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German Education needs full Restructuring

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Authors: Nicolas Böhmer and Ajmal Sohail

In education and as a result in economy Germany seems to fall behind.

Shortage of skilled workers – this term disappeared somewhat in German media due to other important issues but it hasn´t lost its urgency. In contrary, Germany faces massive changes in various areas and these changes are much more complex than many have realized so far. In fact, skilled workers are more sought after then ever. The CNT Alliance has spoken with many entrepreneurs and people in management about various subjects, the shortage of skilled workers, education, educational background and educational system among them. First and foremost, we understood the employers often have a much different understanding of the term “Skilled Worker” than employees. And the politician’s communication is, again, a different animal.

Highly educated and most wanted skilled worker are enmeshed, well paid, further educated, protected and “imported” from other countries. But already “just” well educated skilled workers face a phenomenon: Enterprises like to hire people with a decent education which can quickly work at full speed in a strictly defined position with neither extensive education nor training on the job. A good, broadly based and profound qualification can become an obstacle since enterprises prefer particular and narrowly educated and therefore cheaper people – but also since the job definition doesn´t envisage flexibility: the companies still prefer “simple duty”-loving people believing in hierarchical structures who just do a defined job after strict guidelines. Holistically thinking and acting people being able to cross-link and multilaterally experienced will be filtered by the companies’ on-line job application portals right away.

But exactly such multi-disciplinary people would be needed today in nearly all areas and enterprises to cope with the fast change and the digital transformation. A rising number of leaders understand digital transformation cannot be explained away anymore and the simple duty-loving people provide the wrong, narrowly defined skills and they are inadequate for the challenges ahead. A remarkable number of the simple duty-loving people do not like the digital transformation, they perceive it as a threat to their job position and most importantly to the gathered sinecures. Besides this, the digital transformation asks for the extra mile which is not welcome to those people. The simple duty-loving employees become truly problematic as soon as they quietly and clandestinely oppose all alterations and sometimes even sabotage them. Such problematic simple duty-lover can be found from the basic jobs through all workers and management levels up to the C-level management.

Among the job applicants, we recognize a two-sided image. On one hand, a rising number of employees – based on our research more than half of the young and agile people – seeks for a fulfilling, exciting mission gaining appreciation within a coherent team to create success of the enterprise or organisation. On the other hand, many job applicants prefer simple, clear targets and commands and have no ambitions whatsoever to play a significant part – often due to small salaries hampering any ambition. It becomes more challenging for both sides to fulfil all the unsaid expectations. All this puts more difficulties in aligning a company towards future. And employees too have difficulties to find a proper job.

Jammed right at the beginning

The CNT Alliance has done research among educational facilities and supporting organisations in Baden-Württemberg and has undertaken several dialogues and analyses on all levels. The first educational obviations happen in day care. Beginning of August 2019 Carsten Linnemann, Member of the Bundestag, got onto an important issue: He asked for a pre-school programme for those kids with deficiencies in the knowledge of the German language. He then was berated, and the left-wing parties accused him of right-wing populism – but they did not understand that he actual has taken position close to their left-wing core. He named the striking failings in the educations system in an awkward way and in the following he was accused of discrimination. The named failings of the educational system do concern not only, but most often kids from migrants.

Language lessons are offered often in day care and are often financed by external sources – and evenly often not given according to the needs of the kids, but preferred according to budget, administration and options. Furthermore, due to the lack of appropriate teachers often the child-care workers take this duty over. Usually without corresponding education for themselves, with direct impact on quality. On top of this, some day care centres are understaffed therefore the language lessons are held as part of the normal day care routine with the same staff and the number of people as every day – resulting in a general drop in quality. There´s limited appreciation in the administration for such language lessons and similar: organization become more complex, puts more pressure on the already thinning staffing level and must be done along many others more. Under the line we see the funds being gathered, the activities are booked, but often merely delivered and pressure on the staff in the day care centres rises. Fail in leadership all along the line and to the disadvantage not only to the kids from migrants but all kids at the day care centre.  

Each year many kids enter primary school and quickly perish due to the lack of knowledge of the German language. Young people with potential become problematic – exactly what Carsten Linnemann said. And our experience shows such kids rarely receive the required attention in our standardized processes at public schools and will not be turned form problem to potential. But these young people with all their potentials are needed to create the future.

