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Pride vs. indignity: Political manipulation of homophobia and transphobia in Europe

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World Pride is being celebrated on our continent this week, but a surge in intolerance towards LGBTI people in Europe is nothing to be proud about. In more and more European countries, politicians and public officials are shamelessly targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people for political gain, fuelling prejudice and hate. In so doing, public officials – sometimes at the highest level – are failing in their duty to promote equal dignity and human rights for all.

On the one hand, spectacular progress has been made in Europe in just a couple of decades: many Council of Europe member states have passed laws protecting LGBTI people from discrimination, hate speech and hate crimes; 30 member states offer protection for stable same-sex relationships; and the right to legal gender recognition has been strongly asserted. Overall, public attitudes towards LGBTI people have markedly improved in many places. At the same time, homo/transphobia continue to linger and to hinder LGBTI people’s full inclusion in society. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed that too many within the LGBTI communities remain vulnerable, exposed to intra-familial violence and without proper access to employment, housing and health care.

The progress of the past years coupled with persisting homo/transphobia in our societies have now provided fertile ground for exploitation by opportunistic and anti-human rights political movements.

Stigmatisation of LGBTI people for political gain

Over the last few years, my predecessor, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, as well as the European region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA-Europe) and others have warned about a worrying rise in intolerance of LGBTI people in Europe. My own work provides further illustration of this trend and points to one key cause of the hatred: some politicians are instrumentalising existing societal prejudices and verbally attacking LGBTI people to achieve political objectives for their own benefit.

Scapegoating LGBTI minorities has become a tactic applied by ultra-conservative and nationalist politicians posing as defenders of so-called “traditional values” to strengthen their base and gain or stay in power. I have observed that stigmatisation of LGBTI people is particularly pronounced in the run-up to elections and votes. For example, in my report following a visit to Armenia in 2018, I concluded that various parliamentary bills discriminating against LGBTI people seemed to be deliberately designed to stoke anti-LGBTI sentiment as part of rivalry between opposing political parties. I warned against politicians using hate speech against LGBTI people during election campaigns in Moldova in a 2020 visit report and called on the authorities to take steps to tackle the problem. In Poland, as I described in the Memorandum published in December 2020, high-ranking officials and politicians affiliated with the ruling coalition used the stigmatisation of LGBTI people as a campaign tool during the 2019 parliamentary elections. In the 2020 presidential elections, the serving President of Poland, running for re-election, promised to prohibit the “propagation of LGBT ideology” in public institutions, calling it “worse than Communism”, and tabled a bill proposing to ban “any person in a relationship with another person of the same sex” from adopting children. As the 2022 parliamentary elections approach in Hungary, the ruling party there is evidently taking the same path.

In the Russian Federation, exploiting anti-LGBTI prejudice to attract votes is a long-standing practice, the latest example being the proposal to enshrine a ban on same-sex marriage in the Constitution. At the time when this was proposed, the polls indicated that many voters were undecided as to whether to participate in the constitutional referendum being held in the summer of 2020, which sought to make sweeping changes to the Russian Constitution. In Bulgaria, I documented the use of inflammatory language by politicians, some of whom made banning the Sofia Pride march an election campaign promise. In several countries, politicians expressing anti-LGBTI views have links with far-right and neo-Nazi movements involved in violent attacks on LGBTI events. Most recently, Bulgarian activists alerted me to a spate of incidents at Pride events carried out by one such far-right group in what appeared to be an attempt to drum up votes in the July parliamentary elections.

In addition to mobilising certain categories of voters, the exploitation of societal homo/transphobia has proven a convenient way to divert public attention away from government failure to address pressing social issues and rising inequalities and broader attacks under way on human rights and democracy. In Hungary, for example, legislative rollbacks concerning the human rights of LGBTI people, including the constitutional amendments passed in December 2020 and a law prohibiting, under the pretence of protecting children, the dissemination of LGBTI-related information to minors, were adopted jointly or around the same time as other measures with a severe impact on democracy and human rights, including changes to national human rights structures, transparency on the expenditure of public funds and electoral law. In Turkey, I recently expressed my dismay at the increasing stigmatisation of LGBTI people by politicians and opinion-makers. The Turkish authorities withdrew from the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention), claiming a need to resist “the normalisation of homosexuality which is incompatible with Turkey’s social and family values”. This unfounded allegation paves the way for further stigmatisation of LGBTI people and Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention will have serious consequences for women’s safety and rights.

