DIE WELT
Die Welt ("The World") is a German daily founded in Hamburg in 1946, and currently owned by the Axel Springer AG company, Europe's largest publishing house. Now based in Berlin, Die Welt is sold in more than 130 countries. A Sunday edition called Welt am Sonntag has been published since 1948.
Economy
Daniel Eckert

Merkel's Legacy: The Rise And Stall Of The German Economy

How have 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel changed Germany? The Chancellor accompanied the country's rise to near economic superpower status — and then progress stalled. On technology and beyond, Germany needs real reforms under Merkel's successor.

BERLIN — Germans are doing better than ever. By many standards, the economy broke records during the reign of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel: private households' financial assets have climbed to a peak; the number of jobs recorded a historic high before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020; the GDP — the sum of all goods and services produced in a period — also reached an all-time high.

And still, while the economic balance sheet of Merkel's 16 years is outstanding if taken at face value, on closer inspection one thing catches the eye: against the backdrop of globalization, Europe's largest economy no longer has the clout it had at the beginning of the century. Germany has fallen behind in key sectors that will shape the future of the world, and even the competitiveness of its manufacturing industries shows unmistakable signs of fatigue.

In 2004, a year before Merkel was first elected Chancellor, the British magazine The Economist branded Germany the "sick man of Europe." Ironically, the previous government, a coalition of center-left and green parties, had already laid the foundations for recovery with some reforms. Facing the threat of high unemployment, unions had held back on wage demands.

"Up until the Covid-19 crisis, Germany had achieved strong economic growth with both high and low unemployment," says Michael Holstein, chief economist at DZ Bank. However, it never made important decisions for its future.

Another economist, Jens Südekum of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, offers a different perspective: "Angela Merkel profited greatly from the preparatory work of her predecessor. This is particularly true regarding the extreme wage restraint practiced in Germany in the early 2000s."

Above all, Germany was helped in the first half of the Merkel era by global economic upheaval. Between the turn of the millennium and the 2011-2012 debt crisis, emerging countries, led by China, experienced unprecedented growth. With many German companies specializing in manufacturing industrial machines and systems, the rise of rapidly industrializing countries was a boon for the country's economy.

Germany dismissed Google as an over-hyped tech company.

Digital competitiveness, on the other hand, was not a big problem in 2005 when Merkel became chancellor. Google went public the year before, but was dismissed as an over-hyped tech company in Germany. Apple's iPhone was not due to hit the market until 2007, then quickly achieved cult status and ushered in a new phase of the global economy.

Germany struggled with the digital economy, partly because of the slow expansion of internet infrastructure in the country. Regulation, lengthy start-up processes and in some cases high taxation contributed to how the former economic wonderland became marginalized in some of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.

Volkswagen's press plant in Zwickau, Germany — Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa/ZUMA

"When it comes to digitization today, Germany has a lot of catching up to do with the relevant infrastructure, such as the expansion of fiber optics, but also with digital administration," says Stefan Kooths, Director of the Economic and Growth Research Center at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel).

For a long time now, the country has made no adjustments to its pension system to ward off the imminent demographic problems caused by an increasingly aging population. "The social security system is not future-proof," says Kooths. The most recent changes have come at the expense of future generations and taxpayers, the economist says.

Low euro exchange rates favored German exports

Nevertheless, things seemed to go well for the German economy at the start of the Merkel era. In part, this can be explained by the economic downturn caused by the euro debt crisis of 2011-2012. Unlike in the previous decade, the low euro exchange rate favored German exports and made money flow into German coffers. And since then-European Central Bank president Mario Draghi's decision to save the euro "whatever it takes" in 2012, this money has become cheaper and cheaper.

In the long run, these factors inflated the prices of real estate and other sectors but failed to contribute to the future viability of the country. "With the financial crisis and the national debt crisis that followed, economic policy got into crisis mode, and it never emerged from it again," says DZ chief economist Holstein. Policy, he explains, was geared towards countering crises and maintaining the status quo. "The goal of remaining competitive fell to the background, as did issues concerning the future."

In the traditional field of manufacturing, the situation deteriorated significantly. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), which regularly measures and compares the competitiveness of industries in different countries, recently concluded that German companies have lost many of the advantages they had gained. The high level of productivity, which used to be one of the country's strengths, faltered in the years before the pandemic.

Kooths, of IfW Kiel, points out that private investment in the German economy has declined in recent years, while the "government quota" in the economy, which describes the amount of government expenditure against the GDP, grew significantly during Merkel's tenure, from 43.5% in 2005 to 46.5% in 2019. Kooths concludes that: "Overall, the state's influence on economic activity has increased significantly."

Another very crucial aspect of competitiveness, at least from the point of view of skilled workers and companies, has been neglected by German politics for years: taxes and social contributions. The country has among the highest taxes on income in Europe, and corporate taxes are also hardly as high as in Germany anywhere in the industrialized world. "In the long run, high tax rates always come at the expense of economic dynamism and can even prevent new companies from being set up," warns Kooths.

Startups can renew an economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity. Between the year 2000 and the Covid-19 crisis, fewer and fewer new companies were created every year. Economists from left to right are unanimous: Angela Merkel is leaving behind a country with considerable need for reform.

Geopolitics
Klaus Geiger and Christoph B. Schiltz

Afghan Refugee Crisis: Why Merkel Closed Her Open Border

The Syrian refugee crisis in 2015 ignited a bitter rivalry between Germany's Angela Merkel and Austria's Sebastian Kurz. Merkel was in favor of a "culture of welcome," while Kurz argued for border protection. But with the current Afghan refugee crisis, the German leader is shifting course.

-OpEd-

BERLIN — Six years ago, the now outgoing German Chancellor,Angela Merkel argued that borders cannot be divided by walls. That was on Oct. 26, 2015. Her future Austrian counterpart, Sebastian Kurz, disagreed. "It's simply not true to claim that it doesn't work," he said in an Austrian radio interview. "The question is whether we want to do it or not."

It was the first time the Austrian chancellor, at that time foreign minister, had openly contradicted Merkel. Kurz went on to say that it was "hypocritical" to give Turkey money for border protection and "at the same time make grand statements about humanity." He said Merkel should "be honest" about her stance.

Here was a 29-year-old politician openly accusing the most powerful national leader in Europe of hypocrisy and dishonesty. It was the start of a long-running battle that centered on different views about what the values of a conservative party should be. A battle that is suddenly heating up again.

In the past it was Syria. Now it's Afghanistan.

Last week, Sebastian Kurz made what will probably be his last visit to the departing German chancellor. The subject of their discussions was once again how to deal with refugees. In the past it was Syria. Now it's Afghanistan.

"Austria has taken on more than its fair share of Afghan refugees," said Kurz as he stood next to Merkel in Berlin. "Relative to our population, we have the fourth largest Afghan community in the world."

A quiet convergence

Kurz is not playing politics with the German chancellor. His view on accepting refugees from Afghanistan is well known. For weeks now, every time Kurz has stood before a microphone, he has said the same thing: no Afghan refugees in Austria, or in Europe, whether they arrive there themselves or are taken as part of a quota. He has argued for helping refugees within Afghanistan or its neighboring countries, and sending any refugees who arrive in Europe back to the region.

In his interview in October 2015, he was already arguing for a system "where asylum seekers can make their applications in their country of origin or countries they are passing through, outside of the European Union."

His stance has been unwavering. Instead, it's Angela Merkel who has been edging gradually closer to Kurz's position. While in 2015 and 2016 she consistently argued for "solidarity" in accepting quotas of refugees in Europe. Now Merkel is speaking about deportation and protecting the EU's borders.

