Sum it up for me

Dr. Otto von Habsburg about Putin – Bregenz 2003



Ladies and Gentlemen, at this point I would like to discuss a political theme, which is critical in my opinion, namely: how can we protect this security?

It is true, it is quite clear, that the further the borders of freedom are pushed towards the East, the greater is the security of the Middle and the West. In other words there is a correlation in the security and this security has to be developed somehow.

I know very well, there are people who say: come on, we won’t have a war anymore. Please, I’ve heard that many times before. This is the advantage of being an old man such as I am. I’m now 91 years old, and I can tell you, I remember the wonderful peace promises we’ve got during and after Hitler‘s power grab.

But the truth is, that we must keep in mind, that there is still an international threat, and I want to talk to you very openly about it, after all, we are among friends here: we have a huge problem with our powerful neighbor, Russia.

Because, Ladies and Gentlemen, the leadership in Russia is in quite the unique hands. I know, there are a lot of people here in the West, who are very delighted with Mr. Putin. They say, he speaks German quite good. Please, it is true, unlike his predecessor, he doesn’t pound his shoe on the desk to get attention. He’s got manners. Granted. He’s even got a presentable outward appearance. Well, as long as one doesn’t look into his eyes. But, Ladies and Gentlemen, he is someone to be reckoned with.

Because if you really know him, and I have to tell you, I had a bit of a chance of not having met him personally, but having met him indirectly at a time when he was far from being a famous man.

That was in the dying months of the so-called GDR, i.e. the German communist system, where there was free election to the People’s Chamber. It was an election where actually parties that were against communism had the candidature, but which in fact had less means. They could not get any halls, nor could those who came to them stay overnight in any hotels or inns.

At that time I drove around a lot in this area, but every evening I had to come back to Berlin in West Germany because I simply couldn’t stay overnight and it was bitterly cold back then. It really was an awful cold.

Ladies and Gentlemen, there was only one exception, and that was the city of Dresden, where the Americans somehow arranged, I don’t know how, to own a hotel. It was, so to speak, a kind of island of the blessed in the middle of the sea, and that’s why I came to the hotel in Dresden on a Friday evening. They then immediately told me in the hotel: you know, there is going to be a big demonstration tonight.

It was always on Fridays, after the service, that large anti-communist demonstrations pulled out of the churches and expressed full resistance to communism.

The director also explained to me, we know, that an order has been given to the police, this time they will shoot, so something bad will happen.

Of course I went there, and took part in this demonstration and I was incredibly lucky to have met a group of people who had been liberated a while ago from the concentration camp in Bautzen where they were held as prisoners at the time, which had the reputation of being perhaps the most terrible prison in the GDR.

I spoke to them and they told me that some of the Russians were very nice, they were perhaps very polite, in any case they spoke about them in a friendly way, but then they told me that there is one Russian there, who is terrible. He is cruel, oppressive and his name is Vladimir Putin.

And, I can tell you, it was really a big deal for me that I got that name back then. I’ve been interested in Mr. Putin ever since and followed his career, which is an interesting one, one that you could rarely have here.

Look, if you go back to Mr. Putin’s early years, you will find that even as a student in high school, he denounced his comrades to the police when they said something against the regime. He has been a member of the KGB at the age of 23, at an age that was relatively younger than the average age of those who were accepted into the ranks of the KGB. He then made the terrific career there we’ve already heard about. He was allowed to travel abroad, he made a lot of trips abroad because obviously he was totally trusted.

As I said, he then ruled as a regional leader of the Russians in Saxony and Thuringia, where, as I said, he was an extremely tough gentleman and was therefore a person who slowly climbed the career ladder at the KGB, up to that night of the beginning of the millennium when there was a bloodless coup d’état in the Kremlin.

Mr. Yeltsin was the former president. I knew him personally. A very likable person. I mean he was a savage all the same, but he was, shall we say, relatively more civilized than the others, and he had one thing though, it wasn’t easy to talk to him, for there were few moments when he wasn’t drunk, and so that was always a great difficulty.

