Question: Mr President, Mr Chancellor, World War II ended sixty years ago. Your fathers both fought in this war, one for Hitler’s Germany, the other in Stalin’s army. Mr Chancellor, your father was killed, and your father, Mr President, was seriously wounded. What do you feel on a personal level, a human level, when you think back to those dark days today, as representatives of once-hostile nations?
President Vladimir Putin: First of all, I cannot agree with equating Stalin with Hitler. Yes, Stalin was certainly a tyrant and many call him a criminal, but he was not a Nazi. It was not the Soviet forces who crossed the German border on June 22, 1941, but the contrary. That is the first thing we should not forget.
Personally, I have never seen the Germans as a hostile nation. I think in general that Russians of my generation, people who did not live through the war themselves, have a different perception of Germany than that of our fathers and grandfathers. Of course, our generation is also a part of this past. I felt this very acutely, for example, when I first learned that the Federal Chancellor’s father was killed on the Eastern Front. I felt this on a very emotional level and it was then that I realised that these tragic events are really not so far removed from us. This is why we must do everything we can to ensure that nothing of this sort ever happens again in the history of our peoples, the history of Europe and the history of the entire world.
Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder: It is still a miracle to me that former sworn enemies and opponents in war are today friends and partners who live together as good neighbours. The generation of my fathers and grandfathers could surely not have imagined such a thing. I was only one year old when the war ended and so I don’t have any personal memories and impressions of that time. I learned about the horrors of World War II, the atrocities committed in the concentration camps and the Nazis’ crimes only later in school, from books and from the stories of people who witnessed those events.
Germany provoked and started one of the most terrible wars in the history of humanity. Even if our generation is not personally to blame for this we nonetheless still bear responsibility for every period of our history. As we understand it, this means that our primary task is to build a peaceful future for our country as part of a united Europe. I see the opportunity to take part in this construction as both a challenge and a duty. The memory of the war and of national socialism has become a part of our national identity. Preserving this memory is our moral duty, a duty that we will always have. This is why we, the representatives of democratic Germany, will never give injustice and violence, racism and xenophobia a chance to take root again.
Question: Mr President, your brother died during the siege of Leningrad. Did you hate the Germans for this?
Vladimir Putin: I know that this caused my parents much suffering and they never forgot it, but there was never hatred towards the Germans in my family for this, strange as it may sound. My parents always said that it was not the people who were guilty, not the ordinary soldiers sent to war by the regime in power. It is not the people who carry the blame, but the ideology, in this terrible case, the ideology of national socialism.
My mother told me a story about my grandfather, who fought during the First World War. Troops on the opposing sides took up positions in trenches within sight of each other. Austrian soldiers had taken up position on the other side of the section where my grandfather was. My grandfather shot one of the Austrians and badly wounded him. The Austrian was lying there in a pool of his own blood and no one was making any moves to come and help him. My Grandfather then climbed up out of the trench, went over to him and bandaged his wound. They embraced each other before parting.
Question: Mr Chancellor, the war took your father from you before you were even able to see him. Did this loss affect your political outlook in any way?
Gerhard Schroeder: No. I learned of my father’s fate just a few years ago and then only by chance. But it was one of the most emotional and unforgettable moments of my life when I stood at his grave in Romania. To be honest, the poverty we grew up in had more of an impact on my political outlook. My mother had to bring me up, along with her other children, in the very difficult conditions of the post-war years. The experience of those times had a direct impact on my political views. The ideas of equality of opportunities and justice, prosperity for all and solidarity have had special significance for me ever since those days. I believe, for example, that all young people should have the chance to receive a school and professional education that will enable them to realise their talents and abilities. The social background they come from and what their parents earn should not be the deciding factors in this. Only the talents and abilities of each individual should count; only they should decide prospects for education and a future career.
Question: What did your parents tell you about their personal experience during World War II? How did your family greet the end of the war?
Vladimir Putin: My parents were reluctant to talk about those years. They were very difficult memories for them. They usually talked about the war only when friends and acquaintances came to our home. I was born in 1952. My parents never told me about how they met the end of the war, about May 8 and May 9 1945. For them at that time it marked the end of an unimaginably difficult period in their lives. My father was wounded and was in hospital in Leningrad when the city was still besieged by the Nazi forces. At one point he came home to look for my mother and arrived right at the moment when the so-called “burial teams” were about to put her with the corpses and take her to the cemetery. But she was still alive and my father had to pull her out from under this mountain of corpses. She survived only because he gave her the rations that he was entitled to as someone who was wounded and recovering in hospital.
