Tag Archive | Germany

What matters, comes after

Angel of Ohlsdorf

I took a trip to Germany years ago. One of the places we stopped was a cemetery.  The person I was with commented on all the swastikas on the graves of the WWII soldiers. As Americans, standing there looking on these graves, that symbol felt wrong to see anywhere. But in a place of mourning, a place that had always been a place of mourning, these scattered graves of local people, who had died in that horrific time, serving that horrific regime, bearing that hated mark, it made sense.

I doubt anyone will ever want to go back through every graveyard in Germany and elsewhere that nazi soliders and sympathizers died, and chip off every swastika. I suppose it could be done, maybe it should be done, but it would take funding, and family approval, and town approval and . . . really all you feel in that place is sadness already. Sadness that someone, anyone, ever fought and died in such a worthless cause as hate, racism, and national socialist whackjob-ism.

When I think about Confederate symbols in graveyards, I feel the same way about them. Lives lost over such an immoral, obscenely worthless cause. But I don’t feel that way about Confederate symbols in public places. I think those symbols should be removed and replaced with symbols of hope. Emancipation Park shouldn’t have a statue of General Robert E Lee. It should have a symbol of the Great Emancipator, Lincoln. Or of Harriet Tubman, whose emancipated so many.

I speak as someone who loves history and has a degree  in it. I also speak as an artist. Now is the time to remove bronze statues, to give them to artists of today to melt down and create something new to go on those empty plinths. Now is the time to give those cenotaphs to sculptors to chip away at and remake into something new. Now is the time, for today’s artists, and today’s historians, to join up and transform these places and with outdated, prejudiced, oppressive symbols in to symbols of our time, symbols of truth, of hope, of aspirations not yet met.

Why can’t Rosa Parks replace Robert E Lee on that plinth? Why can’t Rebecca Lee Crumpler stand tall on a campus quad? Why can’t we celebrate the achievements and progress of our country, of people of color, where once there was a symbol of intimation and oppression? Why can’t a statue of Former Justice Thurgood Marshall (of Brown v Board of Education) stand where Former Justice Roger Tany (of Dred Scott) did?

Why can’t we start to do this now?

Nature abhors a vacuum. I call on you, artists and historians. Let’s create the future now, by celebrating a past that also actually happened, and was good and inspiring and uplifting, not just for people of color but all people. Let’s not leave an empty plinth, a hole in the ground, or a space for a plaque on a monument to be ceded to a new version of racism and intolerance.

I call on cities and counties, states and communities. I call on people to form committees, to get this important work, in this critical time, accomplished. Let the dead, who buried their Confederate soldier and sympathizer dead, and are now themselves dead, lie. Their time is over. They are dust, as we all must someday be.

But in our public spheres, alive and vibrant, let we the living create new art, alive and vibrant, so that 100 or 150 years from now, those monuments will still stand tall and remind living people of the future, of people who lived  in times past and whose lives deserve to be remembered and celebrated still, not just by Americans of color, but by all Americans who pass by.

To destroy what is bad of the past is good, but what really matters is what you create in it’s place. What really matters, is what comes after.

 

Western Democracy creates Eastern Dictatorships?

I try to be open minded. In fact, I read newspapers, from all political viewpoints, from around the globe. Every once in a while, I stumble on something strangely fascinating. I saw it last month, but it’s taking on more relevance this week.

The German news outlet DW.com ran a number of stories about Turks living abroad who were voting on the referendum in Turkey. If you don’t recall, it’s the one that basically would allow the President Erdogan to become a dictator and do away with democracy.

Infografik Karte Wahlberechtigte Türken in der EU Englisch

People living in the West assumed that Turks living in the West, would be pro Democracy. Interestingly, that wasn’t the case. In fact, if the vote on the referendum had been confined to voters actually living in Turkey, democracy would have prevailed.

The reason Turkey is now a dictatorship is because over 3 million Turks abroad overwhelmingly voted for dictatorship in their home country. Think about that for a second. Turks, educated in democracy, wanted their homeland to become a dictatorship.

Turks in Belgium voted for the referendum by the highest percentage in Europe, at almost 80 percent.  Austria was next, with more than 72 percent in favor, and the result in the Netherlands, where the government clashed with Erdogan last month to block pro-government rallies, was not far behind with almost 70% for “yes.”

There have been various reactions to this news. One viewpoint is that support in Europe for Erdogan is a result of failed integration and a low level of education. That’s probably partially true. But, that overlooks the component that caused Brexit and Trump, abuse of personal data.

If you read the Facebook stuff the other day, this is in that vein. In the case of Turks abroad, they received a letter asking them to vote yes on the referendum. The problem with that was a law, which was passed in Turkey in 2008, prohibits political parties from propagandizing outside the country.

