Who is my neighbour?

Who was the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany? Diagramme his family tree (paternal and maternal) back to the 14th century.

Germans have been shocked lately to discover that a lot of their schools suck.

The schools in question are typically Hauptschulen, the lowest in the tripartite German division of secondary schools (the others are the Realschulen and the Gymnasien.) Traditionally, the Hauptschule was designed to ensure a basic education while providing vocational training and facilitating its pupils’ entry into an apprenticeship. Not all that long ago, people in other countries looked upon Germany’s programme of vocational education with considerable envy.

Things fall apart, alas, and the centre cannot hold. These days many German firms can select their apprentices from out of the ‘higher-class’ Realschulen, and many inner-city Hauptschulen have become mere dumping-grounds. Worse, they are all (or are all perceived at this moment by the populace to be) festering hotbeds of nigh-American levels of intra-schoolchild violence, though there might be rather fewer firearms in the schoolrooms.

But what has really grabbed the Germans by the collar about this issue is that it is not really about schools. Rather, it is about the very serious question of what it means to be a German. Or, as all too many Germans see it, it is about the strangers among us.

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… and the cross is a symbol advocating crucifixions

You will all recall, I’m sure, that Germany had a problem with nazis sixty or so years ago. After this problem had been cleared up (primarily by non-Germans), the Germans resolved that they didn’t want that sort of thing to happen again. And towards that end they enacted some laws.

One of those laws is § 86a of the Criminal Code. In pertinent part it reads:

Mit Freiheitsstrafe bis zu drei Jahren oder mit Geldstrafe wird bestraft, wer … im Inland Kennzeichen einer der in § 86 Abs. 1 Nr. 1, 2 und 4 bezeichneten Parteien oder Vereinigungen verbreitet oder öffentlich … verwendet.

(Any person who, on German territory, distributes or uses symbols of a party or association listed in § 86 para. 1, 2 and 4, shall be punished with imprisonment of up to three years or with a monetary penalty.)

The parties and associations in question include what the statute somewhat coyly calls ‘the former national-socialist organisations’.

Though nobody decent likes a nazi, a prohibition against displaying their symbols on pain of criminal penalty does rub rather against the liberal grain. Still, this is Germany, and one can understand why Germans feel they need to take a sterner line against this sort of thing than would, say, Americans.

Now you have all heard about the annoyance of skinheads and other excrescences of neo-nazi yoof culture in Germany. What you might not know is that there is also a countervailing and at times rather, ehh, exuberant anti-nazi cultural stream. This ranges from admirable young students acting earnestly against racism and xenophobia to beersodden neonhaired neopunkers who (one sometimes suspects) know as little about what they oppose as their fuzzy-skulled adversaries know about what they espouse, save that it pisses off their opposite numbers. Wherever on this spectrum of seriousness Germany’s young antifascists fall, many of them are united in the use of certain popular symbols to express their disdain for the brown. These symbols are typically displayed as buttons or on patches sewn (or quite often, safety-pinned) onto one’s bomber or biker jacket. You’ll find some pictures below the fold.

Whether idealistic antifascists or mohawked louts, these are not the sort of people, surely, that § 86a was meant to sweep up. Yet as the Frankfurter Rundschau reports, a few German prosecutors have been using this law against them, and some German courts are handing down convictions.

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When Chams Attack

Greece and Albania are having a small diplomatic tiff. If reading about that sort of thing interests you, read on.

So: two weeks ago, Greek President Karolos Papoulias’ was scheduled to meet with Albanian President Alfred Moisiu, in the southern Albanian town of Sarande. I’m pretty sure this was the first meeting of Greek and Albanian heads of state in a long time. So, fairly big deal by regional standards.

But it didn’t happen, because of the Chams. About 200 of them. They showed up outside the hotel in Saranda where President Papoulias was staying, waved signs, shouted, and generally made a nuisance of themselves.

President Papoulias didn’t take this at all well. He cancelled the meeting with President Moisiu and went back to Greece in a huff. A day or two later, Greece issued a demarche to Albania. (A demarche is a formal diplomatic note from one country to another. It’s about a 5 on the diplomatic hissy-fit scale, higher than merely expressing disapproval but lower than recalling your ambassador.) The demarche expressed regret that Albania did not “take the necessary precautions so that the meeting between the Greek and Albanian Presidents could take place without hindrance.” Worse yet, they did not “take the necessary measures to discourage certain familiar extremist elements which, in their effort to obstruct the normal development of bilateral relations, continue to promote unacceptable and non-existent issues, at the very moment when Albania is attempting to proceed with steps fulfilling its European ambitions”.

Got that? Okay, now comes an obvious question.

What, exactly, are Chams?
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Unwanted

There’s nothing better for livening up all this dull, wonkish chatter about the German elections than a bit of CDU-bashing. So, how shall I bash them today? Oh, I know! How about this: they’re a shower of xenophobe racists.

Yes, yes; not exactly news, is it? What is news, though, is that the Union appears to value xenophobia even more than it does winning elections.

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Austria Would Prefer Not To

Earlier this year, Eurobarometer started asking members what they thought about future EU expansion. The results (which can be found here, as a pdf) were pretty interesting.

52% of Europeans support membership for Croatia, while only 34% oppose it. (War criminals? What war criminals?) And 50% support membership for Bulgaria. But only 45% support Romania coming in. Which is a bit embarrassing, given that the EU has already firmly committed to Romanian membership, even if it might be delayed for a year.

Still, the Romanians can take comfort; they’re well ahead of Serbia (40%), Albania (36%) and Turkey (dead last, with 35% of Europeans supporting Turkish membership and 52% against).

