Category Archives: Politics

AfD Party Meeting in Stuttgart

Last weekend, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD/Alternative for Germany) party met in Stuttgart for their first national party meeting. This meeting was the focus of much attention for several reasons. First, the AfD is a new party, so what they decide at this meeting will shape both the party platform and the party’s ambitions. These ambitions are now clearly focused on national, rather than merely provincial, representation. Second, the party currently has two factions: the neoliberal-conservative group around Frauke Petry, and the nationalist-conservative group around Alexander Gauland, one of the founders of the party as a Euro-sceptic party. How the party will cope with dissent within its ranks is one of the questions political scientist Cas Mudde (UGA) tweeted the day before the meeting began. Given the warm welcome to racist-extremist Björn Höcke, it seems like the AfD will continue moving towards the right.

Finally, the party meeting itself was a controversial event, which inspired intense protest from left-autonomous groups and the preliminary arrests of 400-500 people. The Twitter feed from the German Association of Investigative Journalists posted a press release about crackdowns by police on the freedom of the press on May 2nd, when four photojournalists were arrested for participating in a sitting protest along the highway A8 and blocking traffic. Other charges included threatening behavior (Nötigung) and disturbing the peace. The press release details humiliation by police officers and that two of the journalists needed medical attention. It’s difficult to discern from the video below how extensive the protest was, but newspaper reports describe both protests near the convention center as well as a more peaceful protest in downtown Stuttgart.

 

My favorite use of technology as protest, however, was started by the satirical news broadcast extra-3 (the broadcast responsible for the recent Erdogan jokes). Deciding that the hashtag #AfD should really stand for “Aufmerksamkeit für Dackel” or “Attention to Dachshunds,” Twitter users started using the hashtag to tweet images of Dachshunds, making fun of the party and its approach to power.

The party meeting seems to have been largely symbolic – with a party program almost 80 pages long, the party meeting was hampered by organizational specifics and began late due to the protests. Of the more than 1,500 points to discuss, the party broached merely four. The “Islam Debate” was one of those four, and has caused the most uproar, with the Central Board of Jews in Germany and Green politician Volker Beck loudly condemning the AfD’s decision to include the statement that “Islam does not belong to Germany” in their program. (“Islam belongs to Germany” was a famous statement made by then-Federal President Christian Wulff in response to a racist polemic against Muslims published by Thilo Sarrazin in 2010, which monopolized the German newswaves for months.)

The best recap of the party meeting was by Lenz Jacobsen of Zeit Online, who summarized several important points:

  • Björn Höcke, the radical new right leader from Thüringen, who is infamous for making racist statements especially about Muslims, was the real star of the party. He showed up hours late, said nothing, but was greeted with so much applause that the person leading the meeting was clearly irritated and forced to stop the proceedings.
  • Albrecht Glaser is their candidate for federal president (a largely symbolic office), and was frequently addressed as “Mr. President-Elect.”
  • The provincial arm of the AfD in Saarland has been disbanded from the national AfD for working together with the NPD (Neonazi Party). Federal arbitrators are now the responsible party for the dispute.
  • Jacobsen rightly also points to the contradiction of the AfD and other groups like PEGIDA for hating foreigners who are Muslim, but praising white foreigners – like special guest Vaclav Klaus, former president of Czechia – who share their nationalistic approach. Indeed, for me, this transnational flow of right-wing ideas and collaboration across right-wing nationalistic parties is one of the most fascinating aspects of contemporary European nationalist-populism.

Finally, although the AfD has mostly been receiving press attention for their racist ideas towards Muslims and declarations by Beatrix von Storch that she would have border guards shoot refugees trying to enter Germany, queer.de published an important commentary on the heteronormative family biopolitics of the AfD called “Homophobia for Everyone!” The written goals of the AfD include elements of political struggles common to US audiences in the context of “culture wars”: no abortion, children should have two, opposite sex, traditional parents; Gender Studies should be abolished as a discipline; school curricula should not include mentions of homosexual behavior or transgendered folk; the German Christian heritage should be preserved. The ways in which this backlash would affect queer minorities can be intuited; what is important to remember is that backlash against queers extend negative effects to women and girls, single parents, divorced parents, step-families, infertile couples and single adults.

In reading through the program published by the AfD in advance of the meeting last weekend, what struck me is how the AfD party program reads like a textbook of the goals of the new right. There is an emphasis on promoting ethno-nationalist goals for Germany in order to strengthen the nation, all the while hoping to revert to some kind of mythical distant past in which there is no political union amongst European nations and no immigration. Immigrants are explicitly marked as criminal at several points in the program. Despite the prevalence of women at the top ranks of the party (Frauke Petry, Beatrix von Storch and Alice Weidel – who is romantically partnered with a woman), the platform is misogynist and homophobic – which are all part of the more basic repression in extremist movements to “close down the marketplace of ideas” (Lipset & Raab, 1970) and refuse to accept pluralism.

