german politics

Voting in Germany – Elections – Wahlen

Voting in Germany - Elections - Wahlen
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Elections seem to be really trendy at the moment. 2016 had a rather big one and 2017 will see important elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany. So, we thought we’d take a look the German electoral system. In the light of recent events, it’s particularly interesting to compare it to the US-System.

The Federal Structure of Germany

First of all, it’s important to know that the German political landscape consists of more than two major parties. Parties that pretty much constantly play a role in recent German politics are the conservative CDU (and its sister the CSU), the social-democratic SPD, the green party, the (neo-) liberal FDP, the socialist party “Die Linke”, and the right-wing newcomers from the AfD. Germany is split up into 16 federal states with different voting laws. Though those differences are minor in nature, e.g. concerning the legal voting age in communal elections etc.

Different Types of Elections

Which brings us to the different types of elections. There are, of course, elections for the Bundestag, the German parliament, which in turn picks the Chancellor. There is a 5% hurdle that bars too many smaller parties from entering parliament, thus preventing the creation of a working government to be overly complicated up to impossible. The coalition with the most seats in the Bundestag can form the Government. On the ballots, voters can make two kinds of crosses. With the first vote they are supporting a specific candidate from their electoral district, who in the case of success is being sent to the Bundestag. The second cross is a direct vote for one of the listed parties. Basically, the direct party-votes decide the proportions of the seat arrangement in the Bundestag. If a party has amassed fewer votes then district candidates, the candidates go through to the Bundestag anyway. This means that the number of representatives in the Bundestag may change with every election. As in other EU-Countries, non-citizens are not permitted to vote the Bundestag they are however allowed to vote the local assembly. The Bundestag is elected every four years and, interestingly enough, there is no limit of terms for the German Chancellor.

Fun fact: The Bundeskanzler (Chancellor), though being the government leader and the most powerful politician in the country is not the highest political office when it comes to protocol. Officially, the President (Bundespräsident) and the President of the Bundestag outrank the Chancellor. In reality, the office of the President is only a formal one, which almost doesn’t bestow any powers onto the person holding it. The President of the Bundestag is more of a manager of the Bundestag.

Federal Elections

Of course, Germans also elect their respective federal parliaments. Organizational forms and names can vary from state to state, but overall the election process, as well as the function of parliament and government, are roughly the same. Still, state-ballots can look a lot different than the ones for the Bundestag. Regularly, citizens are prompted to vote in a referendum on specific state matters, whereas referendums are rarely ever held on a national level. The state parliament-terms last for five years and state elections are seldom held on the same date, which essentially means that there often are fluid slight power shifts throughout a government term.

Further elections include the aforementioned local elections, in which vote members of communal assemblies and representatives for state parliaments. And as all other EU-Citizens, Germans take part in the election of the European Parliament every five years.

In the end, German campaigns and elections are a lot less entertaining than American ones, but then again that might not be a bad thing as it seems that even such spectacle cannot raise voter turnout significantly.

Voting in Germany - Elections - Wahlen
german politics

Angela Merkel – Germany’s first scientist?

Angela Merkel  - Germany's first scientist?
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She was the Time magazine’s person of the year 2015, and people refer to her as the mightiest woman in the world: Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. If she wins the election in 2017 for the fourth period, she will be head of government as long as her longtime mentor Helmut Kohl was. If not, she will also become one of the most iconic chancellors in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany.

The life of Angela Merkel before Politics

Angela Merkel was born in 1954 in Hamburg but grew up in the GDR in the Uckermark near Berlin. The general public sees her as the first chancellor from the east. Her origin has also always been some issue that was sometimes named when it comes to criticizing Angela Merkel: Her past in the GDR. As a youngster in the socialist state, she had to join the Freie Deutsche Jugend, the youth organization of the GDR. But she did not only participate in it but was also a referent for cultural issues during her times in university. She was never part of the SED-Party, but also never participated in any opposition. Angela Merkel was more a scientist, and therefore she might have kept herself out of anything that could have harmed her academic career. She became a Physicist and even graduated with her Ph.D.