Where this gets interesting — in a Eurovision-y sort of way — is when you start to break it down by country.
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A modest proposal for CAP reform

I’ve been in Canada for the last month, getting in my last family visit before settling in to the serious business of either going back to school or collecting unemployment checks. My family is large – Great-Grandpa had 25 children, and Grandpa had 9 – so it takes a while if you go to see my family. Ours is a large, disorganised, occasionally frightening clan who, depending on pure whim, identifies itself as either German-Canadian, Dutch-Canadian, Russian-Canadian or Ukrainian-Canadian. Our tribal language is an obscure dialect of Low Saxon (Platt for the actual Germans out there) spoken primarily in Paraguay, Mexico, Central America and Saskatchewan, and whose most famous speaker is, arguably, Homer Simpson. It’s a long story, don’t ask. It not being much of a literary language, we all just say our ancestors spoke German – the liturgical language of my clan’s particular sect.

In contrast to Europe and the US, Canadians are a lot less disturbed about asking people about their ethnic identities or expressing some loyalty to them. I guess the main reason is that Canada has never really pretended to be a nation built atop an identity, but rather a place where an identity of sorts has slowly built up from the existence of a nation. There is no Canadian myth of the melting pot, and as our soon-to-be new Governor General has demonstrated, no serious demand for nativism in public office. Michaëlle Jean, who is slated to be the powerless and unelected Canadian head-of-state when the Queen is out of the country – e.g., practically always – when she is sworn in on the 27th, is no doubt the most attractive candidate we’ve ever had for the office. And, like her predecessor, she is a former CBC/SRC reporter and talking head.

Ms Jean and I share an endemically Canadian charateristic: We both can and do identify ourselves shamelessly as several different kinds of hyphenated Canadians. She is French Canadian, but that’s hardly strange. She is also Franco-Canadian – Ms Jean has dual citizenship with France, making her the first EU citizen to be Governor General of Canada and the first French citizen to be acting head of state of Canada since 1763. But more unprecedentedly, she is Haitian-Canadian and – as logically follows – African-Canadian.

Yes, Ms Jean is black, and furthermore in an interracial marriage. Well, that’s Canada for you. America puts black folk in squalid emergency shelters, we put ours in Rideau Hall.
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Free movement of persons, goods, capital, services and mortal remains

Interesting piece today in the New York Times (reg. req.) on Germans having themselves cremated in the Netherlands. Wait; I should be more precise lest I alarm you — the article is about Germans arranging to have themselves cremated later. If you want to have your corpse burnt, the Dutch will do it with a lot less red tape. Much cheaper too; what’s not to love? And, thanks to the EU, Germans with bodies, but not money, to burn may freely access the Dutch cremation market.

Now that’s what Europe is all about.

Promising Elections

The Guardian today has a short profile on Angela Merkel, while the FT looks at some of the proposals which may well form part of the SPD campaign manifesto. Far be it from me to worry about ‘sting the rich’ tax proposals, but as far as I can see the main isssue is getting Germany back to work, and Schr?der’s time might be better spent adressing this issue.

Talking of which, this could be a good moment to mention the whacky world of Hans Werner Sinn.
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Guilt and responsibility

Further to Doug’s eloquently silent post of the 27th instant: I’ve only noticed it now, but Amitai Etzioni put up a remarkable essay on his website a couple of days ago. It’s the English translation of an article he published in the S?ddeutsche Zeitung. That article, which you will have to pay money to the S?ddeutsche to read, has a rather better title than the translation does, but never mind that: just go to Etzioni’s site and read the thing.

Etzioni’s themes are guilt and responsibility. That’s all somewhat abstract, perhaps, considered in vacuo, but it is made sharply concrete by the facts that the article appears to have been occasioned by the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and that Etzioni is a Jew. What’s more (and this I had not known), he is a Jew from Germany (a K?lner, in fact), who as a child witnessed the highly civilised country of his birth transform into a ravening beast.

It would be perfectly understandable if Etzioni, as one of the rare Jews to escape the beast’s maw, dismissed his first homeland with a hearty ‘to hell with the lot of you, then’. He doesn’t, though.

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Turkey and the EU: Poles apart?

Like most numbers of the Spectator, the festive, XL-sized holiday edition is marred by the presence of Mark Steyn. But don’t let that put you off, there’s some good stuff there as well. And one of the better bits is an essay by Prof. Norman Stone on Turkey (Potential EU Accession of) (reg. req.).

For the most part Stone paints a picture of the old Ottoman Empire as something much less uniformly Islamic than some think. You should already be aware, of course, that what would later (in truncated form) become Turkey was a multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious state, but if you weren’t, Stone gives you a quick background. (By the time it fell apart, the Ottoman Empire had become the ‘Sick Man of Europe’; but for centuries it was a success.) What you might not have known, though, was that the orthodox Christians of the Ottoman realms were only too happy to be part of a nominally Islamic polity. The orthodox patriarchs and the Muslim sultans saw in the latinate West a common foe. Indeed my own suspicion is that the Greeks felt a keener enmity than the Turks. The sultan, understandably, might well have seen the theological differences between orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as obscure and uninteresting (how many of us in the post-Christian lands of the west are aware of, let alone take much interest in, the distinctions between the theravada and mahayana strains of Buddhism?) To the bishops of the orthodox world, though, the sultan served (whether he cared about this or not) as a bulwark against the centralising domination of their brother-bishop at Rome.

But what set Stone off was a recent article in Die Zeit by Prof. Hans-Ulrich Wehler. The title of Wehler’s article, which formed part of the contra side in a Zeit-sponsored debate on Turkish accession to the EU, has some unfortunate historical echoes: “Das T?rkenproblem“.
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