As the Green Party posted after the close of the party meeting:  “AFD: POLITICS FROM A DIFFERENT TIME. – Back to atomic energy, out of Europe, women in the kitchen . . . the program of the AfD is reactionary.”

 

Refugees defy limits at Greek/Macedonian Border

There are three events that are of massive importance right now in the interaction between right-wing populism, irregular migration and refugee rights.

First, the EU and Turkey are proposing a “one-in-one-out” deal that will involve a bizarre rearrangement of refugees being returned to Turkey as those in Turkish camps then get passage to Europe. The UN has called this deal illegal and in violation of European refugee law and rights.

Second, the state (provincial) elections in Germany on Super Sunday led the AfD to a huge win in three states: Baden-Württemburg, Sachsen-Anhalt and Rheinland-Pfalz. Sachsen-Anhalt saw the AfD win almost 25% of the vote. The AfD is quickly on its way to becoming a party of hate, with party positions formally against Muslims and LGBT people. The AfD and Donald Trump share rhetorical strategies.

Third, a thousand refugees – among many thousands trapped for days in Greece at the Macedonian border – have defied the border crossing and begun to reach Macedonia. There is amazing footage posted on YouTube from the town of Chamilo as people attempt to cross the river. It’s cold; three people have died trying to cross the river. It’s being called the #marchofhope. Macedonia is not a member of the EU. I am not sure of the legal ramifications for crossing from the EU (i.e., Greece) into a non-member state. *UPDATE 3/16/2016: It seems as if this crossing was primarily motivated by activists distributing leaflets in Arabic trying to convince people to risk their lives for a political statement. The Macedonian police simply held and then deported those who crossed.

Chaos breeds chaos; anxiety produces more anxiety. Where is the leadership whose values are rooted in common sense and a sense of humanitarian urgency?

Beware the Alternatives

In the two-party governance system of the United States, graphs like these may seem confusing:

The state news channel ARD tweeted the results of an election poll yesterday with six viable parties, and another column in grey for all the rest. The Christian Democrats, Merkel’s party, lead with 35% of voters; followed by the moderate Social Democrats with 24%. Two left-wing parties, the Left and the Greens, have about 10% each. The neo-liberal Free Democratic Party is barely making the 5% threshold required to enter parliament. Then there’s the shocker: the far-right, nationalistic party called Alternative for Germany is pulling in a whopping 12%. According to the tweet under the image, it seems like AfD is mostly gaining voters who previously voted for the center-right Christian Democrats.

If you want to understand German politics right now, the AfD is probably the most prescient indicator of how the political mood in Germany is changing.

What’s also very important to understand is that this sea change has been gradual, and been in motion for much longer than the refugee crisis. AfD was founded in 2012 and first appeared in the 2013 federal elections, where they ran primarily on a platform of Euro-scepticism. The “Alternative” in their party name is understood as desiring a political alternative to the European Union and shared currency. They are doing well because Europe has started to teeter on the edge of political and economic collapse by being embroiled in two crises: one, the Greek economic crisis, and two, the refugee crisis. They are also doing well because they have managed, as a party, to oust all of their center-right founders. The far-right has taken control of the party.

Which brings me to the initial purpose of this post: the AfD has recently made some terrifying statements that can only be described as morally corrupt. Both the chairwoman of the party, Frauke Petry, and her representative, Beatrix von Storch, called for border guards to shoot refugees as a solution to the crisis in late January.  Von Storch was nothing less than clear in this FaceBook comments thread:

Hans Werner: That’s ridiculous. Are you going to limit access of women with children on the green meadows [border landscape] with armed force?

Beatrix von Storch: Yes.

Katharina König: Shoot at children? Beatrix von Storch, #AfD says “Yes” Does anyone else have questions about this party? #coldcountry

There has been a massive amount of press attention to these statements, as there well should be. Petry and von Storch are trying to distance themselves from their PR disaster, with little success. And yet – for those voters AfD continues to poach from moderate right parties – these statements clearly have appeal. The AfD is becoming the party PEGIDA is legally prevented from becoming. On the rest of the political spectrum – including the centrist and left-wing parties – there must be some serious scrambling going on to find alternatives to the Alternativ.

Merkel’s Speech at the CDU Party Meeting

On December 14th, Angela Merkel gave an hour-long speech to members of her party the CDU. She’s been having quite a run, especially after being named TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year, and the speech has been widely covered by English-language media.

The Washington Post published a piece with the title “Multiculturalism is a sham, says Merkel” on December 14th. There’s not much more to that piece than its title, with one reference to her 2010 speech where she declared that “Multiculturalism has failed.” This article by the Guardian is evidence of much more responsible reporting, including several direct quotations on many issues from Merkel’s almost 80 minute speech. The Guardian also includes the statement on multiculturalism and links it to Merkel’s 2010 speech, but tempers this statement with criticisms of aid organizations as well as Merkel’s attempt to position German politics on the landscape of European integration.