Gerhard Schroeder: I was born in 1944, so I don’t have any memories of the last year of the war. I think the situation in our family was similar to that of many other families: during the first years after the war people did not talk much about what happened before 1945. In our family, in any case, it was rare to hear about what happened during those years. My father was killed in the war, after all, and my mother was totally occupied with getting enough food for her children. She worked long and hard and was busy sorting out day-to-day problems. She simply did not have time for telling us stories and recalling the past. As the oldest son, I had to start working myself and help my mother from quite a young age.
Question: Mr Chancellor, you were born in 1944. What image did you have of Russia as a young man?
Gerhard Schroeder: What I learned about Russia at school was enough only to provide a partial picture of this country. But there was always something that struck me about Russia. The size of this huge country that stretched all the way across two continents, from Europe to the very edge of Asia, always made an impression on me. For me, Russia was a great political power whose wise rulers and tsars had helped to decide European history. Then it was a country ruled by the communist party, that declared it was putting into practice the ideas of Marx and Engels. In the 1950s, of course, there was the image of Russia as an enemy, and there was an anti-communist sentiment that had a strong influence on the political climate in Germany. I have learned a lot since then about Russia, its history, culture, contribution to European culture, the patriotism and deep religious feelings of its people. What has become deeply rooted in my consciousness is the image of a vast country with a great diversity of peoples and languages and immense natural resources. The question always arises of its own accord: how do you manage such a huge country and preserve its integrity? I wouldn’t envy anyone who has to resolve such a mammoth undertaking. That is why I feel such respect for President Putin.
Question: Did the Russians arrive in Germany as liberators?
Vladimir Putin: That the Soviet troops liberated Germany from national socialism is a historical fact. Of course, German civilians suffered during the war, but that is not the fault of the Soviet Union or the Red Army. It was not the Soviet Union that began this war. In general, our Western allies also did not distinguish themselves at that time for their humanity. I still do not understand why Dresden had to be so completely destroyed. There was absolutely no need to do this from a military point of view. Both Soviet troops and the Western allied troops remained in Germany as an occupying force after the war. Still — and the German people know that – now all Soviet troops have long since been withdrawn from the country.
Gerhard Schroeder: Russia, together with the allied forces, liberated Germany and Europe from Nazi tyranny. The Russian people paid a huge price for this, paid in its own blood. In no other country in Europe are as many Russian soldiers buried as in Germany. But when we remember May 8 and 9, we should also not forget that for many people in Germany and in other countries, the end of the war brought not just liberation but also marked the beginning of exile, the sad lot of refugees and a new loss of freedom.
Question: Mr President, Mr Chancellor, after all the suffering they went through, how did our peoples manage to overcome this mutual hatred?
Vladimir Putin: Even during the most difficult moments in the war the Soviet leadership called on the people not to identify all Germans with the Nazis: “Hitlers will come and go but the German people remains”. This was not just propaganda. This was the conviction shared by the overwhelming majority of Soviet citizens. My parents also shared with me precisely this view.
The German people became, in many ways, a victim of the political irresponsibility of the leadership of that time. The people were poisoned with Nazi ideology and pulled into a bloody massacre. This irresponsible military adventure became a personal tragedy for millions of ordinary Germans.
But you are right: it was not at all easy to overcome the hatred and harshness that emerged as a result of the Nazi aggression and took root in the occupied territories. It required time and considerable effort by politicians and millions of people in Germany and in our country to return the feelings of respect and mutual liking that have existed between our peoples for centuries.
I have every ground for saying that the Soviet people, despite all they went through, were able to forgive. This really was a reconciliation in people’s souls. While in some other countries, as you know well, many people have still not reached this point of reconciliation.
Gerhard Schroeder: When the Second World War ended, one thing was clear to both Russians and Germans and that was that a new war and new violence should never happen again. Many people, in difficult conditions, helped to bring about rapprochement and reconciliation between Russia and Germany after 1945. Willy Brandt’s policy of detente and search for a balance of interests with the Soviet Union were infused with the spirit of reconciliation. This helped build up trust that the differences between the two systems did not obstruct. The seeds sown by Willy Brandt and many others began to blossom. Confrontation and the Cold War increasingly gave way to cooperation and dialogue, and this all ultimately led to the changes of 1989–1990. But, given the horrors of the war, the reconciliation between Russia and Germany remains a political miracle.
