Euro Crisis: Why Germans Feel Disappointed In Their Neighbouring Eurozone Countries

1 Sep

Original post at TheBlend.ie  (August 29, 2012)

GERMANS are known for being complainers. In the past, the building of Irish motorways and their monetary EU contributions have caused much furore among the German public. These days, the topic which splits the German public is the economic collapse and its aftermath of bailouts. The most ignorant of them all, author Thilo Sarrazin, has struck again.

On Tuesday, a handful of old folk gathered at a Berlin bookshop to listen to former Social Democrat, Thilo Sarrazin, reading from his latest book - Europe Doesn’t Need the Euro. 

In 2010, Thilo Sarrazin argued in his book Germany Abolishes Itself that people of other racial background are dumber than ze Germans. This cost him his post as director of the German Central Bank. Yet, there is still no stopping the controversial author with the distinct moustache.

“I do not have to acknowledge anyone who lives by welfare, denies the legitimacy of the very state that provides that welfare, refuses to care for the education of his children and constantly produces new little headscarf-girls. This holds true for seventy percent of the Turkish and ninety percent of the Arab population in Berlin,” argued Thilo Sarrazin in his first book. While many Germans disagreed with Thilo’s thesis, surprisingly, there were plenty who did agree with him. Horst Seehofer, member of the German Bundestag, felt inspired by Thilo Sarrazin and boasted last year that he would fight each new immigrant from a “foreign culture…to the last man, to the last bullet.”

Now that Germany’s worries have shifted and the euro crisis has become the country’s latest pain, Thilo Sarrazin tried to convince his audience at the Berlin event that Germany’s neighbours are after their savings – and that they will get them!

The reality though looks different. While other EU countries, including Ireland, are suffering as a result of the recession, Germany has been able to thrive. The German Government is currently enjoying negative interest rates on bonds and unemployment is on the decrease while the number of exports is growing.

In Thilo’s view these developments are down to the hard-working and smart Germans. He wishes that Germany had never given up its prized Deutschmark or, to make the Euro work, that all other Europeans would finally cop on and become Germans themselves. “Thinking ahead and rationality are no major drivers in this society,” is his verdict about Italy and Greece “has not changed much since the Ottoman Empire a hundred and eighty years ago.”

Is Thilo not forgetting about the Maastricht rules on excessive government budget deficits, which the Germans and the French were the first to break? How about the forty percent of German exports which go to other Eurozone countries? How about the German carmakers, such as Daimler, Volkswagen and BMW, saving millions on transaction costs due to the removal of old currency risks?

As the German saying goes, there is always a different side to each medal. Germany, admittedly, did get many things right and is now stronger than ever; but this is also largely down to joining the Euro and embracing the possibilities the single currency holds for each individual home economy.

“Don’t talk about the war” – Another saying; not by the Germans, but about the Germans.

The eyes of many Germans will roll upon suggesting that Germany continues to be haunted by the atrocious Holocaust crimes committed by their ancestors.

Yet, upon digging deeper into the public response (including Thilo Sarrazin’s) to the economic crisis, one ought to notice the connection of Germany’s “special relationship” with Israel and its view on Europe’s economy.

Germany continues to pay off its guilt by supplying submarines to Israel. To this very day, employees of the Axel Springer Verlag, who publishes Germany’s bestselling tabloid Bild, have to sign a declaration to support the reconciliation between Germany and the Jewish people. Many German school kids are sent on trips to Israel, the so-called “Holy Land”, and in April the German magazine Der Spiegel proudly declared how much Israelis love Berlin. Who doesn’t love the hip Berlin these days? Is this really news? No. It is part of the German attitude of paying off one’s guilt silently.

Anyone in Germany who raises his voice in favour of putting a halt to the German solidarity to Israel gets harshly criticised and even risks being deemed an anti-Semite.

Germany’s Nobel Prize winner Günter Grass has recently been slaughtered by the media for writing an innocent poem about Israeli policies, whereas Thilo Sarrazin’s book is merely deemed “not as bad as the previous” by Der Spiegel.

Germany has been the “bad boy” throughout the initial decades after the Holocaust; it has rebuilt itself as a strong economy and the German attitude, handed down intergenerational, continues to believe in “paying off one’s own guilt.”

Germany requires a strong European economy more than any other country. A successful and swift solution for the crisis is needed – not only to build a strong home economy, but to build a positive national identity, removed from the dark past and connected to European success.

Germany has presented itself as a newer and better country in the decades after the war and feels disappointed in other European countries that are making it hard for Germany to continue its reign as goody two-shoes.

Bizarre Olympic Story: Dora Ratjen, The Biological Man, Who Competed As A Woman For Nazi Germany

16 Jul

Dora Ratjen, 1937

By the looks of it, London 2012 will remain largely apolitical – A long cry from the Nazi Games of 1936. The Olympic games had been handed to Berlin in 1931, before the Nazis rose to power and, it was the perfect opportunity for Hitler to demonstrate to the world how efficient his rebuilt Germany was.

Anti-Semitic posters disappeared from the streets of Berlin and propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels ensured no efforts were spared to welcome the world. Despite Adolf Hitler’s refusal to put the gold medal around Jesse Owens’ neck, who won the 100m, 200m, long-jump and the 4 x 100m competition, the Olympics were a true success for Nazi Germany. Until two years later, when the truth behind one German athlete was uncovered. Was Dora ‘Horst’ Ratjen part of an evil Nazi plan?

Dora ‘Horst’ Ratjen was born on November 20, 1918 in Erichshof near Bremen. The Ratjen family already had three daughters and their newest arrival caused confusion. Was it a boy or a girl? “When the child was born the midwife called over to me, ‘Heini, it’s a boy!’ But five minutes later she said to me, ‘It is a girl, after all,” Dora’s father Heinrich recounted in 1938 in a statement to police.

The parents had doubts but, they decided to raise Dora as a girl and so it came that the bulky girl joined Komet Bremen Athletics Club in 1934 and started competing in women’s athletics meetings. The young athlete’s dream, or so it appeared, came true when she was accepted for the Olympic squad at 17. She joined the Olympics training camp and met her fellow team members, the Jewish high-jumper Gretel Bergmann and non-Jewish athlete Elfriede Kaun. At Nazi training camp, the other girls wondered why Dora never showed herself naked but did not think much of it. “’She’s strange. She’s odd, the girls thought,”Gretel Bergmann recalled years later in an interview.

The athlete with the husky and deep voice came fourth in the women’s high jump in Berlin’s swastika-infested Olympic stadium. Team mate Elfriede Kaun won the bronze medal while Gretel Bergmann did not compete. But Ratjen’s career had only begun. Two years later, Ratjen won the title of European champion, jumping a world record height of 1.67m.  Just months after the athlete’s biggest success, reality came crashing down.

On September 21, 1938, Dora took a train from Vienna to Cologne. The conductor of the train reported ‘a woman dressed as a man’. And so it was that police arrested Dora Ratjen and the truth was uncovered. Dora Ratjen was pronounced male and one of the biggest sporting scandals hit the headlines.

 

Did the Reich Sports Ministry know? Was it all an evil plot to increase Germany’s chances in the Women’s High Jump?

Ratjen was stripped of her titles and a five-page report, factually recounting the events without any acknowledgement of involvement by the Nazi regime, was issued by Reichs security chief Reinhard Heydrich. Ratjen began living as a man and reportedly worked as a waiter in Hamburg and Bremen until his death in 2008. In the meantime, Gretel Bergmann, the Jewish athlete who was banned from competing in the 1936 Olympics, put together her own theory.

Bergmann was accepted to the Olympic squad to help portray the country as liberal and tolerant. The Americans had threatened to boycott the Berlin Games should no Jewish athletes be allowed to compete for Germany. Her place in the Women’s High Jump was withdrawn once the American sportsmen, press and officials had boarded their plane to Germany. Despite breaking the German record one month prior to the Games, her accomplishments were removed from the books and Bergmann received a letter from the sports authority, informing her that she was no longer part of the national team – due to ‘under-performance’.