What is missing from this English-language reporting is an understanding of what multiculturalism means in a German context.

Germany has never had a state-sponsored program of multicultural rights. Canada is a much better model of multicultural policy. Germans thus mean something different when they speak of multiculturalism – it’s a mix of having a diverse population, accompanied by the notion that civic participation and assimilation will happen without policies that provide access to populations of color and without having to discuss racism or equal opportunity. Multiculturalism doesn’t mean multiculturalism at all in this idiom: it is German shorthand for a policy of neglect. True multiculturalism seeks to strike a balance between group and individual rights in a way that is legally protected and does not infringe too much on human rights (although the criticisms are prevalent). German Multikulti is as much of a misnomer as using the English word “handy” to describe a cell phone.

Merkel’s speech – as is to be expected – is a political utterance. Because of its length, it also has a political logic all its own.

The speech begins with a list of events, month by month, that affected Europe. Merkel seems to be doing this intentionally: she emphasizes the role of Germany in Europe rather than allowing the nationalism of the CSU to taint her own speech. The banner raised behind her on the stage reads “For Germany and Europe,” the bright orange letters standing out against the blue banner as a political slogan.

The list is overwhelming. January: Charlie Hebdo. February: Minsk negotiations for peace in Ukraine. March: the German Wings crash. April: a special meeting of European leaders in the face of hundreds of deaths in the Mediterranean. June and July: Greek negotiations, a test of strength for Europe that has not yet been passed. June: G7 summit about climate change and the recognition of climate refugees. August: Prognosis of asylum seekers for this year: 800,000. Sept. 4-5: Thousands of refugees were stranded in Budapest, and Germany and Austria’s decided to allow them free entry. Merkel calls this decision “a humanitarian imperative.”  October 4: 25 years of German Reunification. November 13: the attacks in Paris. November 15: Cancellation of the German soccer match in Hannover.

By twenty minutes in, Merkel begins her historical rallying cry. Germany survived the Cold War and rebuilt itself out of rubble after the Holocaust. It is a country which doesn’t hedge its bets. Citing several famous historical utterances, Merkel insists that Germany chose freedom, not *some* freedom. (Wir wählen die Freiheit, nicht *etwa* Freiheit.) The economic miracle which followed World War II brought affluence for everyone, not affluence for almost everyone (Wohlstand für alle, nicht Wohlstand für *fast* alle).

This historical precedent also applies to the refugee crisis. After thanking the volunteers who are serving across the country to assist the processing of refugees, Merkel does the exact opposite of what her speech has set us up to expect. She hedges her bets. Germany can do it, but only if they reduce the number of refugees. According to Merkel, this is in no way contradictory and is in everyone’s best interest: Germany can only integrate so many refugees; Europe can only house so many refugees, and as for the refugees – well, no one leaves their homeland lightly, she says.

Germany can do it, but only with European help and partners like Greece and Turkey securing their borders. Refugees – at least some of them – have to be deported so that it becomes clear that legal protection is a status and laws have consequences.

And all of this takes time. Merkel undergoes a thought experiment about halfway through the speech. She asks her audience to imagine Germany in 2025. Later she will talk about imagining Germany 25 years from now. That repetition of 25, even though mathematically inconsistent, is important. 2015 is the 25th anniversary year of German reunification. It’s a symbolic gesture towards the unforeseeable changes Germany has already undergone since the Fall of the Iron Curtain, and an acknowledgement that just as many changes await them in the coming 25 years.

She uses this thought experiment to point out how young the refugee problem is. In ten years, she posits, Germans will look back on the actors of today and judge them for their lack of imagination. It’s only been four months! How impatient are we if we later look back and realize that we didn’t even allow ourselves the necessary time to arrive at a solution to a massive problem.

Some of her sustainable solutions to the refugee problem have ominous overtones: the establishment of a central database at all levels of civil society for refugees, as well as a two-year waiting period for family togetherness if subjects do not receive immediate refugee status. Merkel lauds Turkey, despite recent claims of humanitarian abuses by Amnesty International, as a primary partner in solving this global problem.  Rich countries are to be criticized for allowing aid organizations like UNHCR and the World Food Program to run out of funding, she says.

The part to her speech which is being picked up in these English language articles is actually a very small portion placed near the end. During this section, Merkel ponders the effects of cultural contact. After such an influx, what will remain of the Germany we know?

After stating her opposition to multiculturalism, she states: “The opposite of that [Multikulti] is integration. Integration that demands the openness to those who come to us, but as well as the readiness of those who come to us to adhere to our values and traditions. […] We will learn from our mistakes. […] Countries always profit from successful immigration, but that requires integration.”

