As Venezuelans Arrive, 'Brexit Mentality' Spreads In Bogota

In the Colombian capital, residents are starting to balk at the arrival of so many desperate Venezuelans. There's empathy, yes. But also caution and alarm.

Colombians, too, are following a global trend of isolationism
Colombians, too, are following a global trend of isolationism
Germán Alberto Rodríguez


BOGOTÁ — I am trying to understand Brexit from the social point of view, from the perspective of those who voted Leave or who think their country is being overrun by migrants. Because as far as I can see, people here in Bogota feel something similar every time we're approached by a youngster from Ecuador or Venezuela selling sweets or whatever else at the traffic lights.

Some of them ask humbly while others give you a dirty look if you give them nothing. Every traffic junction is starting to look like an extortion point. And all we can do is give them a few coins, which doesn't really better their condition though it makes ours worse.

The more profitable the begging business becomes, the less they are moved to look for a job or return to their country. As a humanitarian gesture, the city government in January relocated more than 500 people who had taken over a property near the city bus terminal. The situation was chaotic, with people sleeping in tents — or out in the open — and without basic amenities.

He was just a person trying to protect his family of five.

People voted for Brexit because they don't like seeing foreigners everywhere, because they felt immigrants were taking jobs or housing, even when they accept that they're also good people. Bogota residents think along the same lines. They are scared by the number of people floating in and out of the capital, with entire families roaming along city highways, and children exposed to the elements. Most are decent folk for sure, but there have been criminal incidents.

Venezuelans are suffering in their own country and have few options. Recently I spoke to a Venezuelan about his conditions here. He said he'd been forced to migrate due to a lack of food and medicine. He was just a person trying to protect his family of five. A difficult situation. Their lodgings, he said, were a single room in a motel for which the family was being charged 35,000 pesos a day (about 10 euros). That works out to more than a million a month (280-300 euros). The price is extortionate of course, and exceeds a legal, monthly rent. He had to pay every day, and said he wishes he could legalize his situation here, to find a job.

But that still leaves us with the big, big question: Would it really be possible to legalize all the Venezuelans roaming around the city? Do we have the economic means for their integration? I once made the suggestion that we help all these needy people, to which a friend replied: "You'd do better to help a compatriot in need, as there are so many. Why must we import beggars when we have enough already?"

Do we have the economic means for their integration?

That, it occurs to me, is the Brexit mentality in a nutshell: It should be us first. It is the opinion of an ordinary fellow who feels the city is being filled with unfamiliar people, both good and bad, though who can tell which is which. And wouldn't it just be better if they weren't here?

The government could provide the answer — closing the border, taking these people to shelters, providing food. And to some extent, it has done those things. Like the migrants in Europe, the ones coming to Colombia are "just people wanting to protect their families." Yes, but what can I do? What should our position be? Should we too vote for them to leave? Either way, we can hardly increase the burdens on our unfortunate city. We already have enough problems here.

And you, what do you think?

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

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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