Jochen Bittner (Continuación)

For the 10 years that she has occupied the German chancellor’s office, Angela Merkel has kept her country out of any meaningful military engagement, most recently in Libya, even if this meant leaving her European partners in the lurch. Now, with her decision to commit fighting forces in Syria, the chancellor is not only entering her first war, she is entering a new kind of world war.

Ms. Merkel has been deeply skeptical about military interventions, not for ideological reasons (she endorsed the Iraq war in 2003), but out of pragmatism. It didn’t take any special prescience to see how badly they would turn out, and to Ms.…  Seguir leyendo »

Helmut Schmidt in 1970. Credit Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Helmut Schmidt, the former German chancellor and renowned postwar statesman who died Tuesday at 96, would have hated to read the adulatory obituaries that have poured forth over the last 24 hours. Henry A. Kissinger, one of his closest friends, once said he hoped Mr. Schmidt would survive him, because “a world without him would be very empty.”

Mr. Schmidt would be the first to disagree. He would have brushed such an idea aside with a wave of his hand, letting the smoke from his ever-present cigarette cover his grumpy face. Men like him weren’t heroes, to be adored. “You are psychologizing politicians!”…  Seguir leyendo »

It's getting darker and colder here in Germany, and it’s not just because winter is coming.

The collective summertime optimism generated by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy for refugees has soured. Ominous street protests, outfitted with mock guillotines, are now almost daily occurrences. In Dresden, during a gathering of several thousand citizens who purport to defend Western civilization against the influx of barbaric Muslims, a man held up a homemade gallows with a dangling sign reading, “Reserved for Angela Merkel.”

And they’re angry about more than just refugees. Around the same time, in Berlin, protesters rallying against the proposed trans-Atlantic free trade agreement carried a guillotine.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the past few weeks, I’ve been tempted to say something once unthinkable for my generation: I’m proud to be German.

It’s been almost a month since the waves of refugees began arriving here, and still, thousands of us are flocking to sports halls and makeshift camps to help them. It reminds more than a few of us of Emma Lazarus’s famous lines, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” which greeted many Europeans when, a century ago, they were the newcomers. Old Europe has become New America.

Still, though tempted, I won’t say I’m proud to be German.…  Seguir leyendo »

Conventional wisdom says the best way to ruin a friendship is to lend money to someone. Does that make the euro the worst idea the architects of the European Union ever had?

Until recently I’d have said don’t rush: The quarrels among the union’s 28 member-states over the Greek debt crisis have actually been helpful, I believed. They generated a new frankness in the sometimes all-too-consensual bloc. But what is happening now is going beyond healthy ventilation. It is starting to smell in Europe.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former Obama State Department official, may have been exaggerating slightly when she said that Europe was facing a “civil war” without physical violence.…  Seguir leyendo »

Does democracy trump debt? Of course not, not even in Europe. No bank clerk here would be impressed if a family told her that they had voted to have the terms of their housing loan renegotiated — that’s not how loans, either personal or international, work. Yet leaders are gathering for a special summit meeting in Brussels on Tuesday because the Greeks have done exactly that: voted against the conditions the eurozone demands for a third bailout program for their country.

Of course, negotiations are a good in themselves, especially in Europe. But even in Brussels, there comes a time when losing your nerve is a rational choice.…  Seguir leyendo »

Imagine a building in Berlin tall enough to provide a look across the entire continent — and beyond. What do you see?

To the east, you spot a former superpower that strives to regain its old glory as it degenerates into dictatorship. To the west, across the Atlantic, you observe an actual superpower in retreat, tired of providing security for Europe’s periphery, especially to a Middle East that is losing its state structures.

And what do you see below your feet? A continent that could be a superpower, but that is so busy holding body and soul together that you can actually feel the ground shake, far below you.…  Seguir leyendo »

If the way we deal with money is the way we deal with life generally, what does this tell us about the underlying problems facing Greece?

During a recent trip to Athens, I put this question to Leandros Rakintzis, the general inspector of public administration. What does the Greek debt crisis tell us about Greece itself, and vice versa? His answer unfurled as a Socratic dialogue, culminating in one word: mentality.

Mr. Rakintzis, who was a judge for 38 years and now serves as the state’s internal watchdog, can regale you for hours about the lack of efficiency of the Greek public sector, clientelism, corruption and the bizarrely uneven distribution of civil servants throughout the country resulting from decades of political patronage.…  Seguir leyendo »

For years I was frustrated, and a bit embarrassed, to admit that I didn’t much like the work of Günter Grass, the Nobel Prize-winning author who died Monday. He was, after all, Germany’s most acclaimed writer of the postwar era — not just our national poet, but for many Germans, our conscience. Yet he did not speak to me.

His novel “Crabwalk,” published in 2002, was the first book I felt I didn’t have to finish. I was angry with myself. I took pride in finishing every book I started, and here was a novel I should have found impossible not to like: It dealt with memory, and the Nazis; it used the metaphor of the crab’s gait to show how Germans had to go backward to turn forward, not only with regard to what they had done as Nazis but also what the war had done to those who weren’t Nazis — and to their children, to people like me.…  Seguir leyendo »

How the West Turns on Itself

Can Angela Merkel Be the Next Leader of the Free World?

Consider the following sentences. First: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

And second: “I call ... upon Russia to use its considerable influence over separatist leaders to stop any form of military, political or financial support. ... Those responsible for the escalation must stop their hostile actions and live up to their commitments.”

The first was spoken by John F.…  Seguir leyendo »

The other day I called the author of an indignant letter to my newspaper to find out why he was so angry at us. It was because, he said, my paper had taken a critical line against Russia over its actions in Crimea and Ukraine. Having grown up in Communist East Germany, he said, gave him a “special antenna” for when the news media started to act in conformity with the government — and against the interests of the people.

My paper isn’t alone: Most major news outlets in Germany have criticized Russia, and almost all of them have been accused of being anti-Russian, either having been steered in that direction by American interests or, at least, having uncritically adopted a pro-Western worldview.…  Seguir leyendo »

According to the worldview of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, the town of Kirkenes, Norway, is an illusion. To Mr. Putin, there is only east and west, two separate spheres split by a straight north-south line through Europe. But the place does actually exist: in Finnmark, Norway’s northernmost county, just a few miles away from the Russian border and farther east than Sweden, Finland and the Baltic countries.

In geopolitical terms, one can see incredible things here. Huge fishing vessels with Cyrillic nameplates unload tons of king crab and cod at Kirkenes harbor, destined for the European market. Farther down the road, at the shopping mall — labeled in Cyrillic — Russian families from across the border come to purchase yogurt, cheese, winter coats and perfumes.…  Seguir leyendo »

I’m starting to worry about the endless flow of good news from Germany.

Yes, my country has made a remarkable journey from being labeled the “sick man of Europe” just 10 years ago. Since then, it managed to bring down unemployment by almost half. In the past five years our economy has grown by 8 percent — a fantastic rate for such a developed country. And only last month, the federal government announced that it aimed to implement a budget with zero new debt in 2015. All this has been achieved despite a worldwide financial crisis and the near-collapse of the euro.…  Seguir leyendo »

Europe is living through a new wave of anti-Semitism. The president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews calls it the worst the Continent has seen since World War II. He may well be right. Attacks on synagogues are an almost weekly occurrence, and openly anti-Semitic chants are commonplace on well-attended marches from London to Rome. And yet it is here, in Germany, where the rise in anti-Semitism is most historically painful.

On Sunday, thousands of people marched through Berlin in response, and heard both Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck denounce the resurgence in anti-Jewish hatred.

We’ve seen this before, of course.…  Seguir leyendo »

Is it because they know us so little — or because they know us too well — that the Americans can’t stop spying on us Germans?

It is a question worth pondering after last week’s revelation that American agents had recruited at least one member of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, and may have done the same with a high-ranking defense official. In response, the German government denounced the “stupidity” of the C.I.A. and expelled its top man in Berlin.

The reports struck nerves already jangled by Edward J. Snowden’s revelations about the scope and depth of the National Security Agency’s surveillance into both private communications and Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone.…  Seguir leyendo »

If national flags could speak, most of them would have a strong opinion.

The American Stars and Stripes would say something like: “Yeah, folks, I know, some of you think I’m a promise; some believe I’m a broken promise. But what remains is the promise, right?”

Britain’s Union Jack would state: “I am utterly aware of the fact that our once global empire is vanished and gone. Yet I am hip. Use me as your iPhone cover or wear me as a bikini. Cool Britannia is fine with it.”

The German flag would have to think awhile. Then it would propose: “Get me now at your nearest discount supermarket as part of the World Cup fan package, with a six-pack of beer and a Brazilian thunderer whistle for only 6.95 euros!”…  Seguir leyendo »

When we met him in The Hague the other day, Geert Wilders, chief of the Dutch far-right Party of Freedom, maintained that he was not, in fact, Vladimir V. Putin’s best ally in Europe.

My colleague and I had asserted that he and the Russian president had a shared interest: They both wanted to weaken the European Union — Mr. Putin from outside, Mr. Wilders from within. “Nonsense,” he said. “I don’t need Putin.”

But that was a dodge. Whether he needs Mr. Putin or not, Mr. Wilders and the rest of the European far right are coming together in their belief that, as the Ukraine crisis shows, Europe has long been punching above its weight, and that it is now paying the price.…  Seguir leyendo »

Imagine a postwar Germany that had never managed to become friends with its neighboring countries. Imagine a Germany that, despite all the remorse it had shown for its belligerence during World War II, had been excluded from the European Union. Imagine, even, that this Germany had been excluded from NATO, because it had forever been denied the right to engage in a defense alliance.

On top of all of this, imagine the following: Your economy is in decline; a mighty, nondemocratic neighbor is increasing military spending while denouncing you as an aggressive, militaristic nation, even as it and other nearby countries are grabbing parts of your territory.…  Seguir leyendo »

Here is a disturbing thought: What if Vladimir V. Putin no longer has power to prevent bloodshed in Ukraine, even if he wants to?

The idea first crossed my mind during a chat this week at a checkpoint on the main road from Simferopol to Sevastopol in Crimea.

The checkpoint guard was like a warlord from central casting: an impressively dense beard, long black hair and fur hat. On his sleeve, a badge with a golden death’s head.

But it turned out the guard, Bratislav, had a good sense of humor. He was Serbian and a member of the Chetniks, a nationalist paramilitary, he told us.…  Seguir leyendo »

Traveling around eastern Ukraine last week, I began to realize a simple but overlooked truth: The real conflict is about more than just the Crimean Peninsula. It is a fight between people like Pavel and Ostap, young men who live in the same country and yet in very different worlds.

When I met Pavel in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, he was wearing a Russian uniform and had cast a distrustful eye on the obviously Western reporter who strolled around a protest gathering of ethnic Russians. I wondered aloud why there were lists on a picnic table, where young men were lining up in front of the regional Parliament.…  Seguir leyendo »