Germany passes new #citizenship law for descendants of Nazi victims

Of note:

German lawmakers have approved changes that will make it easier for descendants of those who fled Nazi persecution to obtain citizenship.

Under German law, people stripped of their citizenship on political, racial or religious grounds can have it restored, and so can their descendants.

But legal loopholes had prevented many people from benefiting.

Campaigners say the move allow many to reconnect with their German heritage, particularly in the Jewish community.

“We acknowledge the work that the German people have undertaken to honour the memory of those lost and those who suffered in the [Holocaust],” said Felix Couchman, chair of the Article 116 Exclusions Group, which has been lobbying on the issue for years.

“These measures have been necessary stepping stones to rebuilding trust,” he added.

While Germany’s post-war constitution allows citizenship to be restored, the lack of a legal framework meant many people had their applications rejected.

Some were denied because their ancestors had taken another nationality before their citizenship was revoked.

For others it was because they were born to a German mother, but not a German father. Until a change to the law in 1953, German citizenship could only be passed on paternally.

A legal decree was passed in 2019 to help close these loopholes. Now that it has passed the lower house of Germany’s Bundestag, with a large majority, prospective applicants will have a firmer legal footing for their appeal.

The law does also cover those who were directly deprived of their citizenship but, given the passage of time, descendants will be the main beneficiaries.

The new law also bars the naturalisation of people convicted of racist, anti-Semitic or xenophobic acts.

“This is not just about putting things right, it is about apologising in profound shame,” said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer in March, when the government passed the draft law.

“It is a huge fortune for our country if people want to become German, despite the fact that we took everything from their ancestors.”

The move comes as neighbouring Poland comes under the spotlight for a draft law which critics say would make it harder for Jews to recover property seized by Nazi occupiers during World War Two.

The bill, passed by Poland’s lower parliamentary house on Thursday, has been condemned by the US and Israel.

Source: Germany passes new citizenship law for descendants of Nazi victims

Germany recognizes colonial killings in Namibia as genocide

Of note:

Germany has reached an agreement with Namibia that will see it officially recognize as genocide the colonial-era killings of tens of thousands of people and commit to spending a total of 1.1 billion euros ($1.3 billion), largely on development projects.

The accord announced Friday is the result of more than five years of talks with Namibia on the events of 1904-1908, when Germany was the southern African country’s colonial ruler.

Historians say German Gen. Lothar von Trotha, who was sent to what was then German South West Africa to put down an uprising by the Herero people in 1904, instructed his troops to wipe out the entire tribe. They say that about 65,000 Herero were killed and at least 10,000 Nama.

“In the light of Germany’s historical and moral responsibility, we will ask Namibia and the descendants of the victims for forgiveness,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement.

“Our aim was and is to find a joint path to genuine reconciliation in remembrance of the victims,” he said. “That includes our naming the events of the German colonial era in today’s Namibia, and particularly the atrocities between 1904 and 1908, unsparingly and without euphemisms.”

“We will now officially call these events what they were from today’s perspective: a genocide.”

Talks between Germany and Namibia opened in 2015, more than a decade after a 2004 visit to Namibia in which then-Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul offered Germany’s first apology for the killings, which she said were “what today would be labeled as genocide.”

Maas said that, “as a gesture of recognition of the incalculable suffering,” Germany plans to support Namibia and the descendants of the victims with a 1.1 billion-euro “rebuilding and development” program in whose design and implementation “the communities affected by the genocide will take a decisive role.”

At the same time, he said that “legal claims to compensation cannot be derived from this.”

That reflects Germany’s position that the Genocide Convention of 1948 can’t be applied retroactively, and that its liability is political and moral rather than legal.

The projects Germany will now fund are expected to stretch over a 30-year period and will cover areas such as land reform, including land purchases, agriculture, rural infrastructure, water supply and vocational training. They will be separate from continuing development aid to Namibia.

Germany says that representatives of the Herero and Nama were involved in the negotiations, though Berlin’s direct dealings have been with the Namibian government.

Germany gained control of the desert country in the 1880s and surrendered the territory to South Africa in 1915. Namibia gained independence in 1990.