She portrays the CDU as a people’s party; a party that creates bridges; a party that is neither a worker’s party nor a party of the elite, but which can cross borders and recognize individual dignity. The positioning is strategic – and pits the CDU against the SPD (traditionally blue-collar) and die Linke (a socialist party). More importantly, Merkel comes full circle and portrays the CDU as the party which developed the European vision and led directly to the integration of European countries into the EU.

This is, most likely, a simplification – but it is a strategic one.

English-language coverage of this speech misrepresents Merkel’s positioning by focusing on one line with a certain cultural connotation in Germany. Merkel agitates in this speech primarily for the German position within Europe – which, of course, requires an articulation of national identity and preservation of purportedly German values. But she is primarily pushing back against the anti-European sentiments of PEGIDA and the AfD party; she is cajoling her European partners to participate in solving the refugee problem together; and she is no more racist than any other central right party (and probably only moderately racist when compared to the rhetoric coming from the CSU, the AfD and PEGIDA). (It’s also ridiculous that I find myself in a position where I am quantifying levels of racism.) But it’s important to see the shades of intensity when comparing Merkel to some of the more populist elements of her party.

A better title? “Merkel insists on German Role in European Union and Stakes CDU’s Distance from German Far-Right.” But that’s not so catchy, is it?

I guess that’s why I’m not writing for the Washington Post. 

Comparisons

There is rhetoric in the United States that keeps insisting on making the comparison between Nazis and ISIS/Daesh. And as an American Germanist/Auslandsgermanist, I feel compelled to articulate why this comparison falls short.

One of the most disturbing instances I have seen comes from a meme circulating on Facebook. Vice News notes that this image was tweeted by a US State Department Account:

This image has turned into a meme on Facebook. The meme text labels the two images: NAZIS and ISIS. The bottom of the meme reads: UNDERSTAND YET? (This is not the only image – do a GoogleSearch and you’ll come up with hundreds of similar comparisons, some of them German).

Like most slick comparisons, this one falls short – although it has political weight. As VICE reports:

In American political oratory, a Nazi or Hitler comparison is the ultimate in establishing an enemy in need of fighting. After all, who could turn a blind eye to the Nazis?

Both groups are responsible for war and terror, yes. Both have committed acts of ethnic cleansing. But the historical precendents are different. The Nazis were a political party that morphed into fascist dictatorship and relied on a cult of personality. Daesh are religious terrorists who believe the end times are near and are willing to court the apocalypse. The motivating factors for each group are different, as are the structures within their organizations. And as Natasha Lennard points out in her VICE article, comparing Daesh to the Nazis misses the mark because it does not acknowledge the power of Daesh in their own right. Constantly comparing America’s enemies to Hitler prevents us from acknowledging that Daesh (and any other potential enemy) is ruthless on its own terms. No comparison is necessary to understand the level of brutality Daesh is capable of enacting.

In a bizarre twist on this comparison, Donald Trump told Yahoo News today that he would not stop short of targeting American Muslims in ways that resemble the political persecution of the Jews:

Yahoo News asked Trump whether his push for increased surveillance of American Muslims could include warrantless searches. He suggested he would consider a series of drastic measures.

“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

Yahoo News asked Trump whether this level of tracking might require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion. He wouldn’t rule it out.

“We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”

If you’re looking for a comparison to Nazi Germany – and I want to be very clear, I don’t think we should be looking for such a comparison – then there’s one group I can think of which really does bear some resemblance to fascists: the wonky cast of characters currently seeking the Republican Party nomination for president. As frontrunner, Donald Trump is the most obvious example. Trump, whose campaign the Huffington Post will only cover in the Entertainment Section, has spouted racist rhetoric, developed a cult following, and quite literally, has just been prodded by a Yahoo News reporter into proposing a system of religous persecution that has a historical precedent as part of a fascist regime. Trump’s bombastic rhetoric is insane, yes, but it is also populist to the core, elevating the “people” above all other groups. All political slogans carry with them a hint of nationalism, but “Make America Great Again” is not shy about its narrative. This narrative is also prototypically fascist, calling for a rebirth of the nation after a period of decline (such as World War I or – in more moderate terms – the Great Recession). Trump’s obvious megalomania and large following begs to be described as a “cult of personality,” and his unwillingness to answer any questions that require him to acknowledge his own weaknesses point to the desire to consolidate power.

Comparisons require some level of similarity in order to be apt. Obvious violent acts are not specific enough to prompt comparison. A lot of groups use violence, but their motivations for doing so are almost always different.

But violence almost always starts with rhetoric. By that logic, the prevention of violence can start from rhetorical analysis.

What now?

