Serhiy Zhadan: Without populism and double standards

Looking toward the upcoming Bundestag elections, Ukrainian writer Serhiy Zhadan calls for an honest dialogue between Germany and Ukraine. He criticizes the attitude of some German politicians in the Eastern Ukraine.

We Ukrainians look to Germany as outsiders. And, frankly, we cannot always understand what we see. Take, say, some German politicians' attempts to play according to double standards: they are incomprehensible.

The attitude of Christian Lindner, the leader of the Free Democrats (FDP), who suggests that governments should simply close their eyes to Russian annexation of Ukrainian terrorities: incomprehensible. The words of the German foreign minister, who during a visit to Russia and talks on the construction of a new gas pipeline, asserted that politics should not influence this project: not entirely comprehensible. Similarly, the attitude of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who is happily filling an important position the board of directors of the Russian oil company Rosneft: not too comprehensible either. Why do these acts and words seem incomprehensible and unacceptable to us?

Probably because German politicians and businesspeople see opportunities to beat real or political capital out of dubious agreements and obviously populist rhetoric. We Ukrainians see it as a cynical and blatant support for an aggressor and occupier who, every day, kills our fellow citizens in a war. How should we talk about this with our European colleagues and partners, no matter how the Bundestag elections are going to start in September?


Christian Democratic Union (CDU)

After three terms in office, Chancellor Angela Merkel is no stranger to election posters. With a budget of 20 million euros, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) is pinning up some 22,000 placards across Germany. The use of a deconstructed German flag brings out the party's patriotism, while the main focus of slogans is on issues such as security, family and work.


Social Democrats (SPD)

The Social Democrats are keeping it classic with their long-time red, square logo. Posters concentrate on topics such as education, family, pension, investment and wage inequality. At the end of their 24-million-euro campaign, the SPD is planning a final crusade ahead of election day, which still remains under wraps.


Free Democratic Party (FDP)

More than 5 million euros have been spent on the liberal FDP's poster campaign. With their black and white photoshoot, the FDP have gone for thoroughly modern marketing, with one man at the center: Christian Lindner. Voters, however, will have a hard time reading the text heavy posters. "Impatience is also a virtue," reads the slogan.


The Green Party

The Greens have remained faithful to their cause and focused on classic topics such as the environment, integration and peace. "Environment isn't everything. But without the environment, everything is nothing," says the slogan. A mainstay on all of the posters is the party's sunflower logo.


Alternative for Germany (AfD)

The prize for most controversial placards goes, without doubt, to the right-wing AfD. From afar, the poster showing a smiling, pregnant woman seems innocent until the slogan becomes legible: "New Germans? We make them ourselves." In another poster, set against the background image of three bikini-clad women, the AfD asks: "Burkas? We like bikinis."


The Left Party

The Left party have certainly given their best to use as many fonts as possible. In a combination of font and wordplay, this slogan one reads: "[Colorful] People. Decisively against right-wing hate." Affordable rents, fairer pensions and an end to arms exports are the main issues for the leftist party.

What am I getting at here? Well, certainly we have to rely on our western partners for defense from the attacker. For us, the support of the EU is certainly important – and, as we must accept – the German voice is one of the most important in the bloc. But – and we must also remain honest here – Ukraine pays a very high price for its decision in favor of European values. It pays this price with the lives of its citizens, for which concepts such as freedom, democracy and European values ​​are not hollow words but filled with real meaning. Whether the attempts to communicate with the aggressor or lobbying for his interests are correlated with the concept of European values, is for Ukrainians not simply a rhetorical question.

We hope that German politics is based on the principles of transparency and accountability and not on two different scales or populism. We would like to continue to have in Germany a reliable and responsible partner, with whom we can build long-term and mutually beneficial relationships. We Ukrainians are aware that our own politicians do not always have the abovementioned transparency and accountability. In this sense, one must also remember the lack of clear and effective reforms, as well as the still-rampant corruption, which in my country paves the way to rapid progress. Of course we must not close our eyes to our own double standards and populism. On the contrary: We believe that mutual honesty and openness are particularly important. It may sound utopian, but if utopia can contrast with the cynicism and populism in today's politics, why not do it?

We all – both Germans and Ukrainians – should not forget that any populism can turn into a catastrophe. Any coquetry with dictators and criminals can end up being overwhelmed by the problems that these dictators have created – for all, even those who have flirted with them.

Let us remind ourselves that political responsibility is not only a burden, but also (and perhaps even above all) a great luxury. When one realizes this, in most cases, one is guaranteed a quiet sleep and a clear and reliable perspective. I think German society is well aware of this and will therefore not take any risk of making a fatal mistake in the elections. In this sense I support the motto: "For a Germany without populism and double standards!".

Serhiy Zhadan is a writer, poet, and musician, and one of Ukraine's best-known in all three genres. His social criticism is also widely read in Germany. He has received numerous awards for his work. Zhadan is also active in Ukrainian civil society, especially in the conflict zone of eastern Ukraine. As a musician he performs in the Ukrainian rock band "Sobaky v Kosmosi" (Zhadan and the Dogs).

Related Subjects