I think one of the most difficult challenges facing today’s bloggers, citizen journalists, and new media producers is keeping pace with breaking news events around the globe and sharing that information with our readers in a timely fashion. I often feel a need to apologize to my readers when I have not published to Jewels in more than a fortnight as I try not to exceed a period of more than 14 days between posts. So I am sorry to not have updated Jewels since the beginning of January but hey, this month got off to a beast of a start into the New Year 2008 and we still have a week to go before the month is over.
I’ve decided to try something new at the blog to help remedy this continuity problem. I’m starting an ‘End of the Month Roundup’ of news articles and blog posts that have caught my attention starting with today and working backwards to the 5th of January. I shall begin with a focus on how the German press is covering various international and national news stories, including a heated political campaign in the central German state of Hessen (Hesse) that would put the “race question debate” of the Clinton vs. Obama U.S. presidential campaign to shame. More of my ‘End of the Month Roundup’ posts for January 2008 shall follow over the next couple of days (couple of days = at least a week). I will spare readers my usual lengthy commentary & analysis, suggesting that you dig right into these juicy news stories that follow and enjoy.
Question: What hot button European issue will most likely not be on the agenda at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2008 in Davos, Switzerland?
Answer: Germany’s Political Scene in 2008. From alleged racist campaigning in Germany to the collapse of world financial markets to NPD (Germany's neo-Nazi political party) economic woes to bitter struggles with immigration and integration. Spiegel International Online, the English language version of the popular German news magazine Der Spiegel, has it covered.
Spiegel editor David Crossland, an ‘Auslander’ (foreigner) who was born in Bonn, Germany to British parents and has spent most of his professional life as a journalist in Germany describes the following in the opening paragraphs of his excellent op-ed “Germany’s Homegrown Intolerance” published to the site on January 18th:
"Germany is not a country of immigration," Roland Koch said this month as he sought to revive his campaign for a third term as governor of the western state of Hesse by calling for a crackdown on "criminal young foreigners."
The statement, borrowed from former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, is untrue. Some 15 million people, or just under a fifth of the German population, have an immigrant background. The real message is: "We don't want Germany to be a country of immigration."
"Foreigners" -- they're often called that here even if they and their parents were born here -- get that message loud and clear in their everyday lives. That steely look of disapproval in shops when a customer expresses an enquiry in accented or broken German. The difficulty of finding an apartment to rent if your surname isn't Müller.
Just speaking English can get you into trouble on a Berlin S-Bahn train. A number of youths, presumably of far-right persuasion, glared at me during a recent ride through the east of the city. One muttered "piece of shit," while another shouted "nigger!" before rushing out -- and I'm white.
I'd hate to be living here if I had brown or black skin. Statistics on racist assaults prove that parts of eastern Germany are no-go zones for ethnic minorities. (Read more…)
The Spiegel article “German Xenophobia As Our Readers See It” is interesting in that it is one of those rare instances where I have seen a leading German news magazine publish extensive reader feedback on this sensitive subject, in English. Several countries are struggling with these same issues today and Germany is no different albeit political, business, and high-profile public figures here are loathe to admit that it is a very BIG problem for lots of people living and working in the country, foreigners and Germans alike. Here is the comment from an Asian professional working in the southern German State of Bavaria:
Dear Spiegel Online,
I am an Asian scientist working in Munich. I lived in China and Singapore before I moved to Germany. I was offered a pre-doctorate position in Singapore from a private research institution with full pay before I came to Germany. But I still decided to look for a position in Germany, because I wanted to live in Europe. The major motives for such a move were firstly, the freedom of expression that European countries offer; secondly, the superior infrastructure of the German research system; and thirdly, the European values of tolerance and integration.
I was not disappointed at all when it comes to freedom of expression and the infrastructure in Germany. But I was utterly shocked when it comes to integration and tolerance. I never suffered explicit racist attacks like those which happened in eastern Germany. But I was exposed to a subtle yet stubborn kind of racism on a daily basis. This mostly takes the form of social exclusion -- I always felt that I am not and will never be allowed to become a normal member of society, despite holding a promising academic record and decent linguistic skills.