The two politicians, who also clashed during the Syrian refugee crisis, now seem to be aligned. Merkel is not contradicting Kurz at all. Like him, she says that the EU should provide funds to help people stay in Afghanistan — that they need to look after the 550,000 or so internally displaced people within Afghanistan and protect them from a possible famine. Meanwhile, conversations with neighboring countries about accepting refugees are ongoing.


People evacuated from Afghanistan waiting in a hangar at Ramstein Air Base in Germany — Photo: Uwe Anspach/dpa/ZUMA Press

Merkel is employing two strategies: First, she is narrowing down the question. For the moment she has said that she is focusing on the "10,000 to 40,000" local staff, although UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has said that the internally displaced persons in Afghanistan are the biggest problem.

Second, Merkel is playing for time when it comes to the refugees who want to travel to Europe. "We have not yet reached a decision" about quotas for the resettlement of those entitled to protection in Europe, she says. "We will only be able to answer that question when we see how many people leave Afghanistan." That will depend on conditions under the Taliban.

The EU is struggling to establish a joint asylum policy — resettlement will be decided at national level.

The resettlement question has already sparked conflict within the EU. The European Commission has asked member states to declare by mid-September how many refugees they can accept — not only Afghans, but generally. In total, all member countries only promised 30,000 places for 2020 and 2021. Luxembourg's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, was the first European politician to name a special figure for Afghans, saying the EU should accept 40,000 to 50,000 people.

German Federal Minister of the Interior Horst Seehofer (CSU) was quick to reject Asselborn's proposal. "Luxembourg takes on very few refugees, and it should consider the interests of those countries that accept the bulk of refugees a little more closely," he said. The EU is currently struggling to establish a joint asylum policy — resettlement numbers will be decided at national level.

Mum's the word

Since Kurz first came to power in 2017, Austria has no longer taken part in resettlement programs. Greece and Slovenia have announced that they will not accept any Afghans. Countries such as the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Portugal and Spain, however, have said they will take a quota, although as yet no one has named a concrete figure.

Then there are those who make their own way by land to Europe. During the Syrian refugee crisis, Germany accepted more than a million people who arrived this way. But although these people were at the heart of Angela Merkel's culture of welcome six years ago, she is now remaining silent about them.

Turkey is building a wall along its border with Iran, in order to keep Afghans out. Greece is building a wall on its land border with Turkey and returning migrants it picks up on the water to Turkey, although that is against EU law. And so far, Angela Merkel is saying nothing.

Geopolitics
Christian Putsch

Ethiopia's Civil War: Ethnic Atrocities Recall Balkans

Reports of torture, murder and gang rape are emerging from the civil war in northern Ethiopia. The conflict has spread across the country and an imminent collapse seems likely, spreading across the region. Now Turkey is also getting involved.

The news reaching the international community from the civil war in Ethiopia is deeply shocking. According to Amnesty International, many women in the Tigray region, where fighting is ongoing, say they have been imprisoned for weeks and gang-raped multiple times, sometimes in the presence of family members. They say some of the perpetrators assaulted them with nails and rocks.

These accusations are overwhelmingly directed at Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers who are fighting the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) for power in Ethiopia's northernmost state. At first, the Ethiopian government dismissed the accusations as "propaganda," but now the Ministry of Women's Affairs admits there is "no doubt" that rapes have taken place.

On the other side, militias close to self-declared liberators the TPLF are also believed to have committed atrocities. They have been repeatedly accused of murdering hundreds of members of the Amhara ethnic group, who have been fighting supporters of the militia for centuries for control of relatively fertile farming regions.

The conflict has spread across the country like wildfire. Ethiopia's central government has not succeeded in removing the TPLF from power for any length of time. Government troops have been driven out of the most important cities in Tigray. The militia is distributing video footage of thousands of soldiers being humiliated and degraded, to make sure everyone in the country gets the message.

The war threatens its very existence.

In terms of population, Ethiopia is the second largest country in Africa. Now it is caught up in a war on multiple fronts, a war that threatens its very existence. Thousands of people have been killed and almost two million citizens have been driven out of their homes. The TPLF has made gains in the eastern region of Afar, through which the main routes to neighboring Djibouti pass, a vital lifeline for a landlocked country such as Ethiopia.

Refugees draw water from a well in the Somalia region, Ethiopia — Photo: Kay Nietfeld/DPA/ZUMA Press

Beyond the northern regions of Tigray and Amhara, fighting has increasingly spread to the state of Oromia – the most populous in Ethiopia – where the rebel group Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) is making advances. It is threatening to block trade routes to Kenya and has announced a military alliance with the TPLF.

One consequence is that the country has been vulnerable to famine for decades. Not least because, according to credible reports from aid organizations, Ethiopia is blocking food supplies to contested regions – although the government officially denies this. The weakened government and the rebel groups are both calling on civilians to arm themselves. Longstanding tensions between ethnic and tribal groups in Ethiopia are escalating.

The TPLF's main aim is to remove Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed from power. Ethiopia, often seen as a shining light of stability in the Horn of Africa, seems at risk of collapse. Observers are already comparing the situation to the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the Balkan Wars in the 1990s.

Ethiopia's constitution explicitly allows the secession of individual states. While Abiy is seeking to expand the central government's influence, there are growing calls for regional self-determination. Once again the model of ethnic federalism seems likely to collapse, as it did in South Sudan.

People waiting in line to gather water during the Siege of Sarajevo, 1992 — Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev

This seems especially likely because the Ethiopian system has been based on pure power calculation from the start. Only 6% of the Ethiopian population are Tigrayan. However, as early as the 1980s, the influential TPLF militia fought the communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam (known as the Black Stalin), and after he was removed from power in 1991 the ethnic minority gained political dominance.

In order to gain support among much larger ethnic groups such as the Oromo (which represents around 34% of the population) they set up a federal system with nine states. In theory, at least, the main people groups of Ethiopia were supposed to be fairly represented.

However, in practice, the TPLF was overrepresented in leadership positions nationwide. Three years ago, ethnic tensions and dissatisfaction about infrastructure projects that didn't take the interests of local people groups into account boiled over, and they could no longer keep them under control through their ever more authoritarian government.

Ethnic tensions have boiled over.

At first the current Prime Minister Abiy seemed like an ideal candidate who would be able to calm unrest without significant losses for the ruling elite: a young, dynamic representative of the large, dissatisfied Oromo people group.

But the Tigrayans miscalculated. Their influence waned as the new Prime Minister introduced rapid pan-Ethiopian reforms. While Abiy received the Nobel Peace Prize for the apparent easing of tensions with Eritrea, the TPLF felt it had been cheated, as the longstanding border conflict, which had seen thousands of deaths, was concentrated on the Tigray region.

The reaction from Turkey shows how important the ramifications of the current conflict will be on the world stage. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised military support to Ethiopia. That may be badly received in Egypt and puts the recently reopened discourse between Cairo and Ankara at risk.

There is a long-running dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the latter's decision to fill up a reservoir behind a dam on the Nile, which could significantly reduce water supply to Egypt. Due to the Tigray crisis, this potential military conflict over water seems almost forgotten. But its effects will be no less devastating.

Geopolitics
Daniel-Dylan Böhmer

"We Can't Rule Alone" - New Taliban Leaders Speak

Reporter Daniel-Dylan Böhmer of Die Welt gained exclusive access to key Taliban officials in Kabul, and visited the heavily armed security forces at the airport, to get a sense of what Afghanistan's future may hold.

