From Aung to Zimbabwe, Foreign Pressure Goes Only So Far

Protests in Indonesia against Aung San Suu Kyi
Protests in Indonesia against Aung San Suu Kyi
Stuart Richardson

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's three decades in power may finally be over.

Gunfire broke out late Tuesday in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare as military panzers moved in to prevent anyone from accessing government offices. At around 5 a.m. Wednesday, Maj. Gen. S.B. Moyo, a ranking member of the army, appeared on state television. "We wish to assure the nation that His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe Comrade RG Mugabe and his family are safe," the commander said in his statement, Al Jazeera reports. "We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country."

We can only guess who these "criminals' might be, while human rights activists will scoff at the idea that Mugabe doesn't deserve such a label. Since the end of the Cold War, Zimbabwe has been a virtual pariah state, run with an iron hand by the now 93-year-old Mugabe, who has mixed Marxist-Leninist ideology with opportunistic Black African nationalism to hold on to power at all costs.

Having long denounced U.S. and Western imperialism, and his internal rivals in the southern African country, Mugabe's latest power grab was the recent removal of his vice president in an apparent bid to clear a path to power for his wife, Grace Mugabe.

Mugabe in 2008 — Photo: Sgt. Jeremy Lock

The Johannesburg-based African News Agency reports this morning that Mugabe will step down and his wife will leave the country, though observers caution that the situation remains fluid — and the strongman has managed in the past to survive similar attempts to unseat him.

Zimbabwe's recent history is a reminder that autocratic leaders — dictators and the democratically elected alike — are not apt to cede to international pressure. At the 31st ASEAN summit in Manila, which ended Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised objections to the Philippines brutal crackdown on drugs, which has reportedly resulted in more than 12,000 extrajudicial killings by police.

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines made it clear he won't stand for any external critique of his government. "It is a personal and official insult," he decried at a press conference. "I only answer to the Filipino. I will not answer to any other bullshit, especially foreigners. Lay off."

The summit's host was not the only attendee to face criticism. Trudeau, alongside the UN, the United States, as well as numerous other organizations and countries, have called on the government of Myanmar to end widespread violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the western state of Rakhine.

World leaders had once thought they could influence Myanmar, whose de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, won the Nobel Prize for standing up to decades of junta rule. But in a very different manner than either Duterte or Mugabi, the "Lady" is having none of it.

Some will argue that criticism from abroad only ends up boosting a bad leader's popularity at home. Still, saying nothing in the face of injustice can never be the right message.

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!