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Comparing Chancellor Merkel's and Schroeder's Perception of Russia and the US

Ex-Chancellor Schroeder is giving outspoken and controversial interviews to promote his autobiography. He is very critical of Chancellor Merkel, the trade unions, and of the growing influence of religious conservatives in the US, while at the same time defending Russia's president Putin.
As probably most Germans (and perhaps even Schroeder), Chancellor Merkel considers the US-German friendship much closer than the German-Russian strategic partnership.
Judy Dempsey writes in International Herald Tribune about Schroeder's views of the US and Putin:
Schröder said he was "anything but anti-American, even though he openly challenged U.S. policy in Iraq. In the Der Spiegel interview, he described how he had tears in his eyes as he watched the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on television. "It was important to me that Germany fulfill its requirements as an ally," he said.
But when it came to the planning for the Iraq war, Schröder, referring to Bush, told Der Spiegel that "if a person adopts a policy based on what he gleans from his prayers, in other words, a personal talk with God, it can lead to difficulties in democracy."

Schröder went on to criticize the growing role of religion in U.S. politics.  "We rightly criticize that in most Islamic states, the role of religion for society and the character of the role of law are not clearly separated," he said. "But we fail to recognize that in the U.S.A., the Christian fundamentalists and their interpretation of the Bible have similar tendencies."
Mr. Schroeder should read the new book Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction (, by David Kuo, who was a senior Bush administration official in the Office of Faith Based initiatives. According to Crooks and Liars, he describes "how the administration used Christians to grab and maintain power. This story validates Tucker Carlson's admission that: 'The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power.'"

The International Herald Tribune continues:

When asked by Der Spiegel if he still believed Putin was an "impeccable democrat," as Schröder himself called him during one of his several meetings with the Russian president in 2005, he replied: "I have nothing to correct."
The interview with Schröder coincided with the murder of the investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya outside her Moscow apartment over two weeks ago.
Davids Medienkritik writes about Gerhard Schroeder's new job at Gazprom:
If George W. Bush or Tony Blair ever pulled a similar stunt and took a job at Halliburton just weeks after leaving office, they'd be in hot water with the German media for years and the talk of scandal would have no end.
While Medienkritik has a point, Schroeder is confronted constantly with criticism of his new job, for example in the Spiegel interview (in English) about his autobiography. And he deserves that, of course. Besides, George H.W. Bush's job as senior advisor for the Carlyle Group after leaving office was not much of a scandal in Germany.

Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have done a lot of charity work after leaving office. German ex chancellors Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl, and Gerhard Schroeder have not done such work on a similar scale as Carter and Clinton. Germany should import that tradition from America.

Unlike Schroeder, the German press has been very critical of President Putin after this murder and other troubling developments in Russia. A few quotes from English sources about Putin's visit to Dresden two weeks ago:

Spiegel wrote an article called "Is Russia's Press Freedom Dead?" and points out:
The German press took a different view, even as Russian visitors to Dresden wanted to return to their pre-established agenda. The critical comments in the press were interpreted by the Russian representatives as a "concerted attack from the other side of the barricade." Russia's ambassador in Berlin, Vladimir Kotenev, spoke of "German campaign journalism." A TV reporter from Russia's "First Channel" -- which is known to be sympathetic to Putin's government -- even drew a historical comparison between contemporary German newspapers and the media propaganda of the Soviet Union during the 1970s. He concluded that the only reason Russians have a good relationship to Germany is that they don't read the German press.
A liberal Moscow-based editor-in-chief later commented that the squabbling in Dresden prompted by Politkovskaya's death amounted to "a conversation among deaf mutes." But more than that, it seems to have been a lesson on the differences between two journalistic cultures -- a lesson that left a fresh feeling of helplessness over how to deal with Russia.
ABC News:
President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday denounced the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya and vowed to bring those responsible to justice. Questions about the contract-style killing, which has drawn condemnation from round the world, dominated a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that also touched on business and energy issues. (...) Putin was heckled by a man in the crowd over the murder as he got out of his limousine in the eastern city of Dresden, where he served as a KGB agent in the 1980s. Waving a banner with "Murderer" on it, the man shouted: "You're a murderer, you're not welcome here."
Andreas Schockenhoff, foreign policy expert for Merkel’s conservatives in parliament, said Politkovskaya's murder was "a serious setback for the development of democracy in Russia".

How does Chancellor Merkel perceive Germany's relationship with Russia compared to German relationship with the United States?