Educational stone age

Most schools still “produce” simple duty-loving people – people best in recalling memorized knowledge and applying it. That is much easier to schedule, educate and rate. Those not fitting into this scheme (e.g. lack of abilities or language skills) quickly get to the boundaries of the educational system and will be “selected”. This happens each year through the system of classes and ratings, up to the upper grades. Differently put: Those knowing the expectations and being able to correspond can take the chances. And those being able to e.g. cleverly quote existing knowledge, putting it into nice documents, presenting or writing it eloquently will receive nice ratings. All this creates employees being able to do exactly what there are told and requested. They rarely provide the abilities to think out of the box. Own developments, even forwardness, critical examination and the search for answers, lateral thinking and creativity are not wanted, even frown up and result in low ratings.

Such abilities – important in times of quick and profound changes – are neither asked for or facilitated at our schools, except for a few private schools. The schools truly are living after an educational programme of the last century which doesn´t suit our dynamic times at all. In this respect, the inadequate digital transformation of the schools by lacking hard- and software and on-line tools is just the tip of the iceberg. There´s a deficit on all levels of understanding all the new topics hitting the “educational concrete” with raising speed an intensity: the whole educational body hasn´t prepared itself for the new challenges, hasn´t acquired knowledge and tools, hasn´t ideas for developments in structure, content and education. On top of it, the educational body hasn´t really understood: all the topics are coming at high speed and need to be integrated equally quick. Furthermore, this also means lengthy, inflexible structured and conducted educational courses with pre-defined content will not work: the dynamic environment requires content, structures and the nature of education equal dynamism. The digital transformation changes itself and the whole environment so quickly, an educational model with given, static concepts and content will not work anymore. This is from hell for every responsible person in education.

Most tragic: digital transformation cross-links topics, something impossible for public schools today – and today it cannot teach such a cross-linking and superordinated thinking. Predominantly in higher education, the system lives through clearly defined, strictly defined and excluding subjects taught by highly qualified academics which then rate the students. These subjects sometimes live in competition to each other, there exist “relevant” and “neglectable” subjects and resulting in the fight for money for each subject ad faculty.

This change, fuelled by the digital transformation, is – as the CNT Alliance describes it –a social-technological change. This change happens multi-disciplinary, demands the cross-linking of even contrary issues and requires the going-together of areas and competences in order to achieve results and successes. “Interdisciplinary teaching” is discussed here and there but does exist in very few (private) schools only. However, the socio-technological change demands a comprehensive thinking and acting – a cross-linked thinking and acting which urgently needs to be taught at schools. Some people in the educational system stated similar thoughts but do not see the paths for the change.

Symptomatic for the “escapist attitude” of the educational system is the statement by the Minister of Education Baden-Württemberg, Mrs. Susanne Eisenmann, positioning herself fiercely against the students of the Fridays for Future Strikes: she supported the severe fines issued the City of Mannheim. She takes position against many students with qualities the German future urgently needs: an integrated, fact-based view and the willpower for change. But few have expected the strong worded reactions by the students, their supporters, organizations, the social media, media, but also by politicians. The City of Mannheim quickly withdrew the fines and stated, “fines should be very last measure”.

All this despite Susanne Eisenmann had to declare in fall 2018 Baden-Württemberg has done much poorly than before in recent studies about education:

“We quite simply have slept through a few little things during the past two decades.”

Her promised offensive in education focuses on improvements in the administration and is seen as questionable by many. Particularly in view of the huge challenges for more dynamic educational content and concepts in order to react to the recent demands, and to develop a vision and to imply them through strategies. And this to the benefit of the students and certainly not to the benefit of the administration. The recent approach is not much about education, and it exhibits the non-existence of visions among politicians. And the contemplated centralized university-entrance diploma (Abitur) for all Germany is just about to strengthen the old structure with classes and grades, too – and it doesn´t help at all: This just eases the steps from administered pupils to administered students and finally administered employees. But the German education politics needs a vision, and not a better administration.

In July 2019, Susanne Eisenmann demanded 1’080 new teachers for Baden-Württemberg. This figure seems to be legit in the face of 10000 additional teachers she said are needed until 2030, mentioned at the beginning of 2019. The CNT-Alliance, however, expects a 50% higher number. And these teachers do not grow on trees: In Berlin, more than the half of the 2’700 newly hired teachers are students themselves. These teachers are career changers coming out of other professions and now tackling the job as a teacher. These teachers can be good, but this situation also unveils Germany missed out countrywide to educate enough teachers and offering them decent conditions of employment. Quite a few teachers do never enter their jobs after the education, leave the job after a short period of time or even go to another country where they find better conditions. There are other professional categories in Germany affected by this phenomenon.

