Culture and church in times of war – The big turning point

“We woke up today in another world,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on February 24, the day of the Russian attack on Ukraine, summing up the extent of the geopolitical turning point.
War rages in Europe – our understanding of security, our ethical convictions are deeply shaken. Even belief in the peacemaking effect of pacifism is beginning to falter. At the Berlin “Kultur.Forum St. Matthäus”, guests from politics, culture and the church discussed how the war changed perspectives and positions.

Did not see the signs

The growing threat scenario would have been recognizable. But in Germany, the perspectives of other countries are often not noticed, criticizes the theologian Johann Hinrich Claussen. For a long time we would not have been interested in the cultural resources of Eastern Europe – also of arrogance. An omission.

“If you look at the cultural scene, the literature from Eastern Europe, from Russia, from Ukraine, then you could have seen it all,” says Claussen. “We are now receiving shockwaves of recognition that in the countries is their perspective. We did not share, were already there.”

“Kultur.Forum St. Matthäus” is a collaboration between St. Matthäus Foundation with the German Cultural Council, the EKD Council’s cultural director and Deutschlandfunk Kultur.

The conquest of Crimea in 2014 was also part of the catastrophic development – just like Russia’s military operation in Syria a year later, says Bishop Christian Stäblein: “We saw the plan of action in Syria. And we saw in a way. So we were right so there for the refugees that we are now – but we looked at. And now we must realize: This is the result of it. In many places, Putin has already been able to do what we are now surprised because it comes so close to us.”

Little interest in the Bundeswehr

For a long time, the credo “change through trade” prevailed in German foreign policy. In the last few decades, people have believed that close economic relations are not the answer to conflicts, but rather close economic relations, says Olaf Zimmermann, CEO of the German Cultural Council. “So in the end, cooperation and cohesion in the world – which creates such connections that wars no longer make sense. We have always had proxy wars, but no longer in our midst. ”

This is probably one of the reasons why the Germans have little interest in their Bundeswehr. The Deputy Director of the Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF), Astrid Irrgang, considers this position questionable: “What we have certainly lost sight of to some extent in our own country is the importance of the armed forces and the ability to defend themselves., in the event of a conflict of interest, to be able to actually represent them robustly. ”

Claussen explains the widespread German rejection of everything military with a “moral aspect” that works in the background: “The great will of us Germans after the catastrophic crimes against humanity in Eastern Europe, in Ukraine, in Belarus and in Russia now not to act aggressively, but to make peace. ”

ethical dilemma

But reality shows that this attitude can be interpreted as a weakness. And then Western peace ethics are now being discussed at a broad societal level – also in the churches. Pacifism is not “at the end,” says Bishop Stäblein, but until the end of February no one could have imagined what terrible things were happening at the moment: “If we live in a world where aggressors ruthlessly bomb cities and murder people, “then we must put ourselves in relation to it again. And our good pacifist traditions must put ourselves in relation to it in a new way.”

From a theological point of view, the question arises: how to deal with “evil”, with violence? The Christian answer to this is: “If I decide for myself, then the biblical rule applies: It is better to suffer violence than to commit violence. If I decide for others, then protect others from violence. And in front of the desire to remain as innocent as possible. ”

Return to the world community?

The war of aggression has isolated Russia in large parts of the world. It is all the more important not to lose touch with Russian artists, Irrgang emphasizes. “We absolutely need all these connections in the cultural field for the discussions in the post-war period,” she says. “We should do everything we can to keep the demolition as small as possible.” One day there will be a ceasefire. Irrgang hopes that the conflict can then be transformed. It will certainly not happen quickly, but it can be done.

“I believe we can bring aggressors back to the world community,” Irrgang said. “We experienced that in our own country. We were the pariahs of the last century, and we have also returned to the world community on certain terms. Because they reached out to us, Germany. And why should we not reach out to Russia again on a point in time?”
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