Russian politicians will consider a new statement that would condemn an event that happened 25 years ago – the reunification of Germany.
According to Russian news agency Tass, State Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin has asked the Duma's Committee on Foreign Affairs to look into condemning the "annexation" of East Germany by West Germany in 1989.
Given the time that's passed and the relative success of German reunification, the idea has struck many as absurd: Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Union in 1989, called it "nonsense" on Wednesday. Similar outlandish statements have been made by Russian politicians recently – last year, one proposed a ban on high heels, for example.
However, this proposal can't be as easily dismissed: Naryshkin is an ally of President Vladimir Putin, and it seems unlikely he would have made such a bold statement without the Russian leader's approval.
And while the events it concerns may be long in the past, the motivation is likely the present. The plan was originally put forward by Nikolay Ivanov, a Communist Party politician, who has argued that the reunification of Germany was insufficiently democratic. "Unlike Crimea, a referendum was not conducted in the German Democratic Republic," Ivanov was quoted as saying, referring to the region of Ukraine that broke away to join Russia last year after a disputed referendum.
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Then and Now
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Then and Now
1/17 Berlin Wall
The Brandenburg Gate landmark in Berlin with people dancing on the Berlin Wall on 10 November 1989 and 25 years after in October 2014
2/17 Berlin Wall
East Berlin citizens crowding the new passage at Bernauer Strasse in Berlin where East German border police tore down segments of the wall on 11 November 1989 (top) and people walking at the crossing Bernauer Strasse and Oderberger Strasse on 26 October 2014
3/17 Berlin Wall
East-German policemen in work dress as they remove barbed wire from a brick wall while other policemen in background are raising the wall to 15 feet at the border between the French and Russian sector at Bernauer Strasse in Berlin on 9 September 1961 (top) and the line the of former Berlin Wall in the pavement at Bernauer Strasse in Berlin on 21 October 2014
4/17 Berlin Wall
US President John F Kennedy looking across the Berlin Wall into East Germany during his visit on 26 June 1963 (top) and the area of former Checkpoint Charlie on 24 September 2014
5/17 Berlin Wall
West Berliners waving to relatives in East Berlin one year after the Berlin Wall was erected at Bernauer Strasse on 13 August 1962 (left) and people crossing the area of the former Berlin Wall in Berlin on 26 October 2014
6/17 Berlin Wall
Children playing at the Berlin Wall at Sebastianstrasse near Heinrich-Heine-Strasse in 1968 (top) and a man walking over the once divided Sebastianstrasse on 3 November 2014
7/17 Berlin Wall
A view of East Berlin, taken from an observation platform in Bernauer Strasse, West Berlin, in 1980 (top) and trams crossing the area of former Berlin Wall at Bernauer Strasse in Berlin on 1 October 2014
8/17 Berlin Wall
A woman looking at the Berlin Wall along the Spree river in central Berlin in 1980 (top) and the construction side of the Charite hospital in background and a bridge crossing the river spree where once stood the Berlin Wall at the Reichstagsufer in Berlin on 16 September 2014
9/17 Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall along Bernauer Strasse in the north of Berlin with a writing 'The wall must fall' on 8 March 1973 (top) and a part of the Wall Remembrance Monument at the same spot at Bernauer Strasse in Berlin on 21 October 2014
10/17 Berlin Wall
US President Richard Nixon looking across the communist wall into East Germany during his stay in the divided city on 27 February 1969 (top) and the area of the former Berlin Wall at the Checkpoint Heinrich-Heine-Strasse on 24 September 2014
11/17 Berlin Wall
US President John F Kennedy walking past a cordon of saluting servicemen and the sentry post of "Checkpoint Charlie" on 26 June 1963 and actors wearing uniforms at the area of former Checkpoint Charlie, with a rebuilt checkpoint as touristic attraction in Berlin on 24 September 2014
12/17 Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall checkpoint at Heinrich-Heine-Strasse on 12 March 1971 (top) and people walking and cycling at the area of former checkpoint at district Kreuzberg in Berlin on 1 October 2014
13/17 Berlin Wall
A child playing on a play ground at the Berlin wall in July 1981 (top) and cars parking at the same spot in Berlin's Kreuzberg district on 2 October 2014
14/17 Berlin Wall
East Germans erecting the wall in front of the Reichtags building on 20 November 1961 (top) and cyclists going by on 25 September 2014
15/17 Berlin Wall
Construction work at the Berlin Wall on 13 Augugust 1985 on Friedrichstrasse near checkpoint Charlie (top) and Friedrichstrasse on 2 October 2014
16/17 Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall at the empty Potsdamer Platz in August 1962 (top) and cars and busses dring there on 25 September 2014
17/17 Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall around the Brandenburg Gate on 19 November 1961 (top) and cars and busses passing by 25 years after the fall of the wall on 24 October 2014
Russia and Germany have an important, if complicated, relationship. Chancellor Angela Merkel is perhaps the closest Western leader to Putin – she grew up in East Germany, and – like Putin, who served with the KGB in Dresden – can speak both German and Russian. However, Merkel has been a prominent voice supporting sanctions on Russia after actions in Ukraine, and the relationship has been strained. Merkel famously told President Obama that the Russian leader was living "in another world."
Ivanov pointed to comments made by the president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Anne Brasseur of Luxembourg, who had accused Russia of annexing Crimea, and said his proposal was a "form of a retaliatory step." Merkel herself had also recently condemned Russia for its actions in Crimea. “The annexation of Crimea is a violation of something that has made up our peaceful coexistence, namely the protection of borders and territorial integrity,” Merkel said last week in Davos, Switzerland.
Even if the proposal is just bluster, a direct comparison between the two events does seem a little hard to make. The reunification of Germany occurred after Hungary removed its border fence, allowing thousands of East Germans to escape to the West, and eventually helped to topple the Berlin Wall. After large protests, the socialist German Democratic Republic (GDR) later held free and fair elections in 1990, which led to the formation of a pro-reunification government that signed an agreement to dissolve East Germany and join the West.
Meanwhile, the annexation of Crimea followed violence in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, and the ousting of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, and the mysterious arrival of the "little green men" widely assumed to be Russian troops. A rushed referendum was held with these troops in Crimea, which produced overwhelmingly pro-Russian results.
As Gorbachev put it, the times are different. "You can't make judgments about what happened in another era, 25 years ago, from current-day conditions," the former general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union told Interfax. "What referendum could have been held while hundreds of thousands of people rallied both in the GDR and the FRG [the Federal Republic of Germany or West Germany], the only motto being 'We are one nation?' "
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