There´s another problem the politicians pussyfoot around: Not permanently appointed teachers in Baden-Württemberg get their resignations letters before summer – and will be re-hired after summer into the same position or a much similar one at a school just a few miles away. On first sight, the government saves several million Euros – but these teachers subsequently are paid by the employment office. This implies huge administrational efforts and creates extra costs never have been measured entirely – based on the information given to us this sleight of hand will not save any money but simply empties another wallet. Depending on the point of view this hurts between 650 and 1’680 teachers in Baden-Württemberg (all Germany approx. 4’900). Most tragic: This contemptuousness and this disadvantage in favour for saving money hits the students at the end.

Academization and appreciation

Contemptuousness respectively lacking appreciation doesn´t only hit the teachers and other professions, but also the graduates of many types of schools. There is an alleged solution: a study at a university and a title, both meaning a lot in German society. Meanwhile, several politicians as well as managers in Germany have been convicted carrying fake doctorates and not reached the degrees in their courses. It simply is tempting since the appropriate titles open doors, mean more money and the standing rises. Hunt and hunger for titles going on and lead to changed perception of values. Therefore, contemptuousness hits people without titles even if their work is desperately needed, e.g. nursing staff, crafts people, and many more.

Such paradigms and behaviours are divisive for society and include many more shady sides. The CNT-Alliance was invited to rate the presentations of the project work within an MBA study course as a second opinion at a university in Baden-Württemberg. The project work was relevant for the MBA, it included Credit Points. Summed up, the quality of the presentations of most project works lied on a disappointing low level. Sometimes, even fundamental aspects were missing, thus such presentations in fact were incomplete. Others were prepared and presented so badly; we understood the relevant issues only after we´ve asked a couple of questions. Other project works were so simple they would have been enough for a lower education only – but not for the MBA.

An associated problem are the requirements for the students which have been lowered for certain issues in many predominantly higher educations – also because students try to push through their personal interpretation of their accomplishments using the legal process. The schools try to avoid such confrontations, they are wearing. This is where the rigid system with grades and ratings severely hit back to the educational system and make them look absurd. The teaching staff is suffering much, and we heard teachers thinking about to withdraw from teaching. This might be possible for academics being also employed in the economy, but it is no option for those fully entangled with the system. Not a good situation for education.

Most disastrous: such a system releases badly educated graduates into the world, being equipped with standard knowledge, possessing a stable persuasion and nice titles. This toxic combination becomes a rising problem for enterprises. Some told us they often must first educate graduates to elevate them onto the level they originally were hired for – and for which they are much overpaid. Even worse for companies in which such dazzlers haven´t been uncovered over a long period of time due to their acquired eloquence and the established sphere on control until it´s crashing down like a house of cards. With much effect on cost.

Such graduates often are equipped with a remarkable all-inclusive mentality. They expect much from the employer, predominantly a fully safe job, a 9-to-5 schedule, free weekends and a nice salary. These safety-conscious simple duty-loving aren´t much interested to found their own enterprises and to put themselves into the headwinds of a start-up. The Ministry for Economic Affairs and the business development bank KfW bewail this situation, since start-ups thrive innovation and the digital transformation: Germany needs founders.

The Ministry for Economic Affairs and KfW understand the prospering economy being the main reason for the lacking readiness to become a founder. The CNT-Alliance questions this point of view since the Germany state of economy is cooling down for two years already – so this cannot be the sole reason. Besides the founder adverse surrounding with vast administration burdens, much spreading regulations and half-baked laws we identified the educational system as the obstruction to develop and support people being interested in founding a company. An educational system focused over decades on being the „supplier“ of simple duty-loving people for the administration and big corporations simply isn´t ready to do the opposite.

Education – lost out chance for the future

Depending on the “political general weather situation” the education in Germany is highly appreciated and supported but the next day just marginally respected. Vital in education is the integration of all the refugees – or better: the non-integration. This huge potential of people being willing to work – the vast majority – is much important for Germany since the country needs the manpower simply due to the demographic development. But much too often they fail in the German language classes where refugees advance slowly compared to the refence figures and show troubles to reach a usable level. Whether the courses have been adequately designed and the necessary attendance has been ensured is a question among the people of concern only. They are not answered by the institutes since this issue never was thoroughly observed and surveyed. But these standard courses and teaching materials particularly do not suit the needs of the refugees (and Germany), obviously.

