Category Archives: Politblog

What a waste – Germany scandalously underuses immigrants and women

In spite of the title, a very positive look at how Germany is handling the subject…

What a waste – Germany scandalously underuses immigrants and women
Mar 11th 2010 | From The Economist print edition


HEINZ BUSCHKOWSKY, the mayor of the Berlin district of Neukolln, is famous for being blunt. He is in charge of an ethnic goulash: 140,000 of his 305,000 constituents are Turks, Arabs, Yugoslavs or other migrants. The local unemployment rate is 26%, and probably twice that among the immigrants. Work disappeared when subsidies to industry were withdrawn after the fall of the Berlin Wall. But Neukollners are all too willing to live off Hartz IV social-security benefits, which provide a family with children with enough to get by. “Long-term welfare paralyses people,” Mr Buschkowsky observes, sounding more like an American Republican of the 1980s than a leading member of Berlin’s Social Democratic Party. Children grow up thinking “money comes from the state,” drop out of school and then raise children who repeat the cycle.

Neukolln’s problems loom large partly because it is in Berlin which, unlike Paris or London, is poorer than the country it governs. In Ulm, which has more factories, Hartz IV is a less appealing option. Still, Mr Buschkowsky’s message matters anywhere in Germany. He lambasts not only welfare dependency but also conservative shibboleths like the three-tier high-school system (“once at the bottom, always at the bottom”) and paying women to stay at home with their children (he thinks the money would be better spent on pre-school education so that immigrant children could learn proper German). He is equally impatient with liberal multiculturalism. Immigrants have a chance, he says, “when they not only live in Europe but become European”.

Neukolln may be untypical, but it raises questions that preoccupy the whole country. How much welfare is too much? When should the state assume responsibility for looking after children? How can an ageing society make the most of underemployed immigrants and women? Should immigrants become Germans, and if so, what sort? These questions are interconnected.

For different reasons, immigrants and women play a disproportionately small role in Germany’s labour force. Many immigrants never recover from their start in an “education-free monoculture”, as Mr Buschkowsky puts it: a home where family members and cartoon characters speak a language other than German, a spell in a Hauptschule followed by the transitional system and a life on the dole. Nearly one-third of Germany’s Turks, the largest group of immigrants other than ethnic Germans, have no secondary-school diploma, and just 14% qualify to go to university. Some 16% are dependent on welfare, twice the share of native Germans. In 2005, the last year for which data are available, the unemployment rate among Turks was 23%, compared with 10% for native Germans.

Underworked, underpaid


Women take a different route to underemployment. Their problem is not education: they make up a majority of those who pass the Abitur as well as of university students. The trouble starts afterwards. The wage gap between men and women is 23%, among the widest in the EU. That is partly because though women’s participation rate is above average for Europe, many of those women work part-time (see chart 6). The “one breadwinner model” of family life now updated to 1 breadwinners remains the cultural norm in west Germany. In a 2006 survey 27% of women aged 15 to 39 in that part of the country agreed with the statement that “family life suffers when the woman has a full-time job.” In east Germany the figure was only 9%; in France 13%.

Institutions have not caught up with the majority of west German mothers who would contemplate full-time work. Child care remains scarce. Just 8% of German children aged two or younger are in croches for more than 30 hours a week; in France the proportion is 17%. For slightly older children the difference widens. Unsurprisingly, in Germany only 17% of mothers with two or more children work anything like full time, whereas in France more than half do.

Germany as a whole is underemployed. Germans in work put in an average of 1,430 hours in 2006, the third-lowest rate in the OECD. Even after the labour-market reforms, long-term unemployment remains well above the OECD average. More than half a million immigrants cannot do the jobs for which they trained because Germany does not recognise their qualifications, a case of credentialism gone wild. A country in demographic decline cannot afford such waste. By 2035 Germany’s GDP per person will fall by 8-15% relative to that in other rich European countries and in America, calculates Axel Borsch-Supan of the Mannheim Research Institute for the Economics of Ageing.

To head off such relative decline, Germany needs to re-engineer not only the welfare state but its attitudes towards immigrants, women and people over 60. Against its conservative instincts it has made a start. In the past ten years it has done more to integrate minorities than in the previous 40, says Klaus Bade, the immigration scholar. When “guest workers” from Turkey, Italy and Greece flooded in to alleviate labour shortages in the 1950s and 60s, Germans thought they would eventually leave again; during the 1980s the government tried to pay them to go. Now it accepts that Germany is an “immigration country”. A citizenship law passed in 2000 which said that people not born German could become so was followed in 2005 by an immigration law that inched open the doors for skilled foreigners.