I am troubled that transgender people are under attack from politicians from across the political spectrum. For instance, the President of the Czech Republic did not have any qualms about stating that he found transgender people “disgusting”. Transgender people and their rights have become a toxic battle ground. In Hungary, Italy, Spain, Poland and the United Kingdom – to name but a few – politicians incite and perpetuate transphobia, questioning the “normality” or even the very existence of transgender people.

These are unfortunately just a few examples drawn from my own work and monitoring. In its latest annual review of the human rights situation of LGBTI people in Europe, ILGA-Europe documented cases of verbal attacks by politicians (whether they are in power or not) on LGBTI people in 2020 in several other member states, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Slovakia. I am concerned that we are facing a downward spiral with more and more politicians across Europe feeling emboldened to resort to such unacceptable attacks on LGTBI people as they see these tactics work in other countries.

Influence of the so-called “anti-gender movements”

Politicians targeting LGBTI people often propagate narratives promoted by the so-called “anti-gender movements”. For some years now, there have been reports about the expansion – in Europe and the rest of the world – of these increasingly organised, transnational and well-funded movements, made-up of religious extremists and ultra-conservative organisations. The anti-gender movements call into question the concept of gender and whether it is a protected category in the human rights framework, promoting an ultra-conservative view of the family, sexuality and women’s role in society. Anti-gender movement actors seek to blur the lines for their audience by adopting the vocabulary of human rights, but what they are doing in reality is working to deprive other groups – mainly women and LGBTI people – of their rights.

The influence of the anti-gender movements in politics is increasing. Some politicians are not hiding their affiliation and others may seek convenient alliances because the issues raised are known to attract votes and distract attention from real problems. In my work, I have clearly seen some common patterns across several countries in the way political leaders resort to “anti-gender” slogans in national campaigns emerging around issues, such as same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. By permeating the political scene, the anti-gender movements are increasingly well-placed to erode the protection of human rights in Europe. It is urgent to acknowledge this fact and take steps to counter it.

Harmful impact on LGBTI people

Targeting LGBTI people for political gain is a costly strategy which harms the lives and well-being of those affected and undermines social cohesion in general. When public officials and elected politicians employ intolerant rhetoric, this signals to others that they too can engage in hateful actions with impunity. In the European Union (EU) Fundamental Rights Agency’s 2020 survey of LGBTI people, negative public discourse by politicians was identified as one of the key contributing factors in prejudiced social attitudes towards LGBTI people. Harassment of LGBTI people and activists on social media and everyday acts of violence are on the rise in Europe. Hardly a week passes without reports of serious physical attacks motivated by homophobia or transphobia. Recently, the Tbilisi Pride march in Georgia had to be cancelled after violent attacks on the organisers’ headquarters and journalists covering the events.

Toxic rhetoric targeting LGBTI people also hampers their ability to fully participate in all facets of life, including political and public life, and to have full access to education, health care and employment. In Poland, the proliferation of anti-LGBT declarations and “family charters” adopted by some local governments has led to many LGBTI people being shunned by members of their own communities. Others are seeking to leave the country altogether. In Bulgaria and Ukraine, LGBTI activists informed my office that young people increasingly avoid LGBTI events and community centres over fears of attacks and intimidation by members of extremist groups. This hostile atmosphere is driving LGBTI people back into the closet in many places, in a clear affront to their human dignity and right to live in freedom and safety. A climate of hatred promoted by public officials also has a huge impact on LGBTI people’s mental health.

