Lament of a Green pacifist

The following article is copied from the Berliner Zeitung and was forwarded to me by my new friend Desdemona.

 .A Bundeswehr soldier in front of Marder armored personnel carriers that have been loaded onto a train for transport.

Antje Vollmers’ legacy of a pacifist:

“What I would still have to say”

The ex-vice president of the Bundestag criticizes the Greens for turning away from pacifism. In the essay, she formulates her political conclusion.

Antje Vollmers

23.02.2023 | updated 26.02.2023

Antje Vollmer was vice president of the German Bundestag and was the first signatory of the peace manifesto of Sahra Wagenknecht and Alice Schwarzer. Vollmer is a pacifist and was an opponent of the wars in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. As an author, she has worked intensively on the protagonists of July 20, 1944, and the anti-fascist resistance. Antje Vollmer is seriously ill. Her text can be read as a political legacy – it is a great reckoning with the zeitgeist. We publish the guest article in full length. Editorial.

I was standing at the train station in my hometown, waiting for the ICE. Suddenly, a huge convoy approached on the siding, fully loaded with tanks – with martens, cheetahs or leopards. I can’t tell, but I was shocked to read the picture. The transport was going from west to east.

It was not difficult to imagine the opposite image. Somewhere in the east military transports full of Russian battle tanks were rolling from east to west at the same time. They would not meet for a World War I-style tank battle somewhere in Ukraine.

No, this time they would once again mark the arms-locked chasm between two power blocs, where the world might face each other for the last time in a confrontation with a possibly apocalyptic outcome. So we were back in the Cold War and in a spiral of mutual existential threat – with no way out, no perspective. Everything I had fought against politically all my life was present to me at that moment as one huge defeat.


“…and fight back every day. A Green Diary” (1984) Antje Vollmer was born on May 31, 1943, in Lübbecke, Westphalia. She is a former vice president of the German Bundestag and a Green Party politician. Her awards include the Carl von Ossietzky Medal (1989), the Hannah Arendt Prize (1998) and the 2002 Masaryk Order of the Czech Republic for services to German-Czech reconciliation (awarded by President Vaclav Havel). She has written numerous books, including: “…and Wehret Euch täglich. A Green Diary” (1984), “Hot Peace. On Violence, Power and the Mystery of Civilization” (1995), “Doppelleben. Heinrich and Gottliebe von Lehndorff in the Resistance to Hitler and von Ribbentrop” (2010), “Stauffenberg’s Companions” with Lars Broder-Keil (2013). 

With history it is always important from which beginning you tell it

It has become customary, at the beginning of every mention of the immense tragedy surrounding the Ukraine war, to speak like an oath of the “turning point in time”, of Putin’s brutal war of aggression in violation of international law, with the Russian side clearly being solely to blame, and to humbly confess how much one had been mistaken in trusting in a phase of détente and reconciliation with Russia after the great turning point of 1989/90.

By Antje Vollmers



Where exactly did the defeat begin? Where did the error begin? When and how did this renewed deadly escalation of war, violence and bloc confrontation arise from one of the happiest phases in the history of the Eurasian continent, after the almost non-violent end of the Cold War? Who had an interest in the fact that the then possible peaceful coexistence between East and West did not come about, but fell prey to renewed worldwide antagonism?

And then the question of all questions: Why was it that Europe of all places, this continent with all its historical tragedies and power-political aberrations, did not find the strength to become the center of a peaceful vision for the threatened planet?

For the interpretation of historical events, it is always decisive with which aspects one begins to tell a story.

Russia’s great advance of renouncing violence

I disagree with today’s common thesis that in 1989 there was an established European peace order, which was then destroyed step by step unilaterally by Russia under the dictates of the KGB agent Putin, until theUkrainian war finally broke out.

That is not correct. What is correct is that in 1989 an order that was more correctly called “Pax atomica” broke down, without a new peace order taking its place. To create this would have been the task of the hour. But the visionary imagination of Europe and the West at the time of the fall of communism was not sufficient to come up with the tenable concept of a stable European peace order that would have been able to offer all the countries of the former Soviet Union a place of reliable security and hope for the future.