The government has maintained a cautious momentum, balancing welcome with a demand that immigrants adapt to German ways. Under a “national integration plan” orchestrated by the grand coalition, language training for immigrants and their children is being expanded and businesses have promised to create extra training places for migrants. The coalition set up a standing “Islam Conference” to negotiate relations between the religion and the state. Its main successes, according to Mr Bade, were to establish that Muslims see no contradiction between their faith and Germany’s constitution, and to agree in principle to teach Islam in state schools, as Judaism and Christianity already are.

In 2008 Cem Ozdemir, a Swabian of Turkish origin, became co-chairman of the Greens, the first hyphenated German to lead a big party. The first Turkish-origin police inspector debuted on “Tatort” (crime scene), a popular television series, in the same year. When Mrs Merkel named Philipp Rosler, who was born in Vietnam, as health minister in her new government, there was little comment. Second-generation immigrants fare better than their parents. Ethnic Turks born in Germany are twice as likely to pass the Abitur as those born in Turkey itself, though still only half as likely as native Germans to do so. Those who manage to obtain professional qualifications generally prosper in their careers, but this progress is partially masked by new arrivals of unskilled immigrants, often for marriage.

Neither side is sure where all this is leading. Germany lacks the republican assertiveness of France, which bars schoolgirls from wearing headscarves, and the populist self-confidence of Switzerland, which voted to ban minarets in a referendum last November. But that does not mean that it is more relaxed about migrants. In some ways it is less so. For example, citizens of non-EU countries cannot hold dual citizenship, which they are able to do in France and the Netherlands. When Thilo Sarrazin, a former Berlin finance minister, last year put forward the claim, which many saw as bordering on racist, that most of the city’s Turks and Arabs were “neither willing to integrate nor capable of it”, polls found that a majority of Germans agreed with him.

If integration means a willingness to embrace German identity, he is right. Only a third of Turks have given up their passports to become German citizens, and even the most successful among them have reservations. Ufuk Topkara, a young naturalised German perfectly at home with his Turkish-German identity, maintains that “the moment you speak German you are German,” but explains that many of his Turkish friends disagree: “They go on about being Turks living in Germany.” If on the other hand integration means speaking German, belonging to the middle class and obeying the law, then his friends are already there. The problem is that too many do not recover from a poor start in life. About half of young children in Neukolln need remedial German classes before they go to school. There is no sanction if their parents refuse to take them.

Now the government wants to make it easier for mothers to go back to work after childbirth. The grand coalition introduced “parents’ pay”, a benefit linked to the new parents’ salaries that allows either of them to take up to 12 months off. This has started to make a difference to family life. The share of fathers taking paternity leave normally for an extra two monthsohas jumped from 3.5% to more than 20%; the most doting ones, surprisingly, are in conservative Bavaria, where more than a quarter of new fathers take the benefit.

By 2013 croche places will be available for a third of children younger than three, and children over one will be entitled to a place if the parents want it. That may be difficult to achieve in practice. Local governments, which foot part of the bill for day care, are in dire financial straits. The expansion in most states remains “grossly underfunded”, says Gisela Erler, owner of Familienservice, a company that operates croches. She reckons it will take 20 years before the promised number of decent-quality places can be provided. But what has been put in motion, she notes, is nonetheless “a huge step”.

No politician openly opposes that, but conservatives in Mrs Merkel’s CDU have persuaded her also to accept a benefit called Betreuungsgeld, made to mothers who prefer to stay home with their children. For people like Mr Buschkowsky, this is a disastrous departure from the progressive policy of encouraging women to work and young children to attend German-speaking pre-schools. The conservatives invoke freedom of choice. “People know what’s best for them,” says Stefan Mappus, the premier of Baden-Worttemberg. “It’s sad that when you want to strengthen the family people accuse you of defending an obsolete model.”

In business, pragmatism reigns. BMW supports four kindergartens in Bavaria and is trying to make the work culture more family-friendly. “The best worker isn’t always the one who stays till 8pm,” says Mr Kroger, the personnel chief. BMW now lets workers take sabbaticals and up to 20 days’ extra holiday a year in return for lower pay. He wants to arrange things so that working part-time does not mean dropping out of professional life. But family friendliness alone will not shield BMW from the coming demographic storm. By 2016, says Mr Kroger, “we won’t make it without engineers from other parts of the world.”

People and history

Burying myths, uncovering truth
From The Economist print edition

In the aftermath of fighting or repression, people are often told to forget things. But in free societies, selective memory cannot be imposed for ever.


THE 15 boxes of bones were wrapped in the red, yellow and purple flag of the Second Republic. Each held the remains of a man whose support for a brief political experiment in the 1930s had proved fatal. At a ceremony in Madrid on March 6th the bones were given to descendants: mostly middle-aged grandchildren, but sometimes already aged sons or daughters.

They wept for men they had mostly never known. The victims had died of hunger and disease in one of the makeshift prison camps set up by General Francisco Franco in the early days of his 36-year dictatorship, established after the republic’s defeat in a bloody, three-year civil war.

It is only now, 34 years after Franco’s own death brought a rapid transition to democracy, that the bodies have been exhumed from a piece of wasteland near Burgos. “It was very, very moving,” said Jose Marca Gonzalez, who led the group that campaigned to have the bodies dug up. “I recovered my grandfather’s remains. It was something that, before he died, I had promised my own father I would do.”

This story is just one of hundreds of tales of Francoist repression that have emerged as the result of a citizens’ movement to disinter and identify victims. It started when a journalist, Emilio Silva, penned an article about his grandfather’s death at the hands of a Francoist death squad. He went to his grandfather’s home region of El Bierzo, in north-western Spain, in 2000. People pointed him to the spot where the body was buried. Mr Silva dug up a mass grave containing not just his grandfather but a dozen other victims.

News of the exhumations spread and imitators appeared. Suddenly Spaniards found that thousands, or tens of thousands, of Francoist victims lay in unmarked graves scattered around the countryside. Years of official silence, in Franco’s time, were followed by an unofficial pact of forgetting as Spain’s young democracy agreed to look forward, not back. The grave-diggers broke the silence. Their effort to find the truth has snowballed; now Mr Silva heads a group called the Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory, with branches all over Spain. Some 5,000 sets of remains have been recovered so far from 170 grave sites. The association has a list of 12,000 families who are now searching for the remains of lost relatives.

In places across the world whose recent past has been scarred by repression, war or both, attempts have been made by the authorities (from governments to warlords) to lay down rules about what must be remembered and what must be forgotten. Often, it seems too risky to give free rein to the investigation and commemoration of the past. But people’s patience has limits; sooner or later ordinary citizens will challenge the prevailing wisdom and demand a fuller account. And unearthing the past often means literally that: digging graves and studying the evidence.

The trouble with truth

In Northern Ireland more than a decade after the “Troubles” largely ended, peace activists say there are still huge obstacles to a search for the full facts. This may reflect the ambivalent nature of a “settlement”, based on a blanket amnesty and with the territory’s future wide-open. Given that hardliners have gained influence since the killing stopped, the constituency for real truth-telling (probing all dirty secrets) is weak. But Marie Breen-Smyth, co-founder of a truth recovery group called “Healing Through Remembering”, says the wish for full disclosure is strong among many of those worst affected by war.

Nor does the overthrow of a tyrannical order instantly make it easy to examine the past. Sometimes elements of the old regime remain influential, and threaten to make a comeback. That was the case in Argentina in the 1980s, recalls Mimi Doretti, a veteran of that country’s human-rights movement, who pioneered the use of forensic science to reveal the fate of Argentina’s 10,000 or more “disappeared”. Only in recent times, a quarter-century after the junta’s fall, have enough facts been gathered to enable hundreds of prosecutions. A similar pattern of gradual truth recovery has occurred in many Latin American countries that underwent tyranny.

In other cases the removal of one set of despots paves the way for another “received” truth which people question at their peril. In Rwanda the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide were replaced by the Rwandan Popular Front (RPF), whose own record is not spotless. But any Rwandan citizen who doubted the RPF’s version of the genocide could face jail. Zimbabwe, Uganda and Ethiopia are other examples of African states where ex-rebels have imposed new versions of history. But Kenya stands out as a country where the grass-roots demand for truth-telling (for example after the bloodshed of 2008) is strong.