KABUL — At the gates of Kabul Airport, piles of clothing lie in the dusty wind. People fleeing the Taliban were forced to leave them behind. On the runway stands Qari Farhad Fateh, 30. He has the beard and long hair of a Taliban fighter, and is wearing a pillaged American uniform.

The heavy military jeeps lined up on the asphalt are also from U.S. stock. When asked how important this equipment is for his unit, the commander says not what they will be used for, but what they have cost: "Yes, the Humvees are important for our operations. They were won with the blood of our brothers."

The commander took his third name from that of his unit — Fateh, the conqueror. In the decades-long war against the Afghan government and NATO troops, the Fateh unit carried out suicide attacks. What about the innocent civilians who were killed in such attacks?

"I am not authorized to speak about that," he says. In welcoming 70 new recruits to secure the airport, he is pushing a different message: "The fighting is over. Now the important thing is to secure peace."

No one knows what will become of Afghanistan. The radical Islamist Taliban have driven out the most powerful nations in the world and for the second time in three decades they have the opportunity to establish a new state. But what kind of state will that be?

In the former Ministry of Interior Affairs, now renamed the Ministry for Peace, Ahmadullah Ahmadzai, 38, directs a somewhat embarrassed smile at the calendar on his table. It's from the now defeated republic, and the photo for this week shows, among others, former vice president of the Afghan National Assembly Fawzia Koofi, one of the most prominent women's rights campaigners in the country.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid announcing Afghanistan's new government — Photo: Saifurahman Safi/Xinhua via ZUMA Press

"When we moved in here, we were given instructions not to destroy anything or move anything," says Ahmadzai. "We stuck by that."

A legacy of brutality

The Ministry's declared aim is reconciliation within Afghan society. Ahmadzai says they are contacting ministers and generals from the former regime and calling on them to make peace with the Taliban emirate. A few have accepted their overtures of friendship.

"We tell them very openly that we can't rule Afghanistan alone," he says. "We want all sectors of society to be involved — except for politicians who were corrupt or have blood on their hands."

Ahmadzai insists that the call for reconciliation is sincere. There is no other way to solve the country's problems: unemployment, supply issues, lack of money. Afghanistan needs some success stories now.

But are the Taliban capable of reconciliation? In the 90s, their regime was infamous for its draconian punishments — cutting off hands and heads, public executions in football stadiums; for excluding women and children from the workplace, the public sphere and education; and for their ruthless suppression of critics.

But the Taliban have also suffered. If you talk to their members, you hear stories of families who have lost six, seven, eight sons in the fighting, and of mothers, sisters and children who were killed by American drone strikes. Is it possible to issue a decree calling for peace after decades of brutality on both sides?

The Taliban's greatest enemy is distrust — that of the international community and the Afghan population.

"That is a good question," says Ahmadzai. "When we fighters talk amongst ourselves, those who are religious scholars often cite an example from the life of the prophet. Mohammed was driven out of Mecca and pursued by troops from the city for a long time. When he eventually returned to the city victorious, he treated his former enemies as brothers."

Ahmadzai says the Taliban has no plans to reintroduce hudud, the Koranic punishments that include mutilation and execution.

So far none of the nightmare scenarios that some feared when the Taliban regained power have come to pass. There have been a few scattered reports of arbitrary attacks on the population, forced marriages and abductions. But the militia's advance was not accompanied by mass shootings, at least according to independent Afghan investigators who have looked into these isolated reports.

There are also no signs that hudud is being reintroduced. Shortly after taking Kabul, the Taliban announced that women and children would be allowed to continue to work and attend school in the future, within the context of Islamic sharia law. But there are many possible interpretations of what this will mean.

'The people's choice'

Even staunchly secular Afghan experts recognize in the Taliban's current leadership a younger generation that is more modern in its thinking and behavior, a generation that wants to give the movement a new image. Perhaps the most important representative of this generation is Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.

Before the interview begins, Mujahid says his evening prayer in one of the hotel's rooms. "According to sharia, men and women have equal rights," says Mujahid. "But women also have the right to be protected from harassment and psychological or physical pressure in the workplace. And that means that men's and women's spheres should be separated. It means that we should create a context in which women can work without being put at risk."

He says that under the previous government there were many complaints of harassment in the workplace. But if women have equal rights, shouldn't they be allowed to decide for themselves how they would like to be protected?

"It is the government's responsibility to protect women," he answers. Mujahid claims it was the people's choice to introduce sharia law, and that Afghans support the Taliban. "How else would we have managed to take back the country in 10 days?"

The Taliban spokesman says the most important thing for Afghanistan now is reconciliation and wellbeing, and that the government wants to boost the economy and create more jobs. To achieve this it will need help from the international community, including Germany.

"We want to have strong, official diplomatic relations with Germany," says Mujahid. "The Germans have always been welcome in Afghanistan. They did a lot of good in the country, in the time of the Shah. Unfortunately they then joined the Americans, but that's forgiven now."

Qari Fasihuddin, Chief of Army Staff of Taliban government — Photo: Salampix/Abaca via ZUMA Press

He says the new Taliban government will look to Germany and other countries for financial support, humanitarian aid and cooperation in health, agriculture and training.

Mujahid knows that the international community will make respecting human rights a condition of any aid. That is why many onlookers suspect the Taliban is merely pretending to have changed its ways. Experts say that alongside the more moderate members, there are still of course hardliners in the movement, whose influence is particularly strong on young, less educated fighters in the provinces.

The moderate approach, if it's sincere, will be judged by the changes on the ground. The Taliban's greatest enemy is distrust — that of the international community and the Afghan population. Many women we spoke to in Afghanistan fear renewed discrimination, and despite the Taliban's assurances that freedom of speech will be protected, none of the Afghan women's rights activists we contacted were prepared to go on record.

Afghans who are critical of the Taliban are reluctant to speak to foreign media. At the same time, many others welcome the Taliban's promise to restore order and stability. On Saturday, a demonstration of around a dozen women near the presidential palace was quickly shut down by Taliban security forces.

Evening in Kabul. The shops are open. In the city center there are women out and about, most wearing headscarves rather than the full burka. A group of Taliban members walk down one of the main streets, leading two men whose hands are tied together. They keep their heads down, ashamed. One is accused of stealing a car, the other of selling drugs.

"They will now be tried in an Islamic court!" calls out the young Taliban member walking behind them. Passers-by film the scene on their phones. We could ask them what they make of it, but would we really get an honest answer with Taliban members holding Kalashnikovs hovering nearby?

The Taliban have promised true security, but that doesn't exist without basic freedoms. Whether the Taliban will accept that remains to be seen.

Coronavirus
Melanie Loos, with contributions from Tobias Kaiser and Maximilian Kalkhof

Vaccine Hoarding: The False Promise Of Global Herd Immunity

Developed countries have promised to supply poorer countries with vaccines, but so far Europe is lagging behind in donations. With pure politics determining which countries receive vaccines, the broken vow is a threat to everyone.

BERLIN — In Germany, like in other Western countries, politicians and scientists are debating the merits of vaccines for children and booster jabs. Yet elsewhere, authorities are facing far more fundamental problems in tackling coronavirus. In many countries, especially across Africa, older people and other at-risk groups haven't even had their first vaccine, as there aren't enough doses available.

Although more than 4 billion COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide, not every country has had an equal share: in more developed countries, around half of the population is fully vaccinated, while in the poorest it's less than 2%.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has established the COVAX initiative with the aim of sharing out vaccines more evenly and donating at least 2 billion doses to developing countries by the end of the year, in order to vaccinate around a third of the local population. But that target is still a long way off. Despite ambitious promises, Europe – and especially Germany – is lagging behind in terms of donated vaccines, while China is using its generosity to expand its geopolitical influence. So far, the aim of achieving global herd immunity against COVID is still a pipe dream. And that means that in the long term, the pandemic is far from under control.