Stigmatisation and political manipulation of LGBTI issues rarely stops at words; it often goes on to adversely affect how LGTBI rights are protected at policy level and by law. At a very minimum, as highlighted in ILGA-Europe’s 2021 annual review, the current polarisation has brought the adoption of new legislative proposals protecting the rights of LGBTI people to a standstill. Transgender Europe has reported a slowdown in new initiatives increasing the protection of trans people. Bills that should be uncontroversial have spurred heated political debate. For example, in Italy, a bill ensuring that sexual orientation and gender identity are mentioned along with other grounds in a law prohibiting hate speech and hate crimes, has been blocked for months. Opponents have argued that this move threatens freedom of expression and freedom of thought. But, as clearly established by the European Court of Human Rights, hate speech against LGBTI people is not protected by freedom of expression, and neither is it by freedom of belief. In countries where politicians proudly voicing anti-LGBTI positions are in government, we already see a dismantling of existing LGBTI rights or positive policies, for example with regard to legal gender recognition.

Towards political will for inclusion instead of political manipulation of homo/transphobia

This trend for political manipulation of homo/transphobia in Europe must be tackled without further delay. In line with ECRI’s General Policy Recommendation on combating hate speech, I urge member states to take measures to ensure that politicians refrain from making derogatory comments about LGBTI people. Political parties and parliaments should adopt codes of ethics that prohibit and punish homophobic and transphobic hate speech. Public representatives should systematically condemn homophobic and transphobic speech. There must be no impunity for particularly serious cases of incitement to hatred and violence by politicians.

In addition to refraining from spreading hate, political leaders should take positive steps to foster a culture of equal treatment and equality. As highlighted in Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, “public officials and other state representatives should be encouraged to promote tolerance and respect for the human rights of LGBTI people”. Similarly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe also underscored the specific responsibilities of political leaders in combating hate speech and intolerance in its Resolution 2275 (2019). The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities highlighted in a recent report that “whatever their political backgrounds, mayors and local and regional councillors have a responsibility vis-à-vis all their fellow citizens to establish inclusive societies based not on prejudice and the rejection of others, but on dialogue and concertation.”

I realise that it sometimes takes real political courage and wisdom to tackle deep-rooted homophobia and transphobia. Standing up for a minority group’s human rights may not always be popular with one’s political base. But we need politicians who are not afraid to lead by example. I want to salute just a few recent examples of such courage. I commend the President of North Macedonia for joining in this year’s Pride March in Skopje, which was only the second ever to take place in the country. In the United Kingdom, a cross-party group of lesbian, gay and bisexual Members of Parliament also spoke up in support of transgender people in the midst of a contentious public debate. The President of the European Commission, when announcing the LGBTIQ Equality Strategy 2020-2025, also sent a powerful message in favour of inclusion and diversity by stating that “being yourself is not your ideology. It’s your identity”.

Overall, member states must work to bring about broader changes in societal attitudes towards LGBTI people. This requires outreach campaigns and education in schools to promote understanding and respect of the human rights of LGBTI people. LGBTI human rights defenders are doing amazing work to counter the spread of hate and should be better supported. Member states should also ensure a strong national human rights infrastructure is in place to protect LGBTI people when political leaders fail in their responsibilities. This includes national legislation prohibiting discrimination, hate speech and hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, and effective national human rights structures which can work to denounce abuse. In this regard, I have noted the crucial work undertaken by the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights in recent years in challenging anti-LGBTI declarations and “family charters” before the courts.

Politicians’ scapegoating of LGBTI people for their own gain is only a symptom of their more widespread opposition to and assault on human rights and the rule of law. In some countries, they portray the recognition of the human rights of LGBTI people as an external imposition that goes against national tradition or wield the issue in their confrontation with European and international institutions. In doing so, they clearly challenge the values and the human rights system on which our continent is built. Human rights are universal and indivisible: ensuring that everyone in society can enjoy them is the key to cohesive, peaceful societies where everyone can strive. Pitting groups of people against each other breeds tensions, hate and violence – only serving the narrow interests of some unscrupulous politicians.

Europe is at a crossroads in the protection and inclusion of LGBTI people. By standing up for LGBTI people, we defend the equal human dignity of all, protect our societies’ wellbeing and the strength of our precious human rights system. Targeting, scapegoating or ignoring one group can ultimately negatively affect us all.

Council of Europe

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Should there be an age limit to be President?

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The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.

To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?

Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.

We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.

The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.

In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.

Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.

40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.