Some people say that her scientific way to solve problems is also a characteristic of her way to act in politics: Don’t rush into something, just look at it in quiet, analyze it and then find a solution. It is this way of dealing with problems that gave her respect, but also a lot of criticism when Angela Merkel became chancellor. When it came to public discussions, she often kept it small and just remained quiet. That’s why she sometimes even was called the Teflon Chancellor because everything just bounces off her.

On the way to Leadership

As she was elected first in 2005, Angela Merkel was not completely unknown. She was a fellow of Helmut Kohl who more or less stood in the background. But she is said to have prepared her rise inside the party CDU precisely. In 1999, she dared to criticize Helmut Kohl in public in an article in the Newspaper FAZ – something that was unthinkable before inside the CDU and especially risky for her because Kohl was something like her mentor. But this step made her soon become the chairwomen of the party itself which led to the opportunity to become the candidate for the chancellorship.

As chancellor, Angela Merkel was not only known for her analytic behavior, but also for her attitude to strengthen the European Integration and therefore the European Union. She became close to both Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin, last one of course because she is also fluent in Russian.

But some of her most infective actions just took place in the last few years. First, she was known for her strict course towards the debtors inside the European Union, most of all Greece, whose people even  referred to her as the second Hitler. She also strengthened the leading role of Germany inside Europe which had the same effect on some groups. On the other hand, she also became popular among left voters for her course during the refugee crisis and her bon mot “Wir schaffen das!” (we will handle it!).

Angela Merkel is both respected and hated, but which one of the political leaders is not? But one thing is for sure: Her way to deal with things like a physician has influenced Germany probably more than any other could have done in the last ten years.

Angela Merkel - Germany's first scientist?
german politics

The major German Parties – Part Two

German Party Politics
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CSU – Christlich Soziale Union Bayerns

The CSU is a particular case in German politics. On the federal government level, the party is part of the CDU/CSU fraction and thus of the German government. It acts as sister party to the CDU, but is more traditionalistic, conservative and currently takes a hard drift towards the right. The CSU is only running in Bavaria and has been ruling the Federal State since its foundation in 1945 (except for four years in the 1950’s). The CDU forwent from creating a fraction in the Bavarian parliament and in turn the CSU backs its policy on the federal level, plus it is repeatedly awarded government offices. Currently, though, the CSU behaves as sort of an opposition within the government as it consistently opposes the chancellor openly.

Die Linke – The Left

Die Linke is the most successful left-wing political party in Germany. It’s a fusion of two major left parties. The Left was created in 2007 when the largest western German and the successor to the GDR’s SED-PDS merged. The SED-past of many members and of the party itself was often a source of criticism of the party’s policies. Die Linke itself is furthermore caught in a constant struggle between the moderates and the more radical members. Some of the party’s internal issues can lead back to its history. In some eastern German states, Die Linke used to be comparatively stable and was even part of state governments. On a federal level, the left never made it past the opposition. While the moderates have long tried to make the party an option for a coalition of SPD, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen and Die Linke, the AFD surprisingly manages to steal many of Die Linke’s votes in eastern Germany.

FDP – Freiheitlich Demokratische Partei Deutschlands

The liberal FDP is a good example for the changeability of the German political landscape in recent years. Founded in 1948, the party was elected into all German parliaments since 1949, until 2013, when it didn’t manage to make the 5% threshold of the Bundestag. This event threw the party into a deep crisis, from which it, since then, is trying to recover. Traditionally acting as the number one junior partner for the CDU, the FDP managed to reach a few successes in polls and state elections, feeding hopes for the party to return to the German parliament in 2017. 

AFD – Alternative für Deutschland

A lot has been written and said about the AFD. In its short existence, it managed to stir the political pot in the country, pulling voters from all other parties as well as the so-called protest-voters, and people who did not previously vote. Additionally, the AFD allied with the racist and islamophobe PEGIDA-movement. Since its foundation in 2014, it managed to get into 8 State Parliaments as well as into the European Parliament. The party started out as a mono-topical anti-Euro movement, but quickly turned into a hardline conservative and then an openly far-right party. But, maybe owed to the AFD’s relative youth, the party still doesn’t appear as a united body. Particularly in western states, the party seems a lot more moderate than in the eastern states. Compared to its youth and size, the AFD is extremely successful in making itself heard.