In January 2006, Merkel told Spiegel that Guantanamo should not exist in the longer term. (See this Atlantic Review post) In that same interview Spiegel asked her about the German-American and the German-Russian relationship:
SPIEGEL: In the past, your party in particular emphasized the German-American friendship. Now you're just talking about relations. A deliberate downgrade?

Merkel: Oh, please! I can just as well call it "friendship." The German-American friendship! Is that better? We're splitting hairs here. I want to improve the quality and substance of the German-American relationship.

SPIEGEL: Does the word friendship also describe the German-Russian relationship?

Merkel: It's more of a strategic partnership. I believe that we do not share as many values with Russia yet as we do with the United States. On the other hand, we have a strong interest in Russia developing in a reasonable direction.

SPIEGEL: Do you consider Vladimir Putin "a flawless democrat," as your predecessor once called him?

Merkel: I would like to see Russia develop as democratically as possible. But when we judge Russia we must also consider where the country is coming from. Our concepts of democracy can't just be schematically transferred. However, I do admit that I'm concerned about some recent developments, such as the new laws against non-governmental organizations.
Bear in mind that Merkel said all this already in January 2006. Since then Putin has turned even more authoritarian. Chancellor Merkel's views probably turned even cooler, but she also understands realpolitik: The International Herald Tribune wrote before Putins visit on October 9, 2006:
Merkel has promised a less personalized relationship than the warm camaraderie displayed by Schroeder and Putin, and she has been more willing than Schroeder to politely raise issues such as human rights.
But analysts say she realizes she cannot alienate her country's biggest natural gas supplier with fierce criticism, and her government says it is committed to more integration and cooperation. Major German companies are also eager to deal, and Russia is a key partner on security issues such as Iran and North Korea.
"Putin needs Germany as his major ally in Europe, and Germany — at least the German elite — is willing to play the role of Russia's advocate in the West," said Alexander Rahr, a Russia expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the forum's steering committee.
"Mrs. Merkel was at first quite cool on Russia but now she understands that she can play a mediating role between the United States and Russia on questions like Iran and the Middle East," he said.

The European Union is not naive towards Russia, as former U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Keith Smith explains:
The prominent attention given energy issues at the EU-Russia "summit" in Lehti, Finland, on October 20 was quite illustrative. The summit demonstrated that there is a converging perception in Western and Central Europe regarding the risks of energy dependency on Russia.


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Don S on :

Permit me a certain skepticism about the depth of the friendship between the US and Germany. Recent years have been extremely harsh on this relationship. Chancellor Merkel values this friendship but I believe that Chancellor Schroeder's behavior and political success shows that many or most Germans do not particularly value American friendship. Or perhaps they only value it if the US behaves under German instructions - I'm not sure. The continued quality of Schaudenfreud at US misfortunes in Iraq which I see in the German 'quality' press leads me to believe that this is a popular attitude in Germany. Very likely a majority attitude. Merkel is only one woman, she cannot change an entire country by herself. Particularly given that she has to battle the very strong headwind created by the German press. I think that in the longer term Germany will find the Chinese, the Russians, and the Sudanians to be more congenial friends than the US is. They are morally superior to us fascist Yanks after all, and France and Spain will approve of the diplomatic shift. This is of utmost importance of course.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

[i]The continued quality of Schaudenfreud at US misfortunes in Iraq which I see in the German 'quality' press leads me to believe that this is a popular attitude in Germany. Very likely a majority attitude.[/i] [b]Could you please give an example of such Schadenfreude? [/b] I think the majority of Germans is concerned about US misfortunes in Iraq. Instability, chaos, civil war, terrorist havens in Iraq are all bad for Germany. Schadenfreude makes no sense. We don't want you to fail. That's why the German government has sent spies to Bagdad in 2003. "German ships guarded the sea lanes near the Horn of Africa as part of Task Force 150, an effort to deter terrorist attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, for example. The patrols helped safeguard the waterways the United States used to build up its forces in the Persian Gulf for the invasion of Iraq. German troops were also part of a "consequence management" team, at the United States military base at Camp Doha, Kuwait, which was charged with protecting Kuwaitis after a chemical attack. The measure was justified as defensive. German personnel also guarded American military bases in Germany, freeing United States soldiers to go to Iraq. When NATO debated whether to send Awacs radar planes and Patriot missile batteries to Turkey, a move the United States was promoting to help persuade Ankara to open a northern front in Iraq, Germany initially was opposed. But it soon dropped its objections. Germany later provided the missiles for the Patriot batteries sent to Turkey." [url][/url] Also have a look at this article, which Shawn has emailed yesterday: [b]Rethinking the Transatlantic Divide[/b] [url][/url] [i]They are morally superior to us fascist Yanks after all[/i] You keep saying things like that. In my humble opinion you very much exaggerate the few and old comments by some Germans. There might be more crazy Americans, who consider the US as "fascist", than there are crazy Germans who think that way. What makes you think that most Germans have such an extremely low opinion of the United States? What are your sources? Please don't take a few nutcases and genaralize about all Germans. Why are US TV series so popular in Germany, if we are supposed to have such a low opinon about you? [url][/url]

Clarsonimus on :

I don't think countries or peoples "like" each other, it's always just common interests in the end. But having said that... If every there was a people wanting to dislike another people, it would be the Germans vis-a-vis the Americans. I'm not completely sure why, but it probably has to do with the fact that they've been taught that "we helped them" (in the West at least). You can't help but resent something like that. And Schröder knew this perfectly well and played the Iraq card on this to get re-elected. Even many Germans who don't like Schröder are secretly (subconsciously?) happy that he said no to the US. That's one of the reasons he is still the teflon Chancellor. Merkel is in a different position, and seems to have something that at looks like character, but if the opportunity arose, she would probably do the same.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

[i]it probably has to do with the fact that they've been taught that "we helped them" (in the West at least).[/i] Yes, that explains some things. Though, Anti-Americanism is stronger in the Eastern part of Germany according to the polls. (It reminds me of the debate in 2002 and 2003, when some Americans thought that liberating Iraq would make the region more US friendly) [i]Even many Germans who don't like Schröder are secretly (subconsciously?) happy that he said no to the US.[/i] I agree. I am glad as well that he said "No!" to the Iraq war. Otherwise German soldiers would be stuck in Iraq right now. Of course, I did not like the way he said "No!". There was no need to use such anti-American rhetoric in an election campaign to oppose the Iraq war. Clarsonimus, you are an American living in Germany and you read German papers and watch German TV. So you might be more perceptive and more sensitive than I am for this kind of thing. Do you encounter a lot of Schadenfreude in the German media regarding the US situation in Iraq? And if yes, what would be an example? Don wrote in the first comment: [i]The continued quality of Schaudenfreud at US misfortunes in Iraq which I see in the German 'quality' press...[/i] I think the German media coverage of Iraq is not so different from the US media coverage. Don, perhaps you perceive plenty of Schadenfreude the German media, because it is a foreign media? If American journalists write the same thing, then it is not Schadenfreude, because they are your fellow countrymen... Likewise, some Americans consider German newspaper articles as Anti-American, because they were written by a non-American. If they were written by an American, then it would not be considered Anti-American, but just biased. Though, having said that, I do not deny that there is a lot of real Anti-Americanism and some real Schadenfreude in the German media, but I don't think there is so much. As always that is just my personal opinoin. And of course I could be completly wrong. Everybody is biased in one way or another. So what do you guys think? I would appreciate some examples, since they would help to understand better.

Don S on :

"If American journalists write the same thing, then it is not Schadenfreude, because they are your fellow countrymen..." Not at all. Though in English I would call it gloating, and there is plenty of that.... In the spirit of the movie "Dr. Strangelove" I have decided to quit denying the obvious and to at long last embrace my inner nazi. My essential facism (and that of those who think like me) has been noticed upon at such length by Democrats and Europeans (for more than 50 years now). Can 50 million critics be wrong? I think not. Being a proper national socialist is a major committment of time, money, and energy - and to be honest I really don't feel that degree of antipathy to any one group of people. So I've been looking out for a role model - and found one: url=]Mel Brooks[/url]!

Don S on :

Oops! That last link was supposed to be: [url=]Mel Brooks[/url]!

Don S on :

Possibly the greatest moment in the annals of [url=]Historical Comedy[/url]. Look at the male leads in this little number. The chap in the blue uniform - darken his hair and add some wrinkles and one has George Bush. The second chap (the one doing most the singing - obviously Cheney with a mustache. Which is appropriate if you think about it....

Anonymous on :


Clarsonimus on :

Well, I went out of my way to say "in the West" because Germans in the East were trained to hate us anyway. Fine, the younger kids don't count anymore, but anybody over thirty or so is indoctrinated. As for the Schadenfreude, yes, most definitely. But it's all the more so because they we're so clearly against the Iraq invasion. They have to be Schadenfroh. What will they be later once Iraq is working as we all want it to work? And Schadenfreude isn't JUST a German phenomenon. The ARD just ran their first story tonight about the Bundeswehr soldiers and the skull down in Afghanistan, for instance. The American Schadenfreude about that is rolling in now everywhere you look, too.