On top of this, many refugees do not get the idea of the German education and training system which – in contrast to the one their home countries – is much more demanding, tightly structured and works much different. It certainly isn´t easy for people having been in laws, administration, government and municipalities, education, but also specific technical functions and similar in their home countries now must start all over again in Germany. Since the foundation, specific expert knowledge, preconditions and processes are different here, specific formations, graduations and certificates are required, or certain abilities simply are not needed in Germany. We face it with helplessness since we have no suitable educational programmes and support offerings for these people – and there are no ambitions to change this situation. This is a potential given away which then must be “fed through” by the employment offices just causing costs – instead of working in the economy. The frustration of these people after lengthy, unfruitful visits of the administrations is visible and seizable. Many of them think about going back to their home countries which is, in most cases, simply impossible. They are trapped between the systems.

Germany loses out a much higher potential with those people going – or better: falling – through the normal educational system. First, the educational system isn´t compatible with future and, at the other hand, isn´t fully compatible with human beings. A rising number of experts in education and economy take the position to eliminate the educational system descending from the very past times with its classes and ratings in favour for a future-oriented concept. For instance, if the content is taught through courses, pupils and students of any age, provenience, with and without disabilities not only could go the same school – depending on their abilities they also would participate the same courses which would increase their social skills, too. Cross-linked thinking and working would also be stimulated and finally there would be equality of opportunity for all. An interesting intellectual approach also for the digital transformation: Such an educational system would equip and foster competences, abilities and knowledge among young people so much needed to create the future. And such concepts would also work for further education, predominantly the concept of developments and innovations emerging out of the diversity of the participants.

During the digital transformation a company usually launches several test products – hardware, software and/or services – to check the market, to gather customer feedback and to develop itself as well as the offered services/products further. Such tests haven been and are executed in education too, and various educational concepts have been tested over many years and decades in many countries including Germany. In contrast to economy, this hasn´t led to developments within the educational system in Germany at all. But economy urgently needs a major push in education for being able to cope with the rapid changes and the international competition. And Germany needs this push in education and the integrating forces of a fresh education system to bring back together again the society which is drifting apart today.

The education system of Germany is in need for full restructuring, since it already causes harm to the country according to a number of educational specialists, politicians, and people from economy. The responsible politicians, however, ignore this situation. Society and economy already feel it increasingly every single day. Also, because the procrastinated digital transformation and the often-lacking orientation towards the issues of future and the future itself put several hundred thousand jobs at stake – which will let society go to pieces much quicker than it already does. Education is like the climate change: there are some evidences and many facts but today things still look pretty much OK – but they are not OK.

Co-Founder and Co-President of the Counter Narco-Terrorism Alliance Germany; consulting, research, communications specialist and entrepreneur; develops strategies and subsequent concepts for economy, communications and politics; information gathering; analyst, translator, writer and content developer; international experience in industry, technology, media tech, research and education institutes, governmental entities, politics, the UN and more

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The 30th Anniversary of the Visegrád Group: The Voice of Central Europe

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The Visegrád group or V4 is a cultural and political union created in 1991, during a conference in the city of Visegrád in Hungary. V4 has been a symbol of Central Europe’s international activity and a new way of coordinating regional cooperation. Czechia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia’s location in the Central European region provides shared cultural and intellectual roots, which they wish to, preserve and further strengthen.

The aim has been clear since the beginning of the cooperation: to eliminate the remnants of the Communist bloc in Central Europe and to accomplish the necessary transformation to further European integration. V4 accessed the EU membership together on May the 1st 2004. Once the goal – EU and NATO membership – had been reached, the Visegrád group did not disappear, as it was and still is also a way for those 4 countries to have a bigger voice by cumulating their strengths. However, some uneasiness and gloom can now be felt in this axis connecting the Baltic, the Adriatic, and the Black Sea.

Relationship with the EU

The construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is being opposed by several central and eastern Europeans as well as the United States, is a contentious subject for the V4. Its completion would bypass the V4 region, causing economic and geopolitical harm. It’s not only about falling income from gas transit fees to Western Europe; it’s also about the overall “geopolitical rent” for the Central European area, which would dwindle correspondingly as the present gas pipelines’ relevance decreases.