In the days after the Paris attacks, as France bombs the Syrian city of Raqqa, and American politicians use this tragedy to further their own political campaigns; as family members are called to account not only for the death of their family members, but also for their inability to discern radicalism developing in their brothers, whom they must now also grieve; and as refugees now reckon with growing hate and animosity towards them – if they have been lucky enough to make it to Europe; there is very little I find worthy of saying.

As Sabine Hark, a prominent German feminist, has written on the feministische studien blog, we have a duty to work together to develop a new moral order – one which does not privilege the victims of Paris over the victims of Beirut or Bagdad – in which everyone has the same right to participation; the same right to both share and make the world.

Laurent Dubois has written on the Soccer Politics and Africa is a Country blogs about the historical role of the Stade de France as a place of (literal and metaphorical) refuge.

Mohammed Abdeslam, a brother of two of the attackers in Paris, gave a moving press conference this morning, shown in video by the New York Times. His final words: “We are indeed thinking of the victims, the families of the victims. But you have to understand, we have family, we have a mom, and he remains her child. Thank you.”

PEGIDA marched through the streets of Dresden as usual.

Jilet Ayse / Idil Baydar / Gerda Grischke

About four years ago, the Berliner Werkstatt der Kulturen hosted a reading by the editors and contributors of the encyclopedia project Wie Rassismus aus Wörtern spricht (How Racism Speaks through Words). The bar area of the theater and gallery was packed – people were sitting on the floor, or uncomfortably close on some of the seats and couches, and a variety of contributors placed at microphones around the room read from their entries on words like “race” and “integration” and “foreigner.” The book was available for something like 40 or 50 Euros, and you got your money’s worth: this volume is truly encyclopedic, weighing in at several pounds and several hundred pages. The Werkstatt der Kulturen, the long-standing organizers of the Carneval of Cultures parade and contest in Berlin, had long been a location for topics of race, racism and difference. In light of the Sarrazin debates, the WdK had hosted three panel discussions about race hosted by Michel Friedmann in late 2010 with guests ranging from Shermin Langhoff, artistic director at that time of the Ballhaus Naunynstraße, Naika Foroutan and Kien Nghi Ha, social scientists working on these questions, and Nadja Afouatey-Alazard, the co-editor of this volume with Susan Arndt and a filmmaker and academic in her own right.

Glossar NdMM

An association of journalists called Neue Deutsche Medienmacher has now undertaken a similar project on a smaller scale and directed specifically at journalists. They define their project on their website as follows:

“As journalists we work every day with our tool: language. Our reports are supposed to present the facts correctly, without judgment, and with precision. Frequently, however, words like “immigrant” or “migrant” stand alongside each other in the same text with the assumption that these words mean the same thing. They don’t.”

The NDM has commissioned the comedian Jilet Ayse to perform satirical riffs on various entries in this glossary. In the most recent episode, Ayse defines “Armutszuwanderer” (loosely translated: poverty immigrants; those who are driven to emigrate due to poverty; “Wirtschaftsflüchtling” is another version of this term commonly translated as “economic migrant”).

Ayse’s character for these videos wears a poofed, bleached blong pompadour, with massive (and probably heavy!) hoop earrings, and her trademark t-shirt which says “WALLAH: Ich habe nix gemacht.” Each episode features her sitting on her couch, reading and getting irritated by the journalistic tropes transmitted by unconscious language use. Her performance hinges on the cliche, and subverts the critique of the media she enacts through dialect. Speaking fluent, but strongly accented German, her stereotype of a Berliner of Turkish descent sets her character up as the target of various debates in Germany about the integration of immigrants by encouraging them to master German. That Ayse uses this “imperfect” German to critique the language politics of the German mainstream is a beautiful subversion of the stereotype Ayse inhabits.

What I find really interesting about her performances is the way that they create discomfort through anger. The intensity of her performances fit well within the YouTube genre: this energy is unsustainable for long periods of time. The persona that she has created, because it is a parody of urban youth, plays with racist stereotypes – and that can be dangerous if one privileges appearances over content. This particular video focuses on the irony of calling refugees or immigrants “Armutszuwanderer.” In a moment at the beginning, Ayse calls out the racist undertones of this term and insists on recognizing a politics of self-identification: “They’re called Roma. You don’t need to make economic migrants out of them. They’re called Roma.”  Ayse’s character is designed to play with the grostesque; she exaggerates on purpose.  “Do you think they come here to be poor in Germany? Are you serious?” Ayse demands. Answering her own questions, she questions the motives of politicians who seek to exclude or devalue the potential contributions to society these immigrants could make: “You should call them work migrants, they come here to work!” Ayse ends by making fun of herself: although she has read the academic redefinition of the term from the glossary with no problem before flipping back into an exaggerated dialect, she makes fun of her character’s supposed Bildungsferne (distance from education) by tripping over the term “Bruttosozialprodukt” (Gross National Product).  “Du kannst froh sein, wenn sie kommen, und arbeiten, weil sie machen der sozi-prod-brutto-produkt- SIE MACHEN GUT, ok?”  (You can be happy when they come and work, because they make the g-g-g: THEY DO GOOD,OK?) She ends with a button, by reading once again from the glossary: turns out this migration is often profitable for Germany. She drops the booklet like an MC would drop a mike, opening up her arms and saying: “Live with it.”