According to WHO, we would need 11 billion doses in order to vaccinate 70% of the global population. Scientists from the Duke Global Health Innovation Center in the United States estimate that this year more than 12 billion vaccines will be produced – if suppliers keep up with their projected rates of production.

However, it's unclear whether all of these vaccines will be distributed. New variants could mean we need to develop new vaccines, and we don't yet know if or when booster jabs may be needed, or whether children under 12 should be vaccinated.

Many wealthy countries – especially in Europe – are holding on to their excess vaccines rather than donating them to developing countries. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's Regional Director for Africa, recently criticized the behavior: "Richer countries hoarding vaccines are making a mockery of the idea of vaccine justice."

These countries will soon have huge amounts of excess vaccines. Germany alone will receive 300 million doses this year. The EU has ordered around 3.6 billion by 2023, although it only needs 1 billion to fully vaccinate its entire population of around 450 million people, including children.

A few months ago, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen insisted that Europe was taking very seriously "its responsibility to combat the virus across the world," and promised to donate 200 million vaccines to COVAX by the end of the year.

Germany has not donated a single dose.

However, the figures show that the EU is nowhere near that target. According to an internal document, so far only around 7.9 million doses have been donated.

The US, on the other hand, has already donated 60 million vaccines to developing countries and has promised a total of 500 million for the COVAX initiative alone. This generosity may have something to do with the fact that the vaccination program has been rolled out far more quickly in the US than in Europe and therefore they reached a stage where they were able to donate vaccines earlier.

In Europe, so far only France and Spain have donated excess vaccines; Germany has not donated a single dose. The German government plans to send the first half million doses this month, but it promised 30 million by the end of the year. France is the most generous country in the EU, having promised 60 million doses. Without Paris, there is no way the European Commission would reach its target of 200 million doses for COVAX.

Beyond COVAX, many countries are donating vaccines directly to poorer states, especially those with which they have strong links. The aims here are not purely humanitarian. Spain is sending a third of its donated vaccines to Latin America, while France and the Netherlands are also prioritizing their former colonies. Other EU countries are donating vaccines to their neighbors in eastern and southeastern Europe, to reduce the potential risk of infections coming across their borders.

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine in Banten, Indonesia — Photo: Donal Husni/ZUMA

Playing favorites with neighbours and drawing on old colonial ties – for some critics that looks a lot like geopolitical nepotism. There is still no clear strategic vision for the global fight against coronavirus, as the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell recently noted.

Meanwhile, China is forging alliances in developing regions of the world through widespread vaccine diplomacy, with Beijing hoping to expand its influence and improve its image. There is even talk of a "Health Silk Road", in the style of China's wider "New Silk Road" economic development Initiative.

The complex system of COVAX and bilateral donations is clearly a patchwork of favors and political machinations. But even if there were a cohesive global strategy, the number of vaccines donated by developed countries would be far from sufficient. According to UNICEF, which is coordinating the delivery of COVAX vaccines, so far only around 190 million vaccines have arrived in 138 developing countries.

A spokesperson from UNICEF Germany pointed out another problem: the lack of health infrastructure in developing countries makes it difficult to administer vaccines efficiently. There is also widespread vaccine hesitancy. In many African countries, not even all health workers are fully vaccinated.

It will be at least 2025 or 2026 before we reach global herd immunity.

This has created a very dangerous situation: for weeks now the COVID infection rate and death rate in Africa have been rising steeply, and the number of unreported cases is likely to be very high due to limited testing capacity. WHO says that to meet the target of vaccinating 30% of the population by the end of the year, we would need more than 700 million additional doses. But even if we achieved this, there would still be too many unvaccinated people in poorer parts of the world for it to be possible to contain the pandemic.

In terms of numbers, it's theoretically possible to vaccinate the global population next year, if the suppliers step up production as planned. But realistically it will be at least 2025 or 2026 before we reach global herd immunity, says Clemens Schwanhold from the NGO One. "If," then.

Rich countries like Germany need to donate far more vaccines than they are currently doing. "Europe should look to the U.S. as a model, as they intend to donate 500 million doses by the end of the year," says Schwanhold.

It's clear that as long as vaccines are not fairly distributed, global herd immunity will remain elusive. It's a race against time, partly because the vaccines are perishable but also because of the danger of new variants, against which the available vaccines may not be effective.

Geopolitics
Jacques Schuster

Will Afghanistan Tarnish The End Of Angela Merkel's Tenure?

The German leader's aloofness on the collapse of Afghanistan has surprised many. For the past few months, her government has taken the issue too lightly and failed to debate it properly. This could prove a big mistake in her last weeks as German chancellor.

Anyone who summarizes Angela Merkel's government statement on the situation in Afghanistan comes up with the same words: "somewhat stupid." The coolness with which the chancellor and her government are approaching the collapse of the Afghan state has been breathtaking. It almost seems as if Merkel and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz have agreed to talk about abstract mistakes, in an effort to consign the Afghan failure to history's rubbish heap as quickly as possible.

Merkel is helped by the fact that she's about to leave: Her 16-year tenure as chancellor will end in less than a month. And four weeks before the election, hardly anyone seems to want to ask hard questions and uncover the breadth of the Afghanistan debacle. But this is what is urgently needed to draw the necessary conclusions for future operations. The Bundestag federal parliament could have used its meeting on Wednesday to set up a committee of inquiry, but it wasted this opportunity.

One of the results could have been the realization that the rapid collapse of Afghanistan was entirely foreseeable. France, for instance, flew its citizens and all forces it deemed worthy of protection out of the country a while ago — long before the outbreak of the current fiasco. Why did Paris succeed where Berlin failed?

Afghan refugees transfer to the United States after evacuation from Kabul at an Air Base in Germany — Photo: Airman Edgar Grimaldo/U.S. Air/ZUMA

The federal government will not answer that question. We only hope that until the end of her chancellorship, Merkel will at least stay away from the airy, fragrant phrases that have been music to her listeners' ears in recent months, but sounded like she did not really mean them. If she did, it would have translated into a much needed show of strength in the fight against the Taliban — from 2001 onwards.

Defense Minister Peter Struck erroneously stated at the time that Germany was preserving its security by intervening in the Hindu Kush mountain range, in the country's northeast region. All foreign and defense politicians later repeated this line. If it really were so, the army should return to the Hindu Kush as quickly as possible. Today the Taliban rule over more parts of Afghanistan than before the invasion of the Americans, British and Germans, some 20 years ago.

So where, indeed, is Germany's security? The question could be soon answered by the new German government, provided it is able to drain the swamp of empty phrases in foreign and defense policy. It doesn't even need the army to do that.

Society
Manuel Brug

Diversity Efforts in Opera Fall Flat

BERLIN - Now, in the opera, there are Black people portraying Germanic gods, Russians appearing as Chinese people, and Don Giovanni may even be played by a trans woman. If ethnically correct casts are required to be politically correct, this would mean the end for many classics and several would become unemployed.

Trinidadian-born soprano Jeanine De Bique just starred as a forester's daughter at the 200th anniversary performance of "Der Freischütz" ("The Freeshooter") at the Berlin Konzerthaus, just as South African Golda Schultz did earlier this year in a similarly touching and powerful way. She will sing again soon at the Munich Opera Festival. Two people of color sang in "new German," the soprano was remarked as "so German and genuine" that Richard Wagner would probably have praised.

