After the Zeitenwende: Jürgen Habermas and Germany’s new identity crisis

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Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has upended world politics and nowhere more so than in Germany. Addressing an emergency session of the Bundestag on 27 February, German chancellor Olaf Scholz declared a Zeitenwende, a turning point in history. Russia’s attack on Ukraine meant Europe and Germany had entered a new age. But what direction is history turning in?

Scholz promised to raise Germany’s defence spending and in March placed a large order for America’s exorbitant F-35 fighter jets. Since then, sanctions on Russia have been tightened and Germany has even agreed to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine. But Berlin has baulked at an all-out boycott of Russian oil and gas, and what it has to offer Kyiv militarily is limited even compared to other European nations, let alone the United States. Always there is a suspicion of delay, reluctance and fear. In Germany and elsewhere this has been read as nothing less than a crisis of political identity. More than anywhere else in the West, the entire German intellectual class, and every TV talk show and newspaper has been mobilised to debate and criticise Germany’s performance. The situation has been aggravated after Volodymyr Zelensky’s attack on Germany’s long-running détente with Russia in a speech to the Bundestag in March and a stream of remarkably forthright comments from Ukraine’s ambassador to Berlin.You can tell matters are becoming really serious because Jürgen Habermas, the 92-year old doyen of German philosophy and political commentary, has entered the ring, for once on the side of the government.

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