Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a very colorful figure in European politics, to put it in the most friendly way possible. In fact, he is a convicted criminal, sentenced for tax fraud. But that is not my topic here.
Silvio’s assorted Nazi comparisons
Berlusconi has a record of inflammatory statements regarding contemporary Germany’s dealing with its Nazi past.
In 2003, Berlusconi addressed German social democratic MEP Martin Schulz, suggesting he might be a good fit for playing a concentration camp guard in a Holocaust movie.
Now, in the context of the 2014 elections for the European Parliament, Berlusconi claimed that “[for] the Germans, [. . .], concentration camps never existed.”
Mainstream contemporary Germany does not deny the Holocaust
This is of course factually wrong when talking about Germany in 2014—which Berlusconi did. And frankly, it is quite offensive to the majority of contemporary Germans who are not Holocaust deniers (including myself). If you should happen to be in Germany, just turn on a TV and you will notice that public television stations regularly broadcast documentaries about all kinds of aspects of Nazi Germany, including the Holocaust.
In case you did not know, Holocaust denial is also a punishable offence under German law.
Now there are actual valid debates about Germany’s dealings with its past and reasonable criticisms of phenomena like racism and antisemitism in contemporary Germany. There are, for instance, discussions about the ‘unburdening’ function the official national ‘culture of remembrance’ serves for the wider German society.
Berlusconi, apologist of Italian fascism
That being said, Silvio Berlusconi is neither a man interested in nor qualified to contribute to those debates. As a chief apologist for Italian fascism—his convenient narrative claiming that ‘good’ Italian fascists were merely misled by Hitler and the German Nazis—Berlusconi discredits himself from the get-go.
This is a cheap provocation, a misrepresentation of history, and a vulgar spewing of bile by perhaps the most pompuous political clown of Europe.
What repulses me especially is that Berlusconi is not above exploiting this most serious issue for cheap political points. I think the political culture of Italy and Europe would improve if he did us all a favor and moved on into retirement.
German Universities Take Pentagon Cash For Military Research
The entanglement of Germany in America’s so-called Global War On Terrorism is happening within academia.
As the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reports (via thelocal.de), twenty-two German universities and research institutes have been taking more than €10 Mio. in research grants from the Pentagon since 2000.
Investigative reporting by the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) has found that while some Pentagon funding is going into basic research, a part is directed into military-related research projects. The Federation of German Scientists criticizes military research as unethical.
Among the universities that have accepted Pentagon funding are
- University of Bremen
- LMU Munich (military explosives)
- Fraunhofer society (bullet-proof glass, explosives)
- University of Marburg (navigation systems for drones and “steered munitions”
The wider German public has been rather critical of America’s wars since 2001, especially the invasion of Iraq under false pretences and the ongoing drone campaigns that terrorize civilian populations through so-called signature strikes.
“German universities use Pentagon research cash.” (Hannah Cleaver, The Local, 2013-11-25)
“Geheimer Krieg: US-Militär finanziert deutsche Forscher.” (Süddeutsche.de, 25.11.2013)
Mehr zu den Recherchen der Süddeutschen Zeitung und des NDR in meinem Post hier.
The Atlantic Compares US And German Electoral Politics In Light Of The 2013 German Elections
Germany’s 2013 federal elections are over, Angela Merkel will get a third term as chancellor, and there will probably a “grand coalition” between her Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. “No experiments” seems to have been be the mindset of large swathes of the German electorate. There was no “hope” and “change” as in the 2008 Obama campaign in the US, although many, including myself, would argue that there has been less change and more continuity from the Bush administration in many ways.
The Atlantic has a fascinating article by Olga Khazan titled “Why Germany’s Politics Are Much Saner, Cheaper, and Nicer Than Ours.” The piece compares electoral politics in the US and Germany. It is largely sympathetic towards how elections are conducted in Germany.
Whether American electoral politics are better or worse than Germany’s is, of course, a matter of opinion. But here are some interesting findings from the article that put elections in both countries into perspective:
Some notable facts about elections in Germany:
No aggressive negative campaigns, few ads:
- Attack ads are a rarity on German TV.
Here in Leipzig, I saw several campaign posters that featured negative messages. Nonetheless, these were relatively mild compared to your typical negative ad in the US. You would not see something portraying the other party’s candidate as sympathizing with terrorists, freeing dangerous criminals, or wanting to kill your grandmother.