Jörg Lau, a journalist on immigration and diversity for Die Zeit, already had “discovered” Jilet Ayse back in 2011 when she produced a YouTube video called “Ey, isch bin so sauer!” Lau called her a “Genius” in his blog posting. In that earlier video, Ayse does a similar character who hits much harder: this woman uses the stereotype of a loud, defiant woman who goes on and on about how perfect her life is while recounting obvious scenes of domestic abuse. The combination of toughness with obvious trauma is difficult to watch, and yet manages to illustrate both the costs of domestic abuse as well as the patronizing behaviors of social workers and possibly feminists intent on dialogue (represented in this video by an invisible sister who is dating a German man lacking the masculinity Ayse wants).

Language matters, but language is more than just words. The exaggerated emotion Ayse portrays here enacts an important element of debates about racism: those who hold dominant power within a society are the only ones who can talk about race as if it is an academic concern. Race matters; racism hurts. It’s visceral.

 

 

 

PEGIDA Builds its Own Border

As I write this, PEGIDA is posting updates to their Facebook feed after today’s march to the Border Crossing E48 near Schirnding in Bavaria. My feed is clogged with their posts of images of people carrying long banners that say things like “Hand in Hand für unser Land” (Hand in Hand for our Country) and “Wir helfen beim Grenzbau” (We’ll help build the border), which is also the name of a new Facebook Community.  According to the post about this event, Czechs will simultaneously demonstrate on the other side of the border. One of the hashtags they are using is #GrenzenRettenLeben – #BordersSaveLives.  According to the MDR, this highway corridor along E48 is not where the most refugees are crossing the border. I cannot find information as to whether this demonstration was registered or not – generally political protests must be registered, but recently people have been demonstrating in Saxony without properly informing the authorities.

Early last month, Wir helfen beim Grenzbau posted a video to YouTube about a similar action. An anti-fascist group in Munich described the protest as follows:

Over a thousand (Sächsische Zeitung), possibly even 2,500 (dpa) racists took part on October 4, 2015 on a demonstration against asylum-seekers called “We’ll help build the border” in the Saxon town of Sebnitz. Originally they announced a human chain at the border crossing that was supposed to form a “living border”, but that was not realized. Instead, the right-wingers marched through the city. The organizers then announced that they would repeat the demonstration […] in Bavaria.

The video of the original demonstration in Sebnitz consists solely of hazy footage of the march through Sebnitz, a town slightly southeast of Dresden on the Czech border.

This footage is highly aestheticized: filtered for light, hovering on children protesting with their families, capturing several residents standing on their balconies applauding the demonstrators. The soundtrack is the kind of urgent light piano accompaniment for a fictionalized drama designed to tug on our heartstrings. The PEGIDA-preferred German flag – a Nordic cross in German colors – features prominently.

I wrote here about the Center for Political Beauty and their push to develop a performative response to the crisis which is ironic, starkly aestheticized, and critical of traditional political approaches to problem solving. This video is the exact opposite: earnest, adamant, reductive.  By lingering on children and large numbers of people marching through the streets, the Sebnitz video calculatingly inverts the footage often seen of refugees crossing the border. The soundtrack and the images romanticize hate by making it seem harmless, just as this propaganda video by a Russian media outlet turns the horrors of war in Syria into romantic battle footage. This inversion represents the foundational twist of PEGIDA-Dresden: their rhetoric is hateful while their self-styling is bourgeois.

Feminist Refugee Politics – II

The most recent news developments in Germany – including the kidnapping and murder of a refugee child, the spray-painting of slurs on a Holocaust memorial to the Rroma victims, and a rather creepy demonstration of the AfD in Erfurt – make it clear that violence will accompany refugee politics into the winter. If there’s anything that feminist and anti-racist research has consistently engaged with, it’s issues of violence. For this reason, in the context of the European migration crisis, I have been pondering (admittedly in a vacuum) what would constitute a feminist, anti-racist response to those seeking asylum in Germany and those protesting with racist paroles. As of yet, I am not connected with activists on the ground who have more experience and information than I do and welcome suggestions for improvement or links or twitter handles.