Two reasons are decisive for this. Both have to do with old European errors: First, the comprehensive economic and political collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 was unilaterally interpreted as a triumphant victory of the West in the systemic conflict between East and West, which thus finally sealed the historical defeat of the East. This tendency to declare oneself the victor is an old Western hubris and has always been the reason for many humiliations that characterize the unequal relationship with the East.

The inability to seek other solutions on an equal footing after such extensive upheavals has its main cause in this fatal arrogance. Above all, however, the tremendous and unique merit of the Soviet leadership under Mikhail Gorbachev was thus classified with astonishing ignorance as a welcome gift of history: The great preliminary achievement of renouncing violence in response to the aspirations for freedom of the peoples of the Eastern Bloc was taken almost for granted.

Mikhail Gorbachev disappointed many of his citizens

But that is not what happened. To this day, it is astonishing, even inconceivable, how little importance was attached to the fact that the dissolution of a Soviet world empire took place almost without violence. The naive description of this unique process then went something like this: Like a house of cards, highly deserved and inevitable, a whole system had collapsed. 

The fact that this very absence of violence was the greatest miracle in a series of miraculous events did not become a topic of its own. It was rather interpreted as weakness. But there are hardly any models in history for such a process. Even the weakest violent regimes, especially in the stage of their downfall, tend by law to cause an orgy of violence, destruction and self-destruction, dragging everything around them into their own demise – as was exemplified in the fall of the Nazi empire.

The Soviet Union of 1989 under Gorbachev, although politically and economically weakened, had the greatest nuclear potential, it had stationed its own troops on the entire territory of its rule. It would have been easy to mobilize all this. Indeed, this was vehemently demanded by many representatives of the old regime.

With historical distance it becomes even clearer what a statesmanlike achievement it was to prefer to be “heroes of retreat” (Enzensberger) rather than to depart from history in a last burst as bloody avengers and butchers. The choice that Mikhail Gorbachev made almost alone earned him the disappointment of many of his citizens. It was said that he had retrospectively lost the Great Patriotic War.

The great reformers showed courage, they are gladly forgotten today

Like a mute memorial to gigantic European ingratitude, the shockingly private character of the funeral service for probably the greatest statesman of our time at the Moscow Cemetery of Celebrities stands for this. It would have been the order of the day that the grandees of Europe would have paid their respects to Mikhail Gorbachev, who had long since been isolated in his own country, by bowing down before him.  

At least from Germany, which owes almost to him alone the happiness of the reunification, a Federal President Steinmeier should have stood at this grave. The loneliness around this dead man was unbearable. So Viktor Orbán, of all people, took the opportunity to undermine this boycott of an appropriate tribute. It remains a shameful sign, a portent of historical ignorance. A few days later, the representatives of the European zeitgeist all crowded around the grave of the English Queen and the German Pope Benedict XVI in a manner befitting the media.

To this day, it is difficult for me to understand why there was not at least a demonstration of gratitude among the actual beneficiaries of this renunciation of violence, among the movements of peaceful civil protests. They in particular had experienced firsthand the fears of what could have happened if there had been a reaction in East Berlin in 1989 similar to that of the student protests in Beijing.

And indeed, part of today’s reticence in East Germany to unilaterally denounce Russia is probably attributable to this lingering gratitude. Media spokesmen and interpreters, however, became others – and they became more and more brazen. In their interpretations, the share of the merit of non-violence on the Soviet side became smaller and smaller, and the legend of Germany’s own great achievement in resistance became more and more powerful.

All knowledgeable contemporary witnesses know very well that the resistance and heroism of Joachim Gauck, Marianne Birthler, Katrin Göring-Eckardt was quite moderate and did not significantly exceed the degree of survivalist adaptation. Some self-descriptions, however, read like imposture today. They conceal or fail to recognize what other forces contributed to the great change and that many a reformer in the system had by no means dared to show less commitment and courage.