Source: Germany recognizes colonial killings in Namibia as genocide

Alarm as German anti-maskers co-opt Nazi resister Sophie Scholl

Of note:

Sophie Scholl, the German resistance figure executed by the Nazis who was born 100 years ago on Sunday, has become an emblem of courage and a national hero for many.

But the legacy of the young woman sentenced to a brutal death for distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets has recently been co-opted by Germany’s anti-lockdown movement, to the dismay of historians and the Jewish community.

At a demonstration in April, one woman had a placard featuring a picture of Sophie Scholl draped on string around her shoulders.

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace,” it read — words famously pronounced by the resistance campaigner.

Even one of her nephews, Julian Aicher, has prominently spoken at corona skeptic demonstrations, including on a stage decorated with white roses — evoking the name of Scholl’s resistance group.

In a country where right-wing extremism is seen as the number one threat to security, and where a record number of xenophobic and anti-Semitic crimes were recorded in 2020, historians say the misappropriation of Scholl’s memory is deeply alarming.

Some also warn that democracy itself is being attacked at a time when living witnesses of World War II have dwindled significantly in numbers.

“By trivialising the Holocaust and dictatorship, these activists are endangering democracy,” said Ludwig Spaenle, Bavaria’s anti-Semitism commissioner.

– Fourth favourite German –

On February 22, 1943, Scholl and her older brother Hans, both members of a small resistance group called the White Rose, were beheaded in the Stadelheim prison in Bavaria following a summary trial.

They had been found guilty of distributing pamphlets on the grounds of Munich University, having converted to the resistance after being exposed to the horrors of the Third Reich as members of Nazi organisations in their teens.

Sophie Scholl, born on May 9, 1921, has become the most famous face of the resistance movement, with surviving photos showing her distinctive cropped hair and determined smile.

Hundreds of schools and streets now bear her name, and in 2003 she was named the nation’s fourth favourite German behind Konrad Adenauer, Martin Luther and Karl Marx.

The country’s political class also like to evoke the memory of the young biology student who stood up to the Nazis.

Annalena Baerbock, the Green party’s candidate to become Germany’s next chancellor after Angela Merkel retires in the autumn, has named Scholl as one of her “heroes”.

Carola Rackete, the former captain of the Sea-Watch 3 migrant rescue ship, has said if Scholl were still alive, she would be part of the Antifa left-wing political movement.

But at the other end of the political spectrum, the far-right AfD also claimed in 2017 that Scholl would have given them her vote.

And now the resistance campaigner’s image has been hijacked by protesters against coronavirus restrictions in Germany, who have often sought to compare themselves with victims of the Nazis.

– ‘Vaccination makes you free’ –

Some protesters have been seen wearing yellow stars similar to those Jews were forced to wear under the Nazis, carrying the words “not vaccinated”.

Others have worn concentration camp uniforms and carried placards with the words “Impfen macht frei” (“Vaccination makes you free”), a reference to the “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes you free”) inscription at the entrance to Auschwitz.

“I feel like Sophie Scholl, because I’ve been active in the resistance for months,” one protester told a rally against virus restrictions in Hanover in November, leading to widespread condemnation.

“Followers of conspiracy theories like to imagine themselves as victims, while demonising and delegitimising the democratic field,” Samuel Salzborn, the city of Berlin’s point man on anti-Semitism, told AFP.

According to Jens-Christian Wagner, a German historian who specialises in the Nazi era, the appropriation of Sophie Scholl by the anti-mask movement shows a loss of “historical awareness” among parts of the German population.

There are “almost no remaining witnesses” to the Nazi era, Wagner told AFP.

“They can no longer defend themselves when they are instrumentalised or when the far right rewrites history and the present by reversing guilt. It worries me,” he said.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has said it will monitor the “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers) movement, a particularly vocal anti-lockdown group, over concerns it poses a threat to democracy and has ties to right-wing extremism.