In Brussels, “Europe” usually means Western Europe. Yet V4countries are, in terms of national progress, becoming the equals of, and even superior to, France and Germany—two EU founders and its two largest, wealthiest members. Recent statistical measures of economic growth, employment, and terrorism all show that four ex-Soviet satellites on the EU’s eastern frontier demonstrate better performance than France or Germany in almost every benchmark metric.


The gross domestic product (GDP) of the V4 grew an average of 4.3 percent in 2018, compared to 1.6 for France and Germany. In both Hungary and Poland, the growth of GDP was 5.1 percent, more than three times the average rate for France and Germany. The worst growth rate among the V4—Czechia’s 3.0 percent—was still double Germany’s growth rate. Given Germany’s stellar reputation as Europe’s economic powerhouse, this is significant. Yet inflation remained mild across all four Visegrád countries, ranging from 1.7 percent in Poland to 2.9 percent in Hungary.


Western Europe still sports larger economies, higher incomes, and longer life expectancies, but these represent a fading legacy of decades of prosperity and peace that was denied to the EU’s eastern members. The indicators, in which some CEE states still lag, like corruption or pollution, are similarly an inheritance of ex-communist rule. Pre-pandemic economic and social progress looked very good for Czechia, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, and troubling for Germany and France. If these trends resume—and there is no reason to think they won’t—the East will soon outshine the West.

Despite the fact that Germany is the largest net contributor of EU funds, its economy has benefited the most under the euro, gaining €1.9 trillion from 1999 and 2007, or about €23,000 per German. Berlin’s economy benefits from the EU’s euro zone in many ways, according to Bertelsmann Stiftung, a respected German think-tank. By 2025, the benefits could amount to €170 billion more for Germany. Observers often refer to the V4 as “two plus two,” because of their differing attitudes to European integration. Czechia and Slovakia are more Europe-friendly than Poland and Hungary, which are far more eurosceptic.

Conclusion

The V4 do not share the post-World War II view of the EU embraced by dominant decision-makers in Western Europe, such as France, and Germany. Hungary and Poland’s authorities have generated front-page headlines in recent months for disregarding EU regulations. Their vision for Europe is for a robust and strong nation-state. The V4 has emerged as a non-institutional organization but is increasingly present as a separate agent in European and global politics. The upcoming year, with all its challenges, will certainly reveal more about this partnership. Central Europe needs to be strong within the European Union, and this requires a functioning Visegrád, and the willingness to find common results.

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EU: The stalemate in negotiations brings Serbia ever closer to Russia and China

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Serbia has been waiting since 2012 for the European Union to respond to its application to become a full member of the EU.

In spite of exhausting negotiations, this response is slow in coming and the main cause of the stalemate has a clear name: Kosovo. Before accepting Serbia’s application for membership, the EU requires a definitive solution to the relations between Serbia and that region that broke away from it after the 1999 conflict – when NATO came to the aid of the Kosovo Albanians – and proclaimed its independence in February 2008.

Serbia has never recognised the birth of the Kosovo Republic, just as many other important countries have not: out of 193 UN members, only 110 have formally accepted the birth of the new republic, while the rest, including Russia, China, Spain, Greece and Romania – to name just the most important ones – refuse to recognise the independence of the Albanians of what was once a region of Serbia.

The European Union cannot accept that one of its members is in fact unable to guarantee control over its borders, as would be the case for Serbia if its membership were accepted.

In fact, since the end of the war between Kosovo and Serbia, there is no clear and controlled border between the two countries. In order to avoid continuous clashes, Kosovo and Serbia have actually left the border open, turning a blind eye to the ‘smuggling economy’ that thrives on both sides of the border.

In this situation, if Serbia were to become a full member of the European Union, it would create a gap in the borders of the entire Schengen area, as anyone passing through Kosovo could then move into all EU countries.This is not the only obstacle to Serbia’s accession to the European

Union: many European chancelleries are wary of Serbian foreign policy which, since the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation, has maintained a privileged relationship with Russia, refusing to adhere to the sanctions decided by Europe against Russia after the annexation of Crimea to the detriment of Ukraine.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Serbia even agreed to produce the Russian vaccine ‘Sputnik V’ directly in its own laboratories, blatantly snubbing EU’s vaccine offer.

For the United States and some important European countries, Serbia’s formal accession to the European Union could shift the centre of gravity of Europe’s geopolitics towards the East, opening a preferential channel for dialogue between Russia and the European Union through Serbia.

