Geopolitics

After Brexit And Trump, Wave Of Rebellion Triumphs In Italy

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his constitutional reform referendum are victims of a massive movement of popular discontent, now more global than ever.

'No' supporters protesting in Rome on Nov. 27
"No" supporters protesting in Rome on Nov. 27
Maurizio Molinari*

-Editorial-

TURIN — With massive voter turnout and runaway victory of the "No" camp, Sunday's referendum has revealed the existence in Italy of a kind of popular rebellion that has rejected Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, his proposed constitutional reforms, and the establishment government. The referendum proposal became a touchstone for this protest movement, which had first appeared during last spring's municipal elections that, among other results, saw political outsiders win the mayor offices of Rome and Turin.

Still, any attempt to reduce the expression of this collective discontent — which was registered in every geographic region — as a sign of support for this or that political force would be a serious error.

The "No" votes came from struggling middle-class families, victims of the economic crisis, without hopes of prosperity and well-being for their children and grandchildren. They were the young people unable to find jobs, the working-class who feel threatened by migrants and employees whose salaries simply no longer suffice.

Such a popular uprising is the expression of the same discomfort that produced the Brexit vote in Britain and sent Donald Trump toward the White House. Now it has raised its voice for the first time on the continent, and in a founding country of the European Union.

The immediate resignation of Renzi makes it clear that his successors must come with definite answers to the crisis at the origin of the middle-class protest. Italy needs a new welfare for families facing hardships, a it needs a recipe to reignite economic growth and a formula for integrating migrants. The longer these questions are left unanswered, the wider the protest movement will grow, which could trigger a domino effect of unpredictable consequences. To relaunch Italy, a new government is simply not enough: The popular rebellion must be respected, and its demands must be met.


*Maurizio Molinari is La Stampa"s editor-in-chief

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Society

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

-Essay-

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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