China: Economics, Political Control And “The Pursuit Of Happiness”

Editorial: A French daily sees links between Arab uprisings, American founding fathers and China's hard choices.

China: Economics, Political Control And “The Pursuit Of Happiness”

America's Founding Fathers considered the "pursuit of happiness' one of man's "inalienable rights," alongside "life and liberty." And so it was that the right to happiness was inscribed in the Declaration of Independence, adopted on the 4th of July 1776.

There is no way of knowing whether the Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, is a regular reader of the writings of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and the other great figures who gave America its founding creed. Either way, Monsieur Wen has recently spoken about the Chinese people's right to pursue their happiness. The world should congratulate him for this, no doubt, and also encourage him to take the widest view possible of his compatriots' "happiness."

Wen Jiabao chose to speak about happiness during the National People's Congress, a common ritual in the Chinese Republic. The Prime Minister spoke about his country's economic achievements during the past five years and presented a blueprint for the coming five-year plan.

He thus confirmed the new strategy that the Chinese leaders intend to adopt: an economy based on domestic demand as much as on exports, and a development model that is friendlier to the environment. Wen Jiabao said that he expected an annual growth rate of 7% over the next five years, compared with 11.2% on average since 2005. The government promised to tackle inflation- 4,9% is the official figure, but in reality it is probably much higher. Wen also pledged to fight against the gaping inequalities within Chinese society. In order to achieve this, he said, people's consumer power must rise and corruption must be eradicated.

In addition of the permanent talk of economic growth and harmony, the Chinese Prime Minister's decision to speak about people's happiness and well-being was seen in the local press immediately as "a major political issue."

There is no denying that the entire world stands to benefit from a more balanced Chinese economy. The country's trade surplus, and the savings it has accumulated, represents one of the biggest and most dangerous imbalances of the world economy.

Still, can one be blamed for thinking that the Communist leaders' concern for the wellbeing of their people, so lavishly displayed at the Congress, has something to do with the present political context? China cannot be impervious to what is currently happening in the Arab world. It certainly cannot watch with an indifferent eye as autocrats are denounced and ousted

Over the past three weeks, groups of activists -- empowered by new electronic communications -- have been continuously calling for protests to take place in every big Chinese city. Judging from the authorities' crackdown and arrests of activists and intimidation of foreign journalists, the government is taking the threat very seriously.

In the context of rising social tensions, the regime is trying to regain some legitimacy. And this requires an improvement of political openness. That's it, Comrade Wen, another push and you're almost there!

Photo - Decade Null

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!