Sometimes quite a lot of time has to pass before real truth-telling starts. But even in the most entrenched of conflicts, the passage of years emboldens people to question official stories. Take Cyprus, an island whose de facto partition in 1974 enabled the Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot authorities to impose their respective versions of that year’s fighting and previous rounds of mayhem. For at least two decades after 1974 a key role in the Greek-Cypriot story was played by the 1,619 people said to be missing after the Turkish invasion of July 1974. The Turkish-Cypriots countered that 809 of their people were missing, mainly after the bloodshed of the 1960s. Each side played down killings that occurred in its own ranks, and blamed the “enemy” for its lost sons and daughters.

Neither tale was wholly false. But a subtler truth began emerging around 1998, when two Greek-Cypriot women went to a cemetery with pickaxes and hacked away at the marble slabs where they said their husbands were buried. When police stopped them, they summoned cameras: they had exposed the fact that the government knew the locations of some of the “missing”; indeed, they were on Greek-controlled land, so perfectly accessible.

Investigative journalism by a Greek-Cypriot, Andreas Paraschos, and a Turkish-Cypriot, Sevgul Uludag, helped establish that the sites of many mass or individual graves were in fact known to the authorities. Mrs Uludag got death threats from within her community, and was once assaulted by hard-line Greek-Cypriots, as she helped expose how some of the killings had been by extremists acting against their own respective sides. Partly thanks to a change of line by Greek-Cypriot diplomats, a bicommunal effort to recover and identify remains started in 2004; so far over 800 have been examined.

The parallels between Cyprus and Spain have been explored by two Belfast-based scholars, Iosif Kovras and Neophytos Loizides*, who say both cases highlight the same paradox. On one hand, there is an (often reasonable) sense in countries recovering from conflict (especially an internecine one where communities or even families were split) that opening tender wounds could reignite war. But “selective oblivion” and the peace it buys can’t last for ever. One day people start remembering and they demand the truth.

See “Delaying truth recovery for missing persons”, a paper by Iosif Kovras and Neophytos Loizides

The tiger under the table

Dec 3rd 2009 From The Economist print edition

The many ways in which Britain is living in the shadow of its empire.


IN A London conference centre, spooks and diplomats unpick Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war. In Parliament, politicians argue about the right approach to home-grown Islamists. In the City, financiers worry about their exposure to a foreign-debt crisis. In the Caribbean, the queen and Gordon Brown glad-hand the Commonwealth’s presidents and prime ministers. What these disparate events have in common is that they are all, to some degree, part of the legacy of empire.

When Britons remember their dead empire, they tend to concentrate, with pride or shame, on its impact on the former colonies. The consequences for their own country are mostly thought of as so much pompous bric-a-brac and nostalgic trivia: honours and baubles with imperial names, archaic ceremonies, statues of forgotten heroes, a smattering of exotic vocabulary, curry and distressingly proficient rival cricket teams. This way of thinking about empire is mistaken. In important ways Britain is still even, perhaps, increasingly trapped by its imperial past.

The question that hovers above the Iraq inquiry is since the evidence on Saddam Hussein’s weaponry was so flaky and the post-war planning so atrocious why on earth Tony Blair did it. One theory, albeit not the one likely to be offered by Mr Blair himself, is that his militarism and messianism, the mix of responsibility and entitlement that he evinced, are part of the inheritance of all post-imperial British leaders. Mr Blair was not the first to yearn for an influence bigger than Britain’s now-diminished status justifies, and he is unlikely to be the last: David Cameron says reflexively that he wants Britain to “punch above its weight”. For all their disillusionment over Mr Blair’s wars, lots of Britons want and expect serious international clout too.

The historian Linda Colley sees such imperial longing behind Britain’s devotion to the “special relationship”. “Playing Boy Wonder to America’s Batman”, as she puts it, is British politicians’ only chance of maintaining a global role as if the American Revolution could somehow be cancelled and the two nations confront the world as one. On the other hand, a yen for independent greatness may lie behind the fear of emasculation by America that afflicts some Britons as well.