In a dossier compiled to highlight anti-racist approaches to right-wing demonstrations in Saxony, the Heinrich Böll Foundation offered a checklist for those who might be trying to develop anti-racist events in their location.  Their suggestions are recognizable to anyone engaged in ethical activist struggle: do not assume that you know what is best for those for whom you are attempting to advocate; sometimes the police are the best source of support, sometimes not; make sure to have an action plan for all possible outcomes; and be willing to deny neo-nazis access access to a protected space.  What I mean by “recognizable” is that the HBF’s suggestions are widely accepted as best practices for organizing (at the very least, these suggestions are commonly articulated in the US).

“Sichere Herkunftsländer”

One of the primary methods for the conferral of refugee status in Germany relies on the notion of “secure countries of origin.” In the talks between Merkel and Erdoğan, for instance, Turkey – in return for agreeing to secure its borders and keep more refugees from fleeing Turkish camps experiencing deteriorating conditions – was supposed to be declared a “secure country of origin.”  The Balkan states currently are seen as secure countries of origin. Die Zeit had an article a while back about the complications of declaring certain locations “safe”: due to the prevalence of common law known as kanun, Albania might no longer considered a safe country of origin for women. Similar concerns have been voiced for Rroma from Balkan states. Deutschlandfunk’s Europa Heute program recently aired a segment on the way that the Kurdish party in Turkey is the only electoral party positioning itself against homophobia.  This alliance between two oppressed groups – given Erdoğan’s tactics to persecute Kurds and LGBTs in Turkey – is important: not all identity groups experience insecurity in the same way. What is safe for majority cisgender men does not translate to safety for all people; those experiencing insecurity may sometimes be able to share strategies for survival through alliances. The moniker “secure country of origin” is thus reductive and can be disastrous for “women and other minorities,” including handicapped refugees. Feminist refugee politics would make use of a nuanced understanding of hierarchies of power based on an understanding of place.

Masculinity

As I mentioned here, a great deal of refugees daring to cross the Mediterranean or undertake the journey across the dangerous Balkan land route are male. It is unclear from the statistics I’ve seen how many men between the age of 14-34 are fleeing with partners or children. What has been garnering a lot of press attention – to the delight of the right-wingers, including “colonial” feminists – are reports of male violence within homes for asylum seekers, whether this consists of rape, knife fights or assault.  There is a large body of sociological research about gendered differences and group dynamics.  Given the contrast between a predominance of young, male refugees and mostly female volunteers attempting to support them, combined with cultural differences in problem-solving, gender roles and conflict resolution, a feminist refugee politics would require an informed approach to masculinity. This could include, but does not require, more male volunteers. More important than the gender of volunteers is an understanding of gender dynamics amongst volunteers. What conditions feed violence, especially gendered violence, within housing and registration centers? What kind of code-switching, cultural and linguistic, is required for German women to engage most effectively with men seeking refuge, and vice-versa? It is encouraging that we already have large amounts of research which engages with these questions. The challenge is to facilitate the application of this theoretical work to those providing services.

Trauma-informed model of care

Building on this understanding of gendered dynamics is an understanding of trauma, an area to which feminist critics have made important contributions (see Caruth, Scarry and Hartman, among others). What seems important is to move away from the racist association of (Muslim) male refugees as perpetrators (and a danger to white German women, as PinkStinks has articulated) and to include other kinds of trauma beyond sexualized violence. It has become widely accepted that trauma encompasses more varied experiences than was previously understood: how each person experiences an event – and this research on subjectivity has been a cornerstone of feminist research – starkly influences whether a specific experience will be felt as trauma.  War, chaos, culture shock and prolonged periods of instability can all be experienced as trauma.  Madeline Hron’s book, Translating Pain, explores how these migratory traumas are communicated in French and Czech literature; Gloria Anzaldua’s seminal work Borderlands offers vivid analysis of subjectivity for Chican@s in the US who are American citizens but consistently perceived as foreign or misplaced.  The prevalence of long-term mental health concerns caused by the rupture of migration will require a nation-wide impetus to develop trauma-informed models of care appropriate to the cultural needs of Muslim men and women. (See a moving articulation of one kind of pain in the documentary film Neukölln Unlimited.)

A Return to Multiculturalism

Finally, feminism must return to engaging theories of multiculturalism, no matter what politicians declare has happened to Multikulti.  Theoretical engagement with multiculturalism is quite different from its superficial engagement in politics.  As a system of population management, multiculturalism requires an articulation of group versus individual rights, as well as an understanding of gender as it travels between cultural spaces and legal expectations for cultural assimilation (see Susan Moller Okin). Journalistic scandals that only a few years ago had seemed somewhat dated, such as concerns about polygamy and child brides, are resurfacing.  By taking young girls into custody and separating them from kinship structures, the state may be perceived as causing further trauma or as delivering women and girls exploitation, as well as many other reactions in between.  Our attention must be directed to the cases for which there are no obvious solutions, and we should be prepared to negotiate pragmatically for solutions which attempt to minimize trauma without sacrificing attention to justice.  This work is tricky, because policy is rarely flexible and often requires on quantifying benefits for the most people. Making these kinds of decisions thus threatens to disrupt coalitions and alliances among groups with shared interests. It will cause conflict. At the same time, we must distinguish between journalistic scandals and public health concerns. The latter often feeds misplaced attention to populations stigmatized by the polemic attention of the former.