Fortunately, something like this is not an issue in the German opera industry, which, with over 80 opera houses, is responsible for well over a third of all musical theater performances worldwide in non-pandemic times. Neither the companies nor the fans care: The audience got used to it long ago, even before it was chic and important to do-gooders for operas to welcome many skin colors, religions and gender expressions.

"This was not seen as blackface, but simply as theater"

Don Giovanni played by a trans woman and Donna Elvira by a genderfluid mezzo, women singing as little boys and countertenors playing old nannies — they all have been there for a long time. In 1961, there had already been a Black "Tannhäuser" Venus on the Green Hill at the Bayreuth Festival - the grandiose Grace Bumbry. At that time, of course, she was still called "Negro mezzo-soprano" in the media, as the term was seen as not carrying as much weight in Germany.

Every singer of the "Zauberflöten" ("Magic Flute"), Monostatos and Verdi's "Othello" put on black makeup because there were not enough tenors of color in the country, or because the people of color auditioning were not deemed good enough, just as a German, Russian or a Chinese person may sometimes not meet vocal requirements.

That was not seen as blackface, but simply as theater: the art of transformation, merging with a role, the pleasure of playing, disguise and changing identity. It is a game that has defined us humans for thousands of years. And now it is to be swept away or severely damaged by the worldwide growing storm of gender justice, the anger from minorities and the discriminated, as well as the offended professionals.


Golda Schultz performs at the Salzburg FestivalImago via ZUMA Press


A Scottish opera choir performing John Adams' "Nixon in China" perfectly embodies Chinese people on a stage in in their native country. They have previously slipped into the identity of girls from Nagasaki ("Madama Butterfly"), Germanic fantasy warriors in "Götterdämmerung" and Spanish gypsies, proud and free in "Carmen."

If the annoyed ones got their way, the troupe from Glasgow would be more or less out of a job. After a strict interpretation of all discrimination rules, that would leave only the Scottish refugees from Verdi's "Macbeth" or the Highlanders in skirts from Rossini's Walter Scott adaptation "La donna del lago" ... at least some of them would then have to ask themselves whether they belong to the cult of the Druids. And fortunately Handel had a small choir at his disposal for his "Ariodante," also set in the High Moor, which was rather unusual in the baroque period. These aren't exactly rosy work prospects.

Scots only as Scots in operas: This is not just a thought experiment, but could soon be a bitter reality. Because the Scottish Opera has just rejected a proudly posted nomination of their "Nixon in China"" choir for an opera award among 1,000 stooges and apologetically vowed improvement for their professional misconduct. Why all this backtracking? Because a British association dedicated to "humanizing the portrayal of British East and Southeast Asians' had circulated the tweet of an Asian singer with 343 followers accusing the opera of yellowface. But the important opera "Nixon in China" will probably have a hard time in English-speaking countries from now on. Because nowhere outside Asia will it be possible to assemble a largely Asian cast.

The woke clamor about opera roles not being skin-color correct is getting louder and louder.

This is already the case with George Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," which for decades the rights holders have only released for authentic casts including people of color, thus in Europe, it often happens solely with guest performers. And this, of all things, with a work that was written by a Russian Jew and a member of Charleston's white upper class and, typical of the time, features quite a lot of racist stereotypes: more, for example, than Puccini's "Turandot."

That one, in turn, is still beloved in Franco Zeffirelli's kitsch Chinese cinemascope production at New York's Metropolitan Opera. How much longer? At least at the Berlin Staatsoper, Russian Anna Netrebko, her screaming Azerbaijani husband Yusif Eyvazov, Tartar Aida Garifullina, Englishman Graham Clark and Saxon René Pape have been announced for the leading roles in a spectacular premiere in the summer of 2022. The Bavarian Philipp Stölzl directs, the Indian Zubin Mehta conducts. Apart from two or three choir members, there is no one from East Asia. Let's see what else is brewing.


Nixon in China 2020 | Trailer www.youtube.com


The woke clamor about opera roles not being skin-color correct is getting louder and louder. But that it now also defames choirs is new. In the opera nation of Germany, this segregation with a reversed sign is fortunately progressing only quietly and slowly. But the signs are unmistakable. The Komische Oper in Berlin is only putting on one more "Gypsy" baron. In many places, one no longer dares to put make up on Othello. Even in older productions, Monostatos' identity as a Black man has been driven out. Just now, in the 53-year-old Otto Schenk production of "Rosenkavalier," the "little Negro" whom Hugo von Hofmannsthal had assigned to the Marschallin appeared on the cast sheet as (on stage) a radiantly white-skinned "Little Mohammed."

The U.S. President Richard Nixon was, of course, embodied by a Black baritone at the much praised Scottish Opera. Nobody took offense at this — and rightly so. And by the way, the singer is allowed to do so. After all, he is by birth a discriminated person, a racially threatened person. This is the twisted logic of the self-appointed guardians of racism.

Geopolitics
Maximilian Kalkhof

China As Goliath: How Little Lithuania Defies Beijing

No other European state strikes a more confident tone toward China than Lithuania. Vilnius is resisting all the usual means of pressure — and has a clear demand that Europe and Germany defend their values.

VILNIUS — With its small population and modest economy, Lithuania has a reputation of being a minor actor on the European political stage. But under Deputy Foreign Minister Mantas Adomenas, it's breaking from the pack in a very notable way: attempting to strong arm China as the People's Republic vies for increasing global dominance.

While this might seem like a diplomatic and economic suicide mission, Adomenas sees few risks in promoting Lithuania's vision of democracy.This isn't a recent policy change: A member of the center-right Homeland Union, Adomenas says his party's China position had been maturing for a long time. When the Homeland Union was elected to government, Lithuania's relationship with China was essentially fixed along this hard line. It just had to be brought to life.

A trained classical philologist, educated at the universities of Vilnius and Cambridge, Adomenas has a doctorate in Plato and the pre-Socratic philosophers and speaks British English well. But the days of Adomenas making his living with fine intellectual theories are long gone.

Today he is dealing with very practical problems. Since becoming deputy foreign minister, his everyday life has been dominated by troubles with authoritarian regimes (Russia) and nefarious dictators (Alexander Lukashenko) of Belarus.

Lithuania shows that a more robust China policy is possible.

Not surprisingly, affairs with China are now causing trouble. The relationship between Lithuania and Beijing currently resembles the Old Testament confrontation between David and Goliath. No other European state is adopting a more self-confident tone toward the billion-strong empire than the country of three million people.

Indeed, Lithuania shows that a more robust China policy is possible. This is also thanks to Adomenas. In an interview with WELT, he speaks with pride about the foreign policy of his Baltic homeland. Those who listen to him quickly notice how important independence — which the country only regained from the Soviet Union in 1990 — is to him.

In May, the Lithuanian parliament declared the oppression of China's Uyghur Muslim minority to be a genocide. Shortly thereafter, Vilnius withdrew from "17+1," a Beijing-initiated cooperation between China ("1") and Central and Eastern European countries ("17"). Beijing claims the initiative brings economic benefits and is not bound by political conditions. Lithuania responds that the cooperation is dividing Europe.

But that's not all. First, in June, Lithuania donated 20,000 doses of AstraZeneca to Taiwan. Then, in July, it was announced that Taiwan would open a representative office in Vilnius — with the name "Taiwan" in the title. What sounds trivial is a diplomatic coup. Taiwan's de facto embassy in Berlin, for instance, is called "Taipei Representation." Beijing fumed. The People's Republic considers the democratic island state part of its territory.

Adomenas says that these decisions were not made out of a gut feeling, but were well thought out. After all, he says, there were a few antecedents in Lithuanian-Chinese relations that drastically changed Beijing's perception of the Baltic country.