In the beginning, I regarded social rejection as a result of linguistic insufficiency. Therefore I spent a large amount of time improving my German. At the moment my spoken German is close to fluency. But I was completely disappointed about the results of my effort. Instead of feeling more integrated in the society, I actually discovered even more xenophobia around me, because now I understand what is written in newspapers and on street placards. Also, I became aware that people throw me angry looks when I mispronounce German, or give me suspicious looks on the U-Bahn. It is a constant battle on my side to handle such things. I am determined to move to another country once I finish my studies. It is hard to leave such a good working environment behind, but I see no hope for real integration here.
I have spoken with other colleagues of mine, who are either foreigners or have a foreign background. Many of them suffer the same kind of social rejection. There are very few things we can do except opting to leave the country when we finish our training. But it is detrimental to the intellectual progress and economic growth of Germany when even people of higher education fail to integrate into the society.
I am not saying that there should be any kind of favoritism towards intellectual foreigners, or that there should be immediate and absolute equality among Germans and foreigners. What I hope to see is more cultural sensitivity and inter-cultural communication. People should start to understand that foreigners are assets, not threats. And the only ones who can push for cultural sensitivity and exchange on a large scale are the mass media and the government.
-- Name withheld
Here is a comment from Page 8 of the article (there are 9 web pages of readers comments) where a person from India describes her experiences in East Germany (Cottbus and Berlin):
Dear Spiegel Online,
I read Mr. Crossland's opinion piece and I do agree that Germany needs to change its attitude towards foreigners.
I am a student from India currently pursuing my Master's here. I have been living in Germany for two years now -- 11 months in Cottbus, and the rest in Berlin. While it is true that I have met some wonderful human beings in my two years here, it is also true that by and large we, the foreigners, are regarded way too suspiciously.
Fortunately for me, despite my dark skin, I have not faced any pushed-into-a-corner kind of incidents that I keep hearing about. That may be because I take things in my stride, go out of my way not to offend people or simply because I choose to ignore things most of the time. But I experienced a couple of incidents when the ugly face of racism was bared to one and all. And every time I am shocked anew before a helpless rage takes over me, which I need to glaze over with indifference for my own survival here.
Once in Cottbus, during a hip-hop night at a student bar, which of course attracted the black students from our university, someone threw a stink bomb inside the bar forcing all of us to run towards the exit, eyes hurting and throats constricting due to the nauseous gas. While we were waiting outside for the smell to diffuse, a man with his hood up ran up the stairs, screamed "Ausländer raus!" ("Foreigners out!") and ran away before we could react.
And the other time, a club in Prenzalauer Berg, the happening district of Berlin, denied us entrance because there were three black people amongst us (well, four if you count me). We were just told that they have the right to deny anyone they want and that the club was filled to its capacity. The funny part is they did not even try to wait for us to get out of sight before they let others in.
It would be easy to handle if it is only a certain bunch of people -- say the neo-Nazis -- out to get you. What makes it difficult is the fact that the average people that you meet have so many prejudices against you that everything you do, even before you do it, is written on the debit side of the balance sheet. If my friend, who is white, crosses a street when the light is red, she is in a hurry. And if I do the same, someone is waiting to say "schwarze Schlampe" ("black slut") or something similar.
And you would think that in a university, things might be different. But oh no! It gets worse there. You have to start battling prejudices from the word go. If you come here from the developing world, you are here to squander the precious resources of Germany, while all along you want to stay on in the country by hook or crook.
Don't get me wrong. I am not trying to say I have nothing but bad experiences in Germany. I have had times when the unexpected generosity and helpfulness of strangers reduced me almost to tears. To be fair, perhaps, things are not so different anywhere else.
I came here with an open mind and I see what I see. Tomorrow I will leave because I can afford to. But I see around me a lot of people who will hang on, despite racism, despite prejudices, despite everything. And if something is not done right now, I am afraid it may be too late. History already showed us what could happen if we let malcontent grow.
-- Name withheld -- Read more at Spiegel Online (International edition).
Update Jan 27th: The proverbial poop has hit the fan over at Der Spiegel (Spiegel Online) re: David Crossland's article and the red hot reader feedback. Checkout the January 25th update article "More Readers Weigh-In: How Xenophobic is Germany?"