Feminist Refugee Politics – Points of Entry

What constitutes a feminist refugee politics?

This question is not new. But there are some particularities about the current crisis which demand that discussions of gender take a larger part in conversations than it has so far. Gender matters – it always matters. There are a couple of tropes that have been circulating which are specifically about gendered trends. One, which I have blogged about for the feministische studien, reflects the relationship between Kanzlerin Merkel and the CDU. To set up a binary: Merkel = female. The CDU (if we look at the photoshopped image from Die Welt below) = male.  (The caption reads: #MoreWomen Campaign. Without men Angela Merkel stands almost alone up there.)

The ideological conflict between moderate CDU members and the far-right CSU is influenced in some way by this discrepancy in proportional representation between female head of state and male party members. There are masculine expectations for hard power which Merkel supposedly inadequately exercises, especially in the eyes of her sister party. And now to deconstruct said binary: It is more likely for the press or party members to discredit Merkel as a “monarch” or “Mama Merkel” than to acknowledge that Merkel’s experiences growing up under dictatorship in the GDR (East Germany) are historically legitimate reasons for reacting to this kind of humanitarian crisis with open arms. Merkel, in a beautiful moment of living standpoint theory, insists that she knows what it is like to live behind a closed border and that she is very well aware of the violence a sealed border requires. Thus her emphasis on sentences like “Fences don’t help.

Another trope that has been given a lot of airtime is assertion that the refugees/forced migrants are 70% (or more) male. Given recent discrepancies brought to light by Nando Sigona on The Conversation, in an article which recounts his Twitter communications with Frontex that reveal that a large number of migrants might be counted twice, it seems increasingly urgent to use rigor in the ways that we quantify. While the majority may be young men, the racist associations of criminality, rape, assault and possible infiltration by religious terrorists rest on gendered fears of masculinity. The anonymous blog called The Syrian Boy has an interesting collection of images (the sources are unclear) which aim to disrupt that generalization.

According to this article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, this is how the gender totals break down across age groups:

  • 70% of asylum-seekers who were in the EU in 2014 were male
  • the gender split amongst children was nearly equal
  • 54% of the refugees are between the ages of 14-34 years; 75% of this group are men
  • refugees above 65 years of age were more likely to be women

They list their source as raw data from eurostat.

According to statistics from the Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees in Germany cited in the SZ, in 2014:

  • 2/3 of all asylum applications were from men
  • 28% of all applications were submitted for children under 16 (the largest group; slightly more boys than girls
  • among 16-34 year olds, the proportion was 70-77% men

The German feminist blog PinkStinks.de has published a recent post frustrated with the way these numbers are being interpreted as representing a threat to (White German) women. As they write on PinkStinks:

And while they [the editors of the magazine EMMA] raise important demands in order to protect women, they also swear on the image of a constantly assaultive Muslim man. “Our equality is in danger, too, when hundreds of thousands of mostly young men pour into our country.”

These political moves are unacceptable, PinkStinks writes:

The line was crossed a long time ago. And not just at the point where demands for equality and more protection for women are used in the service of nationalistic interests, but also at the point where people who are fleeing are being instrumentalized in order to push through their own images of equality and more protection for women.

It is nothing new to cover up racism with assertions of needing to protect women. Laura Bush was used effectively by her husband’s presidency to argue for protections for women under the Taliban and to justify war after 9/11. Blue burkas pervaded the national imagery alongside the image of vicious terrorists. These are tropes with which the Right is all too familiar – not just in Germany, the EU or in the United States. Canada just had a presidential campaign in which the niqab was a potent political symbol. The HuffPost has an entire page devoted to niqab articles. Düsseldorf just banned the piece of clothing for elementary school mothers.

While women’s equality is being evoked by (male?) politicians in the service of nationalism, what do we make of this info graphic from a study conducted by the Humbolt University in Berlin about volunteers in serving this population? This tweet from the WDR (Westdeutsche Rundfunk) describes the exact opposite proportions of volunteers compared to refugees: 70% are female; 30% male. (The tweet comment reads: There’s room for improvement, boys!)

 

The very acts of fleeing and helping are gendered; for forced migrants, the physical obstacles they encounter are great. It seems, however, as if the obstacles impeding men from assisting these people in effective ways are just as great within European society, if not as evident as the physical obstacles along the flight path.

For right now, this is simply about gathering evidence that shows some of the points at which gender is functioning as political capital in the European crisis. Part II (to be posted later) will explore how these tropes and images can inform feminist refugee politics.