german politics

Angela Merkel – The last Defender of the Free World

Angela Merkel - The last Defender of the Free World
© Pixabay

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.    

german politics

Why Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany

Holocaust
(c)pixabay

written by Max Söllner

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.

german politics

Germans want to put a cap on CEO salaries

CEO cap
(c) pixabay

written by Paris Karagounis

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.

german politics Uncategorized

Japan's Relationship with Hitler – Hitler Mangas

Hitler Mangas in Japan
(c) via Pixabay

written by Charles Dunbar

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.

german politics Uncategorized

The true face of Germany in the Refugee Crisis?

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

written by Paris Karagounis

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.

german culture german politics Uncategorized

The Future of German Society

second amendment
(c) Image by jarmoluk via Pixabay

A few Changes to Germany’s Culture

Thanks to a certain right-wing party’s recent landslide election wins, the future of German culture has been secured. Under the working title “German Leitkultur”, native Germans as well as all visiting or migrating foreigners will have to obey the following principles. But don’t worry, it’s very easy to become a bit more German so the locals don’t get upset. Here is an overview of the core changes:

Veils will not be Allowed in Public

Men and women will not be allowed to wear any piece of clothing or item that hides their face. I can only assume it is because one never knows whether a woman wearing a burqa or niqab is making faces at someone. Or what if a man decides to hide behind a veil and to commit a crime. I couldn’t find any statistics about it but if I can think of it, others certainly will, and crime rates may rise.  We already have a few very committed Bürgerwehren here in Germany whose self-appointed activities will soon be expanded to assist the Polizei in upholding the ban on veils and other crimes like looking out for gay men having sexual intercourse on autobahn parking places.

 

Strengthening Women’s Rights

As Turkish Premier R.T. Erdogan has made clear, women are above all mothers and should not be burdened by having to strive for economic independence. To lighten this burden, single mothers will not be supported anymore by the German Government. This will make women think twice about leaving their child’s father (even if he is not such a nice person) and re-stabilise German families, thus building the foundation for the next point:

The AfD wants to cut Taxes

… for enterprises and wealthy individuals. Finally, Germany will have a fair taxation system as one only has to make enough money to have to pay less taxes. If you think about it, why would the richest 1% have to pay for the remaining 99% of our country’s population? They are rich because they are working hard 48 hours per day, 62 days a month, 24 months a year. A nurse only would have to work for 2500 years and she would make the same amount of money as a manager at Daimler-Chrysler in ten years (e.g. Mr. Schremp allegedly made 80 Million in that time). It’s all about the chances in life, right? And everyone knows that someone who makes an average of Euro 1 Million per year is of more value to society than a nurse. Have you ever heard of a manager on strike or taking sick leave?

Paying less taxes of course means that we have to save money elsewhere and what better way to start saving than to cut social welfare. All those unemployed and disabled people cost society a fortune. After all, it is the family that causes the problem by giving birth to future social outcasts and therefore families should take care of them themselves. To further lighten a woman’s burden from the weight of economic independence, kindergartens will be closed so that mothers have a solid reason to stay at home and to motivate the husband to work overtime.  Also, old people’s homes will be no longer be necessary as taking care of one more person doesn’t really add much to a mother’s workload.

Better Moral Education

With mothers being busy taking care of their families again and men joyfully heading to work harder than ever, at times adolescents might get off track. However, as long as they are still young they can easily be straightened out. And what’s better than teaching a youngling a life-changing lesson than putting him or her into jail. Twelve seems to be a perfect age in the eyes of our future leaders to face some character-forming time in solitary confinement.

Ignoring Global Warming

As we know from more than 2% of scientists global warming is nothing but a temporal fluctuation of our planet’s body temperature. The other 97% of scientists are obviously victims of misinformation and maybe even part of a giant conspiracy. As long as there is one scientist doubting global warming, it simply doesn’t make sense to take action. The money is dearly needed to make up for the tax cuts and increased budget for the Ministry of Defence.

Finally, we will get our own Second Amendment

If every household had a firearm, severe conflicts among Germans would diminish. Every year 830 Germans die from gunshot wounds. Approximately 750 of these were suicides (~90%) and the remaining 70 were accidents or rather affect based attacks by jealous spouses or criminals. That’s almost 0,001% of the German population and completely unacceptable. Just to put this number into perspective, in the US only 33,636 people died from gunshot wounds, 21,175 of which committed suicide (~62%) which is a 0,01% of their population, or just ten times more than in Germany. And people in the USA must feel significantly more safe than those in Germany with all those guns around which are certainly in the hands of reliable and responsible people. It was high time that Germany followed this successful model of self-defence and ensured that every home had a firearm in it. . 

Above I have described the main changes that are to be expected if right-wing parties continue to have such success at the polls. As you can see they are in everyone’s best interest and will make our lives more secure and free us from the burden of having to make too many free and informed decisions or live in a society where we all agree that the least fortunate amongst us need help, single mothers should be supported and that dignity is something everyone should have and not just the rich.

At this point you might expect me to declare that this is all a bad April fool’s day joke but I must admit that I was lacking the imagination to come up with such a hopeful vision for my country’s future and only “enhanced” publicly available information. Luckily we still might have a few years left before this vision ultimately comes true but if we don’t wake up now, a post like this will soon not be posted just on the first of April anymore.

But hey, heads up. No matter how much to the right German society will move, knowing German will always be seen as a friendly act and might save your life one day.

german politics Uncategorized

Germany Mourns over Paris Attack

by Paris Karagkounis

One minute of silence fell all over Germany today, as people from all major cities gathered to mourn for the loss of 129 people in the Paris attacks over the weekend.

Locals and tourists gathered outside the French embassy in Berlin, just meters away from the Brandenburger Tor, to pay homage to those killed at the Paris attacks. The French ambassador Philippe Etienne joined the small crowd. On midday even Berlin’s S-Bahn trains haled their services as a sign of remembrance.

Political analysts now indicate that the German government is divided on the recent refugee crisis and seems quite likely to turn more austere.