Irish Examiner view: EU needs to be strong as it faces its own Sudetenland

German chancellor will need to remember history when he makes his Davos speech
Irish Examiner view: EU needs to be strong as it faces its own Sudetenland

Olaf Scholz: Must not add to any impression of weakness when he addresses Davos. Picture: AP Photo/Michael Sohn

When German chancellor Olaf Scholz addresses the Davos luminaries on Thursday, we hope he has a keen sense of history.

It was a previous German chancellor, Adolf Hitler, who demanded the annexation of the Sudetenland, part of Czechoslovakia, in 1938. The land was ceded to him in a shameful agreement in Munich between Britain, France, Germany, and Italy. The Czechs were compelled to accept, although they were not allowed a place at the negotiating table.

British prime minister Neville Chamberlain declared it was “peace in our time”. Adolf Hitler, führer as well as chancellor, said at Berlin’s Sportpalast it was “the last territorial demand I have to make in Europe”. Eleven months later, Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, beginning World War II.

There are those laying the foundations for a new Munich, principal among them, 98-year-old Henry Kissinger, who told the World Economic Forum Ukraine must cede territory to Russia for the war to end, and that a humiliating defeat for Putin would produce wider destabilisation.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seen on a screen as addresses the audience from Kyiv during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week. Picture: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seen on a screen as addresses the audience from Kyiv during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week. Picture: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber

The only glimmer of hope he held out for oppressed Ukrainians was that the terms of settlement should be a return to the status quo, meaning Russia would continue to formally control the Crimean peninsula and informally control the Donbas. It echoed a New York Times editorial last week. It casts Ukraine into the role of a buffer state.

George Soros, 91, has warned the conflict has “shaken Europe to its core” and indicts Germany’s over-reliance on fundamentally anti-democratic states such as Russia and China.

“Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels remains excessive, due largely to the mercantilist policies pursued by former Chancellor Angela Merkel,” he said.

Herr Scholz may wish to address these criticisms, today, but of Mr Kissinger’s counsel of despair for the Ukrainian people, the key question is, “would it work?”

What is frequently overlooked is that Russia and Germany signed an alliance before the outbreak of the Second World War, a cynical positioning now reflected in the relationship between Beijing and Moscow. 

Any sign of Putin dividing the West is dangerous. For that reason Mr Kissinger’s suggestions were very unhelpful. 

The German chancellor needs to ensure not to add to an impression of weakness today.

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