GHENT — When the Volvo factory in the Belgian city of Ghent hosted China President Xi Jinping last week, along with the Belgian king and queen, the facility was covered in red Chinese knotting, a decorative Chinese folk art. It was a festive touch meant both to welcome the Chinese leader and to celebrate the carmakers’s identity as a Chinese-owned manufacturer.
As the last stop on President Xi’s visit to Europe, the choice of Volvo is particularly symbolic. Its Ghent facility was established in 1965 and is the biggest Volvo assembly plant outside of Sweden, where the company is based. Since China’s largest car company, Geely, bought Volvo from Ford nearly four years ago, production at the Ghent facility has increased steadily, creating more than 600 new jobs and making Volvo Belgium’s largest car manufacturer.
“Volvo is a Chinese factory, and we welcome chairman Xi home,” Volvo’s public relations officer said warmly, welcoming him before the Belgium carmaker’s chief executive officer handed over a handmade “Chinese Red” model car as a gift to the Chinese leader.
Volvo’s change in identity and its stimulating effect on the local economy correspond to Xi’s visit to Europe. Throughout Xi’s 11-day visit, the once-dominant Western countries were all lowering their gaze and competing among one another with gun salutes, red carpets, and military aircraft escorts to please the Chinese leader and his wife. They all want to strengthen their economic cooperation with China and attract Chinese investment.
Thanks to the booming Chinese automobile market, all major European carmakers are looking to China. During his four-country visit, Xi visited four different signature ceremonies for auto projects in Paris and Berlin. Among them were events for Dongfeng Motor; for the Beijing Automotive Group, which is expanding its cooperation with Daimler in its production capacity of the Beijing Benz; for BMW, which is signing an agreement to deepen its cooperation with its Chinese partner Brilliance; and for the Volkswagen Group, which will cooperate more closely with its Chinese joint venture partners SAIC Motor Co. and First Automotive Works in the field of forward-looking green technologies.
Among the agreements that were struck, the Brilliance partnership with BMW — valued at about 1.8 billion euros — represented one-fourth of the total Chinese-German deals made during Xi’s visit.
The European car market has been in decline for six consecutive years. In contrast, the Chinese car market, as the world’s largest, is one of the fastest growing. That’s why European car manufactureres want to form alliances in China.
Given the significant role car manufacturing plays in the national economy, supporting European car makers in a certain sense helps to safeguard Europe’s economic backbone.
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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