With far-right auspices again becoming louder, the citizens and government of Germany are making themselves an example to follow.
You wouldn’t believe it, but there is other news in the world. A few weeks ago, for instance, a young guy was picked up on the South Coast on suspicion of planning neo-Nazi-inspired violence. It was a reminder that lunatics surface even during a virus outbreak. And so, it was a strange thing to be listening to Josh Frydenberg’s speech at the Australian War Memorial recently. There he was, the son of Jewish refugees, warning Australia against the rise of the far-right. So far, so good.
But then he blamed ‘indifference’, stepping away from any responsibilities.
That is how things seem to go in our country: politicians talk a lot, preferably using terms that are as vague as possible. They don’t seem to understand that it is in their job description to actually do something. That leadership means leading, being an example, showing the way – mumbling clichés like Frydenberg is not really good enough. And neither, of course, is being a prick, like Dutton, who, on the same day, babbled on about ‘left-wing lunatics’.
To him, it is a big category, which includes ‘Islamist extremism’ and Extinction Rebellion. They all need to be ‘dealt with’, apparently. Apart from that being stupid and the focus on the wrong side of the spectrum, there was, again, no action plan. Blah, blah, somebody should do something, blah, blah, but not me. Infuriating.
There are, at the moment, in Germany as anywhere else, a lot of people who are attracted by easy answers. Lazy thinkers whose brain cells don’t go beyond ‘if there are fewer migrants everything will be better’.
If our politicians want to see a case of best practice, all they need to do is look to Germany. Obviously, they’ve got good reason to try and be a role model. Not just because of their history, but also because people are dying on the street as a consequence of right-wing idiots. At the end of February, there was a shooting in Hanau, where a man killed ten people and himself; mostly Turkish and Kurdish migrants.
Last October, there were two dead in Halle, when a man (yes, interesting, right, that they are almost always men) opened fire at a synagogue during Yom Kippur, ironically the Day of Atonement. And in June, a politician called Walter Lubcke was shot and killed in Kassel, because of his lenient stance on migration.
There are, at the moment, in Germany as anywhere else, a lot of people who are attracted by easy answers. Lazy thinkers whose brain cells don’t go beyond ‘if there are fewer migrants everything will be better’. A few Australian names come to mind as well.
In Germany, the problem is the AfD, the nationalist, populist, racist, far-right Alternative for Germany. They are getting bigger and bigger and the German police recently said that they believe half of its members are willing to use violence to further their goals.
So, German politicians have put what they called a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around the AfD. Nobody talks to them, nobody works with them, nobody forms a coalition with them. It is a talk-to-the-hand approach, which might not always work, but is at least based on a principle of decency.
Germans do other things too to attempt to put up a firewall against the crazies. Let me give you two examples. In Holland, one of the countries Germany occupied during WWII, almost all Jews were taken away during the war. For the last few years, some Dutch people have been trying to set up a museum to commemorate them and all the others who were killed. Now, the German federal government has donated 4 million euros to make that National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam a possibility.
Emile Schrijver, who runs the Jewish Museum and has been lobbying for this for a while, said in one of the Dutch newspapers that ‘Germany feels responsible for its history. It has been involved in conscientiously working through its past. With this donation, it is honouring that leadership. It wants to warn people and make them think. It is great that they have given us the money, but more important is the symbolism. Taking about the Holocaust is not only talking about the past. The debate has evolved into a conversation about freedom, identity, democracy, the rule of law and an open, inclusive society. Clearly, Germany wants to contribute to a peaceful Europe’.
That is what I mean: leading, not following. Decency, not populism.
The second example also has to do with a museum. The German city of Dresden is in crisis mode. Of course, it has a troubled history. Flattened by the Americans during WWII, it became part of Eastern Germany until it was liberated, it thought, by the fall of the Wall. Instead, openness meant poverty, especially after Germany’s reunification.
Now, Dresden city council has called a ‘Nazi Emergency’, in response to the growth of another far-right party called Pegida. Pegida is even worse than the AfD. Its full name is Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the ‘Abendland’, a Nazi-term for the white Western world. Its leader has posed as Adolf Hitler, and a few months ago they went through the streets of Dresden protesting the rescues of refugees at sea, believing the government should ‘Drown them, drown them all’. In short: nice guys.
At the same time, Hilke Wagner, the director of the city’s largest museum, the Albertinium, became the target of Pegida-threats to her life. The reason was that she had put up a show by a Syrian-German artist. That reeked of multiculturalism, so the thugs thought it appropriate to troll Wagner, spitting at her in the street, calling her all manner of names, threatening to kill her.
Taking about the Holocaust is not only talking about the past. The debate has evolved into a conversation about freedom, identity, democracy, the rule of law and an open, inclusive society.
What Wagner did next was nothing short of miraculous. She picked up the phone. First, she called her worst troll. She talked to him, listened to what he had to say, then talked some more. After that, she called all her accusers. (Again, all but one were men). Conversations happened. She started asking the Pegida people what they wanted, instead of what they didn’t want. That was confronting, because they had no idea. Most of these idiots know what they are against, but they have nothing positive to contribute. Wagner did. She decided to show ‘that German culture is the result of a cultural mix. Always has been’. She started putting up shows by paintings about the war, but flipping the story just a little: devastated Dresden next to bombed Coventry, for instance, to show that everybody suffers during a war.
Then there was an exhibition of East German art, very much admired by Pegida. Only, all of the painters in the show were women, just to make the pumped-up males think outside of their narrow boxes. Then, there were ‘dialogue events’ and open invitation discussions that attracted hundreds.
First anger reigned, then the listening started. Again: leadership, decency, taking your responsibilities. Oh, and before I forget: Germany is closing its coal plants, all of them, by 2038, starting this year. The Federal government will pay 40 billion euros in compensation to the regions and the utility producers affected. They are also funding a training scheme for workers.
And something else: the German High Court has legalised euthanasia, ruling that it is against the Constitution to interfere with the right for citizens to take their own lives and ask others to help them do that.
Conservative government, broadly conservative country, but still: it can be done, and is. Are you listening, marketing-men of Canberra?