Source: Alarm as German anti-maskers co-opt Nazi resister Sophie Scholl

The ‘hijab penalty’: Feminist backlash to Muslim immigrants in Germany | Penn Today

Of note. Interesting experiment:

Why do some Europeans discriminate against Muslim immigrants, and how can these instances of prejudice be reduced? Political scientist Nicholas Sambanis has spent the last few years looking into this question by conducting innovative studies at train stations across Germany involving willing participants, unknowing bystanders and, most recently, bags of lemons.

His newest study, co-authored with Donghyun Danny Choi at the University of Pittsburgh and Mathias Poertner at Texas A&M University, is forthcoming in the American Journal of Political Scienceand finds evidence of significant discrimination against Muslim women during everyday interactions with native Germans. That evidence comes from experimental interventions set up on train platforms across dozens of German cities and reveals that discrimination by German women is due to their beliefs that Muslims are regressive with respect to women’s rights. In effect, their experiment finds a feminist opposition to Muslims, and shows that discrimination is eliminated when Muslim women signaled that they shared progressive gender attitudes, says Sambanis, who directs the Penn Identity and Conflict Lab (PIC Lab), which he founded when he came to Penn in 2016.

Many studies in psychology have shown bias and discrimination are rooted in a sense that ethnic, racial, or religious differences create distance between citizens, he says. “Faced with waves of immigration from culturally different populations, many Europeans are increasingly supporting policies of coercive assimilation that eliminate those sources of difference by suppressing ethnic or religious marker, for example, by banning the hijab in public places or forcing immigrants to attend language classes,” Sambanis says. “Our research shows that bias and discrimination can be reduced via far less coercive measures—as long as immigration does not threaten core values that define the social identities of native populations.”

“The Hijab Penalty: Feminist Backlash to Muslim Immigrants” is the fourth study in a multiyear project on the topic of how to reduce prejudice against immigrants conducted by Sambanis and the team. The study’s co-authors, Choi and Poertner, started working on this project as postdoctoral fellows at the PIC Lab.

The new paper builds on the first leg of the project which was publishedin the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2019 and which explored whether discrimination against immigrants is reduced when immigrants show that they share civic norms that are valued by native citizens. That study found evidence that shared norms reduce but do not eliminate discrimination. The new study explores the impact of norms and ideas that are important to particular subgroups of the native population, and finds stronger effects when such norms are shared by immigrants.

The findings have implications for how to think about reducing conflict between native and immigrant communities in an era of increased cross-border migration, Sambanis says.

He and his co-authors conducted the large-scale field experiment in 25 cities across Germany involving more than 3,700 unknowing bystanders.

“Germany was a good case study because it has received the largest number of asylum applications in Europe since 2015, a result of the refugee crisis created by wars in Syria and other countries in the Middle East and Central Asia,” Sambanis says. “Germany has had a long history of immigration from Muslim countries since the early post-war period, and anti-immigrant sentiments have been high as a result of cultural differences. These differences are manipulated politically and become more salient.”

The intervention went like this: A woman involved in the study approached a bench at a train station where bystanders waited and drew their attention by asking them if they knew if she could buy tickets on the train.

She then received a phone call and audibly conversed with the caller in German regarding her sister, who was considering whether to take a job or stay at home and take care of her husband and her kids. The scripted conversation revealed the woman’s position on whether her sister has the right to work or a duty to stay at home to care for the family.

At the end of the phone call, a bag she was holding seemingly tears, making her drop a bunch of lemons, which scatter on the platform and she appeared to need help gathering them.

In the final step, team members who were not a part of the intervention observed and recorded whether each bystander who was within earshot of the phone call helped the women collect the lemons.

They experimentally varied the identity of the woman, who was sometimes a native German or an immigrant from the Middle East; and the immigrant sometimes wore a hijab to signal her Muslim identity and sometimes not.

They found that men were not very receptive to different messages regarding the woman’s attitude toward gender equality, but German women were. Among German women, anti-Muslim discrimination was eliminated when the immigrant woman signaled that she held progressive views vis-à-vis women’s rights. Men continued to discriminate in both the regressive and progressive conditions of the experiment.

It was a surprise that the experimental treatment did not seem to make a big difference in the behavior of men towards Muslim women.

