Dear Russia, your president is lying to you. That happens sometimes, politicians are not always honest for a variety of reasons. Your president is stealing from you. That also sometimes happens. Your president is ruining you reputation. That also sometimes happens. Your president is doing something that you would really not approve of if you were allowed to know. That also sometimes happens.
When this happens in most countries, there are consequences. In most countries by now, presidents who do all these kinds of things can be removed from office, especially when all these things are coming together. It is uncomfortable to find out that this is happening, and the first instinct is not wanting to know. I understand. I am German. Believe me, I understand what it means to have the wrong kind of leader.
People like President Putin are con men. They work tirelessly at seeming reasonable, at seeming sane, at seeming to have your interest at heart. They are really good at it. There are still people who somehow do not believe that the bad leaders they had were all that bad. You know this very well. You know about Stalin, you know about all the sordid history of the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire.
Some of these bad leaders get into power through elections. Even when some of these elections turn out to be fraudulent, sadly, whenever a people’s chosen leader turns out to be a menace to the world, the judgement of the world does not only end up soiling the reputation of that leader. It soils the reputation of the people as well. I am German. Believe me, I understand.
The German people did not rise up against Hitler in any significant numbers. It will be an eternal shame on Germany, even on generations who were not able to resist at the time, even to generations that were not even born. The name Hitler will stand in infamy in German history for all eternity, with nothing, nothing, nothing being able to wipe that out. I am German. Believe me, I know.
I am also East German. When the communist system established under the umbrella of the Soviet Union showed the slightest crack, my people were ready. They left. They stood up. They spoke out. The East German system was intimidating, it was terror, it was inhumane. Our government turned each of us against each other, some of us were spying on the rest of us, and if you wanted to succeed, you had to compromise your morality or face a difficult journey. It was not easy to resist. But people knew they had to.
The Soviet Union had just endangered all of Europe with the mismanagement that turned into the disaster at Chernobyl. For decades, it had terrorized the world, threatening nuclear destruction, invading countries that would not bow down to it – including Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and my own. Resistance could have meant imprisonment, torture, death. This time, following the heroic example of our friends in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, my people rose up, even after seeing what happened in the spring of 1989 in China on Tiananmen Square, where protesters were brutalized by the Communist regime. Resistance seemed futile. It was not. Even when it failed in China, the people had spoken: Whatever is happening, it is not happening in our name.
This is how a people retain their dignity. This is how they keep their place in history. The world needs to see you now. The world needs to know that whatever Putin is doing, it is not happening in the name of Russia, in the name of Russians.
Today, Putin is committing genocide in Ukraine. The country of Ukraine has never attacked any other country in history. Ukraine did nothing to provoke this. Ukrainians chose democracy, as it is their right. Ukrainians chose to have a choice of leaders, as is their right, as it is yours. Ukrainians chose to topple their bad leader, as was their choice, as it is yours.
The name of Putin is attached to his actions right now. Tomorrow, it will be your name, unless you demonstrate that this is not happening in your name. This war has to stop. The subjugation of Ukraine and Belarus has to stop. The subjugation of Russia has to stop. It is in your hands, because it will be on your souls, and on your children eventually.