This possibility, however, is not viewed unfavourably by Germany which, in the intentions of the CDU President, Armin Laschet, the next candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as Chancellor, has recently declared he is in favour of a foreign policy that “develops in multiple directions”, warning his Western partners of the danger resulting from “the interruption of the dialogue with Russia and China”. In this regard, Laschet has publicly stated that ‘foreign policy must always focus on finding ways to interact, including cooperation with countries that have different social models from ours, such as Russia, China and the nations of the Arab world’.

Today we do not know whether in autumn Laschet will take over the leadership of the most powerful country in the European Union, but what is certain is that Serbia’s possible formal membership of the European Union could force Europe to revise some of its foreign policy stances, under the pressure of a new Serbian-German axis.

Currently, however, Serbia’s membership of the European Union still seems a long way off, precisely because of the stalemate in the Serbia-Kosovo negotiations.

In 2013 Kosovo and Serbia signed the so-called ‘Brussels Pact’, an agreement optimistically considered by European diplomats to be capable of rapidly normalising relations between Serbia and Kosovo, in view of mutual political and diplomatic recognition.

An integral part of the agreement was, on the one hand, the commitment of Kosovo’s authorities to recognise a high degree of administrative autonomy to the Kosovo municipalities inhabited by a Serb majority and, on the other hand, the collaboration of the Serbs in the search for the remains of the thousands of Kosovar Albanians presumably eliminated by Milosevic’s troops during the repression that preceded the 1999 war.

Neither of the two commitments has so far been fulfilled and, during the meeting held in Brussels on July 21 between Serbian President Alexander Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, harsh words and reciprocal accusations were reportedly exchanged concerning the failure to implement the ‘Pact’, to the extent that the Head of European foreign policy, Josep Borrel, publicly asked the two parties to ‘close the chapter of a painful past through a legally binding agreement on the normalisation of mutual relations, with a view to building a European future for its citizens’. This future seems nebulous, to say the least, if we consider that Serbia, in fact, refuses to recognise the legal value of degrees and diplomas awarded by the Kosovo academic authorities also to members of the Kosovo Serb minority.

Currently, however, both contenders are securing support and alliances in Europe and overseas.

Serbia is viewed favourably by the current President of the European Union, Slovenian Janez Jansa, who is a supporter of its membership because “this would definitively mark the dissolution of the Yugoslav Federation”. The vast majority of European right-wing parties, ranging from the French ‘Rassemblement National’ to the Hungarian ‘Fydesz’, also approve of Serbia’s membership application and openly court the Serbian minorities living in their respective countries while, after the years of US disengagement from the Balkans under Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump, the Biden administration has decided to put the region back on the list of priority foreign policy commitments, entrusting the ‘Serbia dossier’ to the undersecretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Matthew Palmer, an authoritative and experienced diplomat.

With a view to supporting its application for European membership, Serbia has also deployed official lobbyists.

Last June, Natasha Dragojilovic Ciric’s lobbying firm ND Consulting officially registered in the so-called EU ‘transparency register’ to promote support for Serbia’s membership. ND is financed by a group of international donors and is advised by Igor Bandovic, former researcher at the American Gallup and Head of the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy, by lawyer Katarina Golubovic of the ‘Committee of Human Rights Lawyers’ and Jovana Spremo, former OSCE consultant.

These are the legal experts deployed by Serbia in Brussels to support its application for formal European integration, but in the meantime Serbia is not neglecting its “eastern” alliances.

Earlier this month, the Head of the SVR, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Sergey Naryshkin, paid an official visit to Belgrade, a few weeks after the conclusion of a joint military exercise between Russian special forces (the “Spetznaz”) and Serbian special forces.

In the Serbian capital, Naryshkin not only met his Serbian counterpart Bratislav Gasic, Head of the ‘Bezbednosno Informativna Agencija’, the small but powerful Serbian secret service, but was also received by the President of the Republic Alexander Vucic with the aim of publicising the closeness between Serbia and Russia.

The timing of the visit coincides with the resumption of talks in Brussels on Serbia’s accession to the European Union and can clearly be considered as instrumental in exerting subtle diplomatic pressure aimed at convincing the European Union of the possibility that, in the event of a refusal, Serbia may decide to definitely turn its back on the West and ally with an East that is evidently more willing to treat the Serbs with the dignity and attention that a proud and tenacious people believes it deserves.