Lithuanian deputy foreign minister Mantas Adomėnas speaks in Kruonis, Lithuania — Official Facebook Page for Mantas Adoménas

For example, in the summer of 2019, demonstrators in Hong Kong protested against the central government in Beijing. In Vilnius, sympathizers then staged a demonstration to express support for the protest in the former British crown colony. But the Chinese ambassador to Lithuania rounded up Chinese for a counter-demonstration. The Lithuanian public was alarmed.

A few months later, a full-blown scandal ensued. A Chinese woman dismantled a monument that had been erected on the Hill of Crosses for the Hong Kong demonstrators. The Hill of Crosses is not only a Catholic pilgrimage site, but also a symbol of resistance to Soviet rule. The incident even drew the attention of the then foreign minister, Linas Linkevicius. On Twitter, Linkevicius spoke of "vandalism" — which could and would no longer be tolerated.

Then came considerations of a fundamental nature, says Adomenas. On the one hand, his government understood that Beijing was prepared to use economic interdependence as a means of exerting pressure. For this reason, Vilnius decided to reduce its dependence on China and to diversify its foreign trade.

Lithuania has also begun to integrate Taiwan more closely into the international community. All of this, he says, stems from a mixture of conviction, pragmatism and self-preservation instincts. "We are resisting Beijing's violation of law and democracy because Lithuania is a small country whose existence is based on respect for law and democracy," he says.

He says the price for this policy has so far been limited. Beijing has excluded the country from a few trade fairs, but nothing more. In fact, there is not much room for the People's Republic to attack: Chinese investments in the Baltic country are minimal.

The irony of just one small European Union country taking on heavyweight China is keeping experts busy.

The Central and Eastern European Center for Asian Studies, a think tank, estimates the total value of all China-related projects for 2020 at just 82 million euros — only about 0.18 percent of Lithuania's gross domestic product. But Adomenas says China is facing a fundamental dilemma: If it punishes Lithuania, it only makes clear that Chinese initiatives like "17+1" are very much tied to political conditions.

The irony of just one small European Union country taking on heavyweight China is now keeping experts between Helsinki and Athens busy. Since Lithuania dropped out of "17+1," it has been pushing for what Vilnius calls: "27+1": a common China policy for al 27 EU member states. But these hopes are likely to remain unfulfilled.

For one thing, Lithuania's China policy is already reaching its limits in the Baltic states. Una Berzina-Cerenkova, who heads the China Studies Center at Stradins University in Riga, says that Vilnius' approach is being followed with great interest in Latvia and Estonia. But it will not set a precedent. The political scientist assumes that Latvia and Estonia will also scale down their involvement in "17+1." But more likely in a quiet manner.

On the other hand, there are EU states, such as Germany, far more economically intertwined with China, that categorically reject a tougher stance toward Beijing. What Adomenas wants from the new German government after Angela Merkel's departure in September is: "European leadership." This is diplomatically thinly veiled criticism of the chancellor's China policy, which is geared to the interests of the German auto industry.

What does he mean by that? "A leadership that is not out to be at the head of the line," he says. "But one that uses its economic power to defend Europe's fundamental values."

Geopolitics
Meike Eijsberg

Europe Against Belarus — How A Sprinter Became The New Catalyst

A virtual unknown to most of the world a few days ago, Belarusian sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya is now at the center of an Olympic drama that has spilled over into the realm of geopolitics.

On Sunday afternoon, Kristina Timanovskaya, a 24-year-old sprinter, was taken to the Haneda Airport in Tokyo by two attendants from the Belarusian team. It would be the beginning of the most politically charged episode of the 2021 Summer Games, which has the potential to carry over into high-stakes diplomacy long after the closing ceremony.


Timanovskaya says she was taken to the airport against her will, and refused to get on the plane: "I am worried about my safety. And I think that, at the moment, it is unsafe for me in Belarus," German Die Welt reported her stating at the time.


According to the Belarusian Olympic Committee, led by President Alexander Lukashenko's 45-year old son, Viktor, the sprinter had been examined by a doctor and would not compete due to her "emotional-psychological" condition, a conclusion that Timanovskaya called a "lie."


Last week, Timanovskaya had spoken out on her Instagram account (now deactivated), saying that she would have to compete in a different Tokyo Olympics discipline, without her consent, after some members of the team were deemed ineligible for the Olympics because they had not undergone a sufficient number of doping tests, reports the Minsk-based correspondent of Le Monde. Instead of 200 meters, her specialty, she suddenly had to do the 4x400 meter relay.

Many think this public complaint is the real reason why she was supposed to be sent home, as Belarusian national television commented on the affair and condemned it as "unpatriotic behavior," the French daily reported. Meanwhile, Belarusian-language daily Zviazda quoted Siarhei Novikau, a Belarus silver medalist at the 2010 Olympic Games, saying that Timanovskaya was at fault.


As the case made worldwide headlines, the sprinter took refuge at the Polish embassy in Tokyo where she was granted a humanitarian visa, according to Poland's Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz who made the announcement on Twitter. Shortly after, international aid started to roll in. German athlete representatives organized lawyers in Japan, and France's Europe Minister Clement Beaune spoke out in favor of political asylum in the European Union. The European Commission also condemned the events and declared its solidarity with Timanovskaya. According to Commission spokeswoman Nabila Massrali, the attempt to forcibly bring Timanovskaya to her home country, "is another example of the brutality with which Lukashenko's regime oppresses the people of Belarus. The repressive measures affect the entire Belarusian society, including athletes, and do not even stop at the Olympic Truce," Die Welt reported.


The increasing international condemnation of Belarus' actions raises questions about its future in the Olympics, as well as its growing status as a virtual pariah state. According to Die Welt, it is likely that sanctions (already in place for the Belarusian team) will be tightened, and that Belarus could be thrown out of the IOC. If that were the case, its athletes would then have to compete under a neutral flag. Poland-Belarus relations could worsen too. Poland, along with Lithuania, is considered the main supporter of the opposition in Belarus and has granted some 120,000 visas to Belarusians who have fled the country. Not only does Poland provide housing, work, and even medical care to Belarusian opposition members, it also hosts the regime-critical Belarusian television network Belsat.


As for Timanovskaya's future, she told The Associated Press that she hopes to continue her career — but for now, safety is her priority.

Society
Marlen Hobrack

Really? The Feminist Case Against Prostitution

Some feminists celebrate women who sell sex, claiming they are the pinnacle of self-determined empowerment. If that were true, millions of men would be queueing up to go in the game. Those who defend sex work are missing the point.

-OpEd-

BERLIN — As an outspoken feminist, from time to time I find myself in opposition to the movement's popular discourse. But among the apparently unimpeachable tenets of today's mainstream feminism, there is none that I find more questionable than its vehement defense of sex work. Certain feminists have even coined a phrase to refer to feminists who are opposed to sex work: SWERF (Sex-Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist). It's meant as an insult.

But criticizing the sex industry does not equate to disparaging or patronizing sex workers. Quite the opposite. It also doesn't mean painting all sex workers as victims of abuse and violence. It is possible for well-intentioned people to support sex work and mistake this stance for liberalism. But it's not possible as a feminist, without getting tangled up in a web of contradictions. Feminists who support sex work ignore the fact that this industry is indisputably gendered and exists within a patriarchal framework.

Die Welt columnist Teresa Bücker is one of those supposed liberal feminists who in reality are turning a blind eye to the patriarchal power relations surrounding sex work. She recently criticized an attempt by the Women's Union to ban women from working in the sex industry while pregnant. In her article, Bücker claimed this showed a conservative ideal of pregnancy, which sought to deny pregnant women's sexuality. She casually equated sex with sex work, sexual satisfaction with a physically demanding job.

