Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
from Jeremy Gaunt:
Greeks smashing windows and setting fire to shops and banks in a fury of opposition to yet more austerity is gripping. But it is hardly unique. A few years ago there were similar scenes for weeks after police shot a 15-year old schoolboy. And back when I lived there, U.S. President Bill Clinton was treated to a similar welcome -- mainly because of his military assault on Serbia (a fellow Christian Orthodox nation) during the Kosovo conflict.
There are doubtless degrees. The latest level of destruction was the worst since widespread riots in 2008 -- and austerity being imposed on Greeks is very painful. But it is worth noting that there are two underlying elements than make such uprisings more common in Greece than elsewhere.
The first is a division in Greek society that goes back to at least the end of the second world war. The civil war that followed the end of the German occupation was brutal and split the country between those wanting western free market democracy and those favouring Soviet-style communism. This carried though into the 1967-74 junta.
The second element is the role of outsiders on Greek history. The Civil War brought in western intervention and the junta got U.S. support -- to the deep-seated bitterness of those on the other side. Going back further -- and Greeks have long historic memories -- there are Persians, crusaders, Nazi Germans and the particularly hated Ottomans trying to make Greeks be something other than Greek. Here is a feature on it.
Covering a summit of European leaders is a bit like covering a soccer match with no ticket for the stadium and no live TV broadcast to watch. The only way you have an idea of the scoreline is from the groans and cheers from inside the ground.
With EU leaders meeting on Brussels on Sunday and again on Wednesday to try to resolve the region’s debt crisis, the emergency back-to-back summits look like a game of two halves.
There is something a bit bizarre, yet fascinating, about the way Berlin and the local media mark the anniversaries of the Berlin Wall’s construction on Aug. 13, 1961 and the anniversaries of its collapse on Nov. 9, 1989.
There are many of the same things each time: sombre speeches, fancy ceremonies, countless thousands of stories in the print and TV media and a general consensus that A) the Wall was a horrible thing B) the Communists who built it were loathsome liars C) its collapse was a glorious moment in German history and D) its memory should serve as a global symbol of the yearning for freedom.
Yet like Berlin itself, which has gone through what are probably the most dynamic changes of any big city in Europe in the last two decades, elements of the commemorations have been shifting over the years and the city’s view of the wall has also been transformed. Incredibly enough, some Germans now miss the Wall – a few diehards both east and west who feel their standing of living has gone down since 1989 want it back the most (about 10 percent, according to a recent poll) . But many others, especially those too young to remember it, lament that there is so little left of it to see and feel.
Indeed, almost all of the Wall is gone. Yet 10 million tourists still come to Berlin each year looking for it. “Where’s the Wall?” is probably one of the most commonly asked questions by visitors. The answer – unfortunate or fortunate, depending on your point of view – is that there’s almost nothing left.
It was all torn down in a rush to obliterate the hated barrier in late 1989 and early 1990. Only a few small segments were saved – one 80 metre-long section, for instance, behind the Finance Ministry that was saved thanks to one Greens politician who declared it to under “Denkmalschutz” – a listed monument. That enraged many Berliners at the time.
Despite the lack of Berlin Wall to look at and touch, a thriving cottage industry has grown up at some of the places where it once stood. You can get a “DDR” stamp in your passport if you want from a menacing looking soldier in an authentic East German border guard uniform (who appreciates tips) at Checkpoint Charlie or have your picture taken with others wearing Russian army uniforms. You can buy Wall souvenirs at many of the points where the Wall once stood.
Some leaders such as Mayor Klaus Wowereit now admit it might have been a mistake, from today’s point of view, to so hastily tear down all but a few tiny bits of the Wall in 1989. “There’s a general complaint that the demolition of the Wall was a bit too extensive,” he told me recently. “That’s understandable from today’s point of view and it would probably have been better for tourists if more of it could have been preserved. But at the time we were all just so happy to see the Wall gone.”
The consensus view in Germany is that Angela Merkel’s abrupt reversal on nuclear energy after Fukushima was a transparent ploy to shore up support in an important state election in Baden-Wuerttemberg. If indeed that was her intention (she denies any political motive) then she miscalculated horribly. Her party was ousted from government in B-W on Sunday after running the prosperous southern region for 58 straight years. But what if Merkel was really thinking longer-term — ie beyond the state vote to the next federal election in 2013? After the Japan catastrophe she may well have realised that her chances of getting elected to a third term were next-to-nil if she didn’t pivot quickly on nuclear. There are two good reasons why that is probably a safe assumption. First is the extent of anti-nuclear sentiment in Germany. A recent poll for Stern magazine showed nearly two in three Germans would like to see the country’s 17 nuclear power plants shut down within 5 years. The nuclear issue was the decisive factor in the B-W election. And you can bet it will play an important role in the next national vote — even if it is 2-1/2 years away. The second reason why the reversal looks like a good strategic decision from a political point of view is the dire state of Merkel’s junior partner in government — the Free Democrats. It was the strength of the FDP which vaulted her to a second term in September 2009. But now it looks like their weakness could be her undoing in 2013. Merkel probably needs the FDP to score at least 10 percent in the next vote to give her a chance of renewing her “black-yellow” coalition. Right now the FDP is hovering at a meagre 5 percent and it is difficult to see how they double that anytime soon. The nuclear shift widens Merkel’s options in one fell swoop. Suddenly the issue that made a coalition between Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Greens unthinkable at the federal level has vanished. Her party set a precedent by hooking up with the Greens in the city-state of Hamburg in 2008. Now she has more than two years to lay the foundations for a similar partnership in Berlin. By then voters may see Merkel’s nuclear U-turn in a different light. And only then will it be truly clear if it was a huge political mistake, as the Baden-Wuerttemberg vote suggests, or a prescient strategic coup.