Mr Brown’s announcement this week of extra troops for Afghanistan, timed to coincide with Barack Obama’s and yet seem autonomous, was a classic example of this dual syndrome. Meanwhile, Britain’s idea of itself as a country that others join, not the other way round, informs its deep Euroscepticism. And the prickliness shown to it by angry states such as Russia and Iran reflects an old but potent hostility to British imperialism.
The sun never really sets

If empire is the backdrop of Britain’s foreign entanglements, it is also implicated in the country’s exposure to another great debacle, the financial crash. The City and the empire grew up symbiotically. Imperial trade and investment made London a world financial centre; the City became vital to the British economy, while at the same time, preoccupied as it was with foreign deals, largely separate from the rest of it. The empire thus bequeathed commercial habits, and an overmighty financial sector, which British taxpayers now have cause to regret. (Some historians trace Britain’s trouble with real engineering, as well as the financial type, to the empire too, arguing that protected trade inside it coddled British industry and left it uncompetitive.)

The most obvious domestic legacy, of course, is in immigration. Because of worries about terrorism, much public policy and anxiety is currently focused on some Pakistani Britons. But empire helped to determine the attitudes and chances that awaited post-war immigrants to Britain as well as their origins.

Though notionally welcomed by a 1948 act, colonial immigrants caused alarm when they actually turned up, and from 1962 their entry rights were drastically curtailed. Danny Sriskandarajah of the Royal Commonwealth Society describes the experience as a story of evolving disappointments. Instead of fraternity and fairness there was racism sometimes overt, more often and insidiously the supercilious tolerance that the empire cultivated. Many immigrants were marooned at the bottom end of the labour market, some in doomed industries such as textiles, cut off from their families and latterly relegated in government priorities, as they saw it, to a place below new European migrants.

Much of this is the routine lot of immigrants everywhere, but with a cutting post-imperial edge. In some cases the grievances have reverberated through the generations.

The fallout of empire may include the fraying of the union (because the lost colonial opportunities bound Scotland in). Beneath all this is the peculiar British combination of bragging and bewilderment, an air of expectations great but unmet and of unrealised specialness. It is hard to think of another country so keen to magnify its accomplishments (everything must be “the best in the world”), yet also to wallow in its failings; so deluded and yet so morbidly disappointed. Every recent prime minister has struggled to overcome this sense of thwartedness and decline, and to come up with a notion of Britishness to replace the defunct imperial version. Mr Blair tried “Cool Britannia”. It flopped. The gloom may be almost as acute now as it was in the late 1950s or 1970s.

It is arrogant to suppose that where other powers Germany, say, or France were traumatised by their losses, Britain could have lost an empire on which the sun never set, give or take a few tax havens, without side effects. It didn’t: looked at in a certain light, much of its recent history military, political and economic can be seen as a kind of post-imperial malaise. The empire is the Indian elephant in the living room, the tiger under the dinner table. Britain is still living in its own shadow.

Nicht ein grosses Osterreich..

Nicht ein grosses Osterreich, blo ein grosseres. Nicht ein uber sich hinauswachsendes, sondern ein uber sich hinausweisendes, das seine Nachbarn in vielen Bereichen inkorporiert. Nun ja, daraus ist nichts geworden. Und manchmal denke ich mir, das muss so sein. Es mag am Alter liegen. Vielleicht aber auch an der zutiefst Osterreichischen Einsicht, dass nur der glucklich ist, der vergisst, was nicht mehr zu undern ist.

Berlin Wall – 20 Years Later – A reflection

1989 was an important year no doubt. Now 20 years have passed. This fact has been utilized most prominently in spiritual vertex of that year – Berlin.

One can find numerous exhibitions taking place in the city to honor the events of the 09th November, and the number of such events raises the question if whether all of this was simply a ploy to lure tourists? Go fish.

There is one common thread to be found in virtually all the events in Berlin this year:

i. How poor the East Germans were under communism
ii How brave they were to stand up against their regime
iii.The euphoria of the reunification, and the scant attention paid to those who wanted to have a better, independent GDR. There were also those within the GDR who had started to recognize the ramifications of reunification

Apart from the fact that there is no mention of the misgivings some countries might have had about the reunification, only one of the four possible versions of history are being presented. Those perspectives are

i. Those who were leaders in the GDR and have been disgraced. They are now non-persons in society, and it is not clear why.
ii.Those who have profited through the reunification. Their voice is clearly being heard in the testimonials being managed by the prevailing spin doctors today
iii. Those whose lives have become much more difficult through the change
iv. Those who have no recollection, either because they were too young or not yet born in 1989

One could raise the question why one should concentrate on the present when discussing history. This question is actually very easy to answer: All four of the aforementioned groups have a different viewpoint, and the collective memory of all four groups creates the true depiction of history. To understand this concept, it is important to look at the three groups whose perspective does not appear to be represented in the official recollections. Their viewpoint should be observed without judgement.

