Are we witnessing "the twilight of Angela Merkel"? The question, asked Tuesday in Le Figaro"s lead editorial, is on everybody's mind, both inside and outside Germany. To be sure, in her 12 years as German Chancellor, Merkel has never been as vulnerable as she now appears to be. The collapse of post-election talks to form a coalition with the liberal party FDP and the Green party have revealed Merkel and her own party's showing in the September vote for what it really was: a Pyrrhic victory.
Foreseeing a possible "miserable ending", Der Spiegel"s columnist Jakob Augstein writes that "the woman who, like no other, has stood for stability and predictability has maneuvered herself into a hopeless situation. Because she could not let go of power in time, she will now experience how it is to see it slip through her fingers."
But the focus on Merkel and the intra-party negotiations as a mere ego-driven tussle risks missing the bigger picture. What is at stake with the future German government extends well beyond one woman's personal legacy and affects the whole of Europe, if not more.
What stood at the center of the coalition talks were real issues, with real-world consequences. Chief among them was immigration. Much like in the rest of Europe, the anti-immigration movement in on the rise in Germany, a fact most visible by the entry of a far-right party, the AfD, in the German Parliament for the first time since World War II. There is now a sort of consensus in Germany that any future government that refuses to take into account people's concerns about the effects of immigration will be exposing itself, and the country, to a far more extremist alternative gaining ever more ground at the next election.
What is at stake with the future German government extends well beyond one woman's personal legacy.
Just how far the government can or should go in its attempts to stem the influx of migrants is a question the three parties engaged in coalition talks were unable to agree on. Whatever the outcome, whether Berlin opts for more or less drastic measures will send an important signal throughout Europe.
Environmental policy was another source of genuine antagonism in the coalition talks — more particularly the issue of a planned elimination of coal power in the coming years. Though the country is often described as a model for green political action, Germany's energy mix still relies heavily on coal, all the more so since the 2011 Fukushima disaster and Merkel's subsequent decision to phase out nuclear energy. As Deutsche Welle reported on Monday, Germany is set to miss its 2020 target for CO2 emissions' reduction and it will likely miss the goals it pledged two years ago at the Paris Climate Conference.
Germany's reliance on coal was plain to see at the UN climate conference that ended this weekend in Bonn, where it refused to join a 20-country alliance led by Canada and the UK that pledges to rapidly phase out coal. Besides the signal it sends to other countries, such discrepancy between its public stance and its actions is like music to the ears of Donald Trump and the like.
Will Merkel be able to form a coalition? What price will be paid in the process? As melodramatic as it may sound, the future of the planet is always on the negotiating table — and in the voting booth.
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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