Der Spiegel reports: It was quiet in eastern Ukraine last Wednesday. Indeed, it was another quiet day in an extended stretch of relative calm. The battles between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian separatists had largely stopped and heavy weaponry was being withdrawn. The Minsk cease-fire wasn’t holding perfectly, but it was holding.
On that same day, General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe, stepped before the press in Washington. Putin, the 59-year-old said, had once again “upped the ante” in eastern Ukraine — with “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery” having been sent to the Donbass. “What is clear,” Breedlove said, “is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day.”
German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn’t understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn’t the first time. Once again, the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).
The pattern has become a familiar one. For months, Breedlove has been commenting on Russian activities in eastern Ukraine, speaking of troop advances on the border, the amassing of munitions and alleged columns of Russian tanks. Over and over again, Breedlove’s numbers have been significantly higher than those in the possession of America’s NATO allies in Europe. As such, he is playing directly into the hands of the hardliners in the US Congress and in NATO.
The German government is alarmed. Are the Americans trying to thwart European efforts at mediation led by Chancellor Angela Merkel? Sources in the Chancellery have referred to Breedlove’s comments as “dangerous propaganda.” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier even found it necessary recently to bring up Breedlove’s comments with NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg. [Continue reading…]
Kenan Malik writes: What is striking about the stories of wannabe jihadis is their diversity. There is no “typical” recruit, no single path to jihadism.
Sahra Ali Mehenni is a schoolgirl from a middle-class family in the south of France. Her father, an industrial chemist, is a non-practising Muslim, her mother an atheist. “I never heard her talk about Syria, jihad,” said her mother. One day last March, to the shock of her family, she took not her usual train to school but a flight from Marseilles to Istanbul to join Isis. When she finally phoned home it was to say: “I’ve married Farid, a fighter from Tunisia.”
Kreshnik Berisha, a German born of Kosovan parents, played as a teenager for Makkabi Frankfurt, a Jewish football club and one of Germany’s top amateur teams. He went on to study engineering and in July 2013, boarded a bus to Istanbul and then to Syria. “I didn’t believe it,” said Alon Meyer, Makkabi Frankfurt’s coach. “This was a guy who used to play with Jewish players every week. He was comfortable there and he seemed happy.” Berisha later returned home to become the first German homegrown jihadi to face trial.
There are hundreds of stories such as these, from all over Europe. What they tell us is that, shocking though it may seem, there is nothing unusual in the story of the runaway Tower Hamlets schoolgirls. And that what Emwazi has in common with other European recruits is not so much his harassment as his college education.
The usual clichés about jihadis – that they are poor, uneducated, badly integrated – are rarely true. A survey of British jihadis by researchers at London’s Queen Mary College found no link to “social inequalities or poor education”; most were highly educated young people from comfortable families who spoke English at home. According to Le Monde, a quarter of French jihadis in Syria are from non-Muslim backgrounds.
What draws most wannabe jihadis to Syria is, to begin with, neither politics nor religion. It is a search for something a lot less definable: for identity, for meaning, for “belongingness”, for respect. Insofar as they are alienated, it is not because wannabe jihadis are poorly integrated, in the conventional way we think of integration. Theirs is a much more existential form of alienation.
There is, of course, nothing new in the youthful search for identity and meaning. What is different today is the social context in which this search takes place. We live in a more atomised society than in the past; an age in which many people feel peculiarly disengaged from mainstream social institutions and in which moral lines often seem blurred and identities distorted.
In the past, social disaffection may have led people to join movements for political change, from far-left groups to anti-racist campaigns. Today, such organisations often seem equally out of touch. What gives shape to contemporary disaffection is not progressive politics but the politics of identity.
Identity politics has, over the last three decades, encouraged people to define themselves in increasingly narrow ethnic or cultural terms. A generation ago, “radicalised” Muslims would probably have been far more secular in their outlook and their radicalism would have expressed itself through political organisations. Today, they see themselves as Muslim in an almost tribal sense, and give vent to their disaffection through a stark vision of Islam. [Continue reading…]
Al Jazeera reports: Ammar Kassir became a refugee to avoid killing fellow Syrians.
In 2012, as pro-democracy marches on the streets of Damascus were increasing, Kassir was a part of a police unit working under the direct control of President Bashar al-Assad. One afternoon, he was ordered to open fire on protesters marching for democracy.
“Assad told us we must kill these people who are making demonstrations. The protesters were shouting ‘Freedom! Freedom!’, and he said we must kill these people. I did not want to do that,” Kassir told Al Jazeera.