Furthermore, for people with dual citizenship, the country in which they reside has priority. Thus, such a letter is a violation of German law. “This means that the personal data of people with German as well as Turkish citizenship has been given to a political party in Turkey,” says Kilic.

So once again, this is a targeted, and illegal, campaign.

In the run-up to Turkey’s 2015 parliamentary elections.Turkish voters living in Germany and the Netherlands received a similar letter bearing the signature of then-Prime Minister Davutoglu. Daniel Strunk, a spokesperson for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia’s Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (LDI-NRW), reports that as a result, many Turkish voters in Germany filed complaints with German authorities stating that their personal data, such as name and address, had been collected without their consent.

“Three voters claiming to have received AKP propaganda contacted us. It was unknown just how the party had gotten their personal data,” Strunk said. He also pointed out that foreign representatives do not fall under the LDI’s jurisdiction. Hence, authorities were unable to initiate an investigation into how the AKP attained the information and if any laws had been broken in the process.

If all this sounds familiar, that’s probably because you’re paying attention. It seems a common thread among dictators these days to target people through data scrapes and data collection tools. While not all such tools are illegal, given the cozy Russia-Turkey relationship, it’s not hard to imagine how personal data had been collected.

Which brings us to this week. Being a dictator now, Mr Erdogan has decided he wants to bring back the death penalty. Germans fundamentally oppose this. Turkey has been angling for EU status for a while, but its values fail to align with the EU stance on things like democracy, women’s rights, religious freedom, etc, etc. There is no death penalty in the EU.

Today Angela Merkel said there will be no vote on the return of the death penalty in Turkey by Turks living in Germany Bringing back the death penalty in Turkey would effectively end any pretense over Turkey’s troubled EU bid. But maybe that’s the point. Turkey is turning to Russia and away from the EU. What that means for Syrian refugees, Anti-Assad refugees that Russia bombs with abandon, is anyone’s guess.

Turkey banned the death penalty in peace time in 2002 under reforms aimed at starting EU membership talks. It was completely abolished in 2004, two years after Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party came to power.

At the time, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, was on death row following his 1999 capture. Europe had urged Turkey not to go forward with the execution, which would have triggered massive and potentially violent Kurdish protests in Europe and Turkey.

Erdogan first broached bringing back the death penalty in 2012 during an uptick in fighting between the PKK and Turkish military. Which of course brings us back to Syria, and the Kurds, and the YPG-PYD, whom the US are relying on to fight ISIS in Syria. As of today, according to Reuters:

Despite fierce opposition from NATO ally Turkey, U.S. President Donald Trump has approved supplying arms to Kurdish YPG fighters to support an operation to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from Islamic State, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.

Ankara views the Kurdish YPG militia, fighting within a larger U.S.-backed coalition, as the Syrian extension of the Kurdish PKK militant group, which has fought an insurgency in southeastern Turkey since 1984.

Needless to say, no matter how you slice world politics, the US is a part of the world. It can’t just hide it’s head and pretend otherwise. The problem for the US though is totally incompetent people at the State and in the WH. They literally don’t know what do do.

Luckily, Trump’s Russian friends/handlers, Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak, agreed to meet with him today at the White House. Not really a cold call, I mean Jared, Mike Flynn, and Jeff Sessions all had previous backdoor meetings — they failed to disclose — with them.

Be interesting to see what happens with regards to US policy on Syria, Turkey and the Kurds as a result. Probably nothing. They probably just wanted an update on the FBI investigation.

Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down

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In Rhineland the celebration of Weiberfastnacht starts at 11:11am. It’s kind of a women’s empowerment day. People dress up in costumes and, for the day, women get to cut off men’s ties, which are seen as the symbol of  the power (yes, a phallic symbol). The men get a Bützchen (little kiss) as compensation, but they do have to wear the stumps of their ties for the day.

As you can see, I celebrate each year by hanging a wreath made of  all the ties I whacked off the previous year — fair warning, and all that. But I have to admit, the actual whacking off is a bit less harsh than the verbal whack off, at least it is in my grandmother’s house.

I took Fling to dinner at my German granny’s for Weiberfastnacht, really it was more of a party.  He arrived with a cut tie. Yes, I cut it off. My grandmother took one look at him and said “Another scruffy, pseudo intellectual?” Which was quite unfair as Fling had been on a plane for the previous 22 hours and holds two PHds (Cultural Anthropology and 17th Century British Civil War Politics).

Fling, undaunted, replied politely, “Now I see from whence your granddaughter acquired her stunning figure . . . as well as her stunning frankness.” Then he turned and walked away to mingle and find a drink.

My grandmother’s eyes twinkled. I even saw her smile slightly. In my family, if you can’t hold your own, you’re just won’t make the cut.

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