Update Jan 28th: The elections for the German states of Hessen (Hesse) and Niedersachsen (Lower Saxony) were completed yesterday and the race for Ministerpräsident (Governor) of the State of Hesse ended in a literal dead heat. The strategy of using of the "racial/ethnic card" in the campaign by Hessen's two-term serving governor Roland Koch has blown-up in his face and will most likely (hopefully) cost him the election.
Germany's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) lost more than 12% of the votes garnered in the 2003 state elections allowing the Social Democratic Party (SPD) to pull within 0.1%. Neither party has an absolute majority and a coalition with their traditional political partners (the liberals - FDP, The Greens - Die Grünen) is not enough to give either party a clear victory. Hessen, the financial capital of Deutschland (think Frankfurt and Wiesbaden), is in political chaos AND German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Grand Coalition government over in Berlin is beginning to wobble badly. Read more about the post-election coverage at Spiegel Online:
Blow for Merkel: Kock Slumps in Hesse Vote as Immigration Campaign Backfires, 01/28/08
The World from Berlin: Koch Gets Face Slapped for 'Nasty' Campaign, 10/28/08
Angela Merkel 'Stands by Her Man' in Hessen: Merkel Defends Battered Koch, 10/28/08
Here is an excerpt from an opinion piece titled "The End of Fear and Loathing in Hesse" by Charles Hawley:
When two young men with foreign heritage (foreign = Greek and Turkish) beat up a German man in a Munich subway just before Christmas, he jumped on it. He immediately said that Germany has "too many criminal young foreigners." He also said that Germany is "not a country of immigration" -- even though his party had just split with its past denial and included the sentence "Germany is a country of integration" in its platform at the beginning of December. Koch also suggested that foreigners learn that "the slaughtering (of animals) in the kitchen ... runs counter to our principles."
It was a classic CDU campaign, only the most recent in a long history of such over-the-top, anti-foreigner campaigns the party has used in the past to draw attention and votes. Helmut Kohl did it during his very first campaign for chancellor back in 1982, promising to offer generous incentives to encourage foreigners -- many of them imported in previous decades to work in Germany's booming factories -- to go home. Koch's 1999 signature campaign was followed soon after with a debate on "Leitkultur" or "leading culture." Many of the CDU contributions to that debate made it clear that foreigners were at best to be tolerated in Germany, but certainly not to be welcomed.
Read the complete editorial "The End of Fear and Loathing in Hesse" at Spiegle Online.
Blog author's note: italics, parenthesis, and bold emphasis added to some original text in article excerpts quoted above
Related articles and resources for German politics
Critique Against Racist Campaign: German Immigrants have had Enough 01/10/08
Xenophobic Campaign Backfires: Voters Shunning Roland Koch, 01/18/08
Internal NPD Documents Reveal Chaos: Germany’s Right Wing Extremists in Disarray, 01/24/08
Opinion: Germany’s Homegrown Intolerance by David Crossland, 01/18/08
As Welcome As Satan in Heaven: German Xenophobia As Our Readers See It, 01/22/08
Spiegel Online category – German Politics
Spiegel TV Online (German language only)
Switzerland’s Political Scene: Some of my more astute readers may remember that the country of Switzerland had a similar political campaign in October 2007 that was fueled by racial, ethnic, and immigration fear-mongering. With all the attention focused on the World Economic Forum 2008 in Davos, Switzerland one has to wonder if the rising tide of racism and xenophobia in Europe will be discussed. I doubt it. Below are listed a few press articles about Switzerland’s ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ national elections.
Update January 25th:
Koluki (Ana) who authored the essay in my Dec 2007 post about the EU/Africa Summit in Lisbon has drawn my attention to a very important development in the Swiss national elections of 2007 that I had obviously missed.
Ricardo Lumengo, an Angolan immigrant who entered Switzerland as an asylum seeker in 1982, is the first ever black African to be elected to the Swiss Parliament (Swiss National Council). Lumengo, who studied law at the University of Fribourg and is a member of the Social Democratic Party (SP), is the MP representing the town of Biel near the Swiss capital city of Bern.