Cheap anti-Russian resentment

This may be human, all too human, and thus not worth mentioning. What is fatal, however, is that this part of the civil rights activists today is one of the most eager crown witnesses of a cheap anti-Russian resentment. This ties in seamlessly with the ideology of the Cold War, which has shaped many variants of Western enemy images to this day, from justified anti-Stalinism to understandable anti-Communism to irrational Slavophobia.

The most important questions that should be negotiated between East and West today are: What does it actually mean to be a European nation? What distinguishes us from others? What skills must a nation acquire in order to belong? What are the lessons of our history? What ideals shape us? What errors and crimes? These questions are clearly evoked by the example of Ukraine and its defensive struggle against Russian aggression.

Europe should not always be on the lookout for rogue states

In our media, Ukraine embodies the ideal and model of a freedom-loving Western democracy of heroic proportions. Ukraine, they say, is fighting not only for its own nation, but at the same time for the universal historical mission of the West. Those who assert themselves in terms of power politics, who defend their existence with bloody sacrifices and weapons, are seen as a bulwark for the European ideals of freedom, whatever the cost. But those who seek the path of consensus, cooperation, understanding and reconciliation are considered weak and therefore irrelevant, even despicable. Therefore, Gorbachev and Zelensky are the real antitypes in the question of what it means to be European today and to embody the European virtues.

Alongside this tendency to the heroic and to self-aggrandizement lies the root, which I believe to be the fundamental error of a European identity: the seemingly ineradicable need for national chauvinism. For centuries, national excesses have marked the history of our continent. No nation has been free of it: not the French, certainly not the British, not the Spanish, not the Poles, not the Ukrainians, not the Balts, not the Swedes, not the Russians, not even the Czechs – and certainly not the Germans.

It is a fatal error to think that by resisting the other imperial powers one’s own nationalism gains something like historical innocence. This is self-deception and one of the most serious European errors. Even today, it seduces many young democracies to see themselves only as victims of foreign powers and to consider their own history of violence and their own fantasies of violence as justified. What Europe had to learn again and again, and historically mostly failed to learn, is the art of self-limitation, of peaceful neighborliness, of fairness, of safeguarding mutual interests and respect for each other. What Europe must finally unlearn is the constant handing out of heresy hats, the identification of axes of evil and of ever new rogue states.

The Vision of Helmut Kohl and Hans-Dietrich Genscher

Ah Europe! Every time one of the continent’s great crises and wars was overcome – after the Thirty Years’ War, after Napoleon’s campaign against Russia, after two world wars, after the Cold War – one could hope that the power-political aberration had now been disproved by bitter experience and would finally give way to a more survival-oriented understanding of the world. And each time, as if by a curse, the peoples of Europe again fell prey to the temptation to follow the path of dominance and confrontation.

But the great counter-example is all the more valuable: Gorbachev’s hope that a new security order would also be possible for all the former states of the Soviet Union, one that would do justice to the different security needs, was certainly envisaged in the Charter of Paris as an area of joint economic and political cooperation between the old Western Europe and the new Eastern states. That was also the vision of Helmut Kohl and Hans-Dietrich Genscher at the time. But there was no plan, no concept, the vision was simply too vague.

War senselessly devours billions

How quickly the feeling of easy triumph returned is well illustrated by a sad example: the handling of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was one of the non-aligned states; it had broken away from Stalinism in good time and had to some extent pacified the centuries-old national rivalries from the time of the Danube monarchy. Nothing would have been easier than to offer this Yugoslavia as a whole an opening to Europe and the EU in 1989.

It would have taken time, but it would have been possible. All that was needed was to refrain from giving in too quickly to the national urges of the Slovenes and Croats and to cultivate the new enemy image of the aggressive Serbs. Such wisdom, however, was completely absent in the overbidding race for recognition of new nation-states in the Balkans. The Bosnian civil war, Srebrenica, the destruction of Sarajevo, hundreds of thousands of dead and traumatized people, NATO’s war of aggression against Belgrade in violation of international law, the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state in violation of international law, the manifold upsurge of new national chauvinisms could have been avoided.