The safe choice would have been to follow the orders he was given. The policeman, who was 20-years old at the time, chose to resist, even though he knew refusing orders meant he would have to escape for his own safety.
Kassir became a refugee, one of three million Syrians who have fled their country in the past three years.
He left Damascus, heading north to his family’s home in Idlib. From there, he made his way alone to Turkey, crossing the border by foot.
Since the Syrian uprising began, 95 percent of the Syrians who fled their native country remained in the region, mainly in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.
Kassir had other plans.
He wanted to get to Europe, to reach a safer country that would give him a chance to restart his life.
Legal pathways to Europe for Syrian refugees are rare and Kassir – like many other Syrians who sought refuge in Europe – was forced onto dangerous and expensive smuggling routes. [Continue reading…]
The Local: One in five Germans believe that a revolution would be the only way to truly reform society, a study released by the Free University of Berlin on Monday shows.
Anti-capitalism, anti-fascism and anti-racism were all are prominent positions according to the study entitled ‘Against state and capital – for the revolution’, which has revealed a public much further to the left than previously thought.
In the report, 20% of the people surveyed agreed with the statement that “Living conditions won’t be improved by reforms – we need a revolution”.
A similar percentage of people said they saw the rise of a new fascism in Germany as a real danger, while as many as a third agreed that capitalism inevitably leads to poverty and hunger.
Philippe Legrain writes: Ever since the initial bargain in the 1950s between post-Nazi West Germany and its wartime victims, European integration has been built on compromise. So there is huge pressure on Greece’s new Syriza government to be “good Europeans” and compromise on their demands for debt justice from their European partners — also known as creditors. But sometimes compromise is the wrong course of action. Sometimes you need to take a stand.
Let’s face it: no advanced economies in living memory have been as catastrophically mismanaged as the eurozone has been in recent years, as I document at length in my book, European Spring. Seven years into the crisis, the eurozone economy is doing much worse than the United States, worse than Japan during its lost decade in the 1990s and worse even than Europe in the 1930s: GDP is still 2 percent lower than seven years ago and the unemployment rate is in double digits. The policy stance set by Angela Merkel’s government in Berlin, implemented by the European Commission in Brussels, and sometimes tempered — but more often enforced — by the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, remains disastrous. Continuing with current policies — austerity and wage cuts, forbearance for banks, no debt restructuring or adjustment to Germany’s mercantilism — is leading Europe into the ditch; the launch of quantitative easing is unlikely to change that. So settling for a “compromise” that shifts Merkel’s line by a millimeter would be a mistake; it must be challenged and dismantled.
While Greece alone may not be able to change the entire monetary union, it could act as a catalyst for the growing political backlash against the eurozone’s stagnation policies.
For the first time in years, there is hope that the dead hand of Merkelism can be unclasped, not just fear of the consequences and nationalist loathing.
More immediately, Greece can save itself. Left in the clutches of its EU creditors, it is not destined for the sunlit uplands of recovery, but for the enduring misery of debt bondage. So the four-point plan put forward by its dashing new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, is eminently sensible. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Ending an acrimonious standoff, European leaders hashed out a deal on Friday to extend Greece’s bailout by four months, giving the troubled country a financial lifeline and avoiding a bankruptcy with potentially destabilizing consequences for the region.
The agreement, reached at an emergency meeting of eurozone finance ministers here, paves the way for Greece to unlock further aid from its bailout, worth 240 billion euros, or $273 billion. But the creditors will dole out the funds only if Greece meets certain conditions, setting the stage for tense negotiations that could unsettle the markets and create more political friction with Germany and other European countries.
If Athens moves slowly, it might not get the money for months. Or the deal could fall apart altogether, again raising the prospect of a messy Greek departure from the euro currency. [Continue reading…]
After all night talks in the Belarusian capital Minsk, the outcomes of the four party talks in the so-called Normandy format (Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany) have neither brought a major breakthrough or a complete disaster. As a deal, it is not a solution, but perhaps a step towards one.
It almost seems to be business as usual – yet another ceasefire deal and commitments to further negotiations on a more durable political settlement – but, by the standards of this crisis, this is not the outcome Ukraine’s people may have hoped for. Not least because the deal, as soon as it was announced, ran into its first set of problems with rebels demanding Ukrainian forces withdraw from the strategic town of Debaltseve before they would agree to the ceasefire.
At the very least, this might mean two more days of heavy fighting before the ceasefire starts on 15 February, at worst it might mean the deal will never be implemented at all.
In the run-up to last might’s summit, the crisis in Ukraine seemed to head towards a major juncture, along with relations between Russia and the West and within the Transatlantic alliance. The weeks before the summit in Minsk has seen intensifying diplomacy, escalating rhetoric, increased fighting on the ground, and a worsening humanitarian situation.
