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A German filmmaker spoke about the genuine attitude of Germans to Russians

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St. Petersburg Mining University hosted a presentation of the book Learning to Love Russia by Hans-Joachim Frei, German director, founder and continuous director of the famous Dresden Opera Ballet. It is unique not only because it presents the opinion of a foreigner about our country and the people who live here, but also because the foreword for it was written personally by Vladimir Putin.

Forpost decided to find out from the author where he met the President of the Russian Federation, what inspired him to create such a book, and also asked several philosophical questions. For example, about whether people in Germany still feel guilt for the events of the Great Patriotic War and the siege of Leningrad. And why Berlin politicians perceive Russia differently than ordinary citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany. After all, the latter, for the most part, do not support sanctions and, on the whole, treat Russians positively.

- Mr. Fry, how did you get the idea to write this book?

- I didn't plan to come to Russia; it was a series of coincidences that brought me here. But in the ten years that I have been working here, I have managed to start sincerely loving your country and learn to appreciate the Russian soul. One day I realized that I just had to pass on my knowledge about Russia and the emotions associated with it to those who don’t understand what Russia really is like and what wonderful people live in it. Unfortunately, many people abroad have a very distorted view of what is going on here, so my goal was to break down the negative stereotypes prevalent in the West.

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Pictured: Honor dance with Queen Silvia of Sweden at the Opera Ball. 2014

I believe that everyone around the world should learn to love Russia. Russians themselves, and Germans, and people from other countries. Specifically speaking about Russian-German relations, I believe that we should not oppose each other, but complement each other. We are two real powers in Europe and have to cooperate on the basis of mutual love and respect.

- You are now presenting the Russian version of the book, but the first German edition of the book was published three years ago. How was it received by readers?

- It was a success story, my book ended up on the bestseller list. It is published by the respected political magazine Spiegel, and it put Learning to Love Russia in 31st place, which is quite a result for such a format. I was invited to various talk shows, and I assembled press conferences, which many journalists attended. In total, about 10,000 people in Germany read the book, and many of them said in their comments that they learned a lot about your country, and now look at it from a different angle.

- How did you meet Vladimir Putin? And why did he decide to write the foreword to your book?

- Back in 2009, Vladimir Putin came to the Semperoper Ball in Dresden, which I used to attend and still do. It was there that we met. I was very nervous when I stood next to him backstage because I had to tell him that I had to wait 20 minutes before he could appear in front of the public. However, Vladimir Putin reassured me by telling me that he was aware of everything and that he was ready to do whatever I told him to do for the next two hours. I replied that I was going to call my friends and tell them that the President of Russia was going to do everything I said for the next two hours.

© Презентация Ханса-Йоахима Фрая

Pictured: 2009. Vladimir Putin, Saxon Prime Minister Stanislaw Tillich (bottom row), and Hans-Joachim Fry (second from right, top row)

Apparently, he liked the ball so much that he then invited me to dinner. It was already late at night. Vladimir Putin asked me if I would like to come to Russia and work there. I replied that I had never thought about it, but why not. Then I did come to Russia, worked a lot in your country, and in 2018, when my book was released in German, I gave the first copy to Vladimir Putin. It happened at the Bolshoi Theater, at a gala concert on the occasion of the final of the World Cup. The honor of being the organizer of that performance fell on me.

Then when the idea of publishing the book in Russian arose, I asked Vladimir Putin to write a foreword for it, and he graciously agreed.

- And what language do you speak with Vladimir Putin?

- Only German. He has an excellent command of it and speaks it without an accent.

- Let's change the subject a bit... When you talk to Germans, unlike, by the way, when you talk to Czechs, you never feel any antipathy towards yourself, Russians, or Russia as a whole. But the rhetoric of some German politicians, including high-ranking ones, differs markedly from the opinion of ordinary citizens of Germany. Why is this the case? And is it possible to build more constructive relations between our countries at the intergovernmental level?

- Yes, you were right to note that many Germans respect Russians and have a sympathetic attitude toward Russians. But some politicians constantly interfere in this. At election debates, for example, they talk about Russia, trying to change the opinion of ordinary Germans and distort the image of your country.

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This is why we need to do everything possible to develop cultural, sporting and scientific ties. I know that Rector Vladimir Litvinenko of St. Petersburg Mining University has established a very close partnership with the Freiberg Mining Academy, and that these institutions of higher learning have organized a Russian-German raw materials forum. The more such initiatives we have, the faster we will be able to turn the situation around.