NPD – Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands

The NPD, founded in 1964, is the unofficial successor to Hitler’s NSDAP. The party’s program is openly racist, and it has many ties to Neo-Nazis all over Germany. Just like Die Linke, it is under constant surveillance by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Over the course of its existence, there have been numerous attempts to have the party dissolved and prohibited by the constitutional court. Recently the NPD suffered heavily under the rise of the AFD and has now lost all seats in state parliaments.

Check out Part One here!

German Party Politics
german politics

The major German Parties – Part One

The major German Parties - Part One
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There are numerous differences between the Anglo-American style of democracy and the German way of organizing legislature, but one of the most obvious ones is the number of relevant parties. Now, it’s of course not a valid method to put the British and the American model on the same end of the range of democratic systems, but for the sake of argument, let’s do it anyway. Aside from the very different democratic institutions, both systems share the presence of two major parties, with all other existing parties being virtually nonessential. From afar it’s quite easy to forget that there are green parties in England or the United States, for example. Germany, however, has a tradition of a high number of visible and audible parties that struggle for election into the parliament, with usually about four to six parties ending up there. Even though the past decades saw only a few changes regarding who is making up the house, there still were changes. While there are thousands of political parties throughout Germany and some of them even make it to local or federal state governments and parliaments, let us take a look at only the most “important” ones – the parties that shaped the history of the Federal Republic of Germany (especially after the Reunification in 1990).

The SPD – Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands

The social democrats are the oldest, still active major political party in Germany. It even predates the first German Republic, the Weimarer Republik, and recently celebrated its 125th anniversary. Even though our current government consists of a so-called “great coalition” of the SPD and the CDU, the social democrats have been the biggest rivals of the CDU since its foundation in 1945. Famous German chancellors such as Helmut Schmidt and Willy Brandt have risen from the Ranks of the party. But it seems as if the glorious times of the SPD are behind the party. Even though it is part of various Federal State governments and the current German one as well, it hasn’t been the leading part of a national government in quite a while and has been continuously losing votes on all fronts for years.

The CDU – Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands

The Christian Democrats are Angela Merkel’s party. Before Merkel, who could run for her fourth successive term in 2017, the last CDU-chancellor was Helmut Kohl, who served three consecutive terms. One could safely assume, that the CDU was the steering power in German politics since before the Reunification. While the SPD could be the German equivalent of the US-Democrats, the CDU would serve as our version of the Republicans. Therefore the CDU is a conservative party, though one has to say that both CDU and SPD moved towards each other in recent years, making it more difficult for voters to spot the differences between the two. While the CDU, successor to the Zentrum-party which the National Socialists in the Third Reich forbade, has been the most successful party for a while now, the last couple of years saw its influence on a Federal State level dwindle. Today, there is only one Federal CDU-Government left in Germany.

Bündnis 90/Die Grünen – The Green Party

When Green Party delegates were first elected into the German parliament in 1983, they caused quite an upheaval. Everything from their looks to their agendas was troublesome to the traditional inhabitants of the sacred halls of German politics. The party, which is in itself a fusion of two green parties, was a direct result of growing anti-nuclear and anti-pollution protest movements in the 1980’s as well as social movements from the 1970’s. While the party developed into a rather social and left-wing party, it also drew more conservative members in its earlier days. Starting out as a protest party, Bündnis 90/Die Grünen became the go-to junior partner for the SPD. Over the course of the last two decades, the party underwent some broad changes and distanced itself from its earlier incarnations. Today the green party even runs the government in Baden-Württemberg, a traditionally conservative state. Though, one has to say that this green head of state is probably more conservative than some CDU-members.

The major German Parties - Part One
german politics

A quick Overview of the Political System in Germany

A quick Overview of the Political System in Germany
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Politics influence everything, so it is always good to be informed. But for knowing what you are talking about, you have to have the necessary information about the system you are living in. So let’s try to make a quick overview of the political system of the Federal Republic of Germany.

