The Women Politicians Of Chile Set To Take Their Country Back

Toppling the old guard: Josefa Errázuriz
Toppling the old guard: Josefa Errázuriz
Antonio Skármeta*


SANTIAGO – As recent nationwide municipal elections proved once again, there’s never a shortage of surprises when it comes to politics in my country.

The elections were a real blow to the rightist government of President Sebastián Piñera, a businessman who three years ago displaced the center-left Concertacion coalition that had led Chile since the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship ended in 1989.

The Concertacion’s last president was Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010), who finished her term with an approval rating of over 80%. Because of Chile’s electoral laws – which prohibit presidents from serving consecutive terms – she could not seek immediate reelection. The man who did represent the coalition for the 2009 election, Eduardo Frei, was unable to benefit from the outgoing president’s popularity. He lost to the conservative Piñera, who promised voters “a new way of governing.”

Since taking office, however, Piñera has seen his popularity plummet. He now has an approval rating of about 30%. The municipal elections could have been a chance for him to turn things around, to give the political right some momentum for next year’s presidential contest. Piñera’s center-right coalition could certainly use some. Polls consistently show ex-President Bachelet winning the next race easily – assuming she is willing to run, which would mean giving up her important post in New York as Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women.

Instead, the municipal elections went the other way, thanks in large part to recent union and student-led social movements, which energized the opposition. The left earned emblematic mayoral wins in three key Santiago boroughs: Santiago Center, Ñuñoa and, last but not least, Providencia. In all three cases, the winners were women.

Remnants of the Pinochet era

Providencia had been run for years by Mayor Cristián Labbé. While he may not be Chile’s only remaining pinochetista, Labbé is certainly the deceased dictator’s most blustering, arbitrary and aggressive defender. He boasts about having served under the dictatorship and says he has no regrets about participating in Pinochet’s repressive secret police force, which committed countless human rights violations.

As the “boss” of an upscale borough whose residents tend to be both comfortable and conservative, Labbé felt happy and secure about his “management” style. He humiliated and repressed Providencia’s student protestors, even expelling some from their schools. He sang Pinochet’s praises every time someone put a camera or a microphone in front of him. He even went to the extreme of participating in a tribute to some of his brothers in arms who are currently serving time in a high security prison because of crimes they committed during the dictatorship.

After all of his past electoral success, Labbé could never have imagined his career would be in trouble, especially when the traditional center-left political parties that could have challenged him are faring so poorly in the polls. This time, though, the parties were gracious enough to step aside and allow the mayor’s local opponents to select an independent candidate: Josefa Errázuriz. Labbé pompously dismissed his challenger’s chances. Laughing, he told reporters there was no way he could lose to a simple “housewife.”

And yet for decades, Chile’s “simple housewives” are precisely the ones who have nurtured the country’s democracy and served as its backbone. Labbé’s chauvinism prevented him from evolving in the way many others on the right have. By making fun of these women, he also offended their husbands and children. Mrs. Errázuriz ended up drawing support from both women and men, and from all social classes. She energized young people, who saw her race against Labbé as a cause really worth fighting for. It was the kind of rallying point the left has been missing since the plebiscite of 1988, which paved the way for the end of the Pinochet dictatorship.

The three women who achieved the impossible in Santiago, Ñuñoa and Providencia all have immense talent. But they also have something else in common, something that has not been mentioned in most of the cold political analyses put forth since the elections. Josefina Errázuriz dethroned the last residue of Pinochet’s arrogance; the winner in Ñuñoa, Maya Fernández, is the granddaughter of martyred President Salvador Allende (1970-1973), who was toppled in the 1973 coup that preceded Pinochet’s 17-year regime; and the mayor-elect in Santiago Center is the daughter or José Tohá, a cabinet minister under Allende. Tohá was tortured to death by fascist soldiers.

And then there’s Bachelet, the former and possibly future president whose father, a pro-democracy Air Force general, was also killed in the aftermath of the coup. Together the triumphs of these women suggest that the sacrifices of the last generation weren’t in vain. Thanks to the power of collective memory, the population has dealt the country a new hand.

And what a hand it is: four of a kind, Queens.

*Antonio Skármeta is a Chilean novelist best known for his book Ardiente Paciencia (Ardent Patience), which inspired the Academy Award-winning film Il Postino (The Postman).

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

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.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


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.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

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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