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Without roots, no future. Germans and Russians – Decoupling ideologies

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Source: Wikipedia

Krieg ist das Ergebnis einer falschen Politik und sein Erbe Not und Elend.1 (From Gestrüpp meines Lebens, a diary kept by my grandfather, Helmuth Banik)

…next – Prussia, family roots and identity of heart

Cultural diversity or universal uniformity? Peaceful co-existence of nation-states or institutional global governance with international organizations and their sphere of influence gaining more and more ground, even in everyone’s private life? Which future will be ours?

Roots, earth and homeland—while unearthing the deepest parts of my family history and, at the same time, German history, my uninhibited view of my Prussian roots continues to pave my way towards a new future. Our world today is on the verge of a new beginning. It is up to us to decide which way humanity will go in the future. An individual’s identity is complex and has many layers that need to be uncovered. So, too, is our world: complexly composed of many layers that need to be uncovered for its roots to be revealed—as there is no future without roots.

Thus, it is necessary to decouple from all ideas and ideologies that have long determined political activity around the world. Let us start with Russia and Germany, since their destinies are forever linked; historically, culturally and geopolitically.

“I have sympathy toward the German people; my ancestors came to Russia from Westphalia under Peter the Great. Great nations can stay dormant for some time, but they always wake up!” Quote from a Russian friend

Sapere aude! In the spirit of Immanuel Kant, the great philosopher of Königsberg, let us reinvent and imagine the world in which we want to live!

Without Russia, not a better world in sight

The world, but especially the European Union (EU), is at a crossroads. The old structures and beliefs of the current governance seem to be collapsing before our very eyes. How simple was yesterday’s world. The enemy, namely Russia, was in the East. A bipolar world vision, divided between “the good” and “the bad.”

In the West, the EU with its main ally, the United States, represents the good world, an ideal world—in short, the world of the G7. Countries with a democratic system under the rule of law in which freedom is one of the fundamental values: All other countries in the world are measured and judged according to this ideal, especially if they want to enter this “club of the free world.”

And now? What has become of this G7 world? The measures taken to fight the pandemic were lockdown and other more or less draconian actions that deprived a large part of the world’s population of their fundamental rights, whatever the political regime or national culture. This is the cruel reality of a uniform crisis management policy that is visibly shared by democracies and authoritarian regimes. The main characteristics of this policy are the intransigence of clinging to the rule of the political-economic elites and, with that, the absolute will to remain in power and control communications and, as such, the population. The boundaries separating democracies and authoritarian regimes are disappearing, and a uniform technocratic world without identity is emerging. Propaganda—in this case, the massive communication of fear and hatred—is getting a second wind, this time not on a national level but on a global institutional scale. Moreover, it seems to be accompanied by a new Cold War strategy: According to an EU strategy paper, China is classified as a “systemic rival” (ecfr.eu 2020) and, together with Russia, is considered a new challenge to NATO by the Biden administration (Le Figaro 2021).

And the Russian president? Vladimir Putin always keeps the door for cooperation wide open, as he makes clear in “Offen sein, trotz Vergangenheit,”2 the recent article published in Die Zeit in which he states: “Ich möchte noch einmal betonen: Russland plädiert für die Wiederherstellung einer umfassenden Partnerschaft zu Europa.”3

Moreover, the opportunities offered by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) do not seem to be taken into consideration. On the contrary, the G7 initiative to “Build Back a Better World” (B3W) is an alternative to the BRI. Conflict instead of cooperation. Yet, we should keep in mind: It is not possible to have a better world without integrating Russia.

The technotronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.” (Zbigniew Brzezinski in Between Two Ages: America’s role in the technotronic era)

Humanity’s ultimate battle

There is an urgent need to continue questioning the sustainability of a power, political system and governance that are global—values and mercantilism, democracy and dictatorship, free market economy and planned market economy, diverse identities and universal uniformity, nation states and institutional global governance.

What future awaits us?

Either:

a political system of “universal digital governance,” of total and totalitarian surveillance with a capitalist state economy, that is, a system in which humanity serves the system by constantly adapting to its different benchmarks, a technocratic world order according to Brzezinski,

or:

new political structures that are very much at the service of humankind and that ensure a free and autonomous life for everyone in the spirit of Immanuel Kant’s sapere aude, that is, global governance that ensures a peaceful return to the primacy of humanity, relations and nations, deeply rooted in its own history, a return to cultural diversities and identities, to creation and, thus, a return to the roots.

