Katja Hoyer Katja Hoyer

East Germans still find it hard to see Russia as the enemy

[Getty Images]

Not all of Germany is against Vladimir Putin. Sahra Wagenknecht, a Left party MP, recently defended him, saying he is not ‘the mad Russian nationalist’ of caricature and sending weapons to Ukraine was a ‘US-driven policy’ which played a role in provoking his invasion. Her views are quite common in East Germany and not only among the left. The far-right party Alternative for Germany, which has most of its support in the East, opposes sanctions and providing weapons.

A recent opinion poll asked whether Berlin should ‘be tough on Russia’: half of West Germans agree, but just a third of East Germans do. Some 58 per cent of East Germans want Berlin to take an approach that doesn’t ‘provoke Russia’. Only 40 per cent of West Germans agree.

East Germany’s sympathy has nothing to do with nostalgia for the days of Moscow rule. Three decades have passed since reunification in 1990 and surveys repeatedly show most former citizens of the German Democratic Republic feel their lives have changed for the better. But Germany spent the Cold War years divided, affiliated to radically different military superpowers. So perhaps it’s not surprising that West Germany, which joined Nato in 1955 and became its bulwark in Europe, is now quicker to feel affiliation with this western alliance than us in East Germany, who had learnt to fear it.

West Germany’s chancellor Konrad Adenauer attends his first meeting as member of Nato council on 9 May 1955 (Getty Images)

What explains East Germany’s different attitude towards Russia than that of the Poles or Baltic states? Many Eastern European nations fought for centuries to defend themselves against Russia – while Germany has often stood by or even colluded as it sought to dominate its neighbours. So East Germans don’t share the same sense of existential threat.

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