Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's Bolsonaro faces the worst crisis of his presidency, Aung San Suu Kyi makes a "healthy" appearance, and a kid gets nuclear (tweeting) powers. And thanks to L'Espresso journalist Maurizio Di Fazio, we tune in from a safe distance to the dangerous and sometimes violent Italian branch of the anti-vaxxers movement.
• COVID and military put Bolsonaro at risk: As Brazil hits a new record daily COVID-19 death toll, President Jair Bolsonaro faces the biggest political crisis of his presidency, with chiefs of the army, navy and air forces all resigning at the same time. Sources say the three heads of the armed forces were facing pressure from the president to show him greater loyalty and public support.
• Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine works for kids: The Pfizer/BioInTech jab has proven 100% effective in children ages 12-15 during testing, opening the way for a wider vaccination campaign across the population. Meanwhile, Germany bans AstraZeneca to those under 60 following a similar decision by Canada after additional reports of rare blood clots caused by the anti-COVID vaccine.
• U.S cuts ties with Myanmar: The U.S. says it will cut trade ties with Myanmar and has recalled its diplomats over the military coup and ongoing crackdown that has led to more than 500 deaths. Arrested pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi looks "in good health", according to one of her lawyers.
• Fighting Escalates in Eastern Ukraine: Both Ukraine and Russia issued statements Tuesday noting the worsening of a conflict over the contested territory of Donetsk.
• Deliveroo fails to deliver: Disappointing debut on the London stock market for gig economy food delivery company Deliveroo, with shares dropping 30% amid concerns over its economic health and working conditions.
• €1 for Timbuktu: The ICC has ruled that Mali and UNESCO were to receive one euro in reparation for the damage caused to several mausoleums and the sacred gate of a mosque in Timbuktu — a symbolic gesture meant to reflect the "inestimable universal value" of the buildings destroyed by jihadists in 2012.
• Nuclear gibberish: A cryptic tweet (;l;;gmlxzssaw) on the official account of the U.S. Strategic Command — which runs the country's nuclear weapons force — turned out to be the doing not of a hacker, but of a "very young child" fiddling with their parent's unattended account. Reassuring.
Brazilian daily Estado de Minas covers both the health and political crises the country is facing, with a new record daily death toll and the resignation of leaders of three armed forces.
Crossbows, clubs, Kalashnikovs: the dangerous world of anti-vaxxers
An intensive dive into Italian anti-vaxxer social media groups left L'Espresso journalist Maurizio Di Fazio stunned. For the opponents of vaccination drives, AstraZeneca, Pfizer/Biontech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and the others are lethal poisons. Di Fazio brings us on his tour of the Italy branch of this global movement:
Anti-vaxxers believe that "the pandemic, already simulated in 2017, is a planned operation by a health dictatorship and that economic, social and psychological terrorism to lead to the advent of a new satanic world order" ; that "concentration camps for forced vaccination are being rebuilt in Germany." By now we must be close to a Great Reset, subject to a remake of the Nuremberg mega-trial for those "responsible." This is what you read if you extrapolate some of the recurring rhetoric that animates Italian Facebook pages such as "The hidden damage" (8,000 followers) or Facebook groups like "Free-Vax Italia" (11,000 members).
It's a strange galaxy of people who deny the need for immunization in order to return to some kind of new normal. We are talking about people who are often obsessives, who have monothematic virtual profiles. Now they are clamoring we are facing a mass massacre through a syringe, until a few months ago they fought against the "state muzzle" mask. And every four or five lines they casually wish death to those who do not think like them, the "sheep and lobotomized minds," or trolls at best. The irony.
For a good self-respecting anti-vaxxer, getting vaccinated is a bit like playing Russian roulette. Anaphylactic reactions are around one corner, cerebral hemorrhages are around another, not to mention abortions and heart attacks caused by these potentially fatal injection. Fake videos proliferate, showing post-inoculation writhing and spasms. "What is certain is that between 20 and 50 year-olds, the vaccine certainly killed more than Covid," claims one user, Michele T.
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Arabic for instability, as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi warned of "unimaginable instability" in the region were the country's water supply to be affected by a giant dam being built close to Ethiopia's border with Sudan.
Turkmenistan leader pens song to celebrate birth of a horse
What's the deal with strongmen and their horses? Whether its Kim Jong-un galloping through the snow or shirtless Vladimir Putin on horseback mountain or Nicolas Maduro striking an el vaquero pose on the ranch, power-hungry world leaders clearly have an equestrian thing going on.
Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is, however, taking it to another level. The central Asian strongman has already written several books on the Turkmen Akhal-Teke horses, a breed also known as "Golden Horses' because of their shiny coat, and never misses celebrating the National Horse Day with great ceremony, even last year in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
And now, after Ak Khan, a prized Akhal-Teke racehorse and the leader's favorite, gave birth to a foal, the Turkmen strongman was moved to sing from the heart. For the grand occasion, Berdymukhamedov decided to celebrate by writing a song with his grandson Kerimguly, who composed the music, news website Turkmen Portal reports. The two of them had previously recorded another song dedicated to Ak Khan. But the production value of the new tune is on another level.
This new song, "My White City Ashgabat," which refers to the name of the new horse and the name of the country's capital city, premiered at the State Cultural Centre last week and was performed by singers and dancers, with footage of the president taking care of the foal in the background. According to the state channel, the leader felt inspired by the fact that the birth coincided with the 30-year anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence, and was 140 years since the founding of Ashgabat.
As only the country's second president since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Berdymukhamedov has ruled Turkmenistan since 2006 with an iron (and plundering) hand, spending the riches of the country's natural gas industry to build golden statues of himself, organize flamboyant displays and invest in outlandish building projects such as the remodeling of Ashgabat's city center to make it the world's whitest city. (He even banned the use of black cars.)
Turkmenistan, with a population of around six million, is also one the world's most secretive and restrictive countries in the world, with the press under strict state control and the absence of any kind of political opposition. In the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Turkmenistan ranked 179 out of 180. Where's the song about that?
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In 2020, 4.2 million hectares of primary forest were destroyed worldwide, an area equivalent to the size of the Netherlands, according to an annual report from Global Forest Watch. The study registered a 12% increase compared with 2019, despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic, and recorded the worst losses in Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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.
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.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
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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