 

A representing President

 

If you have your origin in the United States or France, you would think that the president is the most powerful person in the state – but not in Germany. In fact, the Federal Republic just has a president in a representative manner. He (or she) does not have a lot of political power. More like the Queen of Great Britain, he represents the values of the nation and here and there makes statements. Besides, he has to sign the bills and appoint the ministers. The reason for this fact is simple: Germany has had some dreadful experiences with one person having the power of the whole state. That’s why all of German politics aim at preventing to let one person gain too much influence.

 

Bundestag and Bundesrat

 

Germany is therefore not only a federal but also a parliamentary republic. That means that the parliament has the power, the so-called Bundestag (not to mix up with the Reichstag: That’s just the name of the building.). The members of the Bundestag (all in all 630) are voting and passing the bills. But with Germany being also a federal republic, another chamber is part of the legislative system, the Bundesrat. As soon as the bill is at any place affecting the matters of the 16 Bundesländer, the Bundesrat has also to vote for and then pass the bill. Sounds a bit confusing? It is, also for those who are well-educated in politics.

 

The role of the Chancellor

 

The Chancellor, at the moment Angela Merkel, is also part of the Parliament and has, of course, a mandate. Thus executive and legislative are at a certain amount mixed, but that’s not a problem at all: The Bundeskanzler has to be elected by the members of parliament and not by the citizens. The Bundestag controls the Bundeskanzler, although he or she sets the basic principles of the German policy in advance (the so-called Kanzlerdemokratie). The parliament can dismiss the chancellor in different ways – the konstruktives Misstrauensvotum (motion of no confidence) and the Vertrauensfrage (where the chancellor asks the parliament for loyalty). The first thing happened twice until now, the second one five times.

 

The chancellor is not only part of the parliament, but also head of the government (but not the head of state). Therefore, he/she is choosing different ministers for his/her government. Because Germany has a multi-party system, the chancellor needs to follow the result and the ratio of the election when naming the ministers. Because of that, normally a coalition between two or more parties has to be made to form a functioning government. Otherwise, the government would not have the parliament’s majority to rule the country properly.

 

Separated from the executive and the legislative is of course also in Germany the judicative. There is a close link to the idea of federalism: Each Land has its courts, but the highest instance is the Bundesgerichtshof and therefore a court of the Bund (The Federal Republic).

 

One could write pages and pages more about the rather complicated system, but this overview should give you a first impression. If you are planning to learn more about the political system in Germany, just take a look at the page of the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Federal office of political education).

Political System Germany
german politics

Angela Merkel – The last Defender of the Free World

Angela Merkel - The last Defender of the Free World
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Four more years. German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she is going to run for another term in office heading into 2017 and the upcoming election in September. So far, no real threat in the form of an opposing candidate has emerged. Not that it would really matter, as Germany’s political landscape doesn’t seem to offer anyone who could really challenge her. To find a coalition able to form a government might, however, prove more challenging. Still, political experts are united in their projections that Angela Merkel indeed will be Chancellor for four more years. But there is another job that Merkel might have to do. Following numerous media outlets after the election of Donald Trump as US-President, Angela Merkel is now the last defender of the so-called Free World – or if you are not into Cold War-Terminology: the Liberal West. Why is that? With an open populist who has ties to a bunch of right-wing groups moving to the White House, right-wing parties on the rise all over Europe and a number of less than stable national economies, it’s understandable why the eyes of the US-Media turn to Angela Merkel as a voice of reason – but the defender of the Liberal West?

An American Point of View?

Interestingly enough, the domestic view on the chancellor is quite different. Also, there are different views on Germany and Angela Merkel all over Europe and the so-called Free World. The discussion is a very compelling one, as it shows the core differences of foreign, security and military policies and positions between the United States, Western, and maybe Eastern Europe. But this is not the place to discuss the reality of such a thing as the “Free World”.