Kabir Chibber: In recent months, a street movement called Pegida — Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident — has emerged from nowhere in Germany, seeking to “protect Judeo-Christian culture” and halt to what it calls the spread of Islam. Though it denies being xenophobic or racist, its leader quit after being pictured dressed as Hitler. Pegida’s rallies have attracted tens of thousands of people in Germany.
And now the group is spreading abroad. Pegida held its first march in Vienna and is to hold its first British rally in the city of Newcastle on Feb. 28, with more planned in the UK. Britain already has anti-Islamic groups such as the English Defence League, a small but vocal force. Only this weekend, the EDL attracted as many as 1,000 people to a march against the building of a mosque.
The Guardian reports: The leaders of Germany and France abruptly announced a summit with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow on Friday in response to overtures from the Kremlin, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the year-old Ukraine conflict.
The sudden and unusual decision by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the president, François Hollande, to travel to Moscow, with the French leader talking of decisions of war and peace, increased the stakes in the crisis while also raising suspicions that the Kremlin was seeking to split Europe and the US. Putin was said to have made “initiatives” to the European leaders in recent days.
Merkel and Hollande met the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, in Kiev on Thursday evening but left without making any comment. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, said on Twitter that the leaders had discussed “steps so that the Minsk agreement can start working”. A ceasefire signed in Minsk in September froze the frontlines at their positions at the time, but never held.
Friday’s visit will be Merkel’s first trip to Russia since the outbreak of violence in eastern Ukraine, which has now cost more than 5,000 lives. The increase in diplomatic efforts came as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, also met Poroshenko and other top officials in Kiev.
At a joint news conference with Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Kerry sounded lukewarm about Merkel and Hollande’s visit. [Continue reading…]
Shaun Walker writes: In Kiev, John Kerry had a clear message for Russia and Vladimir Putin: the Kremlin should respect Ukraine’s territory, negotiate constructively and stop funnelling weapons and troops into the east of the country.
The problem is that it is the same message the US secretary of state and other western politicians have been delivering for more than half a year, to pretty much zero effect.
The issue for western negotiators has been how to force Russia to stop doing something that, even in private, it won’t admit it is doing. Washington is now grappling with whether it should back up its messages to Putin with an “or else” and seriously begin negotiations on supplying arms to Kiev.
In an editorial, The Guardian says: Europe does have leverage, if it chooses to use it. Russia may be a geopolitical giant but its GDP is no bigger than Italy’s. It is dependent on Europe’s financial structures. Yet next to the plunging oil price, the EU sanctions thus far have had a virtually symbolic impact. Cutting Russian banks and companies from the Belgium-based Swift international transaction system would, by contrast, impose a serious jolt. It could be done quickly, but then also rolled rapidly back. It has worked before, against Iran, which entered nuclear negotiations soon after being banned from Swift in 2012. Many businesses would balk at the costs. But these would surely be easier to bear than the enduring damage done by a widening war on the European continent.
Mr Putin regards the EU as a strategic midget. He will respect it only when Russia’s predatory oligarchy is confronted with some red lines. When Mrs Merkel and Mr Hollande head for Moscow, they should put Swift on the table.
Peter Eavis reports: Europe’s most powerful policy makers dismiss the idea, investors fear it, and it would almost certainly face fierce resistance from within the Continent’s richer countries.
Yet talk of slashing the government debt loads of European countries, starting with Greece, is back. For all the opposition, the idea has resurfaced with a vengeance in recent days as the new government in Athens, facing a cash squeeze and aiming to make life easier for its citizens, looks for immediate ways to reduce what it owes. The pressure on Greece increased on Wednesday when the European Central Bank cut off direct funding to Greek banks, forcing them to rely instead on emergency loans from the country’s own central bank. The move followed a meeting in Frankfurt between Mario Draghi, the central bank’s president, and Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s new finance minister, and appeared to signal a hard line in negotiations over debt. The E.C.B.’s announcement roiled markets in the United States late in the trading day.
At the heart of Greece’s problems is its eye-popping government debt load, equivalent to 175 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Now, as Greece’s nightmare grinds on, some economists fear that high debt levels could hamper recoveries in other countries. That is why they are pressing for policies that would alleviate the debts of other European nations, to help get the region out of its rut.
