Tag Archives: Politics

Rising Star Guttenberg Embraces Difficult Defense Job

It hasn’t taken long for German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg to make a mark in his new job. From referring to the Afghanistan mission as a “war” to announcing a slight increase in troop numbers, he has gained the support of the military. Back home, though, challenges await.

When Germany’s new Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg visited troops at the military base of Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan on Thursday evening he was feted more as a pop star than a visiting politician. Well into the night the young Bavarian aristocrat signed autographs and posed for group photos as soldiers responded with enthusiasm to Guttenberg’s very different approach.

The 37-year-old Guttenberg has been barely out of the headlines since he became Germany’s youngest ever defense minister just over two weeks ago. The country’s most popular politician, he has dramatically raised the profile of Germany’s mission in Afghanistan, breaking taboos about how the deployment is described, pledging solidarity with the troops and then embarking on the surprise visit to the country on Thursday. 
 

His straight-talking manner, confidence and poise are in stark contrast to the lackluster and often bungling impression made by his predecessor Franz Josef Jung. When it comes to the optics then Chancellor Angela Merkel’s choice of Guttenberg to take over the defense portofolio seems to be a remarkably shrewd move. However, it remains to be seen if this will be a change of style or substance when it comes to Germany’s increasingly difficult mission in Afghanistan. Continue reading

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Letter from Berlin: Does Angela Merkel Deserve to Be a Feminist Icon?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks set to win another election victory on Sunday. Outside Germany she is seen as something of a feminist icon, one of the most powerful women in the world. But inside Germany, when it comes to policies that actually favor women, her record is meager.

When French Vogue chose to dedicate its September issue to “heroines,” some of the women the style bible commended for their “courage” and “charisma” were obvious choices: Burmese democracy leader Aung Sung Suu Kyi, Noble Prize Laureate Toni Morrison, French ovarian cancer advocate Dominique Stoppa-Lyonnet, and Lydia Cacho Ribeiro, a crusading Mexican journalist. And then there was Angela Merkel, the conservative prime minister of a Western European country. The woman who has governed Germany for the past four years has become something of a global super star — admired for being a woman in what is still very much a man’s world.

Merkel has been named Forbes “Most Powerful Woman in the World” for four years in a row, she has appeared on the cover of countless magazines — such as this week’s Economist — and she has enjoyed a positive reception since she hit the world stage back in 2005. Yet, there is a disconnect at play between how Merkel is perceived at home and abroad as well as her party’s female-positive policies. She may be something of a feminist icon overseas but things look a bit different back home in Deutschland. Continue reading

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Europe’s Unpopular Elections: Who Is to Blame for EU Voter Apathy?

Voter turnout for this week’s European parliamentary election is expected to be the lowest since direct elections began 30 years ago. Is this the fault of the parliament itself? Inadequate media coverage? Or are national governments failing in their responsibility to educate the electorate?

The European election campaign is out of this world. Literally. Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne is beaming down a message from space calling on his fellow Europeans to vote in this week’s European parliamentary election. “I have arranged to vote by proxy, so I won’t miss out on the next European elections while I’m up here,” he announced from the International Space Station in a video transmitted on Wednesday, adding somewhat unconvincingly: “Europe looks united from up here.”

This plea from the cosmos is just part of a big PR offensive the European Parliament press office is hoping will get out the vote from June 4-7. Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook and video site YouTube have been harnessed to connect with young people; press releases are fired out on a daily if not hourly basis extolling the virtues of the European Union. Star footballers Olli Kahn, David Villa, Luis Figo have even been recruited to lure Europe’s sporting fans to the voting booth. Continue reading

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Letter from Berlin: ‘Left Party Lite’ Woos Middle Class

Despite the crisis of global capitalism, Germany’s far-left Left Party has failed to reap the benefit in opinion polls. Now the party is trying to soften its policies and move toward the center in a bid to attract more middle class voters.

For years Germany’s far-left Left Party stood outside the political consensus, happy to attack the scourge of capitalism and score political points by deriding the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) for turning their backs on their original working-class base.

Now that capitalism is in a deep state of crisis, with governments across the world bailing out companies and banks on what seems like a daily basis, one would think that the far-left party would be in a prime position to reap some electoral benefit. After all, this is a party that in recent months has sought to attract new members by holding readings from anti-capitalist tracts by Karl Marx. Continue reading

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Cold War Cinema: Revealing the Cracks in Communism

A retrospective series of Eastern European films is about to go on tour in Germany. What unites these very different movies is the way they reveal the tensions that would eventually lead to the collapse of the communist regimes.

Two teenage punk girls back-comb their hair while they talk about hating school and running away from home; a wizened old woman who has just celebrated her 60th wedding anniversary confides that she married the wrong man; a single mother carries out dirty and repetitive tasks in a factory before speaking about her loneliness and the difficulties of raising her disabled daughter alone.

This is a film depicting women, young and old, frankly talking about their hopes and fears, their marriages, children and jobs. It wouldn’t be so very remarkable were it not for the fact that the year is 1988 and this is communist East Germany. Helke Misselwitz’s ground-breaking documentary “Winter Adé,” or “After Winter Comes Spring,” caused a sensation when it was first shown in the Eastern German city of Leipzig exactly one year before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Continue reading

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Racist Crime Wave: Hungary’s Roma Bear Brunt of Downturn

With Hungary in the depths of economic despair, its Roma minority has become an easy target for many people’s resentments. The murder of a Roma man and his five-year-old son on Monday is the latest incident in a spiral of fear and hate.

The economic crisis in Hungary was bad enough. Now, rising ethnic tensions threaten to plunge the country into a social crisis as well. In the aftermath of what appears to be the racist-motivated murder of a Roma man and his five-year-old son, the country’s ombudsman for minority affairs is calling on the political class to come up with an “ethnic peace plan.”

A brutal arson attack in the early hours of Monday morning provided the most recent trigger for concern. In the village of Tatárszentgyörgy, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the capital Budapest, a Roma man and his five-year-old son were shot dead as they tried to escape their burning house. Two other children were left with serious burns.

The attack, though, was no exception. A series of violent crimes in Hungary have targeted Roma in recent months, including fire bombings of Roma homes. Furthermore, the escalation of ethnic tensions comes as the extreme right seeks to exploit Hungary’s economic pain for its political gain. Continue reading

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Sharing Klein’s Vision: Winterbottom Brings ‘The Shock Doctrine’ to the Silver Screen

Award-winning directors Michael Winterbottom and Matt Whitecross have turned Naomi Klein’s bestselling “The Shock Doctrine” into a documentary. They deny the film is a conspiracy theory, arguing it is simply showing how free market ideas came to dominate the world.

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How do you turn a 600-page history of the economics of the past 30 years, replete with in-depth research and footnotes, into a 90-minute movie? Not easily — but it’s something filmmakers Michael Winterbottom and Matt Whitecross have taken a stab at with their cinematic version of “The Shock Doctrine,” Naomi Klein’s polemical account of the rise of what she calls “disaster capitalism.” And their timing is impeccable as the world searches for a narrative to explain the current economic turmoil.

The two British directors have chosen to take up the mantle of her alternative history of the past three decades which argues that the dominant free market ideology was imposed as a kind of “shock therapy” in times of deep crises. Continue reading

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Gonzo Filmmakers in Action: The Yes Men’s Brilliant Plan to Fix the World

Can ridiculous inflatable costumes and anti-corporate publicity stunts save the world? The PR guerillas known as the Yes Men hope so. In Berlin to promote their new film, the duo sat down with SPIEGEL ONLINE to talk about their unique form of political activism.

A group of businessmen sit in a hotel conference room in Florida and nod eagerly while two supposed Halliburton representatives don ridiculous inflatable suits that they have dubbed the “SurvivaBall.” The company has supposedly designed this advanced survival suit to protect executives from the ravages of climate change and global warming, as well as epidemics and social unrest. “It’s essentially a gated community for one,” the speakers explain.

But these are no Halliburton representatives. They are the Yes Men, two anti-globalization pranksters who specialize in wrangling their way into conferences and the media to turn the logic of big business on its head. Continue reading

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A Shoulder to Cry On: New Group Helps ‘Persecuted’ Far-Right Women

Two young women who lost their jobs because of their association with Germany’s far-right scene have formed a group to help other ‘persecuted’ women. It is part of a growing trend of women becoming more prominent on the extreme-right scene.

Iris Niemeyer feels angry, betrayed and persecuted. In her mid-30s, educated and articulate, Niemeyer is furious about having lost her job as a social worker because of her political beliefs. She is so appalled that she has set up a group to defend women in similar situations. Women like her — women from Germany’s far-right scene.

Together with Sigrid Schüssler, an actress who also faced employment difficulties due to her political affiliation, Niemeyer has set up the women’s self-help group Jeanne D. The group’s declared purpose is to help women who have been politically persecuted. “The group is open to all women who have a nationalist, patriotic world view,” Niemeyer told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “Those very women who are currently facing fierce persecution.”

In Niemeyer’s case this “persecution” arose when she lost her job at a youth center in the village of Mesum in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia last year. According to Matthias Fischer, one of her former colleagues, the center received an e-mail on Oct. 26, 2007 telling them that they had a member of the far-right on the staff. Continue reading

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Lisbon or Bust: Is Ireland on Brink of Rejecting EU Treaty?

With two weeks to go until the Lisbon Treaty referendum, Irish voters are slowly making their minds up on how to vote. Worryingly for Brussels it is the ‘No’ campaign that is steadily gaining support, as it plays on fears relating to neutrality, taxation and abortion.

When their entry Dustin the Turkey crashed out of the semi-finals of the Eurovision Song Contest last week, some in Ireland could have been forgiven for thinking it was final proof that their country was losing influence in Europe.

Opposition leader Enda Kenny looked on the bright side, saying Dustin may have been “gobbled up” by the opposition but Ireland just needed to vote ‘Yes’ to the Lisbon Treaty to ensure it had a presence at the heart of Europe. The question now is whether Irish voters are quite so enthusiastic for Europe or are on the verge of giving the EU Reform Treaty nul points in two weeks time.

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