Geopolitics

Japan, Turkey And The Difficult Exercise Of Repentance

When a country acknowledges atrocities it has committed, it implies a mix of democratic culture and confidence that is more the exception than the rule.

Japan's PM Shinzo Abe at Jerusalem's Yad Vahsem Holocaust memorial museum in January.
Japan's PM Shinzo Abe at Jerusalem's Yad Vahsem Holocaust memorial museum in January.
Dominique Moïsi

-OpEd-

PARIS — "All history is contemporary history," the great Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce wrote. This should be kept in mind as we witness a succession of historical commemorations linked to World War I and II.

As decades pass, the meaning of these ceremonies changes, not only with time but also because there's constant comparison between nations on the topic: "Tell me how you handle your past, and I'll tell you who you are."

This is especially true regarding repentance. On this issue, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Japan now seems to rank somewhere between Konrad Adenauer's Germany and Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Turkey. Since Abe's emotional April 29 speech in Washington, where both chambers of Congress gathered for the first time ever to hear a Japanese leader, Japan inched ever so cautiously closer to Germany on the repentance scale. He finally expressed his condolences to the American people and recognized that the actions of his country had "brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries." But he went no further, missing a critical opportunity to apologize to the Asian "comfort women" who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army during World War II.

When it comes to the recognition of one's past, there are of course infinite models and nuances. Each country is a specific case, but three models or counter-models are especially distinguishable, between Germany, Turkey and Japan. If Germany is now in its proper place in Europe and the world, it's because it has recognized its historical responsibility for Nazi crimes in the clearest way possible. Let's remember Chancellor Willy Brandt, on his knees in Warsaw on Dec. 7, 1970, in front of the monument for the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, or President Richard von Weizsäcker’s speech on May 8, 1985, calling on the Germans to consider May 8, 1945, a "day of liberation." Of course, Germany shouldn't be idealized, as the new movie Labyrinth of Lies emphasizes. Even in Germany, efforts to remember such suffering have been long and hard.

Willy Brandt memorial plate in Warsaw — Photo: Szczebrzeszynski

At the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, there is now Recep Erdogan's Turkey, which has struck a posture that is harmful for its image and its interests. As the 100-year anniversary of the systematic destruction of Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire is being commemorated, Erdogan refuses to acknowledge the wretched chapter in the country's history and has outspokenly rejected the word "genocide" to describe it. This despite the fact that a significant segment of the Turkish population accepts the use of the term "genocide."

Halfway is not good enough

On the spectrum between Germany and Turkey, there's Japan. Behind an energetic and flamboyant prime minister, Japan is happy to return to its role as the United States' first ally in Asia. Thanks to China's irresistible rise in power, it's an ally that's rediscovering itself as desired — if not loved. Tokyo has done the absolute minimum regarding repentance. While it's probably enough for the United States, it's certainly not enough for Asia.

It is admittedly very difficult to find the right tone concerning historical wrongs, for one's own country and for others. China, which very firmly condemns Japan's revisionist attempts, doesn't seem in a rush to confront its own history and crimes committed by its regime. In fact, the USSR and China are responsible for the deaths of a larger number of their own citizens than Nazi Germany or Japan.

But confronting the past to transcend it with a clear conscience in approaching the future implies a mix of democratic culture and self-confidence, which is more the exception than the rule. Germany first had to experience the convergence of multiple factors before becoming an excellent student regarding repentance: the utter monstrosity of the Nazi crimes, the presence of enlightened and visionary Christians such as Konrad Adenauer at the head of post-World War II Germany, an external threat, the USSR, and finally the building of modern Europe.

These kind of conditions aren't found in Japan or Turkey. Japan believes it already suffered for its crimes, which aren't comparable to those of Nazi Germany, with the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese remain convinced that the atom bomb wouldn't have been tested on a "white people." Turkey, meanwhile, hides behind the passing of so many years, refusing to claim responsibility for crimes committed by the dying Ottoman Empire a century ago. It won't acknowledge that the Armenian genocide influenced the masterminds of the Nazi extermination and served as a model for the Holocaust.

History must be handled with caution, but also with responsibility. The present takes the past hostage, even if it's understandable that European leaders don't want to be next to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Moscow during this week's commemorations of the victory over Nazi Germany. In the same way, the past should not eternally block the present. And on this matter, repentance is a sign of strength, not of weakness.

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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