- In your opinion, how important are such discussion platforms as the Russian-German Raw Materials Conference? Are they becoming more and more important because the dialogue between our countries at the intergovernmental level has practically stopped and is only now beginning to slowly recover?

- Raw materials and energy are the basis on which our entire civilization is built. Of course, in the 50 years that we have been cooperating in the energy sphere, the relationship between Russia and Germany has been different. There was the Cold War, there were misunderstandings, but there have never been problems in the energy sphere. Whatever the tensions between our countries, Russia has never tried to cut off gas supplies to Germany. And we all know very well how important gas imports from your country are for us.

And to a large extent, this is thanks to platforms like the German-Russian Energy Forum. Here representatives of the two countries can openly communicate, give speeches, and maintain friendly relations. This is where the foundation for our partnership in the energy sector is laid.

Российско-Германский форум
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Pictured: The 2021 Russian-German Feeder Forum was held online for the first time because of the coronavirus pandemic

- In this connection, I can't help but ask about Nord Stream 2. It’s clear that this is a mutually beneficial project, and we all hope that it will be completed. But I wonder about something else: what is more important to the Germans now that you have to make this choice: maintaining the same level of relations with your strategically, i.e., the United States, who in this particular case are defending their interests at the expense of yours, or elementary expediency? The possibility of avoiding energy shortages and not overpaying for them?

- In Germany, all nuclear power plants are being shut down, we’re switching to alternative forms of energy, we use solar and wind power. But let us be honest, it’s not enough. Germany needs Nord Stream-2. Angela Merkel understands it very well, including Angela Merkel. No matter what America says and no matter how much they criticize this project, it is vital for us.

We’re well aware that people will bicker about the pipeline as long as it’s not yet operational. But then everything will subside and Germany will have an additional tool to guarantee our energy security.

- For a long time, Germany’s relations with many countries, including Russia, were largely shaped by the guilt Germans felt over the events of World War II. But in recent years, as many experts have noted, this feeling, if not completely disappeared, has become much less evident. Is this really the case? And to what extent, in your opinion, is this a positive or negative thing?

- You are right, the guilt is slowly disappearing. I can’t say it’s a bad thing, because the important thing is to know your history. And do not forget that we are responsible for the mistake made by our ancestors, who unleashed a world war. We must remember this crime against all humanity, the siege of Leningrad, and tell our children about the unacceptability of such a philosophy. If the feeling of guilt replaces the feeling of respect for Russia, we can certainly continue the constructive, mutually beneficial dialogue for which the majority of people in both Germany and Russia are in favor.

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But to do this, of course, it is necessary to stop crossing red lines, as it occasionally happens now during some debates or speeches.

Forpost asked Vladimir Litvinenko, the rector of the St. Petersburg Mining University, why the presentation of Hans-Joachim Fry’s book Learning to Love Russia took place exactly in a technical institution of higher education. After all, it would seem more logical to hold such an event at a liberal arts university.

Vladimir Litvinenko: We consider our task to be not only training qualified personnel for the national economy, its mineral resources sector, but also shaping a new generation of technical intellectuals and humanizing the society. No matter how technologically advanced a country is, its prosperity is based on human capital and historical memory. It is these, together with a rich resource base, that allows Russia to look confidently into the future and not break under the yoke of negative circumstances, such as the coronavirus pandemic or Western sanctions.

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We are trying to do our best to remain part of the international scientific and educational community even in the current difficult situation, to maintain a dialogue with our partners, including those in Germany. We hold conferences, have a fairly active exchange of scientists, create joint laboratories with our colleagues both in Germany and Austria. And, most importantly, we feel a sincere interest on their part in the creation of such collaborations. This gives us reason to believe that the potential for our cooperation, as in the past, is very great, and in the future, it could become much more extensive.

The last Russian-German commodities forum was held online due to sanitary and epidemiological restrictions. This, of course, is a less effective format, because, in my opinion, only personal communication gives us real energy. But we hope that things will change as early as this fall. Our plans include participation in the grand opening of the monument to Mikhail Lomonosov in Freiberg. I am confident that this event will symbolize the beginning of a new stage of Russian-German relations, which is based on a mutual understanding of the need for closer cooperation, creating conditions for mutually beneficial and equal partnership.