Geopolitics

Estonia Joins Euro At Currency Zone’s Lowest Moment

The Baltic republic has just become the euro zone's 17th member state, carrying low public debt and high hopes for its economy

Euros take over for Estonian crowns

BRUSSELS - On Jan. 1 Estonia officially abandoned its currency, the crown, to become the 17th European state -- and the first of the Baltic republics -- to adopt the euro.

It might look to some like a counterintuitive move, as the European currency zone is facing its worst crisis ever. But as other Eastern European countries have stalled and pushed back their membership, Estonia forged ahead. The country first tried to join the euro zone back in 2007, but had to postpone entry because its inflation was too high. For this small republic (1.3 million inhabitants), which gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the obstacles the euro faced this past year don't seem to matter.

To start with, joining the euro is a political symbol. "The European currency will allow Estonians to erase a little more of the memory of the former Russian domination by joining the core of the EU," explained a high-ranking European official in Brussels.

But it also makes sense economically according to the Estonian Economy Minister Juhan Parts, who believes that switching to the euro is a logical step for a small economy opened to the world. "Eighty percent of our international trade is within the EU," said Parts. "The euro will help Estonian businessmen sell their products more easily and therefore create jobs."

For Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, joining the euro zone "will bring stability and an end to incompetent and even malicious speculation on devaluating the crown." Estonian citizens aren't overly excited about the transition but about half of the population favors the euro.

An open economy

The state of the country's economy, which quickly overcame the crisis, explains this relative serenity. Two percent growth for 2010 and 2.5% for 2011 are expected. In 2009, the GDP shrunk by 18%, but this deep crisis did not undo the "Baltic Tiger's' seven-year growth. Estonia managed to keep its exemplary financial situation: with a 1.3% budget deficit and a public debt under 10% of GDP this year, it fits perfectly within the Maastricht criteria and is effectively at the top the EU's rankings for economic health.

"Estonia is the opposite of Greece, with visceral aversion to public spending and civil service. They have made budgetary and financial discipline their trademark to inspire trust and attract foreign investments," says a Brussels official.

Since their independence, Estonians have tried to build an open and modern economy and tried to get rid of any Soviet heritage. For example, all teachers and professors are now under private contracts. They are also trying to build an e-democracy where cabinet meetings and press conferences are broadcast on the Internet.

Estonia is also ready to prove its solidarity. The country, which received an "A" rating from Standard and Poor's, will become a member the European Financial Stability Fund, created to help the weakest states. Indeed, it is one of the few countries that can boast a guarantee rate that is higher than its public debt!

Read the original article in French

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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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