Question: Mr President, have you personally forgiven the Germans?
Vladimir Putin: As I said, for me personally, as for most people of my age, this question sounds a little odd and does not have the emotional charge that it carries for the older generation. I did not personally live through the horrors of war, after all.
Our peoples, Russians and Germans, have lived through many dramatic events in our history. I am sure that we have become wiser and have learned to value human life, freedom and good relations with our neighbours more highly. The historic reconciliation between Germans and Russians is an objective fact.
Question: Mr President, what does Stalin mean to you?
Vladimir Putin: Stalin and his era are an integral part of my country’s complicated and sometimes contradictory history. We need to know this history and remember its lessons. One of these lessons is clear: dictatorship and repression of freedom is a dead-end road for the state, for society. Uncontrolled personal power inevitably creates a free hand for committing crimes. There were enough crimes committed during the Stalin years – political repression, the deportation of entire peoples. This calls for the principled attitude.
Question: Who are the heroes of World War II for you?
Vladimir Putin: The real heroes of World War II for me are everyone who fought against the Nazi regime. The soldiers of the Red Army, the allied soldiers, the prisoners of war and inmates of the concentration camps, the people who toiled without rest in the rear – they are all heroes. So, of course, are the anti-fascists, the Germans of various political convictions who fought against Hitler’s tyranny. They are true German patriots, they fought against Hitler’s regime and for the honour of the German people.
Gerhard Schroeder: I must admit that it is hard for me to talk about heroes in this war that killed so many millions and brought so much destruction, poverty and suffering. Of course, there were many courageous soldiers and there were brilliant strategists among the officers and commanders. But as I see it, the defining moment in heroism is an individual’s behaviour, a clear moral stand. Those who showed their humanity in the face of war and national-socialist terror were brave and heroic, those who hid Jews, who saved the lives of others and who showed courage as individuals in the midst of an inhuman system and respected the human dignity of others. Berlin district head Krutzfeld, for example, or Pastor Polchow. The first of them, giving a liberal interpretation to orders, opposed the hordes of SS men during the Kristallnacht pogroms in 1938. Attempts were made later to make him answer for this but nothing happened to him in the end. The second used all sorts of ruses to save many people from the Gestapo’s persecution. People such as they did not, perhaps, perform great feats, but they showed us that it is possible to remain human even in a dictatorship. I admire these “everyday heroes’.
Question: Mr President, you got to know Germany after World War II on the eastern side of the “Iron Curtain”. What influence did this encounter with the Germans have on you?
Vladimir Putin: All my encounters were with sincere, decent and reliable people. If any of them made mistakes in any way, they were sincere mistakes.
What was amazing for me politically was that society and the state organisation were as if frozen in the 1950s-60s. Even for me, who had come from the Soviet Union, it was clear that such a system was not viable.
But there were some things that bound me to Germany on a human, emotional level. My daughter was born there and her place of birth in all her documents is given as Dresden.
Question: Was the division of Germany a just punishment for unleashing World War II?
Vladimir Putin: The division of Germany into occupied zones was above all the result of Germany’s military defeat. The allies sought at that time to free Germany from the burden of Nazism, restore civilian life and elect a democratic government within as short as possible a period of time. I want to remind you that at all the conferences among the allies, including at Yalta and Potsdam, the Soviet leadership followed a consistent line in favour of preserving Germany’s integrity and unity. But some of our allies, unfortunately, took quite the opposite line.
The subsequent division of Germany into two separate states took place along the lines of military, political and ideological confrontation of interests at the height of the Cold War. Of course, this was a great tragedy for the German people, but we cannot call it Germany’s punishment for starting the Second World War.
It is characteristic that once the confrontation between the superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States, came to an end, the ground was swiftly laid for peaceful reunification of Germany. The positive role played by our country in this process is well known.
Gerhard Schroeder: The division of Germany during the Cold War years is, ultimately, the result of Hitler’s criminal policies and to call it a just punishment in this case would not be right.
Question: You have close and friendly relations. Do you still touch upon the bitter experience of World War II during your conversations?
Vladimir Putin: Of course. This, after all, is the greatest tragedy not only of the twentieth century but of all world history, and our peoples were at its centre. It is our duty to know and remember the lessons of the war.
