Just Like in Nazi Germany: Ethnic Group under General Suspicion. Property
Confiscated. Presumption of Innocence Suspended. Legal Hearing Denied.
Any comparison that invokes Nazi Germany is questionable. Not because it is overused and also abused against political opponents, but because it frequently trivializes the Holocaust, the greatest crime of the 20th century. This does not preclude criticism of Israel, though. The Holocaust club is conveniently used in this case to suppress news coverage of Israeli crimes in the illegally occupied territories.
There are, however, glaring similarities between Russians living under the Western sanctions regime and Jews living under Nazi rule. Long before the infamous Wannsee Conference in Germany in 1942, where the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” was decided, as it was called in the cruel administrative language of the Nazis, which meant nothing else but the systematic extermination of all Jews, preliminary steps were taken that led to the Holocaust.
After the first stage “You have no right to live among us as a Jew”, which turned into “You have no right to live among us”, Raul Hilberg called the last escalation stage “You have no right to live” in his book “The Extermination of the European Jews.”
This is not to say that those who advocate putting Russians in kin custody and reject their right to “live among us” are pushing for a new Holocaust. But the beginnings of the prejudice and persecution of Jews then are eerily similar to the measures taken against Russians today.
General Suspicion Replaces Rule of Law
The rule of law, one of the most important pillars of civilized coexistence, was gradually eroded in Germany after Hitler’s Nazi party came to power, especially with regard to wealthy Jews, as is currently happening in the West with regard to wealthy Russians. In a constitutional state, concepts such as the presumption of innocence apply. Everyone’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; no one has to prove his innocence. If there is any doubt about the guilt of the accused, a decision must be made in his favor and not against him. And then there must be initial suspicion, which must not be based solely on membership of an ethnic group. There is also the guarantee of the right to property, which means that no one may be arbitrarily deprived of their property.
However, in Nazi Germany every Jew was under general suspicion of having acquired their possessions unfairly, making it possible for them to be taken from them collectively without due process and without the opportunity to defend themselves. Even though Jews used constructs like trusts, holdings, and outsourcing—which were legal then just as they are today, even if they are used by Russians—in order to get their possessions to safety they were still heavily criticized and called names. Until it can be demonstrated that illegal acts occurred in a specific case there is nothing incriminating about it. Being wealthy and Russian cannot be a serious criterion for a state based on the rule of law today, just as it could not have been when the German state targeted wealthy Jews. It is not enough to incriminate a Russian simply because he appeared on a Forbes list or because he was once seen in the same room as Vladimir Putin.
Russian athletes are another group collectively punished for the actions of their government. The ancient Olympic Games in Greece allowed for dialogue, discussion and peace between city-states that were otherwise constantly at war. Yet German politicians, media, and the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) demanded and succeeded in banning Russian athletes from international sports competitions. Even normal families traveling via Germany to a southern European vacation destination have their cars taken away by German customs authorities just because they are Russian!
Another analogy to Germany’s dark past: German politicians, sports and cultural officials, and the media have once again stirred up hysteria against everything Russian, not only against oligarchs and other rich Russians, but also against Russian culture, music, art, literature, and painting.
They used to wear brown, now they wear green and other political colors: Ursula von der Leyen and other German politicians are once again at the forefront of efforts to strip assets from a group under general suspicion. They are also again supplying large quantities of weapons to war zones, even though German law prohibits it. Historically, Germany has a rather short history as a constitutional state, but its current rulers are again eager to drag it down.
Cosmopolitanism Gives Way to Centralized Brussels Eurocracy: The Case of Switzerland
Neighboring Switzerland was once a magnet for famous immigrants from around the world who became Swiss citizens. These include Albert Einstein, who settled in the Alpine republic as a teenager, attended schools there, and worked and taught as a young physicist (before becoming world famous), as well as Lenin, who prepared the Russian Revolution in Zurich and traveled from there by train to St. Petersburg to implement his plans, courtesy of the German emperor.
German immigrant Walter Boveri and Englishman Charles Brown founded the ABB Group in Switzerland, today a world leader in automation and electrical engineering; Frankfurt-born Heinrich Nestle founded the world’s largest food company in Switzerland; and Belgian March Rich founded the world’s largest commodity trading and mining company in the Alpine Republic.
And in 2009, businessman Andrey Melnichenko settled in Switzerland with his family. He was born in Belarus in 1972. His mother is Ukrainian, his father Belarusian. At a young age, he participated in numerous science competitions and won the Russian “Physics Olympiad” at the age of seventeen. An astute entrepreneur, he first founded a bank from scratch at the age of 21 and then built manufacturing industries. He owns EuroChem, a world leader in fertilizer production, and coal companies. His companies employ 130,000 people worldwide. The headquarters of its holding company is located in Switzerland.
