Not long ago The Economist’s published a lead story entitled, ‘Germany is becoming more open and diverse. With the right leadership, it could be a model for the West.’ The lead commentary argued that ‘(m)any of the country’s defining traits – its ethnic and cultural homogeneity, conformist and conservative society, and unwillingness to punch its weight in international diplomacy – are suddenly in flux’ (April 14, 2018, p.9). Spanning 12 pages, the special report on Germany considers issues such as open and closed politics, the concept of ‘Heimat’, identity, social cleavages, and the advance of AI. The evolution of Germany into a reluctant and kind-of benign hegemon, and the state’s reconciliation with its history are also addressed, mostly in a sympathetic way.
This article forms the starting point for this week’s questions:
History never disappears. But are the horrors of the Holocaust and World War 2 becoming more distant, no longer immediately shaping current German policies? Is Germany becoming a ‘normal’ country, keeping its specific features but increasingly influential, with a clear liberal identity and taking over more responsibilities? And, if so, what does this signal to Germany’s neighbors? Ms Thatcher famously quipped after the collapse of the Berlin Wall: “We’ve beaten the Germans twice. Now they’re back!” Giulio Andretti added “I love Germany so much that I prefer to see two of them”. Are these times gone for good? Is it acceptable for today’s Germany to define its political roadmap as pragmatically as most other countries are shaping theirs? Moreover, is there reason to assume that Germany may even belong to the few societies (maybe like Canada and the Scandinavian countries) serving as liberal role models, as the “West’s Last Stalwart of Enlightened Liberalism” (Haaretz, 11, 2017)?
The German coalition talks collapsed recently. Achieving a ‘Jamaica’ coalition between the moderate conservatives, the Bavarian ‘real’ conservatives, the liberal party (just returned by the voters to the Bundestag) and the Greens, was apparently way beyond the capabilities of the four parties and over 70 people involved in four weeks of talks.
So as of now, the most influential country in Europe and the world’s third biggest economy is run by an acting government with limited rights. A government with a chancellor ranked as the ‘most influential woman of the world’—a prime example of soft power, a gifted mediator from the Iran to the Minsk negotiations, a core player in the Euro and migration crises—is currently looking weak, insecure, and shaken. While never quite willing to take on a global role beyond Europe, and being impressed by but unwilling to accept the notion of the ‘last standing liberal power in the world’, German elites are now puzzled by the inability to bring together the only viable combination of parties in the parliament after the September elections.
While recently there were prolonged periods of government-building in both Belgium and the Netherlands, neither country was as relevant for the cohesion and renovation of the EU. A couple of new French initiatives are still waiting for answers from Berlin. And those who are skeptical about liberal orders and societies may cheer: Now even in Germany there seems to be a crisis of liberalism, partly triggered by the populist AfD on the right, and the left party on the, well, left, both of whom accumulated about a quarter of the votes for populist, partly ant-systemic parties.
Which leads to this week´s question: Is all this a risk for Europe?
– Klaus Segbers
The current conflict in Myanmar has broad-ranging effects and side-effects. The core issue is the fate of the Rohingya group, a Muslim minority which in some respects is a leftover of British colonial times and the partition of this empire in 1947. Many Rohingyas are not entitled to elementary citizens’ rights, even today.
Although the immediate cause of Rohingyas fleeing and being expelled is actions by the Myanmar armed forces (or parts thereof), these actions rest on an apparently solid support by the Buddhist majority population in other parts of Burma. Violence is applied from all sides involved – there are armed Rohingya/ Muslim militias, and there is the (much more powerful) Myanmar army. Some aspects of the events in the last two months resemble features of ethnic cleansing. To chase out all of them – so far about 750,000 people – would ‘solve’ the problem from the perspective of the power circles in Yangon and Naypyidaw. It´s not quite clear what the role of the ‘Lady’ is exactly: Aung San Suu Kyi has wasted a lot of her considerable accumulated social capital by making no statements, or only ambivalent once, about this crisis. Obviously, she wants to avoid a situation where she would find herself estranged from the domestic Buddhist majority and from the military, even when, alternatively, she may be appreciated by some Rohingyas and the Western media. China is another factor, watching from the sidelines. More relevant, and often overlooked from our perspective, is the effect of all of this on Bangladesh. This poor country is clearly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the crisis, and the financial and political costs of the incoming hundreds of thousands Rohingyas. There are credible reports that the current government, not in a strong position anyway, is increasingly coming under pressure from domestic groups who are calling for stronger action against Myanmar’s policies. This issue also may work to strengthen radical Islamist groups in Bangladesh. All this looks, especially from Europe, like a major tragic disaster, and quite messy.
