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War in Ukraine — Debate in Germany

Views: 780 On May 6 The Guardian carried an article about two open letters addressed to Chancellor Olaf Scholz that had been published in the German press at the …

by Stephen Shenfield



3 min read

On May 6 The Guardian carried an article about two open letters addressed to Chancellor Olaf Scholz that had been published in the German press at the beginning of May. The first letter — initiated by Alice Schwarzer, publisher and chief editor of EMMA magazine — appeals for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine followed by negotiations. It appeared in EMMA on May 3. (EMMA is regarded as a feminist periodical, although its subtitle says it is a political magazine ‘for people’ and not just for women.) The second letter, organized by the Center for Liberal Modernity (CLM), appeared the following day in the liberal weekly Die Zeit. It appeals to the German government to send arms to enable the Ukrainians to continue to resist Russian aggression.

Several weeks later (on June 29) there appeared in Die Zeit another open letter that again calls for a ceasefire and negotiations. The first signature is that of Jakob Augstein, publisher of the news magazine Der Spiegel as well as Die Zeit. There is considerable overlap between this new appeal for peace and the one published in EMMA, in terms of  both arguments presented and signatories. Nevertheless, there are also significant differences between the two. These differences suggest that the organizers of the new appeal were trying to do the same job as Schwarzer and her collaborators, but do it in a way that could compete more effectively with the CLM appeal.


Let us compare the lists of the initial signatories of the Schwarzer, CLM, and Augstein appeals. 

The Schwarzer appeal has 27 initial signatories. Over half (17) come from the world of the arts – film producers, actors, musicians, cabaret artists, novelists, and the like. Only two might be considered experts in ‘hard’ subjects (political science and economics). There is just one politician – Antje Vollmer, a Green. 

By contrast, the 57 initial signatories of the CLM appeal include numerous academic and journalistic specialists in relevant disciplines. There are eleven politicians from across the political spectrum: two Christian Democrats, two Free Democrats, two Social Democrats, four Greens, and even one who might still be a ‘communist’ (Gerd Koenen, formerly of the Communist League of West Germany). From the publishing world there are Mathias Dopfner, CEO of Axel Springer, and Sebastian Turner, publisher of the Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel. And from the world of diplomacy: Thomas Enders, a former Airbus executive who is now chairman of the German Council on Foreign Relations, and the veteran diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, who has served as German Ambassador to the US and chairman of the Munich Security Conference. True, the signatories also include a pianist, a comedian, a model, and a ‘life coach.’  

The 21 initial signatories of the Augstein appeal are less impressive in some ways but more in others. They include eight experts in political science, economics, international relations, and international law (two of these are American professors). There is another veteran diplomat – Michael von der Schulenburg, who has represented (West) Germany at the United Nations and at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and participated in peace missions to Iraq and Sierra Leone. And the only military man to sign any of the three appeals — General Erich E. Vad, former Director of Security Policy in the Federal Chancellery, Secretary of the Federal Security Council, and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Military Policy Advisor (2006—2013). 

I think we can conclude on the basis of these data that both the German political establishment and the German intelligentsia are deeply divided on the Ukrainian issue. This division does not correspond to the division between left and right.


Let us compare first the arguments presented in the Schwarzer and Augstein appeals. Both appeals are concerned, above all, that hostilities cease as soon as possible and peace (in the narrow sense of the absence of war) be restored. Both argue that this is essential in order to reduce the risk of escalation to a broader European and/or global nuclear war, but also in order to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and the suffering of its population. However, only the Augstein appeal discusses the need to limit the worldwide impact of the war in Ukraine, with special reference to the interruption of food exports from Ukraine and Russia and resulting famine conditions in Africa. The Augstein appeal makes the additional argument that in the opinion of military experts the goals that the Ukrainian government wishes to pursue by continuing the fight are unrealistic. 

The CLM appeal acknowledges that expansion of the war and its escalation to nuclear war must be avoided. However, it frames this task in terms of deterrence. Putin must be deterred from attacking other countries and from using nuclear weapons. The Schwarzer and Augstein appeals do not consider the threat that Russia may pose to other countries besides Ukraine. They assume that either side may resort to the use of nuclear weapons under certain circumstances and that nuclear use is likely to be a result of accident, miscalculation, misunderstanding, or loss of political control. Thus there is a heightened risk of nuclear war for so long as hostilities continue.

Popular Opinion

The Schwarzer and CLM appeals were posted on change.org, a website for public petitions. As of July 6, they had gathered 311,366 and 91,928 signatures, respectively – that is, the call for immediate ceasefire had obtained over three times as much support as the call to send arms to Ukraine.[1]  

The people want peace!


[1] As change.org is an international website, it is doubtful whether all signatories are German. While the Schwarzer appeal is shown only in German, however, the CLM appeal is shown in German, English, and Ukrainian. The proportion of non-German signatories is therefore likely to be higher for the CLM appeal, so a correction to exclude non-German signatories would increase the ratio in favor of the Schwarzer appeal.  

Photo of author
I grew up in Muswell Hill, north London, and joined the Socialist Party of Great Britain at age 16. After studying mathematics and statistics, I worked as a government statistician in the 1970s before entering Soviet Studies at the University of Birmingham. I was active in the nuclear disarmament movement. In 1989 I moved with my family to Providence, Rhode Island, USA to take up a position on the faculty of Brown University, where I taught International Relations. After leaving Brown in 2000, I worked mainly as a translator from Russian. I rejoined the World Socialist Movement about 2005 and am currently general secretary of the World Socialist Party of the United States. I have written two books: The Nuclear Predicament: Explorations in Soviet Ideology (Routledge, 1987) and Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies, Movements (M.E. Sharpe, 2001) and more articles, papers, and book chapters that I care to recall.

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