Tag: Europe

Memory and History

Memorialization and politics in Germany seventy-two years after the Second World War

By: Aditya Adhikari

Today the Holocaust stands as the epitome of political evil. The German people’s effort to renounce and atone for their past is often held up as exemplary. “Never again” – these words first appeared on handmade placards put up by inmates at the Buchenwald concentration camp shortly after the Nazi defeat in 1945. In the following decades, the slogan radiated out into the world and was repeated in Cambodia, Argentina, Rwanda, Bosnia. The trials of war criminals in post-war Germany, the reparations provided to victims and the memorials erected in their name have become lodestars for what is now called ‘transitional justice’.

I participated in a seminar organized by the Robert Bosch Stiftung on Truth, Justice and Remembrance in late 2016. During our excursions in Berlin and Nuremberg, I had the sense that Germany’s sites of commemoration did not just evoke the horrors of the Holocaust but also showed how German attitudes had evolved in the post-war period.

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Perfidious Albion Shrugs

Howl of the Day: Jun 27, 2016

On June 23rd, Britons voted that the UK should leave the European Union. This is a momentous decision. But the lead up to it was more remarkable for a lack of moment than it was for anything else.

There had been no preceding crisis, economic or otherwise. There was no great fury of campaigning between the respective sides; the leaders of the Tories and of Labour did not act as if their fates or those of their parties were on the line. Even the vote itself was hardly overwhelming in its proportions – 51.9% voted to leave and 48.1% voted to remain. The future of the EU, a massive institutional undertaking that has dominated European political life, in one form or another, since the end of World War II, might have been decided by this less than 4% of the 70% of eligible voters in Britain that actually went out to the polls. That is about 0.15% of the population of Europe. That is the number it took to shake the great edifice, and it did not even require much effort from them.

On the day following the vote, it almost seemed as if Britons and the rest of the world had woken up to an unanticipated outcome, and one with absolutely unclear consequences. Britain had shrugged the day before, as the result of an almost latent and unconscious national instinct, a political instinct, and the world had been sent reeling in its wake.

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Iceland as a Model for Popular Mobilization in a Post-2008 World

By: Hayden Eric Godfrey

Fellow Icelanders,

The task of the authorities over the coming days is clear: to make sure that chaos does not ensue if the Icelandic banks become to some extent non-operational. For this the authorities have many options and they will be used. Both in politics and elsewhere it will be important to sheathe our swords. It is very important that we display both calm and consideration during the difficult days ahead, that we do not lose courage and support each other as well as we can. Thus with Icelandic optimism, fortitude and solidarity as weapons, we will ride out the storm.  

God bless Iceland [1] Prime Minister Geir Haarde, 6 October 2008

The connection between political corruption and popular mobilization against a small cadre of rulers is a tale as old as the concept of government itself. From the French Revolution of 1789, in which mobs of starving peasants took to the streets in a revolt against the ancient political order that took the blame for their destitution, to the age of extremist politics that emerged out of the Great Depression of the 1920s and 30s in Europe, this relationship rears its head in frequently dramatic fashions that reorient the power dynamics within society. In recent times, however, this revolutionary spirit has been absent in the majority Western societies, in which oligarchic domination of the political systems has created paradigmatic complacency in regard to a corrupted, broken status quo within their political economies.

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Israel in Europe: How Extreme Voices Come to Dominate the Conversation

By: Joshua Goodman

It was a vivid and shocking image: American musician Matisyahu performing on the main stage of a 2015 festival in Spain, the very one that disinvited him just a week prior for refusing to condemn Israeli war crimes, with 20 or so Palestinian flags staring right back at him. The intent was to intimidate; the message was one of hatred.

The treatment of Israel, its supporters, and Jews overall in the political realm can conjure similar imagery. From the virulent attacks against the existence of the Jewish State – contentions that extend well beyond the pale of acceptable criticism – to the outright bigotry towards the Jews. The recent revelations of at least 50 suspensions within the British Labour party, long the political home for many within the Jewish communities of the UK, underscores the prevalence and mainstream nature of the problem.

The Jewish experience in Europe can accordingly be perceived as grave. Speaking after the incident at the festival in Spain, Matisyahu said that he “never had the experience of anything like that, as a Jew or anything in my life.” Indeed, Jewish organizations like the American Jewish Committee decried the “bigotry and bias” inherently found in the initial boycott and subsequent protest. Others went further, calling the incident a harsh reminder of the endemic anti-Semitism within European society. It is difficult to dismiss the claim off hand. The challenge against Matisyahu, an artist who professes to not take a position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was grounded in one fact: he is Jewish.

It is also not an isolated incident of “bigotry” or “bias” within the music industry, whether the mainstream or more niche sectors. There are countless examples, from former Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters’ vocal support for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to British electronic duo Orbital including a graphic of a missile fluidly morphing into the Star of David on the screen behind. It is a troubling picture overall.

Yet one can also point to myriad counter-examples that tell a different story, one of inclusion and acceptance. Israeli-French singer/songwriter Yael Naim, most famous for the song “New Soul” and its use in a MacBook ad, has enjoyed widespread success in Europe. Within the more niche electronic music scene, Israeli-born and Berlin-based Moscoman has a residency at the hugely popular club, Salon zur wilden Renate, and his music is played (and revered) widely by others in the industry. In a world where anti-Semitic discrimination is so pervasive within society, surely such achievements would be more sparing, if not impossible.

An analogous paradigm exists when one examines the perceptions of Israel within the European political establishment. A perception of bias is routinely evident: whether it be the EU’s voting record at the United Nations or its inability to critique the Palestinians in European Council conclusions without also levying blame on Israel. It is undeniable that within the overall development of the anti-Israel bias in Europe, anti-Semitic voices and opinions play a role in its construction.

But to use anti-Semitism as a blanket characterisation of political motivation ignores countless examples to the contrary. Trade and cooperation between the EU and Israel continues to grow, with the latter now participating in the former’s Horizon 2020 initiative. During the 2014 Gaza war, the EU’s common position was, for the most part, supportive of Israeli actions against Hamas – waning only as the Palestinian death toll rose significantly. Political leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speak out forcefully against BDS. Again, if anti-Semitism were so endemic, such accomplishments and integration would seem unlikely.

So how does one explain the often-tolerated presence and occasional prominence of the vitriol and overt prejudice that contributes to that overall anti-Israel bias in Europe? The suggestion of a predominant, nascent anti-Semitism within Europe is impossible to quantify or prove with any degree of clarity. It doesn’t deny its existence: there are certainly individuals within all strands of the European political establishment whose criticism of Israel is rooted in hatred. But I would contend that while anti-Semitism is clear and present, and while the mainstream’s opposition to the growing prevalence of these hateful sentiments is often muted, there are reasons to believe that these voices are not reflective of Europe as a whole.

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