“Women were very receptive to this message that we had about Muslims sharing progressive beliefs about women’s rights, but men were indifferent to it,” says Sambanis. “We expected that there would be a difference, and that the effect of the treatment would be larger among women, but we did not expect that it would be basically zero for men.”

The experiment makes gender identity more salient and establishes a common identity between native German women—most of whom share progressive views on gender—and the immigrant women in the progressive condition. This is the basis of the reduction of discrimination, Sambanis says, and it does not require coercive measures like forcing Muslims to take off the hijab. “You can overcome discrimination in other ways, but it is important to signal that that the two groups share a common set of norms and ideas that define appropriate civic behaviors.”

The results are surprising from the perspective of the prior literature, which assumed that it is very hard for people to overcome barriers created by race, religion, and ethnicity. At the same time, this experiment speaks to the limits of multiculturalism, says Sambanis. “Our work shows that differences in ethnic, racial, or linguistic traits can be overcome, but citizens will resist abandoning longstanding norms and ideas that define their identities in favor of a liberal accommodation of the values of others,” he says.

Nicholas Sambanis is a Presidential Distinguished Professor in the School of Arts & Sciences, chair of the Department of Political Science, and director of the Penn Identity and Conflict Lab at the University of Pennsylvania.

Source: The ‘hijab penalty’: Feminist backlash to Muslim immigrants in Germany | Penn Today

Germany Sees 72 Percent Increase in Anti-Immigrant Crimes

Of note:

Germany recorded a 72.4 percent increase in anti-immigrant crimes in 2020 – up to 5,298 total cases – as officials warned Tuesday that the country is experiencing a dangerous rise in far-right violence.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said in total, far-right crimes rose 5.65 percent in 2020, and accounted for more than half of all “politically motivated” crimes.

“This shows again that right-wing extremism is the biggest threat for our country,” Seehofer said Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

In February 2020, the country saw its deadliest anti-immigrant attack when nine immigrants were killed near Frankfurt, Germany, after a gunman opened fire and called for the “complete extermination” of many “races or cultures in our midst,” the AP reported.

Authorities have since raised concerns that the far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AFD, which placed third in the country’s 2017 election and has grown in influence, has played a role in stoking a climate of hatred toward immigrants and the government.

German security agencies have warned of the growing threat of violent far-right extremism. In July 2019, a regional politician from Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s party was killed by a neo-Nazi; three months later, a gunman tried to force his way into a synagogue on Yom Kippur, killing two people.

Seehofer said antisemitic crimes in Germany were up 15.7 percent in 2020 over 2019 with 2,351 total incidents — 94.6 percent of which were committed by a far-right suspect.

Of the total, 62 were acts of violence while the majority were antisemitic hate speech and other related crimes, frequently on the internet or over social media, Seehofer said.

“This development in Germany is not only troubling, but in view of our history, deeply shameful,” he said.

Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said the German numbers highlighted a broader issue.

“This is a wake-up call, not just for Germany, but for the whole world,” he said. “These figures should ring alarm bells, because we are seeing similar trends across the Western world.”

Many in the AfD have expressed support for, and participated in, the regular protests in Germany against lockdown measures, organized by the Querdenker movement. The demonstrations have become increasingly violent, and the country’s domestic intelligence service last month said it had put some members of the movement under observation.

The protests have brought together a broad range of demonstrators, including people opposing vaccinations, those who deny the existence of the coronavirus, mask opponents, conspiracy theorists and others.

Seehofer said the protests have also attracted neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists, and have regularly become violent, targeting police and the media. Seehofer said of the 260 reported crimes against journalists, 112 were related to protests against coronavirus restrictions.

“I want to say here very clearly: These acts of violence are no longer about exercising a constitutional right (to demonstrate), but are acts of violence of a criminal nature that I condemn in the strongest possible terms,” he said.

Source: Germany Sees 72 Percent Increase in Anti-Immigrant Crimes

Make becoming a German citizen easier, integration ministers urge

Of note:

Children born to foreigners living in Germany should be granted faster access by law to German citizenship, integration ministers from Germany’s 16 states have urged in a majority appeal

Meeting in the harbor city-state of Bremen Friday, ministers called on the federal government to reform Germany’s Nationality Act (StAG) by reducing a resident child’s waiting time for citizenship from the current eight years to six years.

