Germany, Welcome To The New Normal

The success of the far-right Alternative for Germany party in the election is history’s revenge against the idea that Germans had to be a model for the rest of the world.

A new day above Berlin
A new day above Berlin
Henryk M. Broder

BERLIN — The Netherlands has Geert Wilders and France has Marine Le Pen. Austria has its Freedom Party, Belgium has Vlaams Belang and Britain has the UKIP. Further north are the Danish People's Party, the Swedish Democrats, the True Finns and Norway"s Progress Party; down south are Italy's Northern League and Five Star Movement and the Golden Dawn in Greece. Only Germany, a not entirely unimportant country in Europe, has not seen a populist right-wing movement or party in a very long time.

And how proud of this we always were! Because unlike the other Europeans, we had learned from our history, renounced nationalism and declared "Europe" our homeland. Even the German national soccer team adopted an international moniker in 2016, calling itself "Die Mannschaft," or "The Team," without any mention of the disturbing word "German" in the name.

Before that we already sacrificed the deutschmark on the altar of European integration. We slid from one extreme to another. Instead of "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles," or "Germany, Germany above all," as in the German national anthem, it is now "Germany for all!" The latest act of national reparation has been the "welcome culture." Because we are colorful, tolerant and cosmopolitan, and that's how we'd like to stay — if only it weren't for the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) winning some 13% of Sunday's vote.

Why do they always point their fingers at us?

But isn't the AfD also a sign of normalization? Didn't we always want to be "normal," like the others? Don't other nations also have dark chapters in their history? The Americans, the British, the Dutch, the Belgians, the French? Why do they always point their fingers at us?

Seen this way, AfD is a blessing, not a curse. Now we can say: We don't only want to be like you, we are like you! We freeze in the cold, we sweat in the heat; we worry during the day and have nightmares at night. If you prick us, we bleed, you tickle us and we laugh; if you poison us we die and if you offend us ... well, we take revenge.

The AfD then can be seen as history's revenge against that idea that we need to somehow be better, a model for other nations. Quickly, just save the world, tell everyone where climate change has been going all along, give lessons in democracy to the Americans. Since Sunday's election, we now have to deal with ourselves again. Welcome to the new Germany.

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A Dove From Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida Tough Enough To Lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Sept. 29

Daisuke Kondo


TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.

After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

Born into politics

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

He is an excellent actor.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

An invitation for Obama

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

Photo of Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida with their backs to the camera, in Hiroshima in 2016

Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016

Japanese cynics

In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Leftist traditions from Hiroshima

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

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