“Greece is more acute, but it is not as completely different as it is portrayed,” said Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard. The economies of Spain, Portugal and Ireland, he added, might benefit from such “haircuts” to their obligations. Podemos, a Spanish political party that has surged in popularity in recent months, wants to restructure the country’s government debt to make it less of a burden. [Continue reading…]
Simon Jenkins writes: A yawning gulf has opened in the world of financial diplomacy. It is not whether to bail out Greece yet again. It is how a Greek finance minister should dress when visiting a chancellor of the exchequer. Yanis Varoufakis arrived in Downing Street yesterday in black jeans, a mauve open-necked shirt that was not tucked in, and the sort of leather coat Putin might wear on a bear hunt. If George Osborne still didn’t get the point, Varoufakis had a No 1 haircut. What was going on?
What was going on was real life. If I were a banker and had seen Varoufakis arrive in the same dark suit as Osborne was wearing, what would I think? I would think here was a man eager to be accepted into the club. He dresses like a banker, therefore he thinks like a banker, which is how today’s finance ministers are supposed to think. I would be reassured.
We don’t want bankers to be reassured by Varoufakis just now. We want them to be terrified. Don’t mess with me, he is saying. I have a sovereign electorate behind me, and I have a bankrupt country. When your banks go bankrupt you bail them out. When your businesses go bankrupt you write off their debts and let them start again. Do the same to me. Your banks have lent my country crazy sums of money, way beyond the bounds of caution or common sense. Now you honestly think you will get it back. You can’t. Read my lips, look at my jeans, feel my stubble. You can’t. Get real. [Continue reading…]
Joschka Fischer writes: Not long ago, German politicians and journalists confidently declared that the euro crisis was over; Germany and the European Union, they believed, had weathered the storm. Today, we know that this was just another mistake in a continuing crisis. The latest error, as with most of the earlier ones, stemmed from wishful thinking – and, once again, it is Greece that has broken the reverie.
Even before the leftist Syriza party’s overwhelming victory in the recent Greek election it was obvious that, far from being over, the crisis was threatening to worsen. Austerity – the policy of saving your way out of a demand shortfall – simply does not work. In a shrinking economy, a country’s debt-to-GDP ratio rises rather than falls, and Europe’s recession-ridden crisis countries have now saved themselves into a depression, resulting in mass unemployment, alarming levels of poverty and scant hope.
Warnings of a severe political backlash went unheeded. Shadowed by Germany’s deep-seated inflation taboo, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government stubbornly insisted that the pain of austerity was essential to economic recovery; the EU had little choice but to go along. Now, with Greece’s voters having driven out their country’s exhausted and corrupt elite in favour of a party that has vowed to end austerity, the backlash has arrived. [Continue reading…]
Derek Scally writes: The grassroots Islam-critical movement appears to be imploding after a mass walkout of leading figures on Wednesday. But whether it goes under or not is far less interesting than the effect it has had on German politics.
In just three months it grew exponentially via Facebook, stripping away the politically-correct veneer of German public debate to reveal – and reactivate – the slumbering intolerance beneath.
For many it’s a worrying sign that populism is in, Islam is fair game and Germany’s race to the political bottom is on. A pertinent question posed by Pegida’s rise and possible fall is: who stands to benefit?
The nascent Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Saxony could offer a political home to the 25,000 people who marched through Dresden to express concern at the supposed “islamisation of the west”.
The AfD pulled in nearly 10 per cent at its first state election in Saxony last September by going beyond euro criticism to appeal to conservative voters’ worst instincts: warning of “criminal” foreigners and protesting against mosques. [Continue reading…]
Henning Meyer writes: Following the formation of the new Greek government we are entering a period of negotiation. This is good news, and overdue given the scale of the social and economic crisis in Greece. The new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has announced that he will not unilaterally walk away from Greek obligations but seek dialogue with creditor countries. He has a clear mandate for change, but it is also important to bear in mind the constraints on the other side of the negotiation table.
Angela Merkel’s coalition government in Germany also operates within clear political limits, partly because a faulty narrative about the origins of the eurozone crisis has been circulating in Germany for half a decade. This is very unfortunate but makes a full U-turn on Greece unlikely. The anti-euro AfD – Alternative for Germany – has been gaining political support since the European elections last May, and is now trying to use the anti-Islam Pegida protests in some parts of the country to further draw disaffected citizens into its orbit. These are new phenomena in German politics and help to explain – though not excuse – the stubbornness with which misguided policies have been pursued. As in other countries, the German political elites are afraid of losing traction in society and have become excessively cautious as a result.
