ROME - Benedict XVI couldn’t have imagined this, because his thoughts were elsewhere: but the news of his resignation was met with cheers by thousands of people in Rome.
Why? Because the resignation of a pope has the same effect as the Olympic Games or a Jubilee for the city of Rome: it brings tourists, jobs and money.
The pope’s resignation comes during a deep crisis, with drops in sales between 10-30% in Rome. So, everyone is rolling up their sleeves and getting ready to cash in.
“After months of stagnation, we’re expecting an increase of at least 10% in hotel attendance, maybe even higher when the conclave begins. We know that Rome will be on display on televisions all over the world so, in the long run, this could attract more tourists,” explains Giuseppe Roscioli, President of the Rome Hotels Association.
“The next pope? He’ll bring us more people,” says Marco, one of the authorized sellers in Saint Peter’s Square. “During the last seven years, Pope Benedict wasn’t seen very much. We hope that the next one will be a little more social and will go back to organizing events.”
Business doesn’t care about anyone – not even the popes. The rules have been the same for centuries: you need to support yourself and to do so, you’ll sell whatever is in demand.
To sell, you need people in the piazza and for this to happen, you need the Vatican to give them a reason to come. Pope John Paul II succeeded in doing this with his 147 ceremonies of beatification during which 1,338 people were beatified, 52 were canonized, and 482 proclaimed into sainthood. In order to sell things to these pilgrims, they need to feel a connection -- and John Paul II excelled at this.
Even though Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation created such a huge buzz surrounding this tiny State, the demand for all things Jean Paul II has stayed the same as during the eight years of the German pontiff. To the tourists, John Paul II represented a pope who was able to change the papacy into a face with whom everyone – even those with no interest in the Vatican – could connect.
The tragedy of Pope Benedict XVI
The merchandise that is sold on the streets that surround the papal fortress is varied: from mini-statues to calendars, bookmarks, postcards, and magnets. In every one of them, the disproportion between the last two popes is evident. If Pope Benedict’s face appears alone, the item is half hidden; however, it’s in full view if Jean Paul II is also in the image. This is the tragedy of Benedict XVI, who unfortunately didn’t spark on a tenth of the light his predecessor did.
Katrina, 31, is German and visiting Rome with her boyfriend on a trip they had planned for a long time. They happened to find themselves on via della Conciliazione in the midst of Benedict XVI's resignation, but as soon as she saw a calendar of Jean Paul II, she lit up, took it in her hand and immediately snapped a photo. As for the only postcard on display of her compatriotic pope – not even a glance. The sellers know this and just one look at their windows is proof.
Take the A.V.E. bookshop on via della Conciliazione. The postcard collection is full of landscapes and views of the city, but for every card of Pope Benedict XVI, there are six of John Paul II. Just a few meters away, at Daos, the comparison is even more merciless: nine to one. There’s only one calendar in view and it’s of the Polish pontiff. As for the bookmarks? Five to zero. The only place that Pope Benedict beats his predecessor is the pocket-sized calendars, three to two, but that might just be due the Jean Paul II ones being sold out.
Next door is the Don Bosco bookshop, where the postcards cost 35 cents, or three euros for 10. Jean Paul II wins here 18 to six. Nova coffee shop, even though it’s a bar, showcases rosaries, crucifixes, statues, and flags. Nine are of John Paul II and four of Benedict XVI. In the Chinese owned stores near the Sant’Angelo Bridge, Pope Benedict doesn’t even appear -- they prefer to play it safe in sales game.
In a nearby shop, there is one particular postcard of Benedict XVI that is placed in plain view and sells very well. In it, he’s hugging Pope John Paul II.
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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