No, my blog did not get hijacked by a Leprechaun. Elections in the key German state of Baden-Württemberg yesterday confirmed what everyone here has been speculating since the nuclear emergency in Fukushima put nuclear energy at the forefront of the election agenda. The Green Party made gains of over 12% since 2006, running on a very consistent platform that has adamantly opposed nuclear energy for almost 40 years. For the first time in history the premier of this state will be a Green Party member.
I should point out that most Americans either don't know who Ralph Nader is or they consider him to be a joke. Still, even in the USA, where there are 104 aging nuclear reactors, questions about the safety and sustainability of nuclear power have finally come to a level of national discourse.
The Green Party in Germany has a long tradition that dates all the way back to the 1970s when a relatively small but outspoken group of "hippies" (including my in-laws) insisted that protecting the environment was a political responsibility. Their entry into the parliament in 1983 came with the bare minimum of votes required.
By the time I first came to Germany, the Greens were part of the coalition government with the Social Democrats and passed key pieces of legislation, one of which was completely phasing out all nuclear power plants, (later to be renegotiated and then extended by the conservatives who insisted, up until Fukushima, that nuclear power was safe). Mind you, I was coming from the USA where many people were still making fun of Al Gore and refuting global warming. It wasn't yet cute to walk around with those cloth shopping bags either!
The Greens in Germany have come a long way, fortunately and unfortunately due to the alarming events still unfolding at the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima.
You can read more about The Green Revolution in Germany in my article on April 8th on The Wip . . .
No matter where I look, there are pictures of smoke coming at me from my computer screen. Whether it's from Fukushima's damaged nuclear power plant or from Libya, where Western allies continue to bomb Gadaffi targets.
In a very short period of time, I have gone from nodding my head at German leadership in reaction to these two major incidents to shaking it in confusion.
As a result of the Japanese nuclear plant being damaged, Angela Merkel and her partners shut down seven of Germany's oldest nuclear power plants last week pending safety inspections. The move came across as shady, because Merkel's party, only a couple of months ago, signed off on extending operation of those very plants. Many, including the opposition, say it was only a political move to gain votes before three big elections. (She was given a proper grilling in the parliament last week).
Either way, it shows that Germans really, really hate nuclear energy and that securing votes (regardless of party) means stepping away from nuclear power and becoming serious about renewable energy technology. This made me nod my head in approval. The serious attention to the environment and faith in renewables, is definitely one of the aspects I like best about Germany.
But then my head stopped nodding and began shaking, (not vigorously but there was a definite subtle side to side movement going on). Just barely a couple months on the United Nations Security Council and Germany doesn't support a coalition effort to stop Gadaffi from butchering his people? I understand the commitment to pacifism, no country grasps the consequences of initiating conflict like Germany does. But this is about stopping a tyrant from systematically killing his citizens as they fight for democratic change. Or so I thought. With each day, I must admit, I grow more doubtful. (22.3)
Germany's pacifism, in light of its history, can be admired. This, too, is something I like about Germany. But in this particular case, in which a dictator is murdering his opponents, I am truly baffled, precisely because of Germany's history.
A little over a year ago I spent just as many hours reading articles and watching the news about Haiti's earthquake.
What one heard over and over again last year, was how a small, impoverished country with barely any infrastructure had no means to handle a disaster like the earthquake. The houses were poorly built, people were uneducated about how to react, the government was overwhelmed. . . The media focus on Haiti's destitution was extreme, while admittedly necessary.
In contrast, the very initial reports from Japan lauded the country's high-tech, earthquake-resistant buildings, the government's preparedness, their calm. But the images after the tsunami made it painfully clear that nature couldn't care less about GDPs or scientific breakthroughs.
And even though Japan has disaster forecasting technology, this highly developed country did not have the foresight to weigh the real risks of building a nuclear power plant along the coast of an earthquake and tsunami-bound region.
Despite all the technology at their fingertips, engineers either underestimated the power of natural occurrences to throw even the best of science off course or they ignored it.
Have technological advances made us in the developed world so cocky that we think we are invincible?
The reality is that the Japanese, while they may have lived economically much better than the people of Haiti, are experiencing the same loss, grief, displacement and shock left by nature's wrath. It is a sobering tale of our true equality as human beings.
I suppose fifty years ago, my research would have been substituted for sewing or ironing or some other domestic chore. As most mothers today know, emancipation has entailed not only having a career but having a career and all of the domestic chores our mothers did. We have it all. Or do we?
A German mother friend of mine has two kids and was pulling in 30 work hours per week as a manager in a company, but she was obviously not present for the late night meetings, dinners with clients, and conference calls at 10 pm. She was accused of slacking off and four months into the job, she was fired.
On the other extreme, I have a very close German mother friend who works about 60 hours per week, has a nanny with a car, a cleaning woman and a secretary, but her kids never see her and she beats herself up with guilt because she's never around for her children.
In both of these scenarios, my friends' husbands work full-time and they do go to the late night meetings and all the other perks of being a "team player" in today's workplace.
Still, even the non-mothers in Germany, of which there are many, aren't necessarily climbing the ranks despite being just as ambitious as their male counterparts. Women only account for 5% of the top executive positions in Germany. According to the Federal Statistics Office, 43% of women (in "west Germany") who have university degrees have no children (as compared with 25% from the former east, where there used to be state subsidized nurseries for working moms).
It's no wonder that there is a debate here about establishing a quota for women employees in leading positions in Germany. The Minister of Labor, Ursula von der Leyen, (who has seven kids herself) says there ought to be a quota for women. Her opponents say its not constitutional and all of the other contra arguments familiar with quotas (unqualified people getting hired, discriminating against men, etc. We've seen all of this in the USA with affirmative action).
The question is, can we expect leadership in Germany's companies to change if it's not mandated?
For example, in my first friend's case, would company culture change if it was mandated? Why, for example, can't companies have more lunch appointments with clients as opposed to dinners? Can't there be more skyping so that mothers can still work from home after hours? Why isn't there more job sharing in Germany?
My friend was fired by a woman executive with no children who said, "I doubted you'd be able to do in six hours what most people do in 8." In other words, my friend never really had a chance.
So here's the thing that I just don't get about Germany. This country has a robust, supposedly secular democracy and it takes the protection of certain freedoms very seriously, including the freedom of religious worship.
Here's where I start to get confused: The Christian Democratic Party.
It seems to me that this name is really outdated and somehow inappropriate in a modern secular democracy. The name also rings a bit exclusionary. Does the CDU also represent Jewish Democrats or Buhddhist Democrats or, say, Muslim Democrats? According to Christian Democratic principles, yes. But some (not all) members of this political party believe that Islam is not a key part of German culture. This has been said more than once, most recently by the brand new Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich.
There are about four million Muslims living in Germany, so the statement is very, very loaded and intentionally so.
Why do certain members of the CDU keep bringing up Islam when referring to the failures of integration? And, more importantly, why do Christian Democrats want Germans to believe that one has to do with the other?
Not speaking German hinders integration, wearing a head scarf does not. Not getting an education hinders integration, celebrating Ramadan does not.
It appears that the CDU can't separate these issues because they believe that democratic principles are solely Christian ones. Why are politicians going on and on about the Christian tradition in this country? Why should that be a part of a political discourse?
Latent Islamophobia can not be a political platform. Unless, of course, it guarantees votes?
This past week, John Galliano , the notorious designer at the Paris-based Christian Dior, was fired for his anti-Semitic rant caught on video. Saying things like, "I love Hitler," and loudly praising that Jews were gassed, he not only went over the line, he broke French laws.
Originally uploaded by tfelix
Originally uploaded by tfelix
A day later, The United States Supreme Court upheld the constutional right to free speech in the case of the Westboro Baptist Church, a small, freakish group that goes to American soldiers' funerals and holds up signs saying "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," and "God hates fags" (according to this church, "fags" are synonymous for all things evil and killing soldiers is God's punishment for America's wars and tolerance for homosexuality). They also yell these same sentiments at the people attending the funerals.
The charges brought against Galliano were relatively easy for me to support. He appeared to be harassing people in the video and the explicit laws against using anti-Semitic speech in many European countries make it a clear cut case. In the US, however, Galliano's rant may have been protected by the constitution.
The ruling in the case of the Westboro Baptist Church on the other hand, leaves me very, very unsettled. Here we have a group of people being offensive and, in my opinion, inciting violence. Going to a fallen soldier's funeral and inferring that he/she was a "fag" and that "God hates soldiers" is akin to screaming fire in a crowd (which is not protected by the US Constitution). When people are grieving, emotions flare pretty quickly, the same way that panic can.
Reading the comments about the latter in The New York Times, I was surprised by how many seemingly liberal readers supported the Supreme Court ruling, even if they did feel torn by it. The idea is that any limitation to our rights is somehow synonymous with losing that right?
Germany also has problems with its fringe Neo Nazi troublemakers because their right to peaceably assemble is protected by the German constitution. Even morons have the right to freely express themselves. (yes, that opinion is protected!) But there are limits to what the Neo Nazis can actually do. They can't say "Heil Hitler", they can't do a goose step and they certainly can't hurl anti-Semitic epithets. These are clear limitations to their freedom of speech and assembly but no American would question that law considering Germany's history.
Yet in this case with the Westboro Baptist Church, our freedom to speak our mind trumps another citizen's right to not be harassed and emotionally assaulted by another. Perhaps, because of the history, it is easier for Europeans to make the connection between speech and violence. But the Arizona shootings weren't so long ago that Americans can't make that connection as well?
It is a curious dilemma and another of freedom's burdens.
NEWS FLASH, President Erdogan of Turkey!
You know those Turkish-German children, who you say should learn Turkish before they learn German. . .guess what? They are capable of learning both languages at the same time.*
What is this nonsense about Turkish-German children in Germany not assimilating and losing their roots? Enough already! Children are flexible, open-minded, intelligent and curious. If you expose them to 5 languages, they'll be fluent in all of them by the age of 6!
I grew up speaking three languages and I know plenty of other people who grew up bi-lingual. It's actually easier for children to learn several languages and they will be open to any culture if you present it to them in a fun and engaging way. Children are inherently tolerant and learn hatred of others, from adults.
Can we please start giving kids some credit? If we approach this integration issue with a little more childish open-mindedness, we'll come a lot farther.
"Adults" like Westerwelle or Erdogan are too narrow-minded in their thinking. Multicultural acceptance is what is missing in this integration debate in Germany. No one has to choose one nationality over the other, one just has to be a good citizen who contributes to the community where he/she has a home and sends his/her kids to school.
The simple rules of kindergarten should be applied here:
Treat your neighbor the way you would like to be treated (don't hit, call names, spit or steal)
Listen before you speak (for God's sake, raise your hand!)
Share and trade toys and ideas (someone may have something you'd like to play with)
Don't forget to use your imagination
There is almost always more than one "correct" answer
Maybe we should send these adults back to kindergarten?
*Make daycare mandatory starting at age 3, so kids learn German (during high language-acquisition years) even if it's not spoken at home.