To this very day Gretel Bergmann insists that Dora Ratjen, the false athlete, was part of an evil Nazi plot aiming to showcase the superiority of the ‘Master race’.

The ministerial files have been destroyed but the eyewitness Gretel Bergmann, who shortly after her dismissal from the national team emigrated to the US, is convinced that the sports authority deliberately ‘created’ Dora Ratjen.

Dora ‘Horst’ Ratjen never gave an official media interview but is reported as having said in 1957 that he was forced into competing by the Nazis “for the sake of the honour and glory of Germany”.

 

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Is it time for history to be laid to rest? Third Bloody Sunday Inquiry announced

10 Jul

40 years after the massacre, the launching of a third Bloody Sunday Inquiry, this time by the PSNI (Police Service Northern Ireland), was announced last week. While relatives of those killed are greatly in favour of this latest investigation, the truth of what has happened on this tragic day in Irish history may never fully come to light and the ones responsible may never be brought to justice – all down to decades of biased reporting and whitewashing.

See full article: TheBlend.ie Third Bloody Sunday Inquiry announced – Is it time for history to be laid to rest?

Stereotypical Women’s Magazines: Created For Or By Us?

5 Jul

A glance at the index pages of most women’s magazines suggests that women’s interests are limited to Celebrities, Fashion, Diet, Love and Beauty. Welcome to ‘The World of Women’s Magazines’ or should we say ‘Welcome to the World of Women’?

See full article: TheBlend.ie Piece on Women’s Magazines and Gender Portrayal

This is not a Graduate role, this is a Scam!

26 Jun

The latest statistics by the Irish CSO indicate that 62,400 graduates are currently unemployed. This may not come as a surprise considering the National Economic and Social Council’s prediction that there may not be a rise in jobs until 2013. Yet, upon browsing the usual job sites, such as jobs.ie, plenty of roles for graduates appear. But what is really behind so called ‘graduate’ jobs which promise ‘experience to jumpstart your career’ as well as earnings up to €35k?

As an ambitious student about to graduate with a Journalism degree and on the hunt for a career which is both challenging and demanding, I rang the number. I was put into telephone waiting line. Mozart was playing. ‘What a sophisticated place,’ I thought to myself – not really. Yet, willing to see what’s behind job advertisements ‘calling all graduates, no experience required, immediate start’ I stayed in line until a women called Gráinne picked up the phone. We had a brief chat about my previous experience and the phone call ended with, as promised, a fast-tracked interview for tomorrow at MGM Marketing.

I rose early in the morning, put on my best interview outfit and made my way to Dún Laoghaire, a South Dublin seaside resort. As I was looking out of the train’s window at the beautiful Irish see, my phone started vibrating. Unknown caller it read. I answered and it was Gráinne wondering if I needed directions. ‘How polite, how very, very considerate,’ I thought to myself – not really.

I walked past the Yacht club, past the Pavilion theatre and soon found myself outside a small Victorian semi-detached town house where I rang the bell. A woman, dressed in a black pencil skirt, matching suit jacket and sky-high beige high heels, greeted me and introduced herself as Gráinne. She led me into the interview room. Four other people had made their way out to MGM’s Office this morning. All under 25, the boys smartly dressed in suits and the girls in fashionable yet professional attire. I was given a form to fill by Gráinne – Information on my previous jobs and its salaries. I spotted an award on a little table next to the couch where two people were sitting and concentrating on filling their forms. ‘Cobra Group Award’ it read. ‘Now, this is really promising. What a company…’ I thought to myself…..

Twenty minutes later, Gráinne reappeared and lead me upstairs to my interview. I suppose it is needless to say, that I wasn’t nervous. There he was. The big boss, the General Manager was sitting behind a white plastic Ikea desk, or maybe it was really a living room table, he shook my hand and asked me to take a seat. I couldn’t help but to notice his suit – pinstriped, too big and of awful fabric. He had my CV in front of him, asked some questions about my previous employment which I answered as well as I could. I expected the usual interview questions such as ‘What are your strengths?’ (I am really smart, bright, fabulous and you just have to hire me because I am the love of your life) but he continued the interview by outlining the role.

He took a pen, took my CV and started scribbling Stage 1 and Stage 2 on it. He made an arrow between both Stages. ‘Stage 1 is a direct Sales position,’ he explained in a highly professional manner. He further elaborated by drawing three arrows and saying that ‘there are three divisions of sales’. He noted down door-to-door sales, events and B2B. He moved on to Stage 2 and scribbled BDP on my CV. BDP stands for Business Development Program, he told me. So far, so good, they had told me on the phone there were several different positions.

He asked me which one would interest me most. BDP, I replied. ‘Now, the way things work here, we put a lot of emphasis on developing our people and we want all people to start with Stage 1. The whole program runs over several months. You will start with the position in sales and will then enter Stage 2. How does that sound?’ I nodded and lied. ‘Great’ I said. Despite my interest in Stage 2, he continued explaining the sales position: ‘We work for charities and for companies such as Sky. You may know the Sky Stand in shopping malls? That’s us and then we also raise money for good causes by going from door-to-door.’ ‘What about B2B?’ I inquired. ‘Currently we have no B2B customers but we are aiming at expanding our involvement within the B2B sector’ – ‘Which involvement?’ I wondered.

‘Do you have any questions?’ ‘No’ I replied, letting myself, as a journalist, greatly down. ‘How much are the earnings?’ I should have really asked. He smiled happily and told me that I should expect a call this evening informing me weather I had been successful or not. Then I would be invited back where MGM Marketing would test my abilities by sending me out for one day, raising funds or selling Sky packages to unwilling customers.

I never answered the call by the unknown number that evening. They never came back to me. MGM doesn’t do email.

Upon further research, I stumbled upon this article by the Mirror: ‘Cobra Group makes a mint while “self-employed” reps get by on peanuts’. The title says it all, as does my experience. What is worse? Charities utilise a company which is known for exploitation and, to my personal anger, the group advertises their jobs under ‘graduate’ openings. I may have an arts degree but this is not what I imagine my future career to look like.

To quote the Mirror:

A Cobra spokeswoman said the group had created “thousands of jobs and opportunities” in 20 years, followed all codes of practice and operated within the law.

That’s why it needs changing.

I agree!

Facebook activism lacks revolutionary ardour

18 Jun

Anders Colding-Jørgensen, a Danish psychologist, who investigates how ideas spread online, set up a facebook page against the demolition of Stork Fountain in Copenhagen. He invited 125 friends to this group, of those friends most joined in a matter of a few hours. The group reached 27500 members. At this point Colding-Jørgensen ended the experiment. The cause was fictional; city planners never had the intention to dismantle the fountain. 

Anders Colding-Jørgensen never explicitly stated Copenhagen was planning to take down the city’s famous landmark. Yet, an invite to the group was enough for 27500 facebook users to ‘campaign’ against the landmark’s demolition. Had Anders Colding-Jørgensen not ended the experiment one can only assume that at a growth rate of two new members per minute, the fictional cause would have reached hundreds of thousands  followers – none of whom had enough zeal to investigate the cause.

So why do people join facebook campaigns? Why did it take millions of ‘likes’ for Kony 2012 until the first criticism of the charity Invisible Children and its campaigning video was publicly voiced?

Charities, politicians and local petitioners all promote their cause on facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or on any other social media outlet. While this undoubtedly increases the potential for awareness raising, many online supporters cannot be seen as actual supporters. Dorian Wiszniewski and Richard Coyne, researchers at the University of Edinburgh, have studied the behaviour of online users and found that it leads to individuals portraying exaggerations of themselves.

“He, the network activist, reading the American magazine ‘Wired’, raving on about 3-D printers, which can spit out dishes among other things, always has the ‘next big thing’ in mind and feels superior to the ‘ignorant’,’ writes the German magazine Der Spiegel on Germany’s new breed of young ‘network politicians’ also known as Die Piraten.