While protecting pregnant women from harmful working conditions was one of the central achievements of the women's and workers' movement, the Women's Union's suggestion was met with criticism, based perhaps on a simplistic interpretation of Foucault's politics of the body. Is it possible that middle-class women don't actually care about the rights of the true working class? It wouldn't be the first time in the history of the women's movement.

But what are the feminist arguments in favor of sex work? There is only one: self-determination. Whatever a woman freely chooses must be good, according to popular feminism. It's clear, however, that this argument relies on a twisted logic, because women can of course make choices that are damaging.

The suggestion of freedom is even more problematic. Doesn't feminism constantly remind us that we do not live in a vacuum? That there are forces, pressures, expectations and societal gender roles acting on us at all times? And let us not forget the basic economic forces at play.

Why are there so few female clients?

If sex work was really a dream job, there would be millions of straight, middle-class men lining the streets of our big cities. Having regular sex and getting paid for it, what a win! So why isn't this the case? Because most men don't want to "demean" themselves (and that is how men would view it) by having to have sex with any client? Because the idea of having to service an unwashed, unattractive, obese or older woman might not be so "awesome?" Because they aren't subject to the same economic pressures as women, as there are more jobs open to men in traditionally masculine industries?

And why are there so few female clients? Is it down to a lack of provision? Or cliches about female sexuality, which claim that, for a woman, sex is only good if the man really finds her attractive?

Many feminists would counter that other industries are also highly gendered (although they admit that is problematic). As Laurie Penny writes in her book of essays Bitch Doctrine, all forms of work are exploitative, so we can only criticize sex work when every form of work-based exploitation has been done away with once and for all. With all due respect, that is not only an oversimplification of Marxism; it's downright cynical.

Let's think back to the #MeToo movement. We saw how actresses, musicians and ballet dancers who were harassed and assaulted and then portrayed as helpless victims of powerful men. But when it comes to sex workers, who — unlike actresses — really can only say no in certain circumstances, because they have to earn their living, suddenly there is no subordination, no power dynamic. There's only freedom and self-determination. Elsewhere, intersectional feminism teaches us that a complex web of patriarchy, capitalism and racism produces power relations, but these hegemonic structures apparently cease to exist between male clients and overwhelmingly female sex workers.

Members of the anti-human trafficking organization Femen dismantle a privacy screen in Hamburg, Germany's red light district — Photo: Carina Lue/DPA/ ZUMA

Critics like to accuse feminism of making women into victims, but when it comes to sex work, the opposite is true. For strident lobbyists and their feminist defenders, the "whore" embodies the ideal of the self-determined woman. "Most of the colleagues I've met are confident women who know exactly what they want," says sex worker and activist Undine de Rivière.

Maybe contemporary feminism has a blind spot around sex workers because they — unlike the widely acknowledged victims of male abuses of power — exhibit so much confidence that everything evil (which feminists agree appears in the form of cis-men) simply rolls off them. In a breath-taking about-turn, the courtesan is transformed into a powerful, disruptive figure within the patriarchal system. This is strange, however, when we consider that prostitution has "always existed" and that for thousands of years it fitted so neatly into patriarchal power structures.

It is not for nothing that the image of the "hetaera" is so often invoked in conversations about sex work (especially by the older generation of sex workers). In ancient Greece, a hetaera was a free man's companion. She is seen as the counterpoint to the grumpy wife who lies in wait for her husband, naked, sexually inexperienced and frustrated. While the wife complains about the uneven division of domestic labor and a lack of sexual satisfaction or desire (which often go hand in hand), her husband can buy a few moments of peace with his hetaera, perhaps even enjoy a good conversation — because it's well known that men like to talk to sex workers.

When sex workers invoke the image of the hetaera, they participate in putting down those women who also serve men — for example by managing their family lives on an unequal footing. The hetaerae achieve an equal footing through insisting on a simple capitalist exchange — sex for money — while in a bourgeois marriage, this exchange is blurred by romantic notions.

Anyone who speaks out against prostitution is dismissed as a dried-up, sex-negative old hag.

As the hetaera serves the penis, but expects nothing in return except for payment, she is able to appropriate some of its phallic power. Sex workers like Salomé Balthus and Undine de Rivière play with the image of the phallic woman, which fuses symbols of desirable femininity with masculine power in a very interesting way. Stark red lipstick and leather accessories, high heels and gelled hair, which is a descendant of the 20th-century bob, also an appropriation of masculine symbols — together these form the image of the phallic, powerful woman. Feminism has still not found another embodiment of powerful femininity.

Proponents of sex work claim to be on the side of sex positivity, libertinism and a progressive worldview. Their positive attitude towards sex work radiates from their disciples: young, hip and cool writers such as Ronja von Rönne and Katja Lewina are rhetorically getting into bed — or into the bathtub — with Balthus to shed their stuffy bourgeois image.

Anyone who speaks out against prostitution is dismissed as a dried-up, sex-negative old hag, with sexist, anti-feminist and ageist invective weaponized against them. The reason is clear: There is a lot of money at stake, a whole industry.

Sex workers protest against the COVID-related closure of brothels in Berlin, Germany — Photo: Imago/ ZUMA Press

If we are to take seriously the argument that sex work is simply another kind of work, then we must talk about what belongs to the world of work: safety regulations and employers' responsibility to check their workers' documentation, for example. Complaints about bureaucracy are a regular refrain among freelancers and businesspeople. If the "oldest profession in the world" wants to step out of the shadows, it must also be subject to this bureaucracy.

The final, most cynical argument often levied against opponents of prostitution is that they talk about prostitutes, not to them, but this is also the case for many of its supporters. Portraying sex workers as entrepreneurs who make use of their bodies in a radical, free manner transforms them into the ideal neoliberal subject. This liberated sex worker is a fantasy of white middle-class women who want to prove their open-mindedness and progressive worldview, but who aren't confronted with the consequences of their unequivocal support of sex work, because they're not the ones waiting for clients on street corners.

It's a shame that feminism seems unable to find a better use for women's newfound freedom than claiming it is the height of "self-determination" to do what women have been doing for centuries: being of service to men.

Geopolitics
Robin Alexander

Nord Stream 2: Merkel's Farewell Gift To Putin Is A Slap To Biden

Germany and the U.S. have agreed on a compromise to complete the gas pipeline — or rather, the Americans have submitted to Angela Merkel, who in turn had a farewell gift for Russia.

BERLIN — Angela Merkel's chancellorship comes to an end with a farewell present. Not for her, but from her: a gift for Vladimir Putin. The Russian President is the beneficiary of the compromise that Merkel has made with U.S President Joe Biden on Nord Stream 2 — the proposed Baltic Sea pipeline that will deliver Russian natural gas to Germany and the EU, bypassing countries like Poland and Ukraine.

American politicians across party lines have regularly criticized the pipeline as a devious Russian influence project that would entrench Europe's energy dependence, provide billions of dollars to the Kremlin, and make Ukraine more vulnerable to Russian aggression.

Chancellor Merkel and President Putin — Photo: Marquardt Christian/Action Press/ZUMA Press

Unlike other European politicians and her predecessor Gerhard Schröder, who has sat on the board of Russian energy companies after his term, Merkel is unlikely to benefit financially from her good contacts with the Kremlin — that doesn't suit her style or character. But this fact makes the Nord Stream 2 deal — which might well be Merkel's last notable mark on the international stage — all the more irritating.