The geographer and geopolitician Jacques Ancel set the vision of French geopolitics. According to Ancel, man is the creator of global governance, of identities and, subsequently, also the borders of civilizations, where “human groups … reach a harmonious balance and … end up recognizing borders deriving from a common memory, history, culture and language.” It is “a nation of the heart in itself, not rational” (Ancel 1938, Banik 2021).

Neither Germany, nor China, nor the U.S., nor Russia is an isolated paradise. No country can claim to know the absolute truth. Violence, increased global competition (for natural resources, food, water, etc.) and international terrorism are forcing us to face up to the current realities, to abandon any ideology driving ideas such as the European project, socialism with Chinese or even Russian characteristics, or the ideology prevalent in the United States, which styles itself leader of the free world (Banik, 2016, 2019).

Ultimately, it is up to us to decide which path humanity will take.

“Kultur hat nie Grenzen gekannt. Kultur war immer unser gemeinsames Gut und hat die Völker verbunden.”4 Vladimir Putin, 25.9.2001

The big European house

According to Jacques Ancel, “human groups … reach a harmonious balance and … end up recognizing borders deriving from a common memory, history, culture and language.” It is thus important to encourage community spirit and to create human bonds—instead of strategic alliances—of geographical proximity and to overcome ideologies. The only way is to integrate Russia by creating a great pan-European house and, at the same time, taking advantage of the BRI as a link that encompasses the Eurasian region.

Russia and Germany have a common memory and their destiny is forever linked. It is up to Germany to finally assume its responsibility and play the key role in creating this space of peace and security. Integrating Russia is crucial if we are to create new political visions which serve humankind and which ensure a free and autonomous life for everyone.

Geographically, Russia is the largest country in Europe. Geographically, Europe is much larger than the territory of the EU. The EU, and subsequently Germany, must at all costs avoid being caught up in the tension that seems to be developing between China, Russia and the U.S. In case of a military conflict, the major nations will win while the EU will be the main loser. The current danger is the image of the resurgent enemy resulting from the aggressive policy of the Biden administration and the EU towards China and towards Russia. Two almost “military” fronts have thus been created. In fact, the Cold War has never ended but merely changed its guise.

Rise in military spending

According to the Sipri press release of April 26, 2021: “The five biggest spenders in 2020, which together accounted for 62 per cent of global military expenditure, were the United States, China, India, Russia and the United Kingdom. Military spending by China grew for the 26th consecutive year.” China has focused on its navy. It is the second largest military spender after the United States. In 2020, “China’s military expenditure is estimated at $252 billion in 2020, representing an increase of 1.9 per cent since 2019 and 76 per cent since 2011.” (Sipri 2021). “Russia’s military expenditure increased by 2.5 per cent in 2020 to reach $61.7 billion. This was the second consecutive year of growth. Nevertheless, Russia’s actual military spending in 2020 was 6.6 per cent lower than its initial military budget, a larger shortfall than in previous years” (Sipri press release, 26.4. 2021).

From the perspective of the two fronts—“The Chinese Enemy” and “The Russian Enemy”—one must also consider U.S. military spending in 2020, “[which] reached an estimated $778 billion, representing an increase of 4.4 per cent over 2019. As the world’s largest military spender, the USA accounted for 39 per cent of total military expenditure in 2020” (Sipri press release, 26.4. 2021).

In view of the world’s ever-increasing military outlays, it is urgent that we revitalize and reform the instruments already in place, such as the NATO-Russia Council, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the EU-Russia dialogue and the various regional formats such as the Arctic Council. It is worth noting the bilateral agreements of strategic importance between China and Russia in the field of nuclear energy and within the framework of the Polar Silk Road, as well as the importance of the Eurasian Economic Union, in which Serbia, for one, has a free trade agreement.

Towards a uniform, faceless, controlled world?