You are right in saying that Gerhard Schroeder and I do have a real friendship. I think it is well known that we think alike on many issues. We see it as our common duty to help overcome the negative past in Russian-German relations and to heal the wounds caused by the war.
We both believe that the lessons of those years should help the international community to unite against the global threats of the twenty-first century and strengthen stability and security in Europe and the world. We also understand well how important it is to join forces in order to combat the activities of extremist organisations that feed on the ideology of national and racial intolerance and that seek to justify the crimes of the Nazis and of their collaborationist stooges.
The ideology of such organisations is in many ways similar to the inhuman ideology of terrorists who reject the values of democracy, human life itself, civil rights and liberties, and use primitive nationalism and xenophobia in their propaganda.
This is why we consider the development of international humanitarian cooperation to be one of our biggest priorities. Learning about the culture and human legacy of other countries and peoples, joint projects in education and science and youth exchanges are all ways of bringing people closer together, helping us to understand each other better and enriching us spiritually.
Overall, Russian-German relations definitely have an agenda addressed to the future and are not just pragmatic but, above all, are constructive in nature.
Gerhard Schroeder: Of course, we talk about all aspects of relations between our two countries, including the black pages. Only those who really know history can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. There can be no place for all that has brought such immeasurable suffering to millions of people – totalitarian ideology, nationalism, the thirst for domination and the subjugation by one people of its neighbours. The creation of the European Union is one answer to these mistakes of the past. A strategic partnership with Russia is a second answer, and there can be no alternative either to the one or to the other.
Question: Mr President, how do you explain your political sympathy for Mr Schroeder?
Vladimir Putin: I am impressed by the German Chancellor’s personal and political qualities. He is open, knows how to listen to different points of view, can accept criticism, is pragmatic and true to his word. I think that Mr Schroeder’s constant focus on obtaining concrete results is of immense importance.
I think that, as a politician, Mr Schroeder knows how to stand up consistently and effectively for Germany’s national interests and is decisively pursuing much-needed reforms within his country and building up its authority and influence on the international stage.
His political courage lies in the fact that he always places the public interest above his own personal interests.
He is a man of principle and consistent thinking.
Gerhard Schroeder: My political sympathies are based on a commonality of aims and convictions. We want a lasting peaceful order for Europe that will bring prosperity to the greatest possible number of people. Our strategic partnership gives us the chance to build our future in a peaceful Europe, based on our common interests and values. It will also enable us to find common solutions and responses to the opportunities and the threats of globalisation. This is why we have decided to double the number of German-Russian youth exchanges by 2007. In Hannover, recently, we reached an agreement on strategic partnership in education, research and advanced technology. This will all bring our societies closer together.
Question: Mr Chancellor, what kind of person is the Russian President?
Gerhard Schroeder: He is open and reliable. Even when we, as representatives of our countries, have to defend different interests, I still feel friendship for him.
Question: How important is your personal friendship for the partnership between Russia and Germany?
Vladimir Putin: I am sure that our good and trusting personal relations are a considerable help in developing the strategic partnership between our countries. This is a partnership based on equal cooperation, respect for each other’s interests and sincere friendship between our peoples.
In international politics, during negotiations and consultations, it is very important to know your partners, to be able to trust them and understand all the nuances of their views. These are the kind of relations I have with the Federal Chancellor and we both highly value these relations.
Gerhard Schroeder: Above all, we represent the interests of our countries, as corresponds to the wishes of our voters. Our friendship is in no way an obstacle to this. On the contrary, the relations of trust that we have facilitate cooperation on a number of issues that would otherwise be harder to resolve.
Question: Mr President, what memories do you have of your first visit to Germany?
Vladimir Putin: Germany is one of the centres of European civilisation and has a great historic and cultural heritage.
I discovered Germany for myself twice, as it were. The first time was, as I said before, when I worked in the GDR from 1985 through to 1990. That time gave me one image of Germany. The second “discovery” was when I was working as deputy mayor of St Petersburg and was chairman of the committee for foreign economic ties. That period gave me the chance to gain a deeper knowledge of Germany’s culture, history and politics, and to get to know the Germans themselves better.
Question: Mr President, what did you feel when the Russians left Germany in 1994?
Vladimir Putin: I understood that it marked the end of an entire era – the era of confrontation in Europe. Certainly, many issues regarding the withdrawal of our troops and their relocation on Russian territory could have been resolved in a better-planned and more constructive manner. But at the same time I am proud that it was our country, the choice of our people that did a lot to help end the Cold War and bring down the Berlin Wall.
In keeping with the logic of Russia’s policy, I think that now that Germany has drawn the right conclusions from the horrors of World War II, has gone through remorse and put in place the mechanisms that would prevent a repeat of the tragedy of the past, we cannot expect today’s and future generations of Germans to forever shower themselves in ashes and go around flagellating themselves. Germany should not feel as though it has fewer rights than other countries on the international stage. Russia, therefore, will support a greater role for Germany in the United Nations, including as permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Question: Were relations between Russia and Germany ever as close as they are today?
Vladimir Putin: There were quite a number of periods of very close and fruitful cooperation between our countries. It is enough to recall, for example, the nineteenth century when we were direct military allies. Further back, there was also the time of Catherine the Great, who was of German origin. She was one of the strongest and most effective rulers Russia has had.
At the same time, I share Gerhard Schroeder’s view that Russia and Germany have never been as close as they are now. Most important is that our countries are no longer divided by ideological barriers and political contradictions. We work together as partners on the most important issues in world politics and we cooperate closely in the European and international organisations. The Russian-German partnership really is a positive and significant factor in European and international life. I am sure, too, that Russia and Germany will play a decisive part in finally uniting Europe and bringing concrete substance to the idea of building the four common spaces between Russia and the European Union.
But there is still a lot of work to do. We have not fully developed our potential for cooperation in many areas. This concerns, in particular, business and the humanitarian sphere. Germany is only in fourth place for the amount of direct investment in the Russian economy. This corresponds neither to its possibilities nor to our demands. We are also not happy with the imbalance in our trade, which for the moment consists primarily of an exchange of raw materials from Russia for finished products from Germany.
We could also do a lot more to develop our humanitarian cooperation, encourage direct contacts between the institutions of our civil society and promote scientific, cultural, educational and youth exchanges.
Gerhard Schroeder: Relations between Germany and Russia, whether in politics, the economy or culture, really have never been as close as they are today. Trade between our countries increased by 18 percent over the last year alone. Vladimir Putin is right in saying that we have not yet made full use of our potential. Russia is a very important partner for us in the energy sector, but we also need to develop our cooperation in areas besides oil and gas. The Russian market offers our businesspeople huge opportunities for trade and investment, in advanced technology, for example. Our cultural relations have also never been as close as they are now. The Russian and German cultural seasons in both countries in 2003–2004 were a huge success. Now we should build on this success in the future.
Question: Mr President, what do Russians think of Germany today?
Vladimir Putin: First of all, I want to say that our people feel great respect for Germany. Germany, for us, is a successful country with increasing political and economic weight, one of the driving forces of European integration. It is a country firmly committed to developing relations as equals with Russia.
Question: Mr Chancellor, how do you think Germans see Russia?
Gerhard Schroeder: The majority of Germans have very friendly feelings towards Russia and the Russian people. The Cold War years are now a thing of the past. People are forming a more realistic picture of Russia today, defined in many ways by Russia’s great culture and history and its immense economic potential. Many Germans feel great admiration for the Russian people’s determination to shape their own destiny. The fact that Russia, as a country with no real democratic traditions of its own, decided of its own accord to follow a democratic path, cannot but inspire respect among us.
Question: What unites Russians and Germans, and what still divides them?
Vladimir Putin: Much unites us – pages in our history, the fact that we are both a part of European culture and traditions, our geographical closeness, common objectives on the international stage and the mutually complementary nature of our economies. Our common objectives include fighting terrorism, organised crime, drug trafficking, poverty and disease.
Ultimately, we are all Europeans. Both Russians and Germans want to live in a united and democratic Europe that is open for broad-based dialogue and cooperation. The aim of our work together with Germany and between Russia and the EU is to ensure the best possible conditions for peoples to realise their mutual desire to work together and establish direct contacts with each other.
Yes, of course, some stereotypes and complexes associated with the past still persist. But I am sure that life itself will put everything in its place. We politicians, meanwhile, must do all we can to remove the barriers in relations between countries and in people’s minds.
Gerhard Schroeder: Sixty years after the end of the war and 15 years after the political transformations of 1989, nothing should divide Russians and Germans. Of course, there are historical and cultural differences and cliches and prejudices still exist. We should not exaggerate them, however. What is much more important is that Germans and Russians want to build their future together as Europeans and friends.
Question: Mr Chancellor, do the immense losses suffered by Russia during World War II place particular obligations upon we Germans?
Gerhard Schroeder: No other people paid as heavy a toll in the criminal war unleashed by Nazi Germany as the Russian people. More than 20 million Russians lost their lives during World War II. We Germans must never forget this. This is why the German people has a particular responsibility to support Russia on its road to modernisation and to help Russia become a part of European and democratic institutions.
Question: Mr Chancellor, should we be grateful to the Russians for May 8, 1945?
Gerhard Schroeder: For all of Europe, May 8–9, 1945, symbolises liberation from Nazi barbarism. Without the Russian people’s spirit of self-sacrifice, the Second World War could have had a different outcome, and not just for Germany. As we mark the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the war, we all have reason to remember those who gave their lives in the fight against national socialism, in Russia and in many other countries. They are also the fathers and mothers of the new, peaceful Europe that we are building today.
Question: Mr President, what does May 8 mean for Russians?
Vladimir Putin: The German surrender was signed at 1 a.m. on May 9, Moscow time, and so it is on May 9 that Russia celebrates Victory Day. For us, this is a holiday of national unity and national pride, and it is also a day when we remember those who lost their lives. Generations come and go and the years pass, but this day remains sacred for every Russian. It cannot be otherwise in a country that lost almost 30 million people and a third of its national wealth in the Second World War and made the main contribution to the victory against Nazism.
Question: How important is the friendship between Russia and Germany for maintaining peace?
Vladimir Putin: One of the most important lessons of history is that relations between Russia and Germany are of vital importance to the situation in Europe. The mood in Europe as a whole depends a lot on the level and content of this friendship. All the peoples of Europe have benefited from the friendship and constructive cooperation between our countries. Rivalry and confrontation, on the contrary, have only ever weakened our countries and pulled Europeans into mutual enmity and destructive wars.
Russia and Germany must work closely together in the interests of peace and prosperity. In a situation of globalisation, regional stability is intrinsically linked to overall international security, so Russia and Germany both have an increasingly important part to play as influential nations with a broad spectrum of general and specific interests.
Gerhard Schroeder: We can do a lot together for peace and stability: prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, fight international terrorism and organised crime, promote policies to prevent climate change, help stabilise the situation in the Middle East and strengthen the United Nations. We are united on all these issues. I would go even further and say that we are strategic partners.
Question: Mr President, Mr Chancellor, sixty years after the end of the devastating Second World War, what do you see as the greatest threat to the world today?
Vladimir Putin: I am sure that Gerhard Schroeder and I will have the same answer to this question. The greatest threats to peace and security in the world today are international terrorism, aggressive separatism, nationalism and religious extremism. The potential for proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cross-border crime, drug trafficking, poverty and clear imbalances in the international division of labour that condemn entire continents to backwardness are all serious threats. The international community can deal with these challenges only by working together.
Gerhard Schroeder: Sixty years after the end of World War II, we need not fear a large-scale war in Europe. At the same time, we sense all the more acutely today the threats posed by international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and also the poverty and religious fanaticism that arise from a lack of economic prospects in some parts of the world. These are the challenges of the twenty-first century and we can face them only by standing together with our partners.
Question: Mr President, Mr Chancellor, can you understand other friendly nations if they feel left aside by these close relations between Russia and Germany, or if these relations cause their concerns?
Vladimir Putin: We are not developing our cooperation at the expense of any other countries. It is not in our principles to divide our partners into categories and have first, second and third-class partners. I would go as far as to say that the more effective and substantial the partnership between Russia and Germany, the more favourable a climate we will have in Europe in general, and the more active will be European business and cultural life.
In this sense, we could see the broad-based dialogue between Russia and Germany as a sort of catalyst for integration in Europe overall. In this context I think it is an interesting initiative to organise a multilateral partnership between the European Union and the integration organisations in the CIS area.
Gerhard Schroeder: The friendship between Germany and Russia should not give anyone cause for concern. It is not directed against anyone. Germany today, like its east European neighbours, is solidly integrated into the EU and trans-Atlantic organisations. Germany is therefore building up better relations now with Poland and with the Baltic countries than ever before. This is the main difference with earlier periods of European history. A partnership between Germany and Russia at the expense of other countries is no longer possible. Our friends and partners in Europe realise this.
Question: Mr Chancellor, you took part in the celebrations marking the sixtieth anniversary of the allied landing in Normandy. Now you will be present at the celebrations in Moscow. Your participation in both of these events has caused a certain amount of debate. What signal is your participation intending to send?
Gerhard Schroeder: President Putin’s invitation to take part in the celebrations is a great honour for me and a sign of trust in the German people, and the same was true for my participation in the events marking the sixtieth anniversaries of the allied landing in Normandy and the Warsaw uprising. My participation in the events in Moscow should signal that Russian-German reconciliation has reached a new quality. We do not have the right to forget the past and forget the sufferings that were caused by Germans but that were felt on both sides. We must preserve this memory and ensure that it never happens again. I would like for Russians and Germans to find friends in each other so that the horrors of World War II never repeat themselves. I see this as a historic objective.
Question: Mr Chancellor, can our country really rest assured today that there can be no repeating the mistakes of the past that led to the Nazi dictatorship and the catastrophe that followed?
Gerhard Schroeder: The political, economic and social framework of the Weimar Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany are completely different. We are fortunate in not having to combat today the same problems that ultimately helped bring the Nazis to power back then: a fragile democratic awareness among the public, divisions within the political parties, a persistent economic crisis accompanied by mass poverty and the consequences of World War I. Germany today is a stable social democracy that can stand up for itself and is fully integrated in the EU and NATO. This is the main difference with the Weimar period.
Question: Some among the young generation do not want to examine history and are content to simply shout out old slogans. What would you say to such people?
Gerhard Schroeder: The period from 1933 to 1945 was the most inglorious page in German history. We should do everything we can to ensure that those terrible mistakes never find an incarnation in our country again.
Question: What can Russians and Germans do to ensure the world never again knows war?
Vladimir Putin: On a bilateral level we should, of course, continue to develop our cooperation in all areas, promote contacts and dialogue between civil society, encourage youth exchanges and follow the principles of reconciliation and historical truth.
On the international stage, what is most important is our contribution to helping build our common European home — construction based on a new quality of relations between Russia and the EU and NATO in a common space of security and cooperation.
Gerhard Schroeder: We need to make every effort to fight the real causes of war and instability. We will be successful in this only if we work together with our friends and partners in the EU, NATO, the G8 and the UN.
Question: The end of World War II provided much inspiration for writers and filmmakers. Which book or film about the war made the biggest impression on you?
Vladimir Putin: There are many films, books, poems and songs about the war. I can name Russian writers such as Boris Vasilyev, Konstantin Simonov and Viktor Rozov. Among films, I would name “The Cranes are Flying” and “Ballad of a Soldier”. There are no big battle scenes in these films, no wallowing in violence and blood. They are films about the spirit of our people, the harsh truth of war and how it crushes human destinies.
Gerhard Schroeder: I don’t know if we can say that writers and filmmakers were inspired precisely by World War II. After the catastrophe our continent suffered, after the complete political and moral collapse of Germany, it was only natural that writers and filmmakers, artists and those in theatre should seek to take this bitter experience and reflect it and treat it in their work. All the great German authors – Gunter Grass, Heinrich Boell and Siegfried Lentz – dealt with the national-socialist period and the war in their works. I was particularly impressed by the play “On the Street before the Door” by Wolfgang Borchert. This is an impressive and at once very touching story about the loneliness and confusion of a soldier who returns home after having been a prisoner of war. It is about his fears and the wounds that remain in his mind and soul, and about how he feels like a stranger in what was his home. Of the many films about the war, I particularly remember “The Murderers Among Us” and, of course, “The Bridge” by Bernhard Wicki.
Question: Mr President, what is your greatest wish for Russian-German relations in the future?
Vladimir Putin: My greatest wish is for them to develop successfully in all areas. Let our relations be enriched through the participation of more and more new organisations, companies and through the initiatives of our citizens. For my part, I want to say that Mr Schroeder and I are ready to do all we can to help achieve this noble objective.
Question: And you, Mr Chancellor?
Gerhard Schroeder: Today, sixty years after the end of World War II, the time has come for a genuine strategic partnership with Russia. Only in this way can we achieve the great objective of creating an enduring and just world order that will bring all the peoples of Europe security, stability and prosperity. Vladimir Putin and I want to continue making every effort to help reach this goal.