A reduction to four years should apply to foreign families who show special integrative aptitude, urged ministers, who form Germany’s Integration Ministers’ Conference (IntMK). The group, whose rotating chair is currently held by Bremen’s Social and Integration Senator Anja Stahmann of Germany’s opposition Greens, was initiated under Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2007 to coordinate regional and federal policies, but often exposes major differences among state approaches.

Stahmann said ministers meeting Friday also urged for relaxing Germany’s legislated aversion to multiple nationalities and that German language acquisition at the mid-range B1 level be sufficient to test successfully for citizenship.

The IntMK also received a study showing trust migrants hold toward German authorities and urged the federal government to fully use EU-negotiated quotas to bring “subsidiary” family members and reunite them with refugees already in Germany. Of the 12,000 such entries possible last year only 5,300 visas were issued, it said.

Last week, a flight carrying 103 refugees landed in Hanover, raising to 2,765 the number of arrivals in Germany since April 2020, meeting the target of 2,750 that Germany had declared itself willing to accept.

Source: Make becoming a German citizen easier, integration ministers urge

Germany Grapples With Racism After Threats Derail Refugee’s Candidacy For Parliament

Sad:

Tareq Alaows was hoping to become the first Syrian refugee to win a seat in Germany’s parliament when the country goes to the polls in September.

Speaking to NPR in February after announcing his candidacy with the Green Party, the 31-year-old lawyer and human rights activist from Damascus was full of ambition to help make Germany a better place.

“From my own experience as an asylum-seeker, I know that Germany needs to improve its integration policies, because they impact everyone, not just refugees,” he said. “I want to effect change for everyone in Germany.”

When Alaows fled the war in Syria in 2015, he thought he was leaving the threat of violence behind him. “The whole reason I came to Europe was so that I could live in safety and with dignity,” he said.

That has not come to pass. Citing death threats and a racist offensive against him and people close to him, Alaows withdrew his candidacy to represent the constituency of Oberhausen, in North Rhine-Westphalia state, in parliament on March 30.

The intolerance and intimidation Alaows faces have been widely condemned but are nothing new for Muslim and nonwhite public figures, or for politicians who openly support refugees. His dramatic campaign ending follows a rise of ethnic discrimination and violence in Germany in recent years, according to the government’s Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency.

“We have a problem with racism”

Alaows is not currently talking to the press, although he has spoken to Green Party candidate Lamya Kaddor.

“I wasn’t surprised by the threats and abuse pitted at Tareq, but I think he was,” Kaddor said. “We have a problem with racism in this country, and not just with far-right extremists. Racism is widespread, even in the middle of society.”

Kaddor, who is running to represent a Duisburg district in the September election, said she too faces racism daily. She was born in Germany to parents who came from Syria several decades ago. She vows she won’t let intimidation stop her election campaign.

“I’m used to a certain level of hatred and hostility. It doesn’t scare me anymore,” Kaddor said. “But it’s frightening for Tareq, who’s experiencing such vehement racist abuse for the first time.”

Like Kaddor, journalist Ferda Ataman was saddened but not surprised by Alaows’ decision.

“Being the target of racist abuse and threats myself, I fully understand why Tareq Alaows has stepped down,” said Ataman, who was born in Germany after her parents emigrated from Turkey. “But it’s very bitter news. Effectively, he’s unable to take part in our democratic process, which is a damning verdict on our society.”

Ataman, who wrote the book Ich bin von hier. Hört auf zu fragen! (I’m From Here. Stop Asking!), is the director of Neue deutsche Medienmacher, an organization that advocates for diversity in the media and politics and offers support to journalists facing racist threats. She said they have a long way to go.

Shrugging off blackface

Two days after Alaows stepped aside, a public television station in the southern region of Bavaria aired an ostensibly satirical sketch about the election featuring a comedian in blackface. The comic was portraying a fictional Black dictator.