GDR leaders: What was their rationale? To what degree did their ascendancy relate to the Zeitgeist of the time? What was their true legacy? Did they leave anything memorable behind? The biggest question to pose is why there was no truth and reconciliation proceedings to be found in reunified Germany after 1990?

Reunification Losers: For those who have spent a longer period of time in the former East Germany, it is quite clear that this group is not small. The ramifications are numerous

* Population loss: Many estimate of a 50% loss by 2050
* Ostalgie: including the results of recent polls that show that a high percentage of former East Germans believe life was better under communism
* Strength of the GDR Socialist Unity Party SED) remnants: The left party is looked upon as offering a viable alternative to the traditional political offering
* No Future: One can find the complete loss of perspective today in the former East Germany

Wall before their time: Although they are statistically smaller in numbers, one has the group that were toddlers in 1989, or perhaps not yet born. One finds within this group a strong affinity towards Ostalgie, a sympathy towards the plight their parents and grandparents have endured since 1990…without posing the question whether they were part of the Stazi (East German Secret Police) or not. This phenomenon is not unique: Doesn’t nostalgia really mean we yearn for a time that never really happened to begin with?

So can we define the results?

Well, we cannot bring back the wall or the GDR and should have no desire to. As memorials are for reflection, we should pose the questions

* What was goal in 1989?
* What was achieved, and what was not?
* What does reality really look like? Do we like it? What needs to be changed?

But the biggest question is

If reunification took place in 1990, then how come Germany is made up of two countries still: separate and unequal, with distinct cultures and disparate perspectives?

To be placed into Angela Merkel’s suggestion box…..

Budapest, July 4: the most surrealistic nationalist demonstration,-July-4:-the-most-surrealistic-nationalist-demonstration

On July 3rd the Supreme Court of Hungary ruled that the neo-nationalist para-military organisation “Magyar Garda” (Hungarian guard) must be dissolved, as the activities of the organisation violate the constitution of Hungary. Magyar Garda (further MG) applied to make a demonstration against the ruling, but the permission was not given. Therefore yesterday they assembled for an illegal demonstration. I went to have a drink with a friend, and we found ourselves right in the middle of it.

The demonstration was supposed to take place at Kossuth square, so the metro stop Kossuth ter was closed. Yet for some reason it happened at Deak ter.

Now, there is one very popular club called Godor. It’s known for Roma music festivals, among others. This club was supposed to be a garage, so it’s underground, with an outside part situated on broad stairs. It is surrounded by walls from three sides, and the tops of these walls are actually part of the square. So me and my friend were having our drinks basically under the demonstration.

The police more or less outnumbered the demonstrators – there were around 2000, according to my friend’s estimate, on each side. Many foreign tourists wandered around, feeling lost and confused, having no clue what’s going on. In the beginning the demonstration looked like another display of neo-nationalist attributes (on this, see, for example, Moustafa’s, my colleague’s, video).

For example, the second photo shows two kids wearing T-shirts with the map of “Greater Hungary”. These were the borders of Hungary before the treaty of Trianon (end of WW1) chopped off 2/3 of the country’s territory. Many right-wing Hungarians still feel it was unfair, as many ethnic Hungarians live in these territories in Romania, Slovakia and Serbia. Hungary also lost its only access to sea (the territory is now Croatia). I was amazed how omnipresent this map is. Some people wear it on their clothes or have it as a sticker on their cars, it’s also possible to buy it carved in wood, embroidered, etc.

The police has to give three warnings before it starts to do something. As it’s a very touristic place, and the Hungarian police has learned its lessons since 2006, they are well prepared to do everything to avoid resorting to violence. The warnings were, predictably, met with whistling and booing, someone shouted that the police represents crime, and not the law. Me and my friend stayed there till some demonstrators started throwing bottles down to the club, the police used some small teargas sprayers and their shields to slowly disperse and push the crowd out of the Deak square. Basically that was the story. But to organise my thoughts better I will add more details in the following chapters.


It was probably the first time for me to see neo-nazi girls. Where I come from, girls can only be “incomplete” skinheads and are most likely to become good-looking attributes to their skinhead boyfriends. Here they seemed to have a rather active role.