China’s withdrawal or Chinese deglobalization

China’s 14th Five-Year Plan is the continuation of the country’s efforts to reform and modernize, but the “dual circulation” model also marks an important step towards China’s deglobalization. This “dual circulation” strategy welcomes foreign investment, but only in those products and services that are not (yet) available in China. Therefore, China aims to reduce its economic dependence on foreign countries and focus on building its own capacity. Nevertheless, it also wants to boost bilateral agreements, and is pursuing the BRI. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) follows the same logic, pursuing reinforcement on the geographical and geopolitical level in Eurasia. With the implementation of the RCEP, the largest free trade area in the world is being established. On the other hand,

China’s FDI in Europe continued to fall, to a 10-year low: Shrinking M&A activity meant the EU-27 and the United Kingdom saw a 45 percent decline in completed Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) last year,…” (Merics 2021).

“Keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”

The United States is pursuing a strategy, particularly in the area of foreign policy, that was initiated by Donald Trump, meaning “America first” when it comes to economic, military and geopolitical issues. American foreign policy is, above all, marked by the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Note that, contrary to what Trump decided in 2020, Biden has reversed the partial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Germany (Politico 2021). Lord Ismay’s narrative seeking to keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down” is still relevant today.

The EU: a theater of conflict between China and the United States

Europeans have an increasingly critical view of China. China is seen as a systemic rival for the EU. The pandemic has exposed problems, including strategic dependence on imports from China. Therefore, the EU wants to remain credible at the international level and is seeking closer cooperation with the West, especially the United States, rather than an adjustment of its economic relations with China independent of the Americans.

Germany uprooted and war trauma

Germany seems to be stuck in a kind of “time loop.” Even though the Berlin Wall has long disappeared, there is still no uninhibited view of an open perspective towards the East, towards Germany’s historical East, especially towards Russia and the chances for cooperation that the country offers. German public opinion is still manipulated. As a result, it remains frozen in distrust of Russia. Further, the experienced war trauma—destruction, displacement and loss of homeland—has disconnected a whole generation from its own history, leading to a partial loss of its own identity. This disconnection has been unconscious, inherited by the descendants.

Towards total surveillance?

Basically, the conflict between the different ideologies and the omnipresence of the “pandemic” in the mainstream media strongly distract our attention from the real battle that has been going on in the background for a very long time.

The battle for world domination is not the conflict between different nation-states, e.g. the U.S., China or Russia, or between different political systems, democracy or dictatorship, but it is the struggle for supremacy by the lobbyists and by international institutions and organizations such as the World Economic Forum (WEF), the EU institutions, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and by the various interest groups and industrial associations that seem to be striving for a uniform, controlled world made of public-private partnerships, without nation-states, without cultural diversity, without a past, without a history, without roots and without identity.

“Smart government” and total surveillance

The advance of artificial intelligence and the 4th Industrial Revolution are visibly shifting geopolitics to geoeconomics. The need for control of international markets prevails over military conflicts. Large technological communication companies, such as social media giants (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), search engines like Google and Baidu, platforms like Amazon and Alibaba, cooperate more and more closely with their respective governments, thus creating public-private partnerships (PPPs). Back when geopolitics prevailed, the state’s sovereignty was ensured by the military control of the country and its borders. Now we see an increasing interdependence and cooperation between different governments, technology companies and large enterprises—“global players,” such as Big Data and Big Pharma. We are clearly heading towards a political system based on the “state economy,” as is already the case in China. In China, the state-owned enterprises, the “national champions,” are playing a predominant role not only in China but also on the international markets. In order to better face the Chinese competition, the EU has also launched a new industrial strategy to support and finance the creation of industrial alliances, a kind of “European industrial champions” (touteleurope.eu 2021)—even if the approach is not uniformly supported within the EU.

With an increasing number of PPPs, the establishment of state capitalism blurs the boundaries between business and government. In China, Russia and the United States, this issue is played out at the national level, while on the European continent it is advanced by the EU institutions. What is insidious is that, thanks to the cooperation between politics and technology companies, the media propaganda effectively supports and feeds this structural change. Thus, fundamental rights and identities are slowly being extinguished in favor of the uniformity of the corporate market.