Overnight, he became persona non grata in Switzerland. The European Union put him on a sanctions list, and supposedly neutral Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, followed suit and obeyed. Yet he is neither an oligarch nor does he belong to “Putin’s inner circle,” as the European Union and Switzerland falsely claim. Even his wife, a Croatian model, was sanctioned for alleged complicity.
In a July 2022 interview, he told Switzerland’s Weltwoche (the only European newspaper interested in his fate): “I am being punished because I am Russian and rich.” Melnichenko held a honorary position in the “Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.” He explained that this is the classic representation of the interests of private companies vis-à-vis the state. The instrument is called dialogue, institutionalized dialogue. In this framework, he said, together with other business representatives, he participated in a meeting with Vladimir Putin, whom he did not know personally and with whom he had never had a one-on-one conversation. The photo of the meeting with Putin and the representatives of Russian industry, including Melnichenko, was enough to ostracize him and severely damage him privately and professionally.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he declared that the war in Ukraine was “really tragic” and called for peace. A spokesman for Melnichenko also said at the time that he had no political connections whatsoever.” His lawyers have been protesting in Brussels and Bern for months, but he and his wife have not even received a legal hearing.
Parallels to the National Socialist Arbitrary State: The Melnichenko Case
Melnichenko had settled in Switzerland with his wife and children in St. Moritz “because of the rule of law, neutrality and freedom,” he explains. But after he was placed on a European Union sanctions list following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, all his assets, houses, cars and so on in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe were seized almost overnight. He and his family are not allowed to return to their home in Switzerland, where his children went to school. In his case, the once cherished Swiss rule of law, neutrality and freedom are gone for good. The Swiss government has not even responded to his letters or those of his lawyers. His family, treated as criminals in the European Union and Switzerland, has since found refuge in the United Arab Emirates.
In 2021 alone, Melnichenko’s company EuroChem shipped 19.1 million tons of fertilizer, which produced 80 million tons of grain and fed 280 million people. Since he and his wife no longer have access to their company and it is being ostracized by banks, authorities and business partners due to the sanctions, fertilizer production is at risk and with it the feeding of millions of people, especially in poor countries.
The adoption of European Union sanctions without prior examination is already a scandal, but not the only one. With these sanctions, which also include the freezing of 15 billion francs, half of it from the Russian Central Bank, the Swiss Federal Council is also undermining the proven system of separation of powers. It acts as legislature, executive and judiciary in one.
This is because those affected have no opportunity to take legal action. Parliament has no say in the matter. The judiciary can only look on.
Central Banks are also Deprived of Funds for Dubious Reasons
Even the property of states, such as the assets of a central bank, cannot be touched unless it can be proven to be of illegal origin.
But can the money of the Russian Central Bank be confiscated just because it is obviously “close” to the Putin government?
The assets of the Russian people managed by the Central Bank are not really to blame for the potentially illegal invasion of the Putin regime. Moreover, the state assets are under international immunity protection. But even that does not bother the Western governments, which confiscate the assets, i.e. the savings of the Russian people, to give them instead to the autocratic and highly corrupt Zelensky regime in Ukraine. What happens to these billions in a country where even the Chief Justice of its Supreme Court has been arrested for corruption and bribery remains uncertain.
Although there is a UN General Assembly resolution that Russia must pay for the damage caused in Ukraine, it is not binding under international law. The only authorized legal body that could decide on expropriations would be the UN Security Council, which will not make such a decision with the required unanimity.
Backsliding into Tribal or Racial Justice as in Nazi Germany
In the case of Melnichenko, as in the case of other wealthy Russians, the rule of law was trampled on in Western countries by denying the presumption of innocence and the right to defend oneself, and by abolishing the guarantee of property.
We should learn from the treatment of wealthy Jews in Nazi Germany, because history is repeating itself before our eyes:
First the Western governments wanted to take away the money from the oligarchs, then from all “rich” Russians. And now they are already discussing taking away the money from everyone who has a Russian passport.
Another analogy is that there is a hysteria against everything Russian, which includes not only oligarchs and other wealthy individuals but also Russian culture, music, art, literature, and painting.
And not to forget: As in Nazi Germany, the injustice done to one stigmatized group to the applause of many can next be used against another. And even if this seems impossible for many at the moment, the injustice done to one is a threat to all.