore, the assumption, on the part of those who were thinking and writing on it, has often been that Lévinas could not be considered a valid source of philosophical insight into this dark period of human history. But that is an erroneous assumption, just as invalid as the assumption that he unreservedly admired Heidegger’s philosophy because he happened to have translated it into French. As a matter of fact, Lévinas’ thinking is a reaction to the Holocaust by the mere fact that it asks the crucial question: What does it mean to be a human being? This crucial question goes back to Socrates and, more recently, the Italian Humanism of the 14th century.
Were one to encapsulate the whole of Lévinas’ philosophy in two succinct words, they would be “being human.” This philosophy insists throughout that an extreme, unbalanced rationality devoid of imagination, feelings, senses and spirit, unconcerned with the ethical dimensions of life, is the equivalent to a refusal to be human, it is to allow oneself to become a monster.
Lévinas’ attack on what he considers negative elements of the Western philosophical tradition begins with analyses of the philosophical roots from which sprout the extreme individualism of modern times, and the reaction to it, extreme nationalism. Not unlike Vico in the 18th century, he individuates such a root in the Cartesian ego, an autonomous center of consciousness which in modern philosophy has assumed the function of a paradigm for thinking about human beings. Lévinas does not deny this world-constituting ego, rather he leads it to the discovery of an ethical core within itself; which is to say, he uncovers another root growing within the first root which he calls the “self.”
The conundrum seems to be this: if it is true that the ego does the conceptual work of philosophy by announcing what there really is in the world, how can this ego then acknowledge the essentially ethical “self” which lives within itself? Somehow a bridge has to be found between this limitless power and freedom of the independent intellect, and the particular concrete ethical obligations to another person. For, this ethical self, unlike the ego, finds itself caught up with the welfare of the other prior to a conscious, rational decision, in a recognition, even when unwilled, of his/her humanity.
Indeed this ethical capacity seems to come from another place than our rational powers of analysis evidenced within the Cartesian ego. Even if we grant that such an ego is adequate in identifying the truths of philosophy, it somehow remains unable to acknowledge a domain where there is no choosing of the connection with the other; in fact the other way around may apply: the other chooses me, one is “already responsible” for the other prior to any rational analysis.
And here is the philosophical paradox: Lévinas’ task becomes that of using rationality to take the Cartesian ego beyond rationality, somewhat similar to what Vico does with his concepts of fantasia, which for him precedes rational reason, and the concept of Providence who guides human events and is both immanent within history but also transcendent. Which is to say, the rational ego has to be brought to recognize a sort of enigmatic “ethical” truth which Lévinas calls “pre-originary,” i.e., arising outside, prior to the usual time-line of the reflective ego.
In attempting this operation, Lévinas will proffer statements such as: ethics is “older” than philosophy, it is “first philosophy,” on the scene before the arrival of rational philosophical thinking; something ingrained in being human. Within purely classical categories, that may be equivalent to the Socratic preoccupation with dying well by living a life of integrity and devotion to truth, as exemplified in Plato’s Apology. It is this ancient voice of goodness, which even Vico’s pre-historical “bestioni” possess to a degree, a voice often overlooked by rationalist philosophers, but powerfully present in Talmudic texts, that Lévinas finds strangely silent in the modern Western philosophical tradition.
In more mytho-poetic language, it’s as if Lévinas were to come face-to-face with the goddess Europa, as she is being abducted by a black bull (Zeus in disguise), to journey to another shore, there to assume a different persona, and he were to ask her, “Europa quo vadis?” after warning her to remember her original identity: “nosce te ipsum”; which is to say, go back to the future and know yourself holistically: know your Greco-Roman origins, yes, but also the Biblical tradition (the foundation for Christianity), the Christian heritage, the Humanistic synthesis of Graeco-Roman and Christian civilizations, Celtic and Germanic cultures with their ideas of freedom, the universalizing Enlightenment rooted in the democratic-scientific tradition born in ancient Greece, the Islamic influences. Voltaire and Descartes yes, but Vico and Novalis too are part of your identity. Your unity will be a chimera if it is only a unity of a bank and neglects its spiritual elements.
Undoubtedly this hermeneutics, or re-interpretation of the Cartesian ego, placing at its core an non-refusable responsibility for the other without granting the ego any time to think it over and choose, so to speak, challenges some of the most basic assumptions of modern, and in some way classical, rationalistic philosophy. Not since the times of Mamonides in the 13th century had a Jew dared such a fundamental challenge from within the Western philosophical tradition. It is the challenge of Paul to Greek culture revisited. For indeed Lévinas is saying nothing short of this: the knowing ego does not exhaust what it means to be human. Some have called his philosophy one of “ethical subjectivity,” as a way of dismissing it as the raving of a lunatic, just as the ancient Greeks dismissed Paul as a lunatic in the agora. For the serious reader, however, it is rather a re-definition of subjectivity face to face with a totalizing kind of Cartesian reflection.
While Lévinas does not write directly about the Holocaust, other thinkers, who influenced Lévinas, were nevertheless reflecting upon the philosophical implications of this dark event of human history. One such was Berel Lang who wrote an essay titled “Genocide and Kant’s Enlightenment,” which appeared in his Act and Idea in the Nazi Genocide. In this essay Lang uncovers certain lines of affinity between some classical aspects of Enlightenment thought, and the Nazi genocide. His conclusion is that there are two important aspects of the Enlightenment that formed the intellectual heritage, which needed to be in place, for genocide to occur in the heart of civilized Europe: namely, the universalization of rational ideals, and the redefinition of the individual human being in terms of its possessing or not such a universal rationality. The genocide, Lang argues, was aimed at those groups who stuck to their own ancient pre-Enlightenment sources of particularistic identity, considered “irrational.” Hence the racial laws and racial exclusion were expression of ingrained Enlightenment prejudices. Which is to say, the Enlightenment sheds light on everything except itself; it remains to be enlightened.
This powerful essay leads many cultural anthropologists comparing civilizations, to begin to wonder: which, in the final analysis, is more obscurantist: religious fanaticism and fundamentalism, or a so called “enlightened” era throwing out the window the baby with the bathwater and arrogantly refusing any suggestion that it ought to enlighten itself, and not narcissistically, with its own light?
This conjures up that terrible face to face encounter of Dante with the poet Bertrand Del Bornio in a cave in hell doing “light to himself” with its own decapitated head. There we have reason eating its own tail; internal logical thinking assuming the grammar of lunacy. I dare say that such a question has not been satisfactorily answered yet. In that question lies the challenge of Lévinas’ philosophy: in its displacing of the centrality of Cartesian thinking within modernity, in order to re-center it around ethics: the face-to-face encounter with another human being which is always hopeful unless it occurs in hell.
Everything we have discussed above begs this particular question: is Lévinas’ challenge to the Western philosophical tradition philosophically tenable? To answer the question adequately we need to be first aware that Emmanuel Lévinas, as well as Hermann Cohen and Franz Rosenweig (the author of Echoes from the Holocaust: Philosophical Reflections in a Dark Time, 1988), are representative of learned European Jews with great familiarity with the texts of both the Jewish and the Western philosophical tradition. They challenge the latter exactly because they are so knowledgeable in both. Lévinas is fully capable of confronting the intellectual traps of those rationalists who would relegate him to the sphere of theology; the same operation some have attempted on Aquinas and Kierkegaard.
To the contrary, he insisted on writing in both spheres and claimed that Jewish religious textuality contains hitherto unexplored philosophical insights. For this is a tradition which puts great emphasis on interpersonal, social and familial relationships; phenomena not contemplated in traditional Western philosophy.
Which is to say, the challenge is to Western philosophy’s totalizing pretense, beginning with Plato, that somewhow it can gather everything up in one synchronic whole. It is that challenge that irritates our modern control freaks, bureaucrats, thought policemen, rationalists and mysologists galore. It goes a long way in explaining their attempt to relegate Lévinas’ philosophy to the sphere of the merely religious and mystical.
Finally, let us briefly examine how Lévinas develops this fundamental challenge to Western rationalism. He names both the texts of Jewish tradition and philosophical discourse “the said,” while calling the living activity of interpretative struggle (its hermeneutics) with the texts, and the self which suffers for the other, “the saying.” It’s a rather familiar dichotomy between theory and practice which led the likes of William James to declare that if one wants to know what a man really believes in, ignore what he says and pay attention to his actions.
The said always tries to capture the saying, which may partly explain the ancient grudge of Plato towards poets (see Plato’s Republic, book X, on Homer). In any case, it is the saying which launches the said and puts it into circulation. The saying echoes outside of space and time destabilizing the comfortable, rationally secure positions rationalists take up in the said, in conceptual truths (thought to be universal and eternal), in a secure totalizing kind of knowledge.
Yet it is this very destabilizing process that injects the ethical outward-directness into the said. Lévinas will often contrasts the saying’s vulnerable openness to the other (which he calls “being ex-posed) with the said’s relative security (which he calls “exposition”). He asserts moreover, that there is a rich unexplored relationship between the way we are “ex-posed” in ethics, and the life “exposition” we use to analyze and order the world.
Indeed, this is a new, essentially Jewish, philosophical reflection which places into question the claim to totalizing completeness, by an appeal to the priority of ethics. It insists that any person that confronts me, needs to be placed outside the totalizing categories seeking to reduce her/him to an aspect of a rational system. Basically, what Lévinas is doing is relocating our dangerous ability to deny others their legitimate sphere of difference; an ability which is capable of destroying our own humanity.
This is nothing short than the core struggle for the achievement of moral humanity which was also the root ethical aim of Vico’s New Science. Like Vico, Lévinas shows us the way to keep the benefits of universal Enlightenment ethics while avoiding its perils. For, his ethics is not based on a totalizing sort of universalism, but on the particular concrete needs and demands of each unique individual, every “other’ that I meet within time and space. Every time I meet the other, she/he constitutes an ethical challenge to my Self, a challenge as to who I am as a human being.
This kind of philosophy is a challenge to each one of us to go beyond nostalgic returns to Greek classicism, as important at that may be in itself, in the understanding of Western Civilization; to establish intellectual-background-assumptions which are different from those of the Enlightenment; to search for urgently needed new cultural paradigms, new ways of thinking appealing to the priority of ethics and the importance of the particular as a category of thought, a place in thought wherein genocide and hatred of the other becomes inconceivable; in short to prepare new wineskins for the new wine which is an envisioned “Novantiqua Europa.”
“The starry heavens above me…”* A plea for awareness and peace
*Immanuel Kant: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”
In the neighborhood with Russia
Who is actually aware today where the border of the former German Empire was once located? Or how far to the northeast the village of Nimmersatt and the nearby coaching inn Immersatt actually lay? Nimmersatt was located at the northern tip of East Prussia, surrounded by the Baltic Sea to the west and Russia to the east and north. Russia – then Russian Lithuania – was our direct neighbor until 1918. The Memel territory was traditionally Prussian borderland, 120 km long and 40 km wide, stretching north along the Memel River. In 1422, the Treaty of Melnosee established the frontier, which remained almost unchanged until 1920. After the Pyrenean border, it is the second oldest in Europe.
Located on the imperial border, Nimmersatt was the former German Empire’s most northeastern spot and was last in German hands in 1945. Like Nimmersatt, there are many seemingly vanished places and landscapes in historic eastern Germany. But they have for the most part disappeared. These places bear witness to the fact that many Germans, consciously or unconsciously, are still deeply rooted in these seemingly vanished landscapes.
According to estimates, about 14 million refugees had to leave their homes after the Second World War, losing everything, all their belongings. About 2 million died in transit, and Germany lost a quarter of its territory.
As Simone Weil (1909–1943) once put it: “Rootedness is probably the human soul’s most important and most misunderstood need.”
Crises, conflicts and silver lining
If you look at today’s world, you see crises everywhere, wars and deep divisions in our societies. Fears are being fueled and images of “the enemy” that were actually long forgotten are being revived. The war that has been raging in Ukraine since 2014 has now escalated on the European continent into a proxy war between the United States and Russia. Russia is being declared the enemy. With its arms deliveries and military support, Germany has also officially entered into the war with Russia.
What immeasurable suffering wars visit on mankind – a painful truth also understood by members of Germany’s “war generation” and their descendants, especially those with roots in Germany’s historical East. Germans and Russians look back on a common and consequential past; we share one of history’s darkest and most horrible chapters, beginning with Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 and the subsequent conquest of East Prussia by the Red Army.
Whatever happened, a shared history connects peoples, and Germans and Russians will therefore always be connected
Civilians are and always have been the ones who suffer most in war. During the Second World War, from 1939 to 1945, the Soviet Union had the most casualties: 24 million people, 14.3 million of them civilians. Germany had a total of 7.7 million casualties, of which 2.2 million belonged to the civilian population.
In her old age, Mama, my mother, could still recall the terrifying whistling sound of the rocket launchers known as “Stalin organs.” During thunderstorms and when fireworks were being shot off, she would begin to shiver and sought shelter. Yet despite all the war trauma, the attachment to Germany’s historical East is part of the German soul and an integral part of the German cultural nation. Not for nothing was I christened Katja. Mama and my grandmother often affectionately called me “Katjuscha” in their East Prussian dialect – a reference to the old Russian folk song.
The horrible sound of the Stalin organs was eventually forgotten. Bridges of reconciliation between Russians and Germans were built in large numbers after World War II, something that fortunately continues to happen.
Having left the Cold War behind us, which divided the world into good and evil or West and East, the world is evolving into a more complex, multipolar place – a multipolar world that could again give humanity a chance to create a new global world order of peaceful coexistence.
This might be possible were it not for the US, which seems to be resisting a multipolar world with all its might: The US wants to continue to assert its supremacy and influence worldwide. It has basically never withdrawn from Germany, and does not accept any other powers on the world stage. This US influence is expressed above all in the strategies of NATO and the EU, since they again rely on images of Russia and China as “the enemy” and on exclusion and division.
Shaktarp – when life comes to rest
The “Fifth Season” – Shaktarp in Lithuanian or, in Russian, Rasputitsa – is a special time, between the winter and spring season. It is the time of floods, of inundated meadows. This time was also called the time of “roadlessness” – the Memel territory and neighboring lowlands were neither passable, nor navigable during this period. Life and people came to rest and there was thus time for reflection. Perhaps this is what our world sorely needs now.
It seems to me just the right time to pause, to rediscover and feel the magic of life. A magic that comes from looking at a piece of amber through which the sun is shining. Often found near the Baltic Sea, amber continues to fascinate people to this day. Sometimes known as the tears or gold of the gods, amber was once an important commodity, more valuable than gold, and it made its way across Europe on ancient trade routes from the Baltic Sea to Southern Europe and North Africa – one of the beginnings of globalization, or, rather, of the bonds that bring people together.
In addition to the Silk Road, the Amber Road has connected people, drawing them under the spell of this magical substance, which shines brighter than the sun.
“States don’t have friends, states only have interests”
The observation made in 2013 by Egon Bahr, the German politician known for a commitment to peace and détente, remains true today: “International politics is never about democracy or human rights. It is about the interests of states. Remember that, no matter what they tell you in history class.” Otto von Bismarck and Charles de Gaulle, among others, have also pointed out that feelings and values have no place in politics. Only “interests and reciprocity should be used as a guideline.”
Therefore, it is more important than ever to accept realities and define national interests. Values are volatile and often subject to the current zeitgeist. For example, no one called for a “feminist values-based foreign policy” until a German foreign minister from the Green Party did so. The much “cited community of values is not a form of governance, as it has not been legitimized by any democratic process.” 
We have been living in a multipolar world for a long time, with different forms of governments, democracies, dictators and authoritarian regimes. But our international institutions and organizations, which were created after the Second World War, have not been updated.
According to a study by The Economist in 2021, only 45% of the world’s population lives in countries with democratic structures. The ostensibly promising narrative of “change through trade” has not come to fruition. The expansion of economic relations with China that began in 1978 has been driven solely by economic gain. Even today, China offers a huge market for foreign products. The expansion of economic relations and the opening of the country in turn has helped move a significant part of the Chinese population out of poverty, and China’s technological backwardness has been quickly overcome. Both sides, the West and China, were and still are exclusively concerned with economic interests and geopolitical influence in Eurasia.
What is new, among other factors, is that the military no longer has a monopoly on wars and conflicts. We are increasingly experiencing ideologically fueled media and propaganda wars that deeply divide the population, make factual debates almost impossible, and drive humanity into division and thus into wars.
Ideology prevails over common sense and the heart
Fear and hatred are mighty propaganda tools – e.g., fear of the virus, fear of CO2 and distrust of Russia and China. The laborious and decades-long process of reconciliation between Germans and Russians, among others, has come to a standstill. Not only have economic relations been broken off, but cultural exchange has also come to a halt. Russian artists are being disinvited from performing if they have not publicly taken a clear stand against Putin. Political attitudes have become more important than art, and ideological attitudes are determining economic orientations and political decisions.
China – the surveillance state
The narrative of “change through trade” is now a thing of the past. China continues to pursue its “Grand Strategy.” What were once the dynasties of the Chinese Empire have become – since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 – the Communist Party, with current President Xi Jinping as its head, as emperor. In accordance with the “Chinese Dream,” the country is striving to become Number 1 in the world in all areas, including military power.
The drastic end of its zero-Covid policy shows how capable China is. The Chinese government has reacted, in a way that saves face, to the “spontaneous protests” and thus shown strategic flexibility. Thus, Xi Jinping has not only done the Chinese economy a great favor by lifting all Covid measures, he has also cemented his power and the power of the Communist Party. The transformation into a different system, propagated for so long by the West as justification for maintaining economic relations with an authoritarian regime, now seems more unlikely than ever. On the contrary, the Chinese government continues to pursue its strategy and to build a perfectly controlled, highly technological surveillance state.
China thus remains a very flexible economic partner and geopolitical player. This requires an equally flexible China strategy on the part of other countries. Supply chain disruptions must always be taken into consideration, investments in China should be thought about carefully and protected. Potential dependencies in the area of critical infrastructure and products, such as upstream inputs for pharmaceuticals, should always be avoided. Yet this also applies to economic relations with non-authoritarian regimes.
Moreover, dealings with China, economic and political, should be free of emotion, determined only by the relevant economic interests and reciprocity, for the benefit of all concerned parties. The fact is: China continues to go its own way and is a country in which the individual and individual freedoms play a very limited role.
Ideology has great importance in China – an ideology that is not only intended to hold the population together internally, but is the guiding principle externally for every political step on the world geopolitical stage. In dealing with China, one’s own national interests and reciprocity should always be the guiding principle. This applies not only to interactions with China, but especially to those with Russia as well.
We are all connected to each other.
Russia and the German soul
Let’s be realistic: Russia is a nuclear power; economic sanctions will not harm it in the long run as a country that is almost immeasurably rich in raw materials. On the contrary, sanctions allow Russia to diversify its gas market and thus no longer depend on just one customer.
A prime example: the reactivation of the economic corridor running from China to Mongolia to Russia. Further, the Russian gas pipeline to China will replace Nordstream 2. In the course of securing its energy supply, China wants to keep its energy mix balanced and is thus increasing the share of natural gas. India is also a grateful purchaser of Russian gas.
Something that shows a decoupling from Russia is not so simple is the fact that from January to October 2022, Europe’s LNG imports increased by 40% over 2021. Russian LNG accounted for 16% of total European marine imports, with the main customers being France, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands. Instead of low-cost and environmentally friendly pipeline gas, the focus is now on LNG.
The resulting damage is now being felt by Germany in particular, as an industry-intensive and, compared to Russia, resource-poor country. The growing home-made energy crisis is driving deindustrialization in Germany; large companies are increasingly thinking of leaving the country; medium-sized enterprises – once the backbone of the German economy – are increasingly being destroyed; the country’s economic performance is declining; unemployment and poverty are the consequences.
And wasn’t the attack on Nordstream 2 the first terrorist attack against Germany since World War II?
The decisions and actions of the current Federal Government, with Olaf Scholz as Chancellor, are not in accordance with the oath taken “to prevent harm to the German people.”
“I swear that I will devote my strength to the welfare of the German people, increase its benefit, avert harm, uphold and defend the Basic Law and the laws of the Federation, fulfill my duties conscientiously, and ensure justice for all. (So help me God.)”
With or without God’s help, arms deliveries and military support to Ukraine, the homemade energy crisis, the intolerable excesses of gender-neutral language, so-called wokeness, cancel culture and uncontrolled immigration are also destroying not only the German soul, language and culture and putting pressure on the national budget, they are also continuing to widen already deep social divisions. None of this works to the benefit of Germany and the German people.
The power of culture, history and geography
“… the continuity of the state without which Germany would be much poorer – Germany did not come out of nowhere. Prussia was one of the most formative great powers in Europe and one of the most modern states in the world, with its effective administration, literacy down to the last street in the last village, and the rule of law at all levels.”
While there were serious political instabilities in the Weimar Republic, as the largest member of the German Empire, Prussia was politically very stable. Otto von Braun, Prussian prime minister from 1920 to 1932 and a diehard Prussian and Social Democrat, reformed the state and school systems. Prussia was thus a “reliable pillar of the Weimar Republic.” But, following the so-called “Prussian blow,” von Braun was removed from office.
“The Reich’s control over Prussia, especially over the Prussian police, made it much easier for Adolf Hitler to establish a dictatorial regime in the course of the National Socialist takeover in 1933.”
The power of culture and shared history together with geography are enduring cornerstones that provide a strong foundation. “Between Russia and America lie oceans. Between Russia and Germany lies a great history,” wrote historian Michael Stürmer. Vladimir Putin also quoted Stürmer in his speech to the German Bundestag on September 25, 2001.
My unshakable optimism tells me that it is not too late to return to our fundamental power, our culture and history, in order to create a new world order based on peaceful coexistence. What’s more, because of its geographic location, Germany should serve as a bridge between East and West.
Authoritarian regimes can only be changed from within, by their own people. Thus, Germany, too, can only free itself from its shackles from within, leaving behind the seemingly endless moralizing blame game and victimization loop and returning to what we Germans actually are: peace-loving, creative, innovative, technically expert and culturally sensitive.
How else should one interpret the famous “golden 20s” of the early 20th century? Here are some examples: Within a short time and despite the immense reparation claims made by the victorious powers based on the Versailles Treaty of June 28, 1919, defeated Germany became the second most powerful industrial nation after the US – thanks to US credits, because banks in the US had faith in Germany’s economic power. Further, as the treaty also prohibited motorized flight, some Germans made a virtue out of necessity, tinkered a bit and invented the glider.
The economic basis for Germany’s return to its fundamental strength, to its roots, is first and foremost the need for a drastic reduction in the state administration and the number of its government employees. The state should return to its original tasks: ensuring there is efficient infrastructure; a high-quality and affordable health-care system; high-quality, affordable and humane care for those in need; an excellent and free system of education; as well as ensuring internal and external security – in keeping with the oath taken to act for the good of the German people.
Changing our view of the world
The press, education and the health-care system, among others, must no longer be subject to competition and profit maximization, and could be transformed instead into foundations, for example.
Only a free press can ensure freedom of opinion and access to the full range of information. The monopoly of state media – such as broadcasters ARD and ZDF – and the ownership of media by billionaires – the Springer, Bertelsmann (Mohn) and Holtzbrinck families, among others – must end to create space for alternative media and sources of information. We need be well informed in order to become critical-thinking people in the sense of Immanuel Kant’s saupe aude.
The education system and especially the health-care system and pharmaceutical companies and their research must not be driven by profit maximization. Hospitals must not be run like businesses – health should be their exclusive concern. Old people’s and nursing facilities should be outfitted with the best possible equipment. The staff should be optimally paid. Profit should not play a role; all efforts should be guided by the desire to help people experience a graceful and respectful end to earthly life.
The divine within us and awareness
In his writings, Jacques Ancel, French geographer and geopolitician, proposed an identity of the heart, and a nation of the heart – the idea that people can connect and create a community based on a common history, language and culture.
This path back to the heart reconnects us as human beings to the divine. We are all “soul people.” We are spiritual beings that come from the same source. This spiritual or divine expresses itself differently in various cultures and traditions, be it religion, Buddhism, shamanism or a closeness to nature.
We should shift back from the cold rational mind to the feelings of the heart. By doing so, we can create a new world view and a new world order. Such a reconnection to the heart and the divine in us would enable us to look at life and nature with reverence and love once again.
May we all become aware once again of our humanity and the many things that connect us.
Identity of the Heart – Back to the Roots – We Are All Love
References and further reading
Ancel, Jacques (1938): Géographie des frontières, Gallimard.
Banik, Katja (2022): Im Rausch des Bernsteins – der historische Osten Deutschlands, www.katjabanik.com
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
Bode, Sabine (2009): Kriegsenkel. Die Erben der vergessenen Generation, Klett-Cotta.
Brzezinski, Zbigniew (1998): The Grand Chess Board, Basic Books.
Die Bundesregierung (2022): Krieg in der Ukraine, www.bundesregierung.de
Deutscher Bundestag: Wortprotokoll der Rede Wladimir Putins im Deutschen Bundestag am 25.9.2001.
Deutsch Historisches Museum (2022): Lebendiges Museum Online, Berlin.
Euractiv (2022): Russia says pipeline to China will replace Nordstream 2.
Dohnanyi, Klaus (2022): Nationale Interessen, Siedler Verlag, München.
Graichen, Hesse (2012): Die Bernsteinstraße. Verborgene Handelswege zwischen Ostsee und Nil, Rowohlt Taschenbuch Verlag, Hamburg.
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The Ukrainian Crisis and its Impact on the European Security Governance and Global Legal Order
Authors: Abhinav Mehrotra and Amit Upadhyay*
As the attack on Ukraine continues by the Russian Military, there is a need to understand the continued impact of such attacks on global governance and legal order. The illegal annexation of Ukrainian territories has been one of the most shocking incidents affecting the world order since World War II ended. It sets a dangerous precedent for all independent nations formerly part of big empires from asserting their own identity as sovereign nations as per international and domestic norms.
Historically, the modern Ukraine crisis began with Nikita Khrushchev’s 1954 transfer of Crimea from the Russian Socialist Federal Republic to the Ukrainian Socialist Federal Republic in order to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Ukraine-Russia unification. The crisis further extenuated during the 1990s after the disintegration of the USSR, when the Western leaders understood that Russia must not be labelled as a defeated state. It was in this background that the West was to assume responsibility to develop post-Cold War structures, processes, perceptions, and activities by balancing the European nation’s interests and promoting democratic and liberal values, alongside keeping Russia within the framework.
Further adding to the complexity was the fact that NATO, under the US leadership, developed a complicated architecture where NATO’s integrated military command structure would be preserved. The aim was to develop close relationships with the European countries that later took the form of the European Union. Surprisingly, during these deliberations, the United States and other NATO nations never took into consideration the fact that it may be Russia’s will to remove the NATO like the Warsaw pact and have an equal role in developing a new institution for ensuring security.
Nonetheless, the act of a nation ie Russia exercising control over the political decision-making of another independent nation ie Ukriane with the objective to retain in its influence using force undermines various key principles of international law. It is argued by Russia that the West including the European Union (“EU”) has failed to understand Russia’s security interests whereas the EU argues that a serious diplomatic effort is necessary to re-establish the core principles of the European political order which Russia so far have failed to do.
What needs to be understood is that for Russia, the defiance in the post-Soviet Union era world order can be traced to the act of taking Pristina airport with paratroopers in 1999 based on a presumed occupation by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which is similar to the ongoing Ukrainian Crisis where NATO’s eastward expansion has been cited as the reason for anticipatory self-defense
Cut to the present, the annexation of Crimea, aggression against Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Ukrainian territories by Russia have far-reaching implications for European and global security. It challenges certain basic assumptions underlying the western policy in the post-Cold War era of treating Russia more as a partner than an adversary and considering Europe essentially stable and safe from invasion. The lack of an EU strategic framework to deal with security challenges in relation to Russia. EU needs to have a more robust defence posture requiring it to revisit its defence strategies especially when the possibility of Russian aggression against other European states cannot be excluded. The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) responsible for supporting revised security policies has been insufficient as Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence is seen as essential indicator for future European security governance. The CSDP sought autonomy from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (“NATO”) to have Europeans provide for their own security as a strategic doctrine, but it has since generated limited autonomous military capacity.
In this context, there is need to analyse to what extent Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is based on the assertive defence of its interests in its neighbourhood inspired by a revisionist challenge to the European rules-based system of security governance and how it impacts global order. The need of the hour is to see how International Community, States and Multilateral Institutions respond to Russia’s actions to provide the balance between the requirements of European security and the resources available to support it as International law is dealing with the unique challenge posed by Russia’s defiant behaviour including the acts of claiming exclusive rights and privileges; the need to claim a higher position in the international social hierarchy due to diminished reputation and importance, relative to other nations; and a belief that all these actions are necessary for national prestige, security and wealth
Going forward, the United Nations Security Council and other multilateral institutions need to be democratized to accommodate the differing views considering contemporary geopolitical realities. The inclusive collective security institutions are the need of the hour, and they should be accountable to the international legal framework for inclusive global governance.
*Amit Upadhyay is an Associate Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University and holds an LL.M. in European and International Law from Freie Universität, Berlin, Germany. His research interests include Constitutional Law, Legal Theory and Human Rights.
European Union: Refugees’ Right to Seek Asylum & The Principle of Non-Refoulement
Since the establishment of the United Nations, the protection of refugees has been a major priority for the global community. Refugees and anyone in need of protection might use the aid that the States were offering them via the asylum route. These national asylum systems, however, sometimes lacked effectiveness and offered uneven access to the asylum processes. The European Union has been working to create a Common European Asylum System to address this issue by harmonizing the asylum policies and practices of its Member States and streamlining the review of asylum applications. It did this by relying on the pre-existing body of international law, which was controlled by the Rules of the Refugee Convention, 1951 and the Non-Refoulement Principle. The resultant European law on asylum was not an autonomous legal system but rather one that was strongly related to international humanitarian law on refugees. The adoption of uniform laws and asylum processes has shown how difficult it has been for the European Union to come up with policies to handle its migrant and refugee populations. The European Union has been attempting to implement a basic border patrols at the same time in order to stop international crime and illegal immigration.
Procedure for granting the Right to Asylum & Conditions for the Principle of Non-Refoulement:
Numerous steps in the realm of diplomatic and defence policy, in addition to border control and security, were designed to stop illegal immigration. The goal behind the European Security and Defence Policy [ESDP] was to prevent as many migrants and asylum seekers from attempting to enter Europe by participating in military and civilian operations in crisis zones throughout the globe. All of these tools have the indirect effect of limiting refugees’ and asylum seekers’ access to the European Union while being designed to manage migration. Even yet, the European Union has created a number of political and legal tools to safeguard these same refugees and asylum seekers, demonstrating its steadfast commitment to upholding human rights and international agreements.
For those who manage to cross the border into Europe, the processes to be given refugee status in one of the EU nations were sometimes difficult and took a considerable amount of time. The wide variety of asylum systems and regulations that prevailed across Member States was to blame for this. However, during the last several years, the European Union has made significant strides toward harmonizing the asylum process and has come to an agreement on a set of rules and principles to reduce the differences between the Member States in the area of asylum. As a result, a European Refugee and Asylum Law was created and the issue of asylum was included into the legal system of the European Union. In addition, implementing the whole acquis on asylum has become a requirement for nations wishing to join the European Union.
The legislation governing refugees and asylum seekers in the European Union has undergone continuous development. The development of a Common European Asylum System, which had to juggle the disparate legal frameworks of the Member States with the international standards of refugee protection established by the 1951 Refugee Convention, posed the biggest challenge to the European Union in the area of asylum. All of the nations that make up the European Union have ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and adhere to its asylum regulations. The application of Article 63 of the 1951 Refugee Convention establishing the European Community is essential to the right to asylum in the European Union. Non-Refoulement, a fundamental tenet of international refugee law, was first stated in terms of EU legislation in Paragraph 13 of the Presidency Conclusions of the Tampere European Council in October 1999. It would be fascinating to learn the social and cultural factors that influence migrants’ decision to settle in Europe and how that continent handles the resulting cultural blending. Many migrants and asylum seekers look to Europe as a model of economic advancement, democratic government, and observance of human rights. However, immigrants may pose an economic and cultural burden from a European perspective. Refugees and asylum seekers must be given social aid, shelter, and possibly work by the nation offering them sanctuary. Additionally, it must deal with cultural issues like the assimilation or integration of immigrants, who can find it difficult to fit into the new society. The activities of numerous agencies and organizations working in this area, as well as the steps the media has done, to analyse the sociological and cultural perspective must be examined to have a better and wider view point to get the solutions of this issue pertaining to asylum seekers.
Therefore, political and economic approaches must be connected. Given the financial crisis, certain European nations may easily alter their stance on immigration. Due to their inability to support both immigrants and a rise in the number of jobless citizens, Member States may be forced to tighten immigration policy as a result of the financial crisis. On the other side, the financial crisis may make immigration easier by giving States access to inexpensive skilled labour. Disadvantaged people, like refugees and asylum seekers, would no longer be a burden on nations, but rather a valuable economic resource. It is unknown which alternative the nations will choose. These may be found in a number of rulings, including:
- In the case of Elgafaji v. Staatssecretaris van Justitie, application of Article 15(c) 1951 Refugee Convention regarding provision of subsidiary protection to civilians who might face indiscriminate violence upon repatriation.
- In the case of Salahadin Abdulla and Others v. Bundesrepublik Deutschland, the issue at hand was the interpretation of Article 11(1) (e) of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which dealt with the termination of refugee status when the conditions that had given rise to it ceased to exist.
- In the case of Bolbol v. Bevándorlási és llampolgársági Hivatal, interpretation of Article 12(1) (a) of the 1951 Refugee Convention on the exclusion of people protected by organs or agencies of the United Nations other than UNHCR from the refugee status.
- In the Cardoza-Fonseca case, the American Immigration and Naturalization Service denied a Nicaraguan woman’s request for asylum because she was unable to show a demonstrable risk of persecution if she were sent back to her native country. The respondent attempted to petition for asylum and avoid deportation even though she was living in the country unlawfully because she had a legitimate fear of being persecuted. According to the US Supreme Court, a significant difference should be established between a clearly probable persecution and a well-founded fear of persecution when determining whether to grant refuge. In this instance, the Nicaraguan lady sought both asylum and a stay of removal based on the same ground, a well-founded fear of persecution, oblivious to the fact that the two requests were distinct and required separate justifications.
- The House of Lords established the same in the case of R v. Secretary of State for the Home Department that there had to be demonstrated a reasonable degree of likelihood that he would be so persecuted, and in determining whether the applicant had made out his claim that his fear of persecution was well founded, the Secretary of State could take into account facts and circumstances known to him or established, the court stated. This implied that there had to be a substantial danger of persecution in the applicant’s place of origin in order for them to dread returning there and request refuge.
- In Korablina v. Immigration and Naturalization Service (1998, US Court of Appeals of the 9th Circuit), which illustrates the circumstances of a Jewish Ukrainian lady who endured persistent acts of religious prejudice in her country of nationality, is an important case law on the acts of persecution. The Court comes to the opinion that persecution may be established by repeated, particular acts of violence and harassment directed against a person and her family members, including acts committed by both the government and a group it has chosen not to exert authority over.
- In A and Another v. Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and Another (1997, Australia High Court) details the case of a Chinese couple with one child who requested asylum in Australia on the grounds that they belonged to a social group and would face persecution and forced sterilization if they were sent back to the People’s Republic of China. This case is another important one on the relationship between discrimination and persecution. A form of persecution must be involved for the prejudice to qualify, and it must be motivated by the victim’s race, religion, nationality, political views, or membership in a specific social group. According to this expansion of the Refugee Convention, persecution and discrimination have a shared basis, such as race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a specific social group.
- In Attorney General of Canada v. Ward, 1993 case decided by the Supreme Court of Canada, the mention of state protection is made. This case demonstrates that if a state fails to provide for the protection of its citizens, those citizens may experience a well-founded fear of persecution and seek refuge in other nations. If the claimant’s fear has been proven, one is entitled to assume that persecution will likely occur and that the fear is well-founded if there is a lack of state protection.
There is no question that these notions are completely interrelated, despite the fact that they may sometimes be deceptive. But creating a set of requirements to limit the number of migrants entering its frontiers through the asylum procedure is the major problem for the State.
The UNHCR and other international and non-governmental organizations’ findings must be taken into consideration before a decision is made to move a person to another country, which is the biggest obstacle for EU Member States in effectively implementing the principle of Non-Refoulement. For the concept of Non-Refoulement to be completely recognized and effectively used, the nation to which a person is exiled must be secure, both in theory and in reality. Asylum seekers are given temporary protection under the subsidiary status as well as under the temporary status. The Member State that provided the asylum seeker with protection may decide that it is safe to send him back to his home country when the conditions that prompted him to leave his country change, without thoroughly examining whether his nation is indeed safe in reality and not only in principle. Thus, the asylum seeker may be sent back to dangerous nations in violation of his right to Non-Refoulement if a circumstance like this emerges.
While the majority of Member States have embraced the European acquis on refugee and asylum issues, some have been less receptive to the harmonising of the European asylum system and have preferred to be guided by their national law when dealing with refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, evacuated populations, or people in need of international protection. Additionally, policies pertaining to asylum and to freedom, security, and justice are recognized as shared capabilities between the Union and the Member States, which means that Member States are allowed to exercise their competence to the degree that the Union has not done so. In other words, the Member States have the authority to take the necessary actions independently even if the Union has enacted a number of measures related to the question of asylum. We can confirm that a European refugee and asylum law is unquestionably being created by including the subject of asylum in the main European Treaties and by taking a number of steps toward the creation of a Common European Asylum System.
 Daniel Warner, “Migration and Refugees: a challenge for the 21st century”, in Jean-Yves Carlier, Dirk Vanheule, Europe and Refugees: a challenge? Kluwer Law International, The Hague, 1997, p. 58.
 UNHCR, 2009 Global Trends: Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons, Division of Programme Support and Management, 15 June 2010, p.2, available at [accessed on 1st October, 2022].
 Walter W. Skeat, The concise dictionary of English etymology, Wordsworth Editions, Ware, Hertfordshire, 1993, p.164.
 Sadako Ogata, “Refugees in the 1990s: Changing Reality, Changing Response”, lecture at Georgetown University on 25 June 1991, in Eduardo Arboleda, Ian Hoy, “The Convention Refugee Definition in the West: Disharmony of Interpretation and Application”, in Selina Goulbourne, Law and Migration, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, 1998, p. 77.
 Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Recommendation 773 (1976) on the situation of de facto refugees, 26 January 1976 < http://assembly.coe.int/Main.asp?link=http://assembly.coe.int/Documents/AdoptedText/ta76/EREC773.html > [accessed on 1st October 2022].
 Maria-Teresa Gil-Bazo, “The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the Right to be Granted Asylum in the Union’s Law”, in Refugee Survey Quarterly, vol.27, issue 3, 2008, pp.33-52.
 Eduardo Arboleda, Ian Hoy, “The Convention Refugee Definition in the West: Disharmony of Interpretation and Application”, in Selina Goulbourne, Law and Migration, Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, 1998, p. 72.
 Liza Schuster, The use and abuse of political asylum in Britain and Germany, Frank Cass Publishers, London, 2003, p.3
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