Of course, I don’t know what exactly happened in the Kremlin back then. But as I saw it from the outside I would say it was quite simple. How could the revolution happen without any bloodshed? Well, good old Yeltsin was completely wasted at that night. They had a great celebration together. They just carried him out of the Kremlin, then Putin put him on the throne and coup d’état was done.

But at the same time, Ladies and Gentlemen, he announced his new policy in a speech delivered on January 19, 2000 in Minsk. A speech – by the way, which, as far as I can tell, hasn’t appeared in any single Western newspaper – in which he explained a few of his fundamental plans for the future. He announced that he is going to double the military spending in the next 5 years. He also declared in the same speech, that his ambition is to make Russia one of the world’s superpowers again – just like it was during the days of Stalin – even though he didn’t say that part out loud, but he certainly meant it so.

In short, he laid out a big and ambitious plan, which, as I’ve said, the West didn’t take any notice of, simply because it didn’t want to.

And then came all these signs, small signs, which are tremendously instructive, nonetheless. Just look at the fact for example that one of his first official acts was the abolishment Russia’s national anthem, which Yeltsin had re-introduced during his time. He changed it to a hymn which was composed in 1963 to honor Stalin, but with different lyrics of course. Just imagine what kind of a global outrage there would have been, if in 1946 Germany had decided that the Horst-Wessel Song should be its national anthem, but in this case, it went through smoothly. Among other things he also changed the flag, the red flag is back again.

Ladies and Gentlemen, these are all small signs. For example, if we take his birthplace , 800 km from Moscow, well, it is already a place of pilgrimage, just like Lenin‘s birthplace was back then. Huge buildings are being erected there for the training of young people, for the so-called Putin-Youth, various central hotels and so on have been built there, this is developing into a kind of sanctuary where there is now a large street from Moscow there that goes inside, a road by the way where every few kilometers there is a statue of the great man.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is so frighteningly reminiscent of certain things that, once again, we old people have already seen, how it was at the beginning of totalitarianism in Italy or in Germany. But those are the signs that don’t deceive, we always find the cult of personality and all those other things that are going on also in this situation.

But there’s still more. Ladies and Gentlemen, something has happened recently that has gone almost completely unnoticed in the West, but it is immensely significant. The first step was that finally the merger between Russia and Belarus is being actually carried out. An entire state is being set up on Putin’s side for the re-integration into Russia, with Mr. Pavel Borodin at its head.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I just wanted to say all of these things, because we are being repeatedly told that we live in a time of peace and security, well, Ladies and Gentlemen, that is not true.

And of course it’s sometimes difficult to explain these things to younger people, but the older ones, like myself, who had been all through these before, see, I spent probably the most interesting, most instructive months of my life in Berlin during the last 3 months of the decline of the Weimar Republic. I can only tell you that you could see everything that happened there. I mean, I’ve bought “Mein Kampf” back then. I’ve read it. He honestly wrote about everything he would do, only the West didn’t want to take notice of it either. Nobody knew anymore.

I remember back then, after the Munich Agreement, how Chamberlain entered the British House of Commons with the paper of the Treaty of Munich, where he then said to the House of Commons in a trembling voice: “We have been taken by surprise”.

Ladies and Gentlemen, first of all, a prime minister has no right to be surprised. But on the other hand, people simply didn’t want to take note of what was in store for us, and that’s why we have to always keep in our minds, that here – and I really want to insist upon this – in this Europe, security has to stand in the first and foremost place. We will stand or fall depending on our security. We have to remember that today we do not live in a peaceful world, but in one where there are dangers and where, as the evidence of the 19th century has shown, one can only keep the peace with the proper, timely preparation. But if we go in dreaming, we will experience the same things that we’ve experienced in my time.

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Sum it up for me

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