A piece of news confirming that Serbia is ready to turn its back on the West, should Europe continue to postpone the decision on its accession to the European Union is the fact that China has recently signed a partnership agreement with Serbia in the field of pharmaceutical research, an agreement that makes Serbia one of China’s current largest commercial partners on the European continent.

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NATO’s Cypriot Trick

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UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw Pact died, there was much speculation that NATO would consider itself redundant and either disappear or at least transmogrify into a less aggressive body.

Failing that, Moscow at least felt assured that NATO would not include Germany, let alone expand eastwards. Even the NATO Review, NATO’s PR organ, wrote self-apologetically twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin wall: “Thus, the debate about the enlargement of NATO evolved solely in the context of German reunification. In these negotiations Bonn and Washington managed to allay Soviet reservations about a reunited Germany remaining in NATO. This was achieved by generous financial aid, and by the ‘2+4 Treaty’ ruling out the stationing of foreign NATO forces on the territory of the former East Germany. However, it was also achieved through countless personal conversations in which Gorbachev and other Soviet leaders were assured that the West would not take advantage of the Soviet Union’s weakness and willingness to withdraw militarily from Central and Eastern Europe.”

Whatever the polemics about Russia’s claim that NATO broke its promises, the facts of what happened following the fall of the Berlin wall and the negotiations about German re-unification strongly demonstrate that Moscow felt cheated and that the NATO business and military machine, driven by a jingoistic Cold War Britain, a selfish U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex and an atavistic Russia-hating Poland, saw an opportunity to become a world policeman.

This helps to explain why, in contrast to Berlin, NATO decided to keep Nicosia as the world’s last divided city. For Cyprus is in fact NATO’s southernmost point, de facto. And to have resolved Cyprus’ problem by heeding UN resolutions and getting rid of all foreign forces and re-unifying the country would have meant that NATO would have ‘lost’ Cyprus: hardly helpful to the idea of making NATO the world policeman. Let us look a little more closely at the history behind this.

Following the Suez debacle in 1956, Britain had already moved its Middle East Headquarters from Aden to Cyprus, while the U.S. was taking over from the UK and France in the Middle East. Although, to some extent under U.S. pressure, Britain was forced to bring Makarios out of exile and begin negotiating with Greece and Turkey to give up its colony, the U.S. opted for a NATO solution. It would not do to have a truly sovereign Cyprus, but only one which accepted the existence of the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) as part and parcel of any settlement; and so it has remained, whatever the sophistic semantics about a bizonal settlement and a double-headed government. The set of twisted and oft-contradictory treaties that have bedevilled the island since 1960 are still afflicting the part-occupied island which has been a de facto NATO base since 1949. Let us look at some more history.

When Cyprus obtained its qualified independence in 1960, Greece and Turkey had already signed, on 11 February 1959, a so called ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’, agreeing that they would support Cyprus’ entry into NATO.1 This was, however, mere posture diplomacy, since Britain—and the U.S. for that matter—did not trust Cyprus, given the strength of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) and the latter’s links to Moscow. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) wrote: ‘Membership of NATO might make it easier for the Republic of Cyprus and possibly for the Greeks and Turks to cause political embarrassment should the United Kingdom wish to use the bases […] for national ends outside Cyprus […] The access of the Cypriot Government to NATO plans and documents would present a serious security risk, particularly in view of the strength of the Cypriot Communist Party. […] The Chiefs of Staff, therefore, feel most strongly that, from the military point of view, it would be a grave disadvantage to admit Cyprus to NATO.’2 In short, Cyprus was considered unreliable.

As is well known, the unworkable constitution (described as such by the Foreign Office and even by David Hannay, the Annan reunification plan’s PR man), resulted in chaos and civil strife: in January 1964, during the chaos caused by the Foreign Office’s help and encouragement to President Makarios to introduce a ‘thirteen point plan’ to solve Cyprus’ problems, British Prime Minister Douglas-Home told the Cabinet: ‘If the Turks invade or if we are seriously prevented from fulfilling our political role, we have made it quite clear that we will retire into base.’3 Put more simply, Britain had never had any intention of upholding the Treaty of Guarantee.

