Christmas Card From Cuba: Thaw Delivers Santa Claus, But Not Human Rights

Essay: A dissident blogger recalls the secret Christmas of her youth. The holidays are now acknowledged out in the open, but the other troublesome topic -- human rights -- is still off limits.

The colors and contradictions of Havana (Leshaines123)
The colors and contradictions of Havana (Leshaines123)
Yoani Sánchez

HAVANAOf all the naughty words and phrases I remember from childhood, two stood out as being particularly taboo: "Christmas' and "Human Rights."

I remember hearing the first occasionally, but only in a hushed voice. It was something a grandmother might mention from time to time, someone who'd once had the experience of decorated trees, Christmas sweets and turkey. But the second of those off-limits words, when acknowledged at all, was muttered with contempt – to allude to our so-called enemies: people who were said to be involved in counterrevolutionary acts.

That's how I grew up, far from the end-of-year festivities enjoyed in so many other countries and believing that evil lurked behind the U.N."s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. My limited vocabulary was evidence of how I'd been conditioned to be full of fears and to accept restriction after restriction.

This December, the shops are adorned with flashing lights and trees brimming with decorations. A rather slim Santa Claus smiles through a store window in a major Havana shopping mall. When people meet up with each other they casually say things like "Merry Christmas," or "I'm out doing my Christmas shopping," or "Come on over to the house to celebrate Christmas."

The "human rights crowd"

Yes, Christmas – considered for decades to be a bad word – has made its way back into the island's general vocabulary. But that same neighbor who might invite you over for a Christmas meal may also tell you: "Watch out. Don't get too close to those people. They're part of the human rights crowd."

At some protest rally somewhere on the island, the mention of "human rights' will still prompt the political policeman stationed on the corner to mummer into his radio: "Yes, here come some of those people from the Human Rights faction." We all have a friend still who tells us to keep our voices down, saying "if you're going to talk about that kind of ‘stuff," it's better to turn the music up."

A hypothetical snow has begun falling on our red Christmas caps. But before it even has time to collect, it's being washed away by the same tropical downpour of intolerance and arrests that has swamped Cuba for decades and that blows the breath right back into the mouths of anyone who dares utter the words "human rights."

Read the original story in Spanish

Photo - Leshaines123

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

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.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


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.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

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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