There were two parts of the crowd, standing on different sides of the Godor club. One was facing the police; there were many people with their faces covered, and they looked more aggressive (3rd photo). They were the ones provoking the police and expecting its response. They were whistling, booing, and shouting more aggressive slogans than the others. They extensively took photos and filmed what the police was doing, and filmed us as well. Don’t be surprised if you see me on a Hungarian far-right website with a glass of lemonade. Some of them threw a couple of bottles at us sitting down there outside near the club. This encouraged the employees of the club to quickly pack all the chairs and move people to safer locations.

On the other wall of the club, there were many ladies and elderly people. They were standing in a safe distance from the police and looked less aggressive, but shouted louder. They were also giving “advice” to those on the other side, encouraging them not to be violent. At the same time, they were shouting at the police: “Aren’t you ashamed to harass Hungarians?” Most of the slogans, such as “Long live Magyar Garda”, came from this side. At some point two people started arguing over one of them supposedly mishandling the flag. Many people on this side wore Greater Hungary maps on their T-shirts. One lady had a “Jobbik” (the far-right Hungarian political party which has just got into the European Parliament) T-shirt on. Those who wanted could have easily come downstairs to the club or thrown something at us, but they didn’t.


I know that the Hungarian far-right is very anti-Roma, but, surprisingly enough, I heard no anti-Roma slogans. The slogans were against the police, against the government, or… against Jews. For those who don’t know the situation in Hungary, the country has the biggest Jewish community in this part of Europe, and it’s very assimilated. You can see some Orthodox in the city, but most of them are either from abroad or recent “converts”. The looks of Magyar Hungarians and Jewish Hungarians are about the same and very diverse, so there are no identifiable physical features to separate these communities. Most Jewish Hungarians have Hungarian names. Nonetheless, for the far-right they are always a convenient scapegoat.

Some of the anti-semitic slogans were very general, such as “dirty Jews”, “Jews go away from Hungary”. Someone on the more aggressive side pointed his middle finger at the police and shouted: “suck this, Jewish bastards” or something like that. He looked drunk. Reports show that some people in the Hungarian police are rather anti-semitic themselves, but of course that would never show as they are on duty.

What struck me in this situation was one slogan, a part of which was repeated by several people. So, on the louder side, some people were shouting “Jews go home to Israel!”, but one female voice also added “and climb your trees there”. This is very surprising for me as a more or less anthropologist, if we put aside all emotional and ethical aspects of it. Apparently, some of these demonstrators totally don’t connect to the authentic anti-semitism in the region. There was nothing about banks (Hungary is very crisis-struck), US influence, economic conspiracies, communism and all that jazz in relation to their anti-semitism. They actually adopted the racist vocabulary which is used to humiliate black people: “go home to your jungle” sort of thing. I asked my friend why are they using this. “Because they think that Jews are monkeys, not people,” my friend tried to explain. “But Israel and jungle?.. What?!” I couldn’t get the logic. “You’re over-educated,” my friend smiled. It seems to me that these people were not instructed by their leaders as to why Jews are their “enemies”. They don’t have a coherent conspiracy theory. They just overheard some things and “recycled” them, it seems.


The most surrealistic thing about the event was that the club was right in the middle, or, literally, under it. So some demonstrators would cross the space once in a while and, before the bar closed fearing violence, some of them would come down to get a beer. Some policemen would go to the bathroom. Before it get more intense, tourists would come in and out. A couple was dancing to the music played on louspeakers (I have great videos, but I should edit them and maybe finally create a youtube account). My friend pointed out that the number of bartenders was higher than usual – the club could have been expecting to profit from the demonstration.

As we were told by the club’s guards to go inside (a light smell of teargas was lingering in the air already), we saw that there were actually musicians playing it the club. Wow! It felt like “Titanic”!

As soon as the police pushed the majority of demonstrators out of the square, an English (as we found out later) street musician appeared, singing some English songs and expecting money. One man approached him telling him to go away: “You must respect the Hungarians!” The musician talked back saying he has two Hungarian kids and he’s not going anywhere. I’m not saying that nationalists should dictate how to navigate the space, but playing these songs as if nothing has happened was indeed a bit insensitive of the guy. He later shared his ideas (I have to say, in a rather patronising manner) about Hungary when we helped him to pack his equipment, as the police was driving everyone out of the square.

Although my friend hadn’t lost his curiosity in the follow-up of the demonstration, I felt like I had had enough, so we moved away from the place and sat down in an outdoor bar many blocks away. Some nationalists, identifiable from their outfits, passed by, probably also going to have a drink.

My compliments go to the Hungarian police – they really handled the whole thing professionally, without much violence. It’s one of the few times when I fully side with, as my anarchist friends would say, forceful institutions of the state.


By Paul Krugman, New York Times, Tuesday 06 May 2003

Gen. Georges Boulanger cut a fine figure; he looked splendid in uniform, and magnificent on horseback. So his handlers made sure that he appeared in uniform, astride a horse, as often as possible.

It worked: Boulanger became immensely popular. If he hadn’t lost his nerve on the night of the attempted putsch, French democracy might have ended in 1889.

We do things differently here or we used to. Has “man on horseback” politics come to America?

Some background: the Constitution declares the president commander in chief of the armed forces to make it clear that civilians, not the military, hold ultimate authority. That’s why American presidents traditionally make a point of avoiding military affectations. Dwight Eisenhower was a victorious general and John Kennedy a genuine war hero, but while in office neither wore anything that resembled military garb.

Given that history, George Bush’s “Top Gun” act aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln c’mon, guys, it wasn’t about honoring the troops, it was about showing the president in a flight suit was as scary as it was funny.

Mind you, it was funny. At first the White House claimed the dramatic tail-hook landing was necessary because the carrier was too far out to use a helicopter. In fact, the ship was so close to shore that, according to The Associated Press, administration officials “acknowledged positioning the massive ship to provide the best TV angle for Bush’s speech, with the sea as his background instead of the San Diego coastline.”

A U.S.-based British journalist told me that he and his colleagues had laughed through the whole scene. If Tony Blair had tried such a stunt, he said, the press would have demanded to know how many hospital beds could have been provided for the cost of the jet fuel.

But U.S. television coverage ranged from respectful to gushing. Nobody pointed out that Mr. Bush was breaking an important tradition. And nobody seemed bothered that Mr. Bush, who appears to have skipped more than a year of the National Guard service that kept him out of Vietnam, is now emphasizing his flying experience. (Spare me the hate mail. An exhaustive study by The Boston Globe found no evidence that Mr. Bush fulfilled any of his duties during that missing year. And since Mr. Bush has chosen to play up his National Guard career, this can’t be shrugged off as old news.)

Anyway, it was quite a show. Luckily for Mr. Bush, the frustrating search for Osama bin Laden somehow morphed into a good old-fashioned war, the kind where you seize the enemy’s capital and get to declare victory after a cheering crowd pulls down the tyrant’s statue. (It wasn’t much of a crowd, and American soldiers actually brought down the statue, but it looked great on TV.)

Let me be frank. Why is the failure to find any evidence of an active Iraqi nuclear weapons program, or vast quantities of chemical and biological weapons (a few drums don’t qualify though we haven’t found even that) a big deal? Mainly because it feeds suspicions that the war wasn’t waged to eliminate real threats. This suspicion is further fed by the administration’s lackadaisical attitude toward those supposed threats once Baghdad fell. For example, Iraq’s main nuclear waste dump wasn’t secured until a few days ago, by which time it had been thoroughly looted. So was it all about the photo ops?

Well, Mr. Bush got to pose in his flight suit. And given the absence of awkward questions, his handlers surely feel empowered to make even more brazen use of the national security issue in future.

Next year in early September the Republican Party will hold its nominating convention in New York. The party will exploit the time and location to the fullest. How many people will dare question the propriety of the proceedings?

And who will ask why, if the administration is so proud of its response to Sept. 11, it has gone to such lengths to prevent a thorough, independent inquiry into what actually happened? (An independent study commission wasn’t created until after the 2002 election, and it has been given little time and a ludicrously tiny budget.)

There was a time when patriotic Americans from both parties would have denounced any president who tried to take political advantage of his role as commander in chief. But that, it seems, was another country.

Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy

When we move still further from the private concerns of the family and the business office into those regions of national and international affairs that lack a direct and unmistakable link with those private concerns, we are struck by the fact that the sense of reality is so completely lost

Joseph A. SchumpeterCapitalism, Socialism, and Democracy