Vladimir Putin Played Germany’s Aging Patriarchs for Fools

Vladimir Putin Played Germany’s Aging Patriarchs for Fools
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens as German Chancellor Angela Merkel answers a question during the news conference at the Russia-EU Summit in Volzhsky Utyos, May 18, 2007 (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).

Usually, parents don’t congratulate their children for ending up in detention at school. But for my Ukrainian mom in early-1990s Germany, there were some things that mattered more than what my teachers thought.

Having opted to learn Russian at my high school in the city of Hanover, I quickly discovered that the version of history my teachers embraced did not square with what I had experienced growing up in the Ukrainian tradition. My Russian teachers espoused a deep commitment to promoting reconciliation between Germany and the Russian people, having embraced the idea that all of German society shared a collective responsibility for the Nazis’ crimes during World War II.

But while working with schools in Moscow, my teachers had also absorbed a particular late-Soviet view of history in which the experiences of nations stuck between Germany and Russia—including Ukraine—were swept aside as inconvenient detail. My patience finally snapped after hearing a teacher describe Ukrainians as “Little Russians.” The resulting argument won me detention, as well as praise and a nice lunch at the market hall from my proud mom.

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