But there is light at the end of tunnel. The opposing parties might be at loggerheads at the moment but there is scope for a political deal that would allow both sides to keep their integrity. Here are the three things that need to come together. [Continue reading…]
Linsey McGoey writes: Since Syriza’s victory in the Greek elections on Sunday, it is the new Essex-educated finance minister Yanis Varoufakis who has been grabbing most of the headlines. Much of his appeal lies in his iconoclasm: in his 1998 book Foundations of Economics, a kind of bible for the growing alternative economics movement, he cites the British Keynesian Joan Robinson: “The purpose of studying economics is to learn how not to be deceived by economists.”
But what can we expect from this reluctant economist and reluctant politician intellectually? Announcing his decision to run for a parliamentary seat on Syriza’s ticket on his personal blog, Varoufakis stressed that he never wanted to run for office, preferring to channel his policy ideas across the political spectrum. But he grew tired of seeing his policies ignored. Above all he wants to draw attention to an idea that was first conceived by one of his major intellectual influences: John Maynard Keynes. It’s an idea that even ardent Keynsians often neglect; an idea that Keynes dramatically announced to a group of sceptical listeners at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference; an idea that runs diametrically counter to the current policies of Germany’s government. That idea is a global surplus recycling mechanism. [Continue reading…]
The Huffington Post reports: Six million Jewish people were murdered during the genocide in Europe in the years leading up to 1945, and the Jews are rightly remembered as the group that Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party most savagely persecuted during the Holocaust.
But the Nazis targeted many other groups: for their race, beliefs or what they did.
Historians estimate the total number of deaths to be 11 million, with the victims encompassing gay people, priests, gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, and resistance fighters. [Continue reading…]
Channel 4 News reports: A photo posted by Pegida leader Lutz Bachmann posing as Adolf Hitler on his personal Facebook profile has gone viral after being posted online by the Dresden Morgenpost.
The German far-right anti-immigrant Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamification of the West) started to grow into prominence in October 2014 after staging weekly anti-Islam demonstrations drawing thousands to the east German city of Dresden.
Recent protests in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack have drawn crowds of over 25,000 people, sparking counter demonstrations across the country.
The photograph, which was taken before Pegida grew into prominence, shows Bachmann with slicked down hair and a Toothbrush moustache appeared above the caption “He’s back!”
Morgenpost also published screen grabs of racist posts by Bachmann’s on his Facebook profile from 2012 of a Ku Klux Klan member accompanied by the slogan: “Three Ks a day keeps the minorities away.”
41 year-old convited criminal Bachmann, who insists Pegida are “normal people” who seek tighter immigration controls and “protection of Judeo-Christian culture”, deleted his Facebook profile after being contacted by Morgenpost. [Continue reading…]
BBC News reports: Thousands of protesters have gathered in Dresden for an anti-Islamisation rally called in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.
It came despite calls from senior German politicians for marchers to stay at home.
Justice Minister Heiko Maas had appealed for people not to attend the Pegida organisation’s rally.
And Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she will attend a protest in Berlin by Muslim organisations on Tuesday.
Mr Maas was one of several leading politicians to urge the Pegida march organisers not to “misuse” the deadly attacks on Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket.
However the rally went ahead despite the calls for it to be cancelled.
Der Spiegel reports on the origin of the the anti-Islam movement: The proprietors of the Zentralgasthof, a concert and variety show venue in the town of Weinböhla in the Elbe River valley near Dresden, know what people of the region like. “Folk hits,” are part of their program as is a Dresden-based cabaret artist known for his imitations of Erich Honecker, the former leader of communist East Germany.
On a Friday evening last November, the stage was turned over to Thilo Sarrazin, the bestselling anti-Muslim author. Outside the entrance, some 50, mostly young demonstrators were gathered. They called Sarrazin a “misanthrope and a blusterer”; one poster read: “Those who believe what Sarrazin says also believe the world is flat.” But inside, there were 10 times as many people, cheering the author on as an iconoclastic thinker who has the courage to say what everyone feels. The audience was full of office workers, small businessmen and tradespeople. Normal folks.
Also in the audience were Siegfried Däbritz and Thomas Tallacker. They had both read Sarrazin’s wildly popular book “Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab” — or “Germany Is Doing Away With Itself” — about the supposed dangers of immigration. But they were no longer satisfied with simply reading about the issues addressed in the book. Late last autumn, Däbritz, a security guard, and Tallacker, an interior designer, began marching at the front of regular demonstrations held by the still largely unknown group calling itself Pegida, an acronym for “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West.”
The two men are among Pegida’s foremost organizers: With eight others, they form the anti-Islam movement’s core and they regularly meet to talk about the group’s agenda and prepare the weekly marches, held every Monday evening. They also maintain contact with other protest groups across the country. Shortly before Christmas, they registered Pegida as an association. [Continue reading…]
BBC News reported on last month’s record turnout PEGIDA rally in Dresden: