PARIS â€" The electoral surge was on scale with the threat at hand: The rise in turnout from the first to second rounds of France's regional elections was so strong that it prevented the conquest of several regional governments by the far-right National Front party, which tallied the highest number of votes in its entire history.
Rejection was followed by refusal. Once again, voters of traditional parties, left- and right-wing, combined their votes to withstand a thriving far-right party, ultimately denying any side a true victory.
In the wake of the second round, these symmetrical ebbs and flows, the seemingly predictable reflexes, might seem reassuring, as if the old electoral clockwork of the past 30 years was still functioning â€" for better or worse. As if the National Frontâ€™s time was bound never to arrive.
And yet, the results are in fact as worrying as they were after the first round. Now we see more clearly just how broken our democratic machinery is; even as we may be lulled again to not feel the urgency to repair it before it disintegrates completely.
Tempted by business as usual
On Sunday evening, leaders of both the establishment right and left vowed that they had learned their lesson from voters even more clearly than they had back on April 21, 2002, when the then leader of the National Front Jean-Marie Le Pen advanced to the second round of the presidential election. All gave humble and cautious speeches. Yet, their first priorities were to find a way to position themselves for internal party battles in the coming months. The temptation to return to â€œbusiness as usualâ€ is once again particularly strong with the preparation of the presidential election in early 2017.
Elections have their own way of following in the logic of the one that came before. This denial of reality will, sooner or later, lead to a disaster. It would be quite troubling to move into the never-ending presidential campaign that lies ahead in 2016 without having first faced the many angers expressed at the polls. Starting with the despair of National Front voters, stemming from a feeling of helplessness facing mass unemployment, of injustice facing inequalities and of neglect by public authorities, all the frustrations that Marine Le Penâ€™s party manipulates by stigmatizing scapegoats.
It will also be crucial to listen to the disillusionment of the huge number of people who have abstained from voting. These voters who only go to polls â€" until when? â€" to avert an immediate threat, who only vote, irregularly, â€œagainst,â€ for lack of having found a project that would convince them to vote â€œforâ€ someone or something. These citizens, especially the young, no longer feel the need to register on electoral rolls and feel more and more comfortable drifting away from the democratic life.
To handle this jumble of disappointments, there is much work to do. It includes a change in the voting method, a new reduction of the number of different offices a politician can hold simultaneously, a renewal of the political class, an opening to civil society.
But, in these times of designating scapegoats, it is also important not to put all the blame on political leaders. Elected representatives donâ€™t have the monopoly on cynicism and selfishness. To overcome this democratic crisis, certain public virtues that are fading away need to be restored: the sense of compromise, an appreciation for complexity, respect for dialogue, taking the long view.
At the end of a calamitous 2015 for France, our country cannot afford to spare itself a deep renovation of its political life. The 2017 presidential campaigns must be a laboratory for this. These goals are not unrealistic: After all, it was in Paris this same past weekend that â€" at the price of infinite patience, mutual concessions and cutting-edge diplomacy â€" that a major deal, that of the COP21, has just been signed between 195 different countries with a multitude of competing interests.
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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