What does all this mean for the immediate present and for German politics in 2023?

The coordinates have shifted decisively. Until the end of the Schröder government, one could assume that Germany in particular had privileged access, or at least a certain leeway, to balance conflicts between the major geopolitical hotbeds of tension from the era of détente. This time is definitely over.

In about 2008, Putin began to distrust the status quo and to align his sphere of power against the West. Germany began to define itself as the European bully boy in NATO’s new concept. In the context of the reactions to the Ukraine war, it finally moved to the center of anti-Russian counterstrategies. Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s hesitation, which was welcome but much criticized in the media, was not backed up by a sustainable political alternative and thus began to slip.

Economically and politically, we are paying a high price for this. The German economy minister is trying to replace the old dependencies on Russia and China with new dependencies on states that can by no means pass for model democracies. The foreign minister is the shrillest trumpet of the new antagonistic NATO strategy.

Her justifications are astonishing in their argumentative simplicity. At the same time, the cost of armaments and the influence of arms and energy corporations are growing immeasurably. The war senselessly devours the billions that would be urgently needed to save the planet and fight poverty in the global South. The rising China, however, is propagandistically identified as a new geopolitical opponent and is constantly provoked in the Taiwan question. These are all not good auspices.

Peace and the survival of the entire planet

And yet, if I am not mistaken, Europe is about to enter a phase of great disillusionment that will deeply shake its own self-image. For me, however, this is a reason for hope. The so self-assured West simply has to learn that the rest of the world does not share our self-image and will not stand by us. The hastily sent emissaries of a new anti-Chinese alliance in the upcoming crusade against the Middle Kingdom do not seem to be very successful.

How could we suppose that great China and the advanced civilizations of Asia would ever forget the days of indiscriminate free trade and opium wars? How could the long-suffering African continent ever forgive the twelve million slaves and the exploitation of all its mineral resources? Why should the ancient cultures of Latin America forgive the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors for their arbitrary rule? Why should the indigenous peoples of the world simply push aside in their historical memory the injustice of illegal settlements and land theft?

My hope is that out of all this a new non-aligned movement will emerge that, after the period of many breaches of international law, will again work on the UN’s sole right to serve peace and the survival of the whole planet.

The Greens used to be pacifists

My very personal defeat will accompany me the last days. The Greens, my very party, once held all the keys to a truly new order of a more just world. It was, through fortunate circumstances, much closer to this message than any other party.

We had a real treasure to guard: We were not tied into the power-political bloc logic of the Cold War. We were dissidents per se. We were equally opposed to rearmament in East and West, we saw the threat to the planet posed by unchecked economic growth and consumerism. Whoever wanted to save the world had to strive for a firm alliance between the peace and environmental movements; this was a clear historical necessity that we lived by. We had this future alliance tangibly in our hands.

1983: Petra Kelly (The Greens) with flowers in a hard hat during a peace demonstration.

What seduced today’s Greens to abandon all that for the mere goal of playing along in the great geopolitical power poker, and in the process to disparage their most precious roots as vocal antipacifists?

Against hatred and the war

I remember my great role models: The greatest representatives of nonviolent strategies always had to pass the hardest tests within their own ranks. Gandhi tried with two hunger strikes to stop the regression of Hindus and Muslims into national chauvinism, Nelson Mandela had extreme difficulty in breaking the readiness for violence of his young comrades-in-arms, Martin Luther King had to let himself be ridiculed by the Black Panthers as a toothless Uncle Tom. Nothing was given to them. And the same is true today for us last pacifists.

Hatred and the readiness for war and the production of enemy images is deeply rooted in humanity, especially in times of great crises and existential fears. Today, however, it is true that whoever really wants to save the world, this precious unique wonderful planet, must thoroughly unlearn hatred and war. We have only this one option for the future.

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: