On September 30th 1938, barely a year before World War 2 broke out, France and Britain signed The Treaty of Munich with Hitler allowing him to take over the German-speaking Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. The British Prime Minister, then Neville Chamberlain hailed the agreement accordingly:
I say in the name of this House and of the people of this country that Czechoslovakia has earned our admiration and respect for her restraint, for her dignity, for her magnificent discipline in face of such a trial as few nations have ever been called upon to meet.
The army, whose courage no man has ever questioned, has obeyed the order of their president, as they would equally have obeyed him if he had told them to march into the trenches. It is my hope and my belief, that under the new system of guarantees, the new Czechoslovakia will find a greater security than she has ever enjoyed in the past. . . .
I pass from that subject, and I would like to say a few words in respect of the various other participants, besides ourselves, in the Munich Agreement. After everything that has been said about the German Chancellor today and in the past, I do feel that the House ought to recognise the difficulty for a man in that position to take back such emphatic declarations as he had already made amidst the enthusiastic cheers of his supporters, and to recognise that in consenting, even though it were only at the last moment, to discuss with the representatives of other Powers those things which he had declared he had already decided once for all, was a real and a substantial contribution on his part. With regard to Signor Mussolini, . . . I think that Europe and the world have reason to be grateful to the head of the Italian government for his work in contributing to a peaceful solution.
In my view the strongest force of all, one which grew and took fresh shapes and forms every day war, the force not of any one individual, but was that unmistakable sense of unanimity among the peoples of the world that war must somehow be averted. The peoples of the British Empire were at one with those of Germany, of France and of Italy, and their anxiety, their intense desire for peace, pervaded the whole atmosphere of the conference, and I believe that that, and not threats, made possible the concessions that were made. I know the House will want to hear what I am sure it does not doubt, that throughout these discussions the Dominions, the Governments of the Dominions, have been kept in the closest touch with the march of events by telegraph and by personal contact, and I would like to say how greatly I was encouraged on each of the journeys I made to Germany by the knowledge that I went with the good wishes of the Governments of the Dominions. They shared all our anxieties and all our hopes. They rejoiced with us that peace was preserved, and with us they look forward to further efforts to consolidate what has been done.
Ever since I assumed my present office my main purpose has been to work for the pacification of Europe, for the removal of those suspicions and those animosities which have so long poisoned the air. The path which leads to appeasement is long and bristles with obstacles. The question of Czechoslovakia is the latest and perhaps the most dangerous. Now that we have got past it, I feel that it may be possible to make further progress along the road to sanity.
This line of thinking is similar to today’s major European leaders, namely Germany and France, and both are countries which are governed by socialists. Scholz and Macron want an easy way out of the Russian invasion of Ukraine by appeasing Putin and giving him a victory. The proposal by Macron and Scholz is for Ukraine to cede some territory against neutrality guarantees. Basically, France and Germany want to give Putin a victory so that presumably, peace is restored in Europe and Europe may reestablish ordinary trade and economic relationships with Russia and thus avoid potential food and energy crises. The logical fallacies behind this line of thinking are startling and explicit and the resemblance with the Sudetenland issue is remarkable. Hitler too brought the argument that the Germans of Sudetenland were victims and discriminated against and Germany needed to invoke its right to protect its German people abroad. Russia is doing the same: its pretences for war and invasion are partly, that it needs to protect Russians abroad. The other pretence by Russia is that it needs a safety buffer against NATO and Hitler’s buffer thinking was also applied back then to the Soviet Union when he invaded Poland. Our Sudetenland moment with Putin may have happened numerous times repeatedly, yet we were too naive to realise it: Georgia, Crimea, Donbass, but even Syria. We sat idly by while we watched Putin engaging in his imperial conquests, massacring hundreds of thousands of people along the way. Anna Politkovskaya warned us about him, but we didn’t listen.
The problem with Scholz and Macron is that they are too fearful of accepting the reality that Putin’s Russia is no longer a legitimate state which we can trust and negotiate with, but rather a fascist state which poses global security risks. The sooner we start admitting this, the faster we will end this war. This should be said clearly and out loud by Western leaders. Putin must face war crimes trials and the West will never co-exist with his regime or a regime similar to it. Indeed, even the mere idea of giving Putin a victory in Ukraine is insane considering the genocidal extent of the barbarity which is taking place. Russia is trying to literally wipe out Ukraine as a nation by bombing cultural centres, forced repatriation, outright massacres, and enforced pro-Russia schooling.
So, for the same reasons why Chamberlain signed an agreement with Hitler over the Sudetenland, NATO has refused to supply Ukraine with tanks and aircraft because France and Germany don’t want to be dragged into a conflict with Russia. This is the equivalent of allowing our adversary who hates us to ravage and massacre our neighbours just outside our border. Clearly, if this adversary had the chance, he would have done the same with us, but we accept to sit idly by and watch Ukrainians sacrifice themselves for our security. This is not what the left was all about and Macron and Scholz are betraying the left and everything that was founded upon. International workers’ solidarity is faltering. Maybe leftists should be reminded that even their heroes would have shamed them for their cowardice. George Orwell didn’t go to Spain to write philosophical papers on pacifism: he went there to pick a gun.
While all this is happening, Scholz is still meditating on peace, pacifism and grand philosophical questions, but this reminiscence is drunken and illogical. There is no peace in Europe right now and this is a material reality not a fantasy in a novel. The delusion lies that fascism is stopped by tolerance and cooperation or that violence is mitigated by the tolerance of more violence. And the hypocrisy is even more startling. When NATO bombed Serbia it wasn’t because a NATO country was invaded: it was an intervention to avoid genocide and further massacres. Why wouldn’t the German and French socialists do the same, now that the situation is even more serious?
The great betrayal of European socialism to Ukraine’s cause is a betrayal to all of Europe, but it’s a betrayal which will continue to contribute to the decline and the irrelevance of the left in Europe. And ironically, by refusing to help Ukraine win the war against Russia, Sholz and Macron are also preserving their own hegemony in the European Union. It’s a self-serving position. If Ukraine joins the EU, the power dynamic of the European parliament would shift in favour of Eastern European countries and by default Germany would become less relevant. But I find no irony in the fact that coincidentally both Russia and Germany have the most to gain out of a Ukrainian defeat. The historical trends of power and conquest in history seem stronger than left-wing ideals.
Reality doesn’t know ideals or politics, however, and it is catching up with us. Judging by history, the logical conclusion would be that our hopes of re-establishing peace with Putin are misguided, to say the least. Dangerous and risky if we are to be realistic.
Well said Mr Camilleri. Our collective memory is short