Charles de Gaulle was the first world leader to truly understand the power of television, using regular presidential broadcasts as a way to circumvent French legislators, labor unions and other levers of democratic influence.
Since then, prime ministers and presidents, benevolent monarchs and ruthless dictators have used the televised "address to the nation" as an essential tool of modern leadership — to comfort or intimidate, confront crises, unveil policies, announce coups, launch wars. While each may have a different script, the broadcasts share a familiar choreography and iconography: from my desk to your living room, I will lead you through this collective moment in our nation's history.
The Italian photographer Tommaso Bonaventura, shut off from his field work, was watching the COVID-19 drama unfold on his computer and television screens. With people dying each day by the dozens then hundreds in his native country, he joined with others waiting anxiously for the relatively anonymous and inexperienced Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to appear on the screen before the gathered nation.
It was only the beginning: over the next three weeks, at least 70 national leaders have similarly addressed their respective populaces with messages that mix practical information with some semblance of national unity. But the words were not the point.
Bonaventura understood that the very fact of these televised appointments, taken together, could depict an unprecedented moment for the world — a world under attack. He has joined them in a common visual work, freezing the first moment (within 1 second) that each leader appears before his or her nation.
Address To The Nations becomes a singular document of this chapter of human history, appearing to us like a solemn roll call of geopolitical leadership morphing into a cutaway scene from an alien invasion movie.
This is, of course, not a movie. Our enemy is as real as it is invisible, exposing everyone on the planet to the most basic threat to lives and ways of life that we have all long taken for granted. We will instinctively continue to turn to our leaders, even if there's really nothing they can say to change what is happening. Their faces, captured in time, are a sign of how vulnerable we've become.
OneShot is a new digital format to tell the story of a single photograph in an immersive one-minute video.
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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