In July of the same year, the Foreign Office wrote: ‘The Americans have made it quite clear that there would be no question of using the 6th Fleet to prevent any possible Turkish invasion […] We have all along made it clear to the United Nations that we could not agree to UNFICYP’s being used for the purpose of repelling external intervention, and the standing orders to our troops outside UNFYCYP are to withdraw to the sovereign base areas immediately any such intervention takes place.’4

It was mainly thanks to Moscow and President Makarios that in 1964 a Turkish invasion and/or the island being divided between Greece and Turkey was prevented. Such a solution would have strengthened NATO, since Cyprus would no longer exist other than as a part of NATO members Greece and Turkey. Moscow had issued the following statement: ‘The Soviet Government hereby states that if there is an armed foreign invasion of Cypriot territory, the Soviet Union will help the Republic of Cyprus to defend its freedom and independence against foreign intervention.’5

Privately, Britain, realising the unworkability of the 1960 treaties, was embarrassed, and wished to relieve itself of the whole problem. The following gives us the backstage truth: ‘The bases and retained sites, and their usefulness to us, depend in large measure on Greek Cypriot co-operation and at least acquiescence. A ‘Guantanamo’6 position is out of the question. Their future therefore must depend on the extent to which we can retain Greek and/or Cypriot goodwill and counter USSR and UAR pressures. There seems little doubt, however, that in the long term, our sovereign rights in the SBA’s will be considered increasingly irksome by the Greek Cypriots and will be regarded as increasingly anachronistic by world public opinion.7

Following the Turkish invasion ten years later, Britain tried to give up its bases: ‘British strategic interests in Cyprus are now minimal. Cyprus has never figured in NATO strategy and our bases there have no direct NATO role. The strategic value of Cyprus to us has declined sharply since our virtual withdrawal from east of Suez. This will remain the case when the Suez Canal has reopened.8

A Cabinet paper concluded: ‘Our policy should continue to be one of complete withdrawal of our military presence on Cyprus as soon as feasible. […] In the circumstances I think that we should make the Americans aware of our growing difficulty in continuing to provide a military presence in Cyprus while sustaining our main contribution to NATO. […]9

Britain kept trying to give up the bases, but the enabler of the Turkish invasion, Henry Kissinger, did not allow Britain to give up its bases and listening posts, since that would have weakened NATO, and since Kissinger needed the bases because of the Arab-Israel dispute.10

Thus, by the end of 1980, in a private about-turn, Britain had completely succumbed to American pressure: ‘The benefits which we derive from the SBAs are of major significance and virtually irreplaceable. They are an essential contribution to the Anglo-American relationship. The Department have regularly considered with those concerned which circumstances in Cyprus are most conducive to our retaining unfettered use of our SBA facilities. On balance, the conclusion is that an early ‘solution’ might not help (since pressures against the SBAs might then build up), just as breakdown and return to strife would not, and that our interests are best served by continuing movement towards a solution – without the early prospect of arrival [author’s italics]11.

And so it is today: Cyprus is a de facto NATO territory. A truly independent, sovereign and united Cyprus is an anathema to the U.S. and Britain, since such a scenario would afford Russia the hypothetical opportunity to increase its influence in the Eastern Mediterranean.

From our partner RIAC

[1] Ministry of Defence paper JP (59) 163, I January 1960, BNA DEFE 13/99/MO/5/1/5, in Mallinson, William, Cyprus, a Modern History, I.B. Tauris (now Bloomsbury), London and New York, 2005, 2009, 2012, p.49.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Memorandum by Prime Minister, 2 January 1964, BNA CAB/129/116, in ibid, Mallinson, William, p.37.

[4] British Embassy, Washington, to Foreign Office, 7 July 1964, telegram 8541, BNA FO 371/174766, file C1205/2/G, in ibid.’, Mallinson, William, p. 37.

[5] Joseph, Joseph S., Cyprus, Ethnic Conflict and International Politics, St Martin’s Press, London and New York, 1997, p. 66.

[6] In 1964, Cuba cut off supplies to the American base at Guantanamo Bay, since the US refused to return it to Cuba, as a result of which the US took measures to make it self-sufficient.

[7] Briefing paper, 18 June 1964, BNA-DO/220/170, file MED 193/105/2, part A. Mallinson,William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p. 127.

[8] ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, draft paper, 11 April 1975, BNA-FCO 46/1248, file DPI/515/1.

[9] Cabinet paper, 29 September 1976, in op. cit. Mallinson, William, Kissinger and the Invasion of Cyprus, p.134.

[10] Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus: Key Themes and Documents, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2011, and Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2020, pp. 87-121.

[11] Fergusson to Foreign Minister’s Private Secretary, minute, 8 December 1980, BNA-FCO 9/2949, file WSC/023/1, part C.

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