One of the most wrong-headed arguments in the debate about Muslims in Europe is the shrill "Eurabia" claim that high birth rates and immigration will make Muslims the majority on the continent within a few decades. Based on sleight-of-hand statistics, this scaremongering (as The Economist called it back in 2006) paints a picture of a triumphant Islam dominating a Europe that has lost its Christian roots and is blind to its looming cultural demise.
from Summit Notebook:
Jim O'Neill, the new Goldman Sachs Asset Management chairman who is famous for coining the term BRICs for the world's new emerging economic giants, reckons he knows why Germany might not be rushing to bail out all the euro zone debt that is under pressure. Europe is not as important to Berlin as it was.
Speaking at the Reuters 2011 Investment Outlook Summit being held in London and New York, O'Neill pointed out that in the not very distant future Germany will have more trade with China than it does with France.
(Photo: Presidents Christian Wulff (R) and Abdullah Gül, followed by wives Bettina (R) and Hayrünnisa, during official welcome in Ankara October 19, 2010/Umit Bektas)
When German President Christian Wulff recently declared that Islam "belongs to Germany," Christian Democratic politicians there howled and Muslims living in Germany and Turkey cheered. Now Wulff, on an official visit to Turkey, has told the Turkish parliament that "Christianity too, undoubtedly, belongs to Turkey." This time there was applause in Germany, and silence from the Turkish deputies listening to him in Ankara on Tuesday.
In both cases, Wulff's words could not have come at a better time. (Photo: President Wulff address the Turkish parliament, with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Turkey's EU Minister Egemen Bagis (L) in the background/Umit Bektas)
Germany is in the grip of an emotional debate about Islam and Muslim integration. When Wulff said in his Oct. 3 German Unity Day address that Islam was now part of German society, given the large number (about 4 million) of Muslims living there, it was demographically obvious and politically risky. Several of his fellow Christian Democrats have challenged his view and insisted Germany had a "Judeo-Christian heritage" that Islam did not share. But Wulff, who was considered something of a lightweight for the ceremonial role when he was elected last July, has taken a clear stand on a political and moral issue -- just like Germans want their head of state to do. He is, as the Financial Times Deutschland entitled its editorial on Wednesday, "Finally A President."
Joschka Fischer was never one to mince words when he was Germany's foreign minister in the late '90s and early noughts. So it is not overly surprising that he has painted a picture in a new post of a world with only two powers -- the United States and China -- and an ineffective and divided Europe on the sidelines.
More controversial, however, is his view that China will not only grow into the world's most important market over the coming years, but will determine what the world produces and consumes -- and that that will be green.
Germany will mark the 20th anniversary of its reunification on October 3 — but not everyone in Germany will be celebrating two decades together.
German unity has been a shaky marriage. That may seem like a surprise to people outside Germany. But opinion polls inside Germany show widespread discontent, especially in the formerly Communist east. Chancellor Angela Merkel has called it a success and other political leaders will be singing the praises of unification in their lofty speeches and German media interviews this weekend. But for many in the east, like straight-talking Brandenburg state premier Matthias Platzeck, German unification in 1990 was not a merger of equals but instead an “Anschluss” (annexation) with West Germany taking over East Germany.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leader of the opposition Social Democrats squared off in one of the more riveting debates in parliament seen in ages on Wednesday, treating their respective camps to some fiery rhetoric that may galvanize support and help each side recover from steady erosions in opinion polls.
After SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel threw down the gauntlet and spent 40 highly entertaining minutes ripping into Merkel and her centre-right government, the chancellor rose to the challenge — spending the next 40 minutes with a spirited defence of the performance since taking power 10 months ago and attacking the centre-left opposition for such things as putting Germany’s long-term energy security at risk with “ideologically driven energy policies.”
Merkel, who may well face off against Gabriel in the next federal election due in 2013, whipped out a drop-dead argument that will probably make it difficult for anyone from either the SPD or from inside her own somewhat disenchanted conservative party to knock her out of office: unemployment has fallen by nearly two million to about three million since she took office in 2005.
Merkel’s popularity has nevertheless plunged since her re-election last year – due in part to incessant squabbling within the coalition and a perception her government has made little headway in moving the country forward. The centre-right government trails the centre-left opposition by about 10 points in opinion polls, an astonishing reversal of fortunes after they won the election last September by about 15 points.