- There is one 90-second ad per party per election. Ads are aired on the public TV channels and the frequency depends on the last election’s number of votes. In comparison, Obama and Romney each spent over $ 400 million on TV ads, primarily negative ads, during the 2012 campaign season.
Lower cost and shorter duration of elections:
- The campaign of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), including all parliamentary races, cost 20 to 30 million euros combined. From an American perspective, that is a real bargain.
Buying aCampaigning for a US Senate seat costs about $ 10.5 million (per seat!). Obama’s 2012 reelection alone cost $ 700 million—and that is without funds from PACs, a legal construct unknown in Germany.
- However, there are no legal limits on campaign donations by individuals and corporations in Germany.
- Elections in Germany officially last just six weeks. That is almost nothing, compared to two years of campaigning in the US, where there are party primaries.
Less Big Data, TV, and ideological purity of parties
- Up to a third of German voters are undecided until shortly before the election.
- There is no microtargeting of voters as in recent big-data-driven US campaigns. This probably has to do with German citizens’ history-based (think Gestapo, Stasi) uneasiness about extensive data collection.
- The first US-style TV debate between the candidates of the big parties in Germany happened in 2002. As the German parliamentary system is no winner-take-all system, the reluctance of polarization between two candidates of two parties seems understandable.
- Among the big German parties, Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats (SPD) (“Volksparteien”), there is no lock-step adherence to certain policy positions [except maybe for the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism], as is arguably the case in the US with the social wedge issues of the Culture War. Part of Chancellor Merkel’s success has been “stealing” issues from the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Green Party, most notably the decision to do a 180-degrees-turnaround on nuclear energy after the Fukushima catastrophy in Japan.
- In the German parliamentary system, there are several relevant “third parties,” as they would be called in the US.
Among these are the libertarian Free Democratic Party (FDP)—even though they missed the 5 percent barrier for entering the Bundestag for the first time in sixty-four years in 2013, the Green Party, and the Left Party (Die LINKE). Within the German party landscape, Khazan holds, fringe political forces cannot capture political parties, as is arguably the case with the American GOP, under the influence of the Christian Right and Tea Party libertarians.
As the article argues, the German parliamentary system “seems to encourage consensus” rather than extreme polarization.
The reason for a broad support of this “pragmatism” among the German electorate, Khazan continues, is a weariness about extreme partisan politics in light of a history that included authoritarian monarchy, Nazism, and Communism during the Cold War in the GDR.
Please check out Olga Khazan’s article. It is really worth reading.
Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán Compares German Chancellor Merkel To Nazis
Nazi comparisons remain popular, but in most cases they are absolutely inappropriate and not based on facts.
Latest case in point: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán made a thinly veiled reference linking German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s criticism of Orban’s authoritarian tendencies to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Hungary in 1944.
To be fair, Merkel’s rhetoric about not bringing in the cavalry was perhaps not the best wording against the historical background.
Nevertheless, in my opinion, Orbán’s remark was absolutely absurd and willfully deceptive, coming from a politician whose party has been actively working to erode democracy in Hungary while tolerating open antisemitism and violent neo-fascist movements.
There are valid criticisms of Angela Merkel and her party, for sure, but comparing her to the Nazis is certainly not one of those. Judging by the recent political record, it is instead Viktor Orbán and Fidesz, who have exposed themselves as some of the true enemies of democracy in the midst of Europe.
Viktor Orbán may score some political points with his nationalist base using such rhetoric, but he should make no mistake: the rest of Europe knows what he is up to.
The slipping of Hungary into authoritarianism must be stopped.
“The Fog of Amendment.” (Kim Lane Scheppele, New York Times, 2013/03/12) – On the Hungarian parliament’s constitutional amendment that does away with an independent judiciary.
“Reaktionen auf Nazi-Vergleich: Vereint gegen Orbán“. (Florian Gathmann, Spiegel Online, 20.05.2013)
“Ungarns Regierungschef brüskiert Deutschland mit Nazi-Vergleich” (tagesschau.de, 20.05.2013)
“Ungarn: Parlament entmachtet Verfassungsgericht.” (Stern.de, 11.03.2013)