For Germanyâ€™s political and media classes, Volodymyr Zelenskyyâ€™s condemnation of their countryâ€™s response to the Ukraine war triggered a bout of national self-reproach.Â
In his speech to the Bundestag on Thursday, the Ukrainian president took a swipe at what he called Germanyâ€™s â€œworthlessâ€ lip service regarding the Holocaust, a bitter charge for his audience to hear.
Zelenskyy, the Jewish president of a nation scarred by millions of dead in World War II and the Holocaust, said Germany was prioritizing its own economy and energy purchases from Russia over a moral obligation to try to end the war.
It was an address that should have prompted an urgent and honest debate among parliamentarians, commentators wrote in Fridayâ€™s newspapers. And it was â€œshamefulâ€ and â€œa disgraceâ€ that such a debate never came, they added.
â€œZelenskyyâ€™s speech was historic. The reaction in the Bundestag afterward was a historic low point,Â wrote Johannes Boie, editor-in-chief at Bild, Germanyâ€™s largest tabloid, referring to the German parliamentâ€™s decision to just move on to other topics after the emotional speech.
SÃ¼ddeutsche Zeitung, one of the countryâ€™s foremost broadsheets, ran as its headline Zelenskyyâ€™s quote from former U.S. President Ronald Reagan â€œTear down this wall,â€ while their chancellery correspondent, Nico Fried, asked in an op-ed: â€œWhat are peace and freedom worth to us which we would not have if others had not intervened at the time?â€ He added that â€œespecially after Zelenskyyâ€™s speech, the discussion about this would have been the debate about a real question of conscience â€” unlike the debate about compulsory vaccination, to which the parliament devoted itself with fervor instead.â€
On the evening news at public broadcaster ARD, Berlin bureau chief Matthias DeiÃŸ said the speech wouldÂ â€œresonate for a long time in the Reichstag building with its eventful history.â€ Touching on Zelenskyyâ€™s history references, he added that the Ukrainian president â€œskilfully argued with our past to make clear what is at stake for all of us today.â€
In the left-leaning taz, Sabine am Orde wrote that â€œIt would not have been easy to confront this speech. But the fact that neither the chancellor nor any of the ministers took the floor afterward is shameful.â€
Berlin daily Tagesspiegel also focused on the chancellorâ€™s failure to react to Zelenskyyâ€™s words. â€œThese are days when Scholz does not seem very strong in leadership, when he lacks the right instinct,â€ wrote Georg Ismar. â€œThe day before, Zelenskyy had spoken to Congress and U.S. President Joe Biden then, unlike Scholz, quickly announced another $800 million package of anti-aircraft missiles, drones and thousands of anti-tank weapons,â€ he added.
Die Weltâ€˜s parliament correspondent, Robin Alexander, called Thursday a â€œblack day for [Olaf Scholzâ€™s] coalitionâ€ as well as â€œa disgrace for parliament.â€ Alexander argued that â€œany admitted helplessness and cluelessness would have been better than the incredibly embarrassing point-of-order debate that followed [the speech].â€
The German government attempted to defend itself against the Ukrainian presidentâ€™s criticism.
â€œMr. Zelenskyyâ€™s speech was touching, insulting, accusatory and certainly completely justified from his point of view,â€ German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said when grilled on public broadcaster ZDF on Thursday. â€œFrom the point of view of the federal government in Germany, not completely justified, because Germany is doing a lot to support Ukraine and many things that we considered impossible weeks ago.â€