The hopes are high, or so it appears, for a new revolution by engaged and interested young men and women – after all, who can stand capitalism? But it simply is futile to look for this revolution online. ‘The New Human Being’, as we shall call him, is built on hyperreality* of technological determinism, which for the individual means to put oneself out there and to actively create an image of oneself in line with how one wishes to be seen. The difference between today’s wannabe-revolutionaries, such as the German party Die Piraten, and the revolutionaries of the past, take for example Germany’s movement of 1968, is that back in the day campaigners read and read and read. Today’s ‘copy-and-paste society’, embraces the possibility of technological convergences by forwarding, linking and connecting.

Now, this was pixel-me speaking on behalf of real me who truly wants to point the finger and scream: ‘You, smoking your American cigarettes, joining campaigns against US military intervention. You, wearing a jumper made in a sweatshop, joining a facebook group in support of children in developing countries. You, typing away on your Apple Mac while joining a group campaigning against child labour. You are not real.’

In fairness, at times we all are hypocrites. Using an Apple Mac for the sheer joy of its easy interface or for making us feel so much more creative than we truly are, may not be wrong as such. The powers of social media should be embraced. The networked structures that the online environment offers, holds possibilities revolutionaries of old could not even have dreamed  of. Yet, we should not forget that a revolution starts with knowledge and, more importantly, the passion for making a difference.

*Hyperreality: Hyperreality, used in postmodern philosophy, is the inability to distinguish between reality and simulation. (Example online networking as opposed to ‘actual networking’).

Flag-waving patriotism, the feeling of ‘we-ness’ and Euro 2012

8 Jun

The 2012 Euro Cup is about to kick off later today with its first match, Poland against Greece.   Football is an opportunity for chanting national anthems, waving national flags and nostalgic but largely harmless patriotism. 

Over the next three weeks otherwise cosmopolitan Irish, Czech, Polish or Spanish women and men, among others, will immerse themselves in the belief of belonging to what sociologist Benedict Anderson calls ‘the imagined community’. Anderson, in his work Imagined Communities (2006), argues that a nation ‘is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.’ A potent means for manufacturing such artificial patriotism can be linked to the rise of the newspaper. Day in and out, we consume newspapers almost simultaneously thereby we are ‘imagining’  a world outside ours not only via the means of reading news, but with the knowledge that exact replicas of our own papers are being consumed by our ‘subway,  barbershop, or our residential neighbours,’ as Anderson puts it.

Football, in particular during big international tournaments, is the exemplary illustration of such artificially created feeling of ‘we-ness’.  Football gets its war on! In a mythologised and nostalgic form and demonstrates that patriotism is alive.

In the first two decades after World War II, England and Holland’s matches against Germany, became a symbolic reenactment of past rivalries.   ‘Ten German bombers in the air..’ or ‘Two World Wars and one World Cup’ English football fans would chant. Germany on the other hand was the ‘nice guy’ keeping a ‘clean sheet’, largely avoiding the German post-war taboo of football-nationalism.

Today, Germans appear to have freed themselves from their dark past and, equal to other nations, celebrate their identity, support their football team and engage in this harmless and, in fact, beneficial form of patriotism. Within the context of football, the English flag of St George is removed from its old connotations. While the red cross on white background stood for a mindset which was xenophobic, white and exclusive, within today’s football-context it stands for passion, for positive feelings towards the country one ‘belongs’ to and in case of Euro 2012 it stands for a united Europe who, for a change, meets for a sporting spectacle and not to discuss the newest developments concerning the Euro Crisis.

Where do you think the term ‘sportsmanlike’ comes from? Sports bring together passionate fans and rivals and strengthens the feeling of ‘we-ness’, more importantly, sports encourage fairness and brings joy to millions of people regardless of their nationality and their nation’s chances of winning – or it brings about an identity crisis. With an Irish mother, a German father and a Dutch grandfather, I ought to be confused about who to support. My German father was never the biggest football fan, the Irish were literally kicked out of most tournaments at an early stage and as a result my mother half-heartedly supported the Dutch. I guess so will I on the 13th of June when Germany plays Holland, strangely, I feel like a traitor!

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