Roots, identities, nations

Russians, Poles and Germans not only have a common history but shared cultural footprints. This history is a strength and not a weakness. According to Ancel’s vision, these three countries are at the crossroads of arbitrary borders and of borders of civilization. There are, on the one hand, the so-called arbitrary borders, which are more fraught, more strategic borders that have resulted from military pretensions. The borders of civilization, on the other hand, are more permanent as these are based on a common memory, common history and common language arising from a group of humans in equilibrium. The borders of civilization are “nevertheless more complicated because they are the object of numerous political and commercial interpretations”—even if the commercial justifications aim at “clearing a path” and not “enclosing” as the military justifications do (Ancel 1938, Banik 2021). For Russia, Poland and Germany, reconciling the past means “making a path in harmony,” our path back to our shared roots.

According to Ancel, the frontier is “a political isobar that fixes, for a certain time, the equilibrium between two pressures: the equilibrium of mass and the equilibrium of forces” (Ancel 1938). The real problem is not the question of borders. Borders will always exist, even in a globalized world. “There are no problems of borders. There are only problems of Nation” (Ancel 1938). Jacques Ancel argues for mankind as creator. “One does not revise borders, except by force; one modifies minds” (Ancel 1938; Lomnica 1938 foreword).

Quoting Vladimir Putin:

“Und wir können es uns einfach nicht leisten, die Last früherer Missverständnisse, Kränkungen, Konflikte und Fehler mit uns herumzuschleppen. Eine Last, die uns an der Lösung aktueller Probleme hindert.”5 Die Zeit, 2021

Regaining a sense of self

We, the Germans, unfortunately refused to take the hand that Putin extended to us in his speech to the Bundestag on September 25, 2001. The window of opportunity is wide open again. The German people need to reconnect to their entire cultural past. It is up to every German to discover his or her own roots, reconnect to his or her family past, healing the wounds and thus helping Germany to integrate its entire history and become whole again.

Similar to my path back to my Prussian roots, let us take an uninhibited view of our roots and seize this chance in order to create new prospects for German-Russian cooperation.

As Putin said in 2001:

“Ich bin überzeugt: Wir schlagen heute eine neue Seite in der Geschichte unserer bilateralen Beziehungen auf und wir leisten damit unseren gemeinsamen Beitrag zum Aufbau des europäischen Hauses.”6

There will be no better world, especially for Europe, without Russia’s integration into the pan-European house – and no better world if Germany is still cut off from its roots.

…Back to the roots

Katja Banik

www.katjabanik.com

Specialist in geopolitical issues, doctorate from Sorbonne Nouvelle University;

speaker and guest lecturer on geopolitical, economic and political issues, focusing on Jacques Ancel’s geopolitical vision of “the identity of the heart.”

Author of articles published on moderndiplomacy.eu, russiancouncil.ru (RIAC) and worldscientific.com, and author of the book Les relations Chine-Europe à croisées des chemins, published by L’Harmattan, Paris. Katja is the descendant of ancestors who lived in East and West Prussia. Her family on her mother’s side had to flee from Königsberg in East Prussia in January 1945 and, on her father’s side, from Schneidemühl in West Prussia. She increasingly connects the topics of identities, roots and borders in her geopolitical views.

Visible roots: Kurort Oybin, Germany 2021 and 1955:

Great-granddaughter and great-grandfather Friedrich Herbst


[1] “War is the result of the wrong policy and its legacy is distress and misery.”

[2] “Being open, despite the past.”

[3] “I would like to emphasize once again: Russia advocates for the restoration of a comprehensive partnership with Europe.”

[4] “Culture has never known borders. Culture has always been our common good and has united peoples.”

[5] “And we simply cannot afford to carry around the burden of past misunderstandings, offenses, conflicts and mistakes. A burden that prevents us from solving current problems.”

[6] “I am convinced that today we are turning a new page in the history of our bilateral relations and that we are making our joint contribution to the construction of the European house.”

