MOSCOW - Russia is going through a home-grown adoption boom.
In the changing landscape of adoption, 6,700 children were adopted or placed with foster parents inside of Russia last year. It is a marked change since the mid-2000s, when most adoptive parents were foreigners.
Now the majority of Russian adoptees are adopted by Russian parents. Last year, only 31.4% of the children adopted in Russia were adopted by foreigners.
But there’s also another, less optimistic figure: last year 6,337 adoptees were returned to orphanages, the vast majority at the initiative of their new parents. It is clear that in nearly all cases, the children were rejected by their new parents due to conflicts in the family.
Russia has begun instituting "adoption schools," which provide training for prospective adoptive parents, to limit such unfortunate conclusions. These schools have opened all over the country, and since September are required for anyone who wants to adopt a child in Russia.
One adoption school has been in operation in the Moscow Orphanage No. 19 for the past 20 years. Here, prospective parents could meet with a child only after having gone through the training. The orphanage’s specialists would choose parents for the children after this. Some were ultimately refused. Then the child would live with the family as a foster child, until the child either reached legal age or was officially adopted. The orphanage helped the foster parents financially and also gave them psychological, medical, social and legal support.
“More than 900 people took part in the training,” says Irina Osina, head of the department that prepares families for adoption at the Orphanage No. 19. “A successful adoptive or foster family requires much more than the typical signs of success. They have to have a certain level of knowledge, skill and experience in order to structure their relationship with the child correctly."
How to provide support and help, and to avoid hurting the child or giving him or her false promises or hopes, is at the heart of the training. "In our experience, only 30% of those who want to become adoptive or foster parents realize what kinds of problems they will have to face," says Osina.
Now, the Ministry of Education has made these specialized three-month training courses mandatory for everyone who is planning to take in a child. The prospective parents are told about the fears and disappointments that they might go through during a foster child’s adaption to the family. They are also taught how to prepare their own relatives for the new child’s arrival.
For foreign parents hoping to adopt a Russian child, it is not necessary to take the course in Russia, but they will have to show proof that they have completed a similar course in their home country.
In general, specialists welcome the new law, but it was not completely free of controversy. Some have been exempted from the course, such as those who have been successful foster parents, as well as close relatives, including step-parents. The paradox, though, is that most of the time when children are brought back to the orphanage, it is by relatives who had adopted them, not by unrelated adoptive parents.
This can be explained by several factors, both psychological (unrelated adoptive parents are often more prepared to take responsibility for the child) and material. It turns out that relatives, especially elderly relatives, will give up guardianship voluntarily if they do not have money to feed the child or provide adequate housing.
Another problem related to the organization of the adoption schools is that there are not enough specialists to teach them. Without good teachers, experts say, the future of these well-meaning reforms is still unclear.
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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