The German worldview is fundamentally different from what one could call the American position that is based on the idea of exceptionalism. Thus, the German reaction to US-Media articles suggesting a “passing of the baton” from Barack Obama to Angela Merkel had to be something along the lines of: “No, thank you. That is not our place.” But this kind of sentiment, though sounding utterly pragmatic, could actually be a little off.

Winds of Change

Angela Merkel herself has rejected the notion of her leading the Liberal West as ridiculous. Though, at roughly the same time she dictated to US-President elect Donald Trump the terms of a working relationship: its foundation being the often quoted civil liberties of western societies – freedom of speech, press, religion and so forth. Her first act of defense in light of a potential threat to those values? Further, one could argue that Germany has a certain responsibility for the Western World and Europe in particular. It is the richest economy in Europe and the most influential party of the EU, especially after Great Britain voted to leave the organization. Germany came out way ahead of the financial crisis. It’s hard stance on keeping the austerity policy going and the changes made to its domestic social policies, including the introduction of dumping wages, more than a decade ago are partly responsible for the bad shape of a lot of the other European economies in countries such as Greece, Spain, and Italy.

2016 brought about enormous changes on the global political scale and 2017 promises to be another year of continuous change. It does seem likely, that in 2018 Angela Merkel will be the only stable and moderate major leader in Europe. However ominous the job title of Defender of the Liberal West might be, she might have to step up to do whatever that is.    

Angela Merkel - The last Defender of the Free World
german politics

Why Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany

Holocaust
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In today’s Germany the outright denial and even the trivialization of the Holocaust in public is a federal crime, punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Why is that? And since when do these legal provisions exist?

The decades after World War II

Before we get into the history of the laws against Holocaust denial, we must take a brief look at how post-war German society coped with its criminal past. In the years and decades after World War II, the German society – while overwhelming rejecting Nazi ideology after the traumatic experience of the war – chose not to deal with the specific Nazi crimes too intensively. As the conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States and their respective allies, the so called Cold War, began to heat up in the late 1940ies, the pressure of the Allied powers on Germany to reform and transform their society and punish all Nazi perpetrators decreased: (West)Germany was now desperately needed as an ally in the struggle against the communist takeover of Europe. As a consequence, it was mostly up to (Jewish) individuals like Fritz Bauer, Attorney General in the German state of Hessia, to remind Germans of their all to recent past and to at least try to, for example, bring some of the guards at the Auschwitz concentration camp to justice. Generally speaking, the Holocaust, or what the Nazis had euphemistically called ‘the final solution’, was a taboo topic in West Germany in the 1950ies and 60ies. It was rarely talked about publicly and not taught in school extensively like today. In that atmosphere, trivialization and belittling of Nazi crimes could fester.

History of laws agaings Holocaust denial

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that in 1960 the first law against Holocaust denial was passed as a reaction to the re-emerging anti-Semitism in German society: On Christmas Eve 1959, just a couple of months after its widely celebrated re-opening, the synagogue in Cologne was besmeared with swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs by two members of a right-extremist party. In the following months an entire wave of anti-Semitic acts swept over Germany. The administration of chancellor Konrad Adenauer (CDU: Christian Democratic Union) saw itself under considerable pressure to act and therefore decided to pass a law against ‘incitement’ (Volksverhetzung). The purpose of this law was to, among other things, make the denial of Nazi crimes against Jews a crime. The mind-set of the deniers was seen as the foundational myth of new forms of anti-Semitism that focused on the state of Israel and its alleged moral blackmailing of the German state based on the – in the eyes of these anti-Semites – ‘historical lie’ of the Holocaust. Once passed however, the law was never really used to sentence Holocaust deniers as the judicial qualifications necessary for a conviction were set very high. Furthermore, the German judicial system was still full of officials who started their careers in the Third Reich and in most cases were not willing to really confront their, and their country’s past. That does not necessarily mean that they still held on to their old beliefs – even though that could be found too – but they were very reluctant to address the topic of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (the process of coming to terms with one’s past) and therefor bring charges against Holocaust deniers.

In the 1970ies and 80ies various liberal and conservative administrations made half-hearted attempts to pass a more efficient law against Holocaust denial. In 1985 the Bundestag, the German Parliament, passed a law to make it easier to prosecute deniers via libel law. At the same time, this very law also made it a crime to deny the historical fact that German speaking people were expelled and deported from Eastern Europe in the aftermath of World War II, often having to leave all of their belongings behind. This problematic parallelization of crimes was heavily criticized, and many on the Left saw it as an act of revisionism itself.

In 1994 the incitement law of 1960 was amended to guarantee a more efficient prosecution of Holocaust deniers (once again) by reducing the necessary legal qualifications. The law came as a result of the election success of small far-right parties all over Germany. It was part of a legislative package that included severe restrictions on asylum seekers and their rights – not much different then today – in the hope of thereby reducing the appeal and the election chances of the far-right parties.

Overall, there were never that many individuals who openly and publicly denied the Holocaust in Germany over the years – in fact, they are mostly (old) white men with not much else to do – but the immense symbolic effect of these few and the image of Germany they evoked especially abroad made the German state react to them with ever stricter laws. These actions came as an result of the lesson learned from the National Socialists rise to power: ‘Wehret den Anfängen’ (‘Nip it in the bud’; Literally: ‘Beware of the beginnings’).

Today´s handle in Germany and other countries

Today the German state has a variety of legal ways to deal with Holocaust deniers. Because of the severity of the potential sentence for Holocaust denial it comes as no surprise that the right wing discourse in Germany has moved on, from the revisionism of Nazi crimes to the focus on migration, asylum seekers and Muslims/Islam in general. The legacy of these laws, however, lives on: In the last two decades many, in fact most, EU-countries have passed similar laws in the name of the fight against xenophobia and racism. Only the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian Countries oppose such laws on the basis of their understanding of free speech and a free society. In countries with a radically different understanding of freedom of speech, like in the US, such laws would be unthinkable. As a matter of fact, in 1977 the US Supreme Court found it within the limits of the First Amendment, which, among others things, guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, for the members of the National Socialist Party of America to march through a Jewish neighborhood with a large population of Holocaust survivors with swastika signs. But then again, National Socialism managed to rise to power only in Germany.

Holocaust
german politics

Germans want to put a cap on CEO salaries

CEO cap
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It’s been just over a year since the German government, introduced a national minimum wage. A survey by Die Zeit indicates that almost half of Germans would like to see a maximum wage cap.

Now, this isn’t Germany trying to talk itself out of an extra buck – far from it. The survey – designed as “a typical snapshot through which a country’s pulse is felt” – aims to find out how do Germans feel about the rising gap of wages between CEOs and average employees. The disparity between CEO and employee earnings is currently a hot topic in Germany, prompting public scrutiny and debate.

A 44% of the participants said that they were in favour of a national maximum wage. Interestingly, there is a strong difference of opinion between East and West Germany. 58% of east Germans indicate that they are strongly in favor of such a move, but only 41% of West Germany residents agree to this proposition. Over a quarter of survey respondents indicate that a wage cap would be a bad move, and 29% of those questioned said they are undecided.

A Stronger Economy?

Arguments from both sides focus on whether a wage cap would be detrimental to the national purse. Business advisors claim that more state intervention into the private sphere could be hugely damaging to Germany’s thriving economy as it could lead Germany being hostile towards investors. They also believe that introducing a wage cap will lead to a loss of top talent, causing businesses to falter and consequently widespread job losses.

In their view, wages should be decided by the market alone. However, supporters of the idea say that “company performance is rarely reflected in employee wage parity.” In their opinion, the success of a company or business depends primarily on the quality of the product or service they are offering, and whether there is a niche in the market for them. They stressed that a company’s growth, relies far less on the individual performance of workers, citing as an example the banker-led financial crisis.

This matter continues to polarize the country, eliciting some pretty sensationalist remarks from some corners. Newspaper editor Henning Hoffgaard, famous for heading up the right-wing publication Junge Freiheit, weighed in on a debate by referencing the country’s turbulent history. “44 percent of Germans have learned nothing from socialist terror,” he tweeted.

The Swiss Vote

Die Zeit’s poll was based upon a 2013 referendum in Switzerland, headed up by the Young Socialists and supported by the Greens and the Social Democrats. The 1:12 Initiative proposed limiting the salaries of CEOs to just 12 times that of their lowest-paid employees. The proposal was taken to the polls and was firmly rejected by the Swiss population, who disagreed that a smaller wage gap would lead to better living standards.

Just 34.7% of Swiss voters showed their support for the proposal, in contrast to the whopping 65.3% of citizens who turned out to vote against the plans.

CEO cap
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Japan’s Relationship with Hitler – Hitler Mangas

Hitler Mangas in Japan
© via Pixabay

The Problem of Humanizing Hitler

For all his infamy, Adolf Hitler remains something a mystery, even in the 21st century. From humble origins as an aspiring Austrian artist, his rise as a soldier, activist, politician, and eventual dictator more often highlight the atrocities he committed, and gives little to no attention to the life he lived up to that point. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to insist that by doing so, it might humanize an otherwise deplorable man, strip away the aura of hatred both from and levied upon him, and situate him as one small part of a massive machine dedicated to avenging the outcomes of history.

 

An Unlikely Source of Insight

Which is why it surprises me to no end that the finest, most accessible biography of “history’s greatest monster” comes to us courtesy of an unlikely source: Japanese mangaka Shigeru Mizuki. Like the eventual dictator, Mizuki had humble origins- growing up in rural Japan, at a time when the country was fast on the rise to the war that would eventually consume it at the midpoint of the 20th century. Like the Austrian, he was a talented artist, but one who had a temper that often got him into trouble. Like Hitler, he entered the military during a period of aggression on the part of his homeland, and as a result suffered from the worst mankind had to offer. And indeed, Mizuki was known as being somewhat obsessed with the man who drew the world into war, dedicating numerous volumes of his illustrated war histories to Germany and their charismatic leader.

 

Japan’s Historical Relationship with Germany

Japan has a rich tradition of inserting Germany into their media works. Much of the time, it is to depict the impact as largely negative- criticism of fascism or oppression, or thinly veiled insistences that Germany was the cause of Japan’s downfall, whether accurate or not. But in the case of Mizuki, a man who was harshly critical of both the war and the actions committed by both Japan and the European Axis powers, his even-handed look at those dark years provides another voice in the debate: one that argues history is its own largest foe.

 

Hitler Mangas

“Hitler,” his massive work looking into the life of the man, is no different than his other war works, save in one regard. Rather than try to paint into the story of the man a sense of the futility of war, he spends far more time trying to understand or relate the motivations behind what caused this artist to become a despot. Mizuki himself lost an arm in the war, and yet still dedicated himself to becoming the artist he knew he could be. In the manga, he shows Hitler as being lost in his own failures, obsessing over what he didn’t, or couldn’t, have, and using that as a launching point for his political and activist career.

 

Mizuki’s Depiction of the Führer

Unlike other histories of the war or the man, Mizuki’s Hitler doesn’t focus on the atrocities of the Holocaust, or the dread of battle, or the sting of Allied defeat. Rather, it shows Hitler as an almost farcical version of the newsreel footage. While surrounded by friends and political foes modeled on the actual figures, Hitler is himself comically designed, and prone to expressing his anger with humorous outbursts. When he is serious, his face darkens but retains its almost grotesque proportions. He questions himself constantly through internal monologues, and celebrates his victories with near-juvenile aplomb. Even at the end, when the war has turned in his favor and he secludes himself deep underground, his weakening morale is tempered with an almost jester-like countenance, where he resigns himself to his fate, while insisting that those around him whom he loves and respects must live for a future Germany, a future he once emphatically swore would never come to pass.

In this, Mizuki manages to create a Hitler that is far more human. While the mangaka does not attempt to reconcile or explain away the evils the man perpetrated (though he does ignore the Holocaust almost entirely and barely mentions a “final solution” to Hitler’s own rantings against the Jewish people), he does his best to show the doubtful, fearful, arrogant, and emotional sides to his subject. He forces readers to get inside Hitler’s head, push away historical assessments of the man, and see plainly what could have driven a human from creative pursuits to destructive impulses.