The public media network, Bayerischer Rundfunk, told NPR that the comedian stands behind his decision to appear in blackface because “as a satirist” it’s his “job to present things in an exaggerated way.”

Ataman said the broadcaster’s decision to air the sketch is indefensible.

“Unfortunately, blackfacing on television here is not that unusual, and it’s only just starting to be questioned,” she said. “I think that says everything about where Germany is when it comes to tackling racism.”

Ataman said another glaring sign that racism is ingrained in society is the disproportionate representation of minorities in politics. She said between 92% and 96% of state and federal lawmakers are white, even though people with what’s referred to here as a “migration background” make up 26% of Germany’s population.

Those are not the only issues. The latest annual report by the government’s anti-discrimination agency indicated racist attacks were on the rise. Ataman said racism is wide-ranging, from everyday microaggressions to institutionalized discrimination and racial profiling in policing to de facto segregation in schools. Germany has also seen anti-Muslim and anti-refugee protests by a group called Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA. And it has witnessed far-right extremist attacks such as those the National Socialist Underground, a neo-Nazi group, got away with for almost a decade until its only surviving leader was convicted in 2018.

In 2019, Walter Lübcke, a pro-refugee regional lawmaker in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, was assassinated by a far-right extremist outside his home following a series of death threats.

Journalists with minority backgrounds have also received threats. Die Zeit columnist Mely Kiyak — who was born in Germany to Kurdish parents — turned the hate mail she received into a theater show called Hate Poetry in which she and fellow journalists of color read the abuse in front an audience.

Another withdrawn candidacy

Another politician who has left the political arena because of racism is Sener Sahin. Last year, he dropped out of the race for mayor in the Bavarian town of Wallerstein. Sahin, who’s Muslim, was intending to run for the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to the CDU.

“When I announced my candidacy, there was a huge outcry from fellow CSU council members who said the C for CSU stands for Christian — not Muslim,” Sahin said. “So, I withdrew from the race before it really started. I didn’t want to cause a rift in our town.”

Sahin, an engineer whose parents are from Turkey, was born in Germany but said he is still considered an outsider.

“They didn’t like my name, my background or my faith,” he said. “That hurt, of course, because I knew that if I were named Thomas Müller, they’d have supported me.”

He said he’s not one to bear grudges though. He magnanimously jokes that a year later his last name is now trending because of Ugur Sahin, the immunologist and founder of the German company BioNTech, which developed a COVID-19 vaccine with U.S. drugmaker Pfizer. (The two men are not related despite their shared surname, he added.)

Filiz Keküllüoglu, co-founder of a group working to empower minorities, women, trans and other marginalized people in the Green Party, said cases such as Sener Sahin’s and Alaows’ are typical and that political parties need to take a hard look at themselves.

“Every political party in Germany is far whiter than society, and this is a major deficit in our democracy,” Keküllüoglu said. “We work with established politicians within the Green Party, people willing to question their own privileges who are open to power sharing.” With polls suggesting the Greens could win enough seats in September to enter a coalition government with the CDU and CSU conservative alliance, Keküllüoglu said their diversity initiative may end up working overtime.

Markus Söder, the state governor of Bavaria and leader of the CSU who just backed out of the race to succeed Merkel as chancellor, attended a carnival event in 2015 dressed as Mahatma Gandhi in brownface.

Similar incidents in countries such as the United States and Canada are considered offensive and spark public outcries. But Ataman said the fact that Söder’s appearance in brownface was barely raised during his candidacy is symbolic of a wider lack of anti-racist awareness within German politics and society.

As for Alaows, it was not just overt hate that prevented him from running in the election, he said, but also the racist structures the country has failed to question. In a statement announcing his withdrawal, he said, “My candidacy showed that in all parties in politics and across society, strong structures are needed to confront racism and help those affected.”