Sure, Merkel has demonstrated her negotiating skills: taking advantage of the plight of the new U.S. President Joe Biden, who needs Germany for its "Alliance of Democracies' against China, the new authoritarian world power.

Ukraine got duped. Poland and the Baltic democracies got duped too.

Observers on both sides of the Atlantic have been wondering for months why Merkel had delayed dealing with Biden for so long. She probably wanted to build up bargaining power: China is more important than Russia to Biden, and Nord Stream 2 became a powerful bargaining chip as time went by.

Merkel did not even accept to include a so-called "kill switch" clause, which would have enabled Germany to shut off the pipeline if the Kremlin blackmailed Central and Eastern European countries. (Just a few months ago, Putin himself indicated that that's exactly what he's aiming for.) Ukraine got duped, caught up in negotiations about its future over which it had no say. Poland and the Baltic democracies got duped too, and they are sure to bring up the matter within European Union institutions for a long time.

The German-Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea — Photo: Jens Büttner/dpa/ZUMA

Remarkably, Washington agreed to end its opposition to the project without any recognizable benefit in exchange: Merkel has neither promised increased engagement for NATO nor more clarity about China. The compromise between Biden and Merkel is not a compromise at all, but an American capitulation.

This will get Biden into big trouble in Congress, where the issue has allowed Democrats and Republicans to find common ground. Angela Merkel began her last term in office with the plan to oppose Donald Trump in his attempt to undermine the rule of law around the world. She was right. then But now she ends her final term in office by putting a spoke in the wheel of her successor, essentially saying to Germany's next chancellor to figure things out on your own.

Geopolitics
Birgit Herden

Summer Revisited: Does Warm Weather Reduce COVID-19 Spread?

The number of infections is decreasing in many places, even as restrictions are eased. Vaccines matter, say scientists, but it's not the only factor.

BERLIN — The summer will be good. The horror scenarios of some models have proven to be too pessimistic; even if infections are ticking up in the UK, France and the Netherlands, they are currently falling rapidly across many European countries, despite the easing of restrictions.

People are pouring into cafes and beer gardens, and hope for the end of the pandemic is growing. But one question remains for the time being: Who is doing most of the work to kill the virus: summer or social distancing and vaccines? How much can we celebrate right now?

It has been clear from the start of the pandemic that the spread of the coronavirus is shaped by the change of seasons. Even going all the way back to Hippocrates, we have documented proof that respiratory diseases occur more frequently in winter. However, it has only been understood recently why this is so, and the explanations are by no means trivial. It's not really because of the cold weather that people catch colds. Most people spend a large part of their life in well-tempered interiors anyway, and there are also several respiratory viruses that boom in other seasons.

Various factors influence the spread of respiratory viruses, with humidity playing an important role. Cold air can absorb less humidity than warm air. If you warm up dry winter air in heated rooms, it contains much less water than it could absorb at warm temperatures. The relative humidity — the maximum amount of water that can be stored — is often below 40%.

UV rays destroy viruses.

Humidity affects the spread of many viruses. Just as laundry dries quickly in heated rooms, the droplets that people spray with every breath and every word release some of the water they contain into the air. They become lighter, no longer sinking to the ground but rather floating in space for a long time, ready to be inhaled by other people. Accordingly, infections often occurred in closed rooms during the pandemic.

At the same time, air with low relative humidity attacks the protective barrier that lines our airways — a tricky arrangement of mucus and cilia. The upper layer of the slimy coating is relatively tough, so foreign substances and pathogens get stuck in it. The lower layer is thinner and is driven by the fine cilia of the mucous membrane cells.

In this way, viruses stuck to the top layer are transported towards the larynx, swallowed and destroyed by stomach acid before they enter the body. However, this does not work as well if the slimy barrier becomes thinner in dry air.

A woman wearing a mask passes a COVID testing center in Berlin — Photo: Fabian Sommer/DPA/ ZUMA Press

Beyond temperature and humidity, solar radiation also affects the spread of cold viruses: UV rays destroy viruses. In addition, many people have a vitamin D deficit in winter, which can be unfavorable for the immune system.

All of these factors affect the virus's occurrence. In the tropics, for example, there are no flu seasons, but a slight risk of infection all year round. In New York, the spread of flu viruses will be reduced by 40% in the summer, in Florida by only 20%. Things are made even more complicated by human behavior. If, for example, many people are in air-conditioned rooms in hot summers, this can probably weaken the summer effect.

In addition, winter waves can be bigger if our immune systems were challenged very little during a virus-free summer. For example, some experts fear that the flu wave in Germany could be particularly severe in the coming winter after it has been weak one year and almost inexistent another. On top of that, the various cold viruses compete with each other in their undulating ups and downs and can displace one another.

The seasonal effect alone would not be strong enough to make the virus disappear completely.

So, it's no wonder that it has been difficult to predict how the seasons would affect the pandemic. The observation that the virus can spread in countries such as Brazil and India even in warm weather is of little help — their conditions can hardly be compared with the European change of seasons.

At the same time, it quickly became clear that the seasonal effect alone would not be strong enough to make the virus disappear completely during the summer months, as is known from the annual flu waves. Because its infectivity within a population without basic immunity is simply too great for that. So, for example, in the United States, the number of infections was particularly high last summer.

Accordingly, it is difficult for modelers to include the influence of the seasons in their scenarios. Many assume that the summer reduces the prevalence of the virus by about 20%. The source is research led by the American epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch from Harvard University published in May 2020. Lipsitch came up with the figure while analyzing the winter waves of the older, harmless coronaviruses.

In his scenarios for the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, he said the number would be in a range of between 0 to 40 percent. A year later, he still can't provide any other information as he has not dealt with this question since then. "With COVID-19, it is difficult to unravel the effects of the seasons, measures and behavioral change," he says. "All hypotheses will remain only provisional."

Research on the impact of the seasons on the pandemic has been sparse and contradictory. Different studies say the summer can reduce the presence of the virus by between less than 20% to 60%. It only seems clear that the seasonal effect is stronger with increasing latitude.

"As long as we can't quantify the impact of non-pharmaceutical measures and social factors, we don't need to deal with seasonality from my point of view," says Matthias Linden, a theoretical physicist who works in Viola Priesemann's group at the Max Planck Institute.

Even if the summer effect cannot be quantified — the figures, which are currently falling so rapidly, don't suggest a particularly strong seasonality, Linden says. Completely unchecked, the original coronavirus had a reproduction number of around three in winter — which means that is one infected person infected on average three other people. With the more infectious variant B.1.1.7, the number is at least four.

We can ease restrictions carefully, and step-by-step, enjoy summer

Whatever has prevented an explosion of cases in winter — whether restrictions or voluntary caution — has lowered the reproduction number to 1, an 80% decrease. The vaccine has further reduced it by about 30%, although its effect has been counteracted by easing restrictions.

Summer is here, the public mood is improving and some people forget the reasons that led to restrictions: they keep no distance, no masks, and organize parties. The German left-leaning member of Parliament and epidemiologist Karl Lauterbach warns the people have become too reckless and expect a fourth wave of infections to take Europe by storm in the fall.

The reproduction number has sunk below one, the wave ebbs. Even small differences due to seasonality cause big changes in this phase. With a reproduction number of 0.8, infections halve within two weeks; at 0.7, the same thing happens in the space of one week.

"To assume that the measures play no role at all would be nonsensical, just like the idea that seasonality has only a very small or no influence on the number of infections," says Berlin epidemiologist Kai Schulze. So there is only one thing to do: we can ease restrictions carefully, step by step, and enjoy the summer. But meanwhile, we have to vaccinate anyone we can until autumn — that way we'll keep the winter wave small.