 

A Broader View on WWII

Personally, I think that this version of the Great Dictator is one that is worth reading, and is important for its ties to another Axis nation. The fact that a Japanese author used a distinctly Japanese medium to highlight the intricacies of a German figure for a world audience is reason alone to give this volume a look. Growing up as an American boy in the public schools, we never tried to study Hitler the man, just Hitler the monster. And while some of what I read in Mizuki’s manga was old news, I found the fact that it was present rather fresh. We take for granted the history behind the war, but it is itself worth studying, as it showcases turbulent times and complex emotions and politics that eventually allowed for such an extreme case of fascism to thrive. Looking at the reluctance of President Hindenburg, or the machinations of Schleicher, or seeing Hitler’s reactions to the death of his niece, it gave focus to the events and peoples that influenced both Hitler and his cronies, and gave rise to their rhetoric and eventual dominance. And, in the end, showed the consequences of that arrogance, as their world burned around them. No longer mysterious or frightening, just another instance of human drama.

Hitler Mangas in Japan
german politics

The true face of Germany in the Refugee Crisis?

© kytrangho via Pixabay
© via Pixabay – die Mauer | the (outside) wall — die Wand | the (inside) wall

German Transport Minister “closure of the border would see Europe fail” says is true in reverse

The German transport minister stated recently that Germany can no longer show its ‘friendly face’ to refugees. Mr. Alexander Dobrindt pleaded with Chancellor Angela Merkel to close the country’s borders unless other European nations start accepting similar numbers with Germany.

During an interview with München Merkur newspaper, Mr Dobrindt voiced his concern over Merkel’s ‘open door’ policy. “I would advise us all to prepare a plan B; We must prepare ourselves for not being able to avoid border closures”

Denying criticism that border closures would be damaging to Europe, the minister stated that Berlin should act alone if a Europe-wide deal could not be reached. “The sentence, the closure of the border would see Europe fail, is true in reverse. Not closing the border, just going on, would bring Europe to its knees.” If the refugee numbers don’t begin to fall, then Germany should go ahead with its own policies.

Dobrindt is a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). As Bavaria is the main entry point for refugees seeking asylum in Germany, tensions have been rising among Merkel and several of its cabinet members. Most recently, the district’s minister Peter Dreier sent 31 Syrian refugees to Berlin as a protest against the lack of accommodation and resources available to asylum seekers in the town of Landshut.

Dobrindt’s concerns followed an announcement from Bavarian CSU leader Horst Seehofer, who has promised to send a request to the federal government demanding that ‘orderly conditions’ be restored at the German borders.

The statements made by Mr. Dobrindt and Mr. Seehofer were criticized by the German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. A member of the Social Democratic party, Mr Steinmeier supported the chancellor’s position and stated that “the solution…does not lie in closing borders.”

Merkel’s decision to let refugees enter Germany freely has dominated headlines for several months. In 2015 the country welcomed more than a million asylum seekers, and there are no indications that the influx will slow down.

Responding to criticism of her open door policy in regard of the refugee crisis, Mrs. Merkel said that she will work to reduce the number of refugees entering Germany, but later claimed that enforcing an upper limit would lead to border closures.

The German chancellor is also encouraging Turkey to restrict the refugees’ movement to their borders while also asking for other European countries to increase their intake of asylum seekers.

Germany’s iron lady also agreed with the EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, calling for refugee reception centers, the so called hotspots, to be built on European borders.

Merkel’s CDU party also wants North Africa to be declared a ‘safe zone’. If they succeed, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia will be classified as safe countries, a move that will dramatically reduce the number of North African nationals being granted asylum.

The decision would allow Germany to provide advanced help and resources to people fleeing war zones such as Syria. 40% of the asylum seekers who have arrived in Germany last year, are Syrian nationals.

The declaration of a North African safe zone would mean that Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian nationals would no longer be housed in shelters across Germany.

Whether that would help solving the refugee crisis only time will tell.

(c) kytrangho via Pixabay