After a crushing defeat of the Social Democratic Party in the October 2007 elections by the right-wing nationalist Swiss People’s Party (SVP), Mr. Lumengo had this to say to the Sunday Times Online (UK) shortly after his victory:
“There is tension in the air says first black MP as Swiss take a turn to the right”(Excerpts)
“We do not like it that people abroad see us as against foreigners. I am proof that not all of Switzerland thinks like that,” said Mr Lumengo, who trained as a lawyer in Switzerland and completed the tests for his Swiss passport in 1997.
Despite a disastrous showing by his left-wing party, which lost 9 of its 43 seats, Mr Lumengo became an MP for Biel, a bilingual town also known as Bienne, near the capital, Berne. He said: “I have had a good experience in Switzerland for 25 years but the situation has changed and I feel I would have difficulties if I came now. There is a tension, a conflict now between foreigners and Swiss. Other politicians are talking irresponsibly by suggesting that foreigners are responsible for all the country’s problems. We, the Socialists, are worried that this is the wrong direction for the country.”
Mr Lumengo said he hoped that his election as an MP would be “a symbol showing many things”, including that Switzerland was not a racist country. “There are people who are building another Switzerland, a Switzerland of tolerance and a Switzerland of dialogue,” he said.
The Times Online reports after speaking with the right-wing Swiss Peoples Party President Ueli Maurer:
But Ueli Maurer, the SVP president, said that its increased support gave the party approval to rule out talks on joining or even cooperating further with the European Union. “The idea of EU accession should at last get out of everyone’s heads,” Mr Maurer said. The first casualty is likely to be an attempt by the EU to persuade Switzerland to raise its favourably low corporation tax levels. An SVP spokesman said: “We think that the election was confirmation that the Swiss people do not want to join the EU.”
Read the full article of October 23rd at the Times Online. The Times article is in stark contrast to the post “Do the election results show the Swiss have become racist?” published at Pajamas Media last October. The article was written by Robert Mayer of the popular political blog Publius Pundit.
The list below has been updated to include articles and blog posts about Ricardo Lumengo including a link to his personal website (French, German), video interview by the Swiss TV network SF1 and an interview published to Swissinfo.ch
Ricardo Lumengo is a young, promising African-European politician who will be working hard to make positive changes in a country that seems to be desperately clinging on to its “traditional ways” in an evolving and expanding Europe. He will be the “Black Sheep” to watch south of the German/Swiss border. We can only hope that Berlin will be paying close attention too.
Related articles and resources for Swiss politics
The Independent (UK)
Switzerland: Europe’s Heart of Darkness? 09/07/07
The New York Times
Immigration, Black Sheep, and Swiss Rage – 10/08/07
The Times Online (UK)
‘Black sheep’ cartoon ignites bitter row on racism before Swiss elections, 10/10/07
Postcard from Pomy – Bye-Bye Black Sheep, 09/21/07
The Economist – Certain Ideas of Europe blog
The black sheep of Swiss politics, 09/03/07
Swiss People’s Party is accused of racist campaign, 08/30/07
Spiegel Online International edition (Germany)
White Sheep, Black Sheep: Bringing rancor to a Swiss Election, 10/17/07
Related articles and resources about Swiss MP Ricardo Lumengo
Swiss MP Ricardo Lumengo’s personal website (French, German)
Bio for Ricardo Lumengo at the Swiss Federal Assembly (Parliament)
The Times Online (UK)
“There is tension in the air says first black MP as Swiss take a turn to the right”, 10/23/07
Former refugee becomes first black Swiss MP, 12/03/07
SF1 (Swiss TV network) – Archive Sendung von 22.19.2007
Von Angola ins Bundeshaus (see video report at bottom of webpage)
“Black Sheep” in Swiss parliament (streaming media Real), 11/12/07
Africa Link Switzerland – Dec 2007 newsletter
Ricardo Lumengo makes history from Asylum House to House of Assembly
First Black Citizen Elected to Swiss Parliament is Angolan, 10/24/07
Swiss Voters Elected “Black Sheep”, 10/28/07
Pajamas Media – guest post by Robert Mayer
“Do the election results show the Swiss have become racist?”, 10/22/07
Politics of Switzerland