Don S on :

[url=]Schaudenfreud[/url] [url=]Schaudenfreud[/url] [url=]Schaudenfreud[/url] [url=]Schaudenfreud[/url] [url=]Schaudenfreud[/url] [url=] Schaudenfreud[/url]

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Those are just some links to Davids Medienkritik. What is "Schadenfreude at US misfortunes in Iraq"? Only your links 3-5 are about Iraq. What statements are Schadenfreude?

Don S on :

Well, not ONLY Medienkritik, Joerg. Also to the lyrics an a recording from the overture to the 'awful' musical at the heart of the musical comedy 'The Producers'. That is not really about Germany, Joerg. It is an obvious metaphor for the US. The spokesman is obviously Bush, and the Fueher must be Cheney. [i]Don't be a dummy, be a smartie, come and join the GOP Party![/i]. It even scans!

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Does Medienkritik write about Schadenfreude in those links? What statements do they consider to be Schadenfreude? I don't want to pester you any longer. I was just trying to understand what statements in the German media are supposed to be Schadenfreude about Iraq. While there might be some stuff. I think, most folks are concerned about the big mess in Iraq. This mess will threaten us, since we are much closer to Iraq than the US. I will give it a rest now.

Don S on :

Oh, not only about Iraq, Joerg. And not only the German media, the French were in it up to their petards! I'm really starting to get into the idea of being a soup-nazi. "Springtime for Rumsfield, and Amerika! Winter for Germany and France!" My first thought when I saw the WTC towers burning was utter glee I now confess. Because I knew we were goin' on Tour.... Only the noble righteousness of Jacques, Gerhard, Joschka, and Kofi, foiled our fell AmeriKKKan designs. Now the only problem is casting the film. There are only so many actors with sufficiently noble chins available in Hollywood, you know, and so many parts to cast. Jacques, Kofi, Gerhard, Romano, Joshka, Zapatero, Osama, Saddam, etc. Better get an option on a couple top star to play Gerhard and Joshka, lest Jacques walk away with the honors.... You see the problem I'm sure... No problem getting a few loathsome slugs to cast as Bush, Blair, Cheney, Rummie, and the neocons...

Assistant Village Idiot on :

Well, JW, those medienkritik links lead in turn to other articles. They aren't just opinion pieces by that site. To the general discussion: point taken that the German media may not be very different than the American media in its treatment of the Bush Adm, or any conservatives. Stern and Spiegel may add in some extra sneers, but how can we complain when you say of us what some of our own people do? This site has been quite helpful to me in pointing out that the criticism of the US is not monolithic in Germany. I remain concerned, however, that a fair hearing is not widely granted to certain points of view. My American friends living in Germany assure me that the educated classes widely believe some ridiculous things about the US, which no amount of contrary evidence seems to dent. As to religious conservatives having too much influence, my understanding is that simple belief in a literal resurrection is unusual among the German Lutheran clergy, and such belief qualifies one to be viewed as some sort of fundamentalist. In the face of that, I would wonder if religious anythings have any influence at all in Germany. It is worth wondering what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would be saying in public just now.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Thanks, Avi [i]the educated classes widely believe some ridiculous things about the US[/i] Many of them do indeed. Markovits' wrote that anti-Americanism might be the only prejudice in Europe which correlates positively with the respondents' level of education and social position. [url][/url]

Assistant Village Idiot on :

Even my favorite authors, Tolkien and Lewis, had some disdain for American culture, which was common to the Oxbridge class at the time. This moderated somewhat as their American audiences became larger than their British ones - the approbation of others has a way of undermining your belief in their bad taste - but continued well into their later years. Elite America's attitude toward Europeans has been much more mixed. When only the wealthy could travel far, it was considered a mark of sophistication to have even been to Europe. Similarly, those who studied many types of history - art, architecture, philosophy, language - quite naturally became familiar with as much European history as their own. This also created a general sympathy for things European. On the other hand, there has been a long strain of belief, at least 300 years, that Europeans keep getting themselves into these pointless wars, are too friendly to tyrants, and are class-bound. While this has reversed since the 1960's among our chattering classes, who now find it fashionable to think of Americans as class-bound, fond of tyrants, and getting into pointless wars, even among these there is an undercurrent of American exceptionalism.

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