Is there something in Munich's drinking water? The Bavarian capital has a bit of a reputation for hosting belligerents and bellicose events that have had quite an effect on global history. Consider only the 20th century, when the city was home for a time to Lenin and his cabal prior to the October Revolution.
A little known historical fact is that a short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic was declared in 1919. From Communism it was to the other totalitarian extreme. Just four years later in 1923 Munich witnessed the Adolf Hitler-led Beer Hall Putsch, an attempt to topple the Weimar Republic. By 1933 Munich had become a Nazi stronghold, and hosted in 1938 the talks that led to the now-infamous Munich Agreement, Neville Chamberlain's attempt at appeasement, keeping the ambitions of Hitler at bay.
Then in 1972 the world's first major televised terrorist event — the Munich Massacre — occurred at the Summer Olympics, with Palestinian terrorists murdering Israeli athletes. And for final measure, the present Pope, Benedict XVI, who is no shrinking violet when it comes to expressing political views, was ordained a priest there, then later serving as Archbishop of Munich.
Munich has also hosted and given its name to 43 annual Conferences on Security Policy, the most recent took place last weekend. This time it was Russian President Vladimir Putin who demonstrated the truculent nature of his government by delivering a scathing attack on US foreign policy. The old adage of a best defence being a good offence is a tried and true weapon in the Kremlin's arsenal. Putin accused the United States of attempting to "implement a unipolar concept of the world" and imposing its system "on other countries essentially in all areas: in economic, political, and humanitarian matters."
And he did not have only the Americans in his sights — the speech had an anti-Western flavour. While not naming outright Russia's present "partners" — in a veiled reference to Moscow's goals of gaining influence in Europe's main international organizations — Putin emphasized that Moscow has been heeding European opinion for more than 10 years. "We are very patient and very tolerant, but we have the feeling that they do not understand us." NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer expressed surprise, saying that he could not hide his disappointment over Putin's speech.
After the conference, during a trip to Jordan, Putin continued his criticism of the US. RFE/RL quoted Putin as saying on February 13 that "certain partners are increasingly promoting themselves, have begun using a non-existent threat in order to beat additional money out of the U.S. Congress for defence — for the military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the building of an expensive ABM [antiballistic-missile system]. This is not our problem. Why the anti-Russian card is used to resolve domestic political problems is unclear."
But it took two Baltic Presidents to emphasize that Putin's bullyboy tactics are nothing new. Toomas Hendrik Ilves , on a state visit to Germany in connection with the Conference told German press in Munich on February 10 after Putin's speech that the Russian president's tone in speaking to the US and Western Europe is the same as he has used with the new EU members. According to "Deutsche Welle", Ilves called on the EU to reconsider relations with "a country that considers democracy on its borders as a threat or despotism inside its borders as a source of stability."
Further, the fact that Russia has never come to terms with its own totalitarian past and the crimes committed against others must be seen in Munich's own historical light. Ilves suggested that Putin's present glorification of the KGB and the Soviet repressive organs, where the Russian leader once worked, should be compared to the unlikely scenario of a modern German leader praising the Gestapo as the predecessor of the present German federal police and intelligence services. We just know how the western press would react to that.
Lithuania's president Valdas Adamkus added his opinion on February 13. He stressed that in context of Putin's Munich speech the EU is highly overdue in formulating a common and united position towards Russia regarding energy and democracy. On a related note, JBANC's seventh conference in Washington, which took place at the same time as the Munich meeting, addressed communism's legacy as well as energy policy issues with today's Russia.
Munich's appeasement history may have had something to do with Putin's outburst. Germany is dependent on Russia for energy, and according to the "Frankfurter Allgemaine Zeitung" on February 13, some German politicians already are in private practising appeasement in dealing with Moscow. The "International Herald Tribune" in turn suggested on the same day that Putin's remarks should be a sobering reminder to Western leaders, advising them not to make concessions to him.
Belligerence from Bavaria is nothing new, nor is hoping that the unpleasantness will somehow just go away. If history's lessons are to be heeded, a decisive response to Putin's outburst is called for.
Belligerent in Bavaria