Author’s Note: The paper was previously published by the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC)

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Europe

The End of a Belle Époque: Stability and Risks in Germany’s Elections

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On September 26, 2021, Angela Merkel’s 16-year tenure as Federal Chancellor of Germany will end. Protracted periods of stability, even positive stability, as a rule lead to a decrease in domestic political activity: players get used to an adaptive strategy, lose their ability to manoeuvre tenaciously, and at a turning point cannot decide to change. Germany is no exception: the upcoming elections are a fork between the continuation of traditional politics (stability) or an attempt at renewal (risk), primarily for the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Although Merkel announced her intention to leave the post of CDU head, having ruled out her re-election as chancellor, back in 2018, the process of choosing a successor, and therefore determining the future course, was not without difficulties. At first, the stake was placed on Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer—then the general secretary of the party, a technocrat even outwardly similar to the chancellor, but she did not gain popularity and after the scandal in the Thuringia state elections in February 2020, she resigned. After a year of hesitation, the place was taken by Armin Laschet—Prime Minister of one of the largest and most developed regions, North Rhine—Westphalia, an experienced politician and traditionalist.

In the struggle, they bypassed not only a stubborn revisionist, the former head of the CDU/CSU faction in the Bundestag Friedrich Merz, and the ambitious Minister of Health Jens Spahn, but also the leader of Bavaria, Markus Soeder, who has earned great popularity in the fight against COVID-19. At the state level, his Christian Social Union (CSU) operates independently, but at the federal level—it acts in alliance with the CDU. If the bloc won the elections, he could apply for the post of chancellor, but the CDU/CSU board voted against this after behind-the-scenes consultations. This confirms the party’s explainable choice in favour of stability: excessive risks during the transition of power can lose political capital, and continuity will help preserve the main voters.

However, the current ratings and political tradition will not allow the CDU to single-handedly form a government in the event of victory, and in the coalition negotiations, the stake on stability may already play against the party. Since 2013, the “grand coalition” of the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) has been in power. In the absence of traditional competition, the “crisis of the centre” proved fatal for the Social Democrats, who ceased to be associated with the working class and the centre-left agenda and lost their voters.

It is difficult to count on a third “grand coalition”, even for reasons of continuity in such conditions: support for the CDU/CSU fluctuates at the level of 23–25%, and for the SPD—18-20% of the vote.

The Social Democrats have relied on Olaf Scholz, the most experienced finance minister and vice-chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. He surpasses Laschet in popularity, but his ability to further increase the rating is limited. The #laschetlacht scandal related to the incorrect behaviour of the candidate during the floods in Germany in July 2021 may cost the CDU some support.

What can the CDU/CSU count on in this situation at the coalition negotiations? How can a majority be achieved? The big party crisis did not mobilise small parties in the way the CDU would have liked. The radical Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the intractable Greens have gained in popularity: if a coalition with the first is excluded for ideological reasons, then an alliance with the latter contradicts the preservation of stability. Chancellor-candidate Anna-Lena Baerbock and the party’s electoral programme make it clear that they are in favour of changing the course of German policy (for example, for stopping Nord Stream-2). Today the party is supported by about 20% of voters (and in the spring this figure reached 28%)—this is twice as much as 4 years ago, and reflects public demand for innovations. Accordingly, the black-green coalition initially has a potential for conflict.

It turns out that the CDU needs a coalition of three parties. The centrist Free Democratic Party (FDP) claims 10–11% of the vote and could either balance the Greens, or boost the coalition with the CDU/CSU and the SPD to the required majority. The first option was already considered 4 years ago and the negotiations did not lead to success, despite the political weight of Merkel, which Laschet does not have. FDP leader Christian Lindner is not the easiest negotiator and does not have confidence in the Greens. Will he go for another deal?

The coalition of CDU/CSU, SPD and FDP could have a symbolic meaning in the context of transit—the main colours of the parties add up to the German flag. It responds to the CDU’s stake on continuity (at the expense of the SPD), but tolerates moderate innovation (from the FDP). Germans today have no clear coalition preferences, which indicates that the population has no idea of their capabilities. In this situation, the voter may well support the course towards stability.

In other words, we can talk about the firm intention of the ruling party to maintain the leadership and course of the outgoing chancellor. However, it is controversial whether this stake will work in the long term: coalition negotiations will be difficult, and there are few backup options. Laschet will have to manoeuvre between persistence and concessions, and analysts will have a very interesting autumn.

From our partner RIAC

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