Source: Germany Grapples With Racism After Threats Derail Refugee’s Candidacy For Parliament

Germany Is Expected To Centralize Its COVID-19 Response. Some Fear It May Be Too Late

Uncomfortable parallels with Canada? That being said, unclear whether stronger federal role would have avoided some of the provincial mistakes and/or denial about the risks of a third wave:

This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is making good on a veiled threat she issued two weeks ago to centralize pandemic management. Amid growing calls for Merkel to take control of the situation and bypass the country’s 16 state leaders, Germany’s parliament is expected to pass a measure this month that will allow her finally to take charge of the country’s COVID-19 response.

As the third wave of infection rages, some worry it may already be too late. Hospitals in Germany warn they’re about to run out of intensive care beds, even as state leaders continue to relax coronavirus restrictions.

Germany, with a population of 83 million, has lost nearly 79,000 lives to the pandemic. With the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant now dominant, the national seven-day incidence rate has risen in recent weeks from below 100 to 136.4 cases per 100,000 people. The country’s total number of infections has surpassed 3 million.

A year ago, Germany was weathering the pandemic relatively well and Merkel’s coronavirus response — attributed to her scientific understanding of the virus and a robust test, track and trace system — was praised far and wide. But exponential growth has long since overwhelmed virus trackers, and the slow start to vaccine rollout, combined with an increasingly confusing patchwork of regional lockdown regulations, has left the country in epidemiological disarray and sent Merkel’s party plummeting in the polls, losing 10 points in recent weeks.

“It’s been a bit of a rude awakening for us Germans to realize that we’re not the masters of organization,” says Melanie Amann, who heads the Berlin bureau of Der Spiegel.

While the pandemic has debunked the myth about German efficiency, the same cannot be said of another cliché — the nation’s love of red tape.

“Our ability to create complex systems and bureaucracy have pretty much stopped us from effectively fighting the pandemic,” Amann says. Nonfunctioning websites, unstaffed hotlines, excessive paperwork and authorizations are among the issues she cites — amid regulations that differ from state to state.

Severin Opel, a 23-year-old Berlin resident, had to wait several days to get an appointment for a recent rapid coronavirus test.

“Paperwork is getting in the way of this pandemic,” he laments. “There’s so much focus on minutiae and documenting every step to the nth degree, guidelines end up contradicting each other and nothing makes sense.”

Merkel is known for her careful, measured responses to crises, but even she admits there’s sometimes too much devil in the details.

Speaking in a rare television interview last month, Merkel conceded: “Perhaps we Germans are overly perfectionist sometimes. We always want to do everything right because whoever makes a mistake gets it in the neck publicly.” But “in a pandemic,” she went on to say, “there needs to be more flexibility. We Germans need to learn to let go.”

Janosch Dahmen, a front-line doctor and health spokesperson for the Green Party — which is close to rivaling Merkel’s conservatives in the polls — believes the government’s cautious approach is actually reckless.

“A strategy or intervention without risks doesn’t exist,” Dahmen says. “Waiting for the perfect, flawless game plan is a recipe for failure, especially in the face of this virus, which is mutating insanely fast.”

And yet Merkel’s crisis management style is only one factor. Germany’s system of federalism means she has little say in the country’s vaccination and lockdown strategies, of which there are no fewer than 16 — one for each German state.

Amann argues, though, it’s high time that Merkel — who leaves office this fall — used her considerable political capital to take charge, rather than simply advising and negotiating pandemic guidelines with the 16 state premiers.

“Because her term is ending, she theoretically has all the freedom and all the independence she wants to take bold steps in the corona management,” Amann says. “Nobody could run her out of office. And she’s not using this. She’s just working as if she were at the beginning of her first term.”

State leaders agreed in March on an “emergency brake” strategy to impose more rigorous measures as infections rose, but the agreement was only in principle, and few states have implemented the measures strictly.

After weeks of frustration, political commentators have observed, Merkel looks the way many Germans feel — namely mütend, a pandemic-era mashup that means both tired (müde) and angry (wütend).

And while there’s concern that parliament might take too long to pass a bill allowing Merkel to streamline and centralize pandemic crisis management, the chancellor and most of the state premiers agree the current situation is untenable.

Source: Germany Is Expected To Centralize Its COVID-19 Response. Some Fear It May Be Too Late

Turkish Germans are finally finding their voice

Interesting overview and history (long read):

IScores of young Turkish men in sober suits move towards the train that will take them to Germany, while their wives and mothers cry on the platform. A few days earlier, these hopefuls had been bare-chested as their teeth and bodies were checked by German doctors to ensure they were strong enough for the physical work awaiting them. Those that pass the test feel immense pride: “I am Yılmaz Atalay from Çorum!” announces one, gazing wide-eyed into the camera in footage originally shot by Turkish state television.

Atalay was among the first Gastarbeiter, or guest workers, to leave a poor part of Turkey for West Germany’s booming post-war economy and a better life. The deal signed in 1961 by Ankara and Bonn sparked an enormous migration between two countries that shared little in terms of culture, religion or prosperity. It changed not only the workers’ lives, but also the nature of their new country. By the end of the first year, 5,623 Turkish workers lived in Germany. When the scheme officially ended, in 1973, there were 900,000. Now the Turkish-German community, comprising the original migrants and their descendants (about half of whom are German citizens) numbers nearly three million, constituting the biggest minority group in the country.

Most of those original migrants spent their working lives in low-paid, backbreaking jobs on assembly lines and building sites, as well as in mines. Their descendants include global successes, such as Game of Thrones actress Sibel Kekilli and World Cup-winning footballer Mesut Özil as well as—most recently—the Covid-19 vaccine creators, the married couple Uğur Şahin (whose parents were doctors) and Özlem Türeci of BioNTech.

But while such figures conjure up an immigrant rags-to-riches story, the truth for most is less romantic. As the 60th anniversary of the Turkish Gastarbeiter programme approaches, the younger generation is struggling to find its proper place. In 2021, Turkish Germans are still among the least integrated, least educated in the country. At the same time, the effects of German xenophobia remain pervasive. Many young Turkish Germans are angry that even after three generations, they don’t appear to fully belong.

Germany: New law eases citizenship for descendants of Nazi victims

Needed change:

The German government on Wednesday agreed to a draft law to grant citizenship to more descendants of Nazi victims.

If enacted, the law should fully close a loophole that led to many victims’ descendants being denied German citizenship, despite a long-standing policy of allowing descendants of persecuted Jews to reclaim citizenship.

Some were denied citizenship because their ancestors fled Germany and changed citizenship before Nazi Germany officially revoked their German citizenship. Others were denied because they were born before April 1, 1953, to a non-German father and a German mother in a gender-discriminating rule.

In 1941, the Nazi regime stripped citizenship from any German Jews living outside its borders, rendering Jewish refugees stateless and stranded. Jews inside the country were stripped of their rights and rendered state subjects.

Before this, many Jews and other victims of Nazi rule had their citizenship stripped of them individually by decree for political or racial reasons.

Enshrining a new rule

The government said the new law was largely symbolic but would set into law a change in rules adopted in 2019.

“This is not just about putting things right, it is about apologizing in profound shame,” said Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

“It is a huge fortune for our country if people want to become German, despite the fact that we took everything from their ancestors,” he said in a statement.

Interior Ministry spokesman Steve Alter said formalizing the 2019 rule change was a way of strengthening the legal position of beneficiaries and giving them “the value they deserved.”

‘Injustice cannot be undone’

The president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, said: “During the Nazi era, countless German Jews were forced to flee or were expatriated. In addition, Jews were fundamentally excluded from acquiring German citizenship due to racist legislation. This injustice cannot be undone. But it is a gesture of decency if they and their descendants are given legal opportunities to regain German citizenship.”

His organization had campaigned for the law, saying that the previous decrees had been inadequate.

The loopholes were thrust into the spotlight recently, as many Britons lodged citizenship applications due to Brexit. Many of those based their claim on the Nazi persecution of their ancestors. Numbers rose from 43 such applications in 2015 to 1,506 in 2018, according to ministry figures.

Austria changed its rules in 2019, too, allowing the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who fled the Nazis to be renaturalized. It previously only allowed Holocaust survivors themselves to obtain Austrian citizenship.

Source: Germany: New law eases citizenship for descendants of Nazi victims