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Open letter on arms deliveries draws criticism

Philipp Jedicke
May 4, 2022

The publication of an open letter to German Chancellor Scholz signed by leading cultural figures has triggered a fierce debate about the planned delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine — especially on social media.

Alice Schwarzer smiling into the camera.
Journalist and feminist Alice Schwarzer was one of the first signatories of the letter to ScholzImage: Oliver Berg/dpa/picture alliance

An open letter addressed to Chancellor Olaf Scholz, initially signed by 28 German cultural figures and published on April 29 on the website of feminist magazine Emma, is fueling discussion in the country. 

In it, prominent German signatories — including feminist and journalist Alice Schwarzer, writer Juli Zeh, singer Reinhard Mey, author Alexander Kluge and actor Lars Eidinger — made an urgent appeal to the chancellor not to supply more heavy weapons to Ukraine.

Unlike previous critics who have accused Scholz of being too indecisive on the issue, the signatories of the letter praise him for having "so far considered the risks so carefully" and for having done everything possible to prevent the war in Ukraine from escalating into a third world war.

The letter was published a day after the German Parliament's decision on April 28 to deliver heavy weapons to Ukraine, a vote which was approved with a large majority.

In the run-up, pressure on the government, both from the public and the Bundestag, had increased massively.

Bird's-eye view of two people collecting canisters of ballots over vote to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine.
Canisters full of ballots over vote to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine on April 28, 2022Image: Fabian Sommer/dpa/picture alliance

A battle of opinion on Twitter

Since the publication of the open letter, the debate about the planned arms deliveries has been gaining momentum — particularly in social media.

Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Andriy Melnyk directly attacked Emma editor Alice Schwarzer on Twitter, calling her "celebrated feminism" a "facade" in the face of mass rapes of Ukrainian women by Russian soldiers and accusing her of cynicism.

Alice Schwarzer reacted no less sharply to Melnyk's criticism in an interview with the daily Die Welt : "This is naked demagogy and this ambassador is harming his country," Schwarzer said. "This is not the first time that the Ukrainian ambassador has said outrageous things."

'Loss of a moral compass': A musician's reaction goes viral

For many people, the attitude of the letter is a slap in the face of the Ukrainian people. The wording of the letter suggests that Ukraine should be left to its own devices instead of Germany potentially provoking Vladimir Putin with further arms deliveries. This would risk a nuclear world war, say the signatories. But many critics say this attitude avoids the reality of the situation.

Musician Wolfgang Müller
The reaction by musician Wolfgang Müller went viralImage: Privat

"One should not sell this as peace-loving pacifism, because de facto it would be kowtowing to whoever is strongest in this case," wrote Wolfgang Müller, a German songwriter in a statement he posted online that summarized the views of those opposed to the letter.

"Anyone who claims that the delivery of heavy weapons purely for national defense of life against an overpowering aggressor is an escalation has lost all moral compass," Müller added, saying this is "perpetrator-victim reversal in its purest form."

In an interview with the radio station Deutschlandfunk, he reiterated his point of view: "For all I care, anyone can say: I'm scared shitless that this will escalate and that's why I'd rather leave these people to their fate." But in his view, it is unacceptable to claim that abandoning the Ukrainians to reach peace for the rest of the world is "a moral duty." "To give moral advice is unbearable arrogance and disrespect to these people."

Attempting to explain

Actor Lars Eidinger
Actor Lars EidingerImage: RONNY HARTMANN/AFP/Getty Images

Actor Lars Eidinger, one of the signatories of the open letter, defended his stance in the daily Berliner Zeitung by referring to the answer he gave as a conscientious objector [Eds.: until 2011, Germany used to have a compulsory military service that could be substituted by an alternative civilian service]: "The essential question I had to answer was: If one of my loved ones was threatened with a weapon and I had the chance to kill the attacker, how would I react? My answer was, 'I wouldn't shoot, so as not to fuel the spiral of aggression.' I still believe in this ideal today, even though it may sound like utopia. Especially now, when the Russian government and its army are acting with extreme brutality in Ukraine, in the face of the shocking murders and cruelty we are witnessing today."

Wolfgang Müller sees things differently: "It is difficult to negotiate with someone who has declared that their goal is to destroy the enemy. He can't be appeased with restraint."

Divided public opinion

The German population is divided on the question of whether Germany should supply heavy weapons to Ukraine: 45% are in favor and just as many are against. That was the latest finding of a representative survey conducted by infratest dimap for ARD-DeutschlandTrend.

As of May 4, more than 200,000 people had signed the open letter, posted as a petition on change.org, the worldwide platform for online activism.

Germany's Ukraine U-Turn


This text was originally written in German. It was updated on May 4 with different reactions.