This week’s question is: Is there anything you may come up with that could be done from the outside, by Europeans or others, except handwringing?
– Klaus Segbers
The German elections to the Bundestag did not create much attention (so far). The campaign was a quiet one (some say it was boring), and there were not many emotions invested. Also, most topics raised were not extensively debated. Even the potential outcomes looked predictable: probably, for the first time, seven parties (in six factions) would be represented (and so it came to pass); very likely, Ms. Merkel would earn her fourth term (looks likely); there either would be another big coalition between conservatives and social democrats (now off the table), or a ‘Jamaica’ coalition (black/ conservative – green – liberal). So, limited entertainment value and limited options?
We still do not know if the partially significant arithmetic results (a loss of 13% for the parties of the big coalition; the AfD in the Bundestag with almost 13%, and around 20 plus% in Eastern Germany) will translate into policy changes.
The question this week is: Does the outcome of the German elections have any impact on neighboring countries, the EU, international conflicts and the world in general? Is there an external dimension that matters? Will there be more domestic pressure on the future ruling coalition?
– Klaus Segbers
Two years ago, I posted this text:
“At the beginning of 2015, the world looks more confused than ever. So one would assume that we do need a lot of good specialists to bring a sense of clarity and transparency to what is happening in Global Politics. Alas, what we see is that a lot of people in most countries give up understanding the chaos, resigning in the face of too much complexity. This includes decision makers who are skeptical re. the interference of self-appointed specialists. Plus, media reporting on global affairs is about as simplistic as the reality is complicated.
So why should young people today start a career by studying International Relations/ Global Politics? What can they expect from such a degree? What can taxpayers expect from such an investment? And politicians from these experts? The postings you sent them, and the resulting debate was one of the most successful in the history of ‘Global Matters’.”
So let me repeat my question in a slightly modified form:
‘Global Politics’ both as a subject and a discipline, looks messy. There is less cooperation between governments and all kinds of actors, plus increased populism (U.S. elections, Brexit, Russia, the Philippines, referenda in the Netherlands and Italy, etc.). The world has not seen this degree of conflict with even slimmer prospects of problem solving, since after the Second World War.
Why should we, and how could we encourage young students to get into this field now?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
In ancient Greece, when the Olympic Games were running, weapons were silenced. Wars were put on hold. This is not something that we can observe anymore. The political implications of the Olympics are becoming ever more complex, but they do not appear to approximate the world in a more peaceful condition. In Rio, we encounter a ‘refugee team’ for the first time. A significant number of Russian athletes have been excluded due to notorious and state-induced doping. All Russian athletes have been excluded from the Paralympics. But Russia, though probably among the worst, are not the only dopers.
In previous years, some countries abstained from participating in Olympics organized by other states, due to political misbehavior or just inconvenience (Taiwan was excluded from the Montreal Games in 1976; the USSR invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 led to a Western boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980, while the Eastern Bloc retaliated with a boycott of the Los Angeles Games in 1984). The Berlin Games in 1936 were not boycotted. There were protests against the Beijing 2008 and Sochi 2014 Games, due to human rights issues, but no boycotts. The Olympics have also attracted terrorist attacks (a Palestinian commando killed Israeli athletes in 1972 in Munich) and during the Games in Mexico (1968), black power symbols were put on display.
So what is the role of the Olympics now? Should we stick to the notion that the Olympics are a politics-free zone? Or should we accept the unavoidable, and let politics impact the Games?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
Last Sunday, a stretched-out four weeks of the Euro 2016 soccer championship came to an end. Most of the games were not particularly exciting, the level of playing was moderate, and mostly dominated by tactical considerations. As always, there was the odd and vastly popular outliner: Iceland.
The relationship between popular sports events and politics was always enigmatic, and it remains so. There were wars triggered or even caused by soccer like in 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras. There were boycotts. There are even theories and books trying to correlate a certain style of playing soccer with political backgrounds (like in the case of Germany: the victory in the world championship in Switzerland in 1954 symbolizing a successful reintegration of Germany, the success in 1974 representing the lightness of the social-democratic-liberal turn-around (Willy Brandt’s ‘we want to take a chance with more democracy’), the victory in 1990 as a sign of the newly united Germany, and the one in 2014 – signifying Germany’s new weight and role in Europe and beyond, as a successful civilian power).
So is all of this pure speculation? Or are there links between a team’s success in sports, and politics?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers