Showing posts with label Germany. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Germany. Show all posts

July 7, 2020

Germany Says Sorry For Treatment of Gay Soldiers

The Defense Ministry says it wants to make good decades of discrimination against homosexual troops. Even after homosexual acts were made legal, gay soldiers were still long seen as a risk.
Germany is planning to rehabilitate soldiers who were discriminated against in past years by being rejected for promotion or even fired from the army because of their homosexuality, the Defense Ministry announced.
The ministry said it intends to present a draft bill in September to address the injustices done to those soldiers who had been subjected to punitive measures by military disciplinary courts.
In some cases, homosexual soldiers have been disadvantaged with respect to their peers by receiving a lower salary or pension because they were refused promotions. 
A law preventing homosexuals from becoming professional soldiers or taking on tasks as superiors or leadership positions remained in force till July 3, 2000.
According to the Defense Ministry website, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told groups representing LGBT+ personnel in the Bundeswehr in March that homosexual members of the German army had been unjustly treated for decades.
"I am sorry for this practice, which was standard policy at the time. I apologize to those who had to suffer under it," she said.
Diversity label Bundeswehr
The Bundeswehr's logo for diversity and inclusion
Long legal discrimination
But Kramp-Karrenbauer said times had changed and the Bundeswehr as well. "Today, it is not about tolerance. It is about respect, appreciation and esteem. That is why it is important and right to come to terms with the past, initiate processes of change and open the Bundeswehr for a new way of thinking," she said.
Homosexual acts among men were illegal in Germany up to the end of the 1960s, and soldiers could be found guilty by military tribunals of "unnatural sexual offenses." Such a verdict could lead to soldiers being demoted or fired, while in civilian courts homosexuals could be punished with up to five years' imprisonment.
But even after the law against homosexual acts was completely removed from the penal code in 1994, the Bundeswehr continued to consider homosexuals a risk to military security.
It was only in 2000 that lesbian, gay and bisexual soldiers were officially permitted in the army and a decree introduced urging "tolerance" toward gays and other sexual minorities. Transgender people were allowed to serve openly from 2014.

June 14, 2020

Trump Gets Pissed, Pulls 1/3 of American Troops Out of Germany....Is That Crazy or What?


People on both sides of the Atlantic are waiting for official confirmation whether the U.S. will pull 9,500 troops out of Germany — over a third of its total 34,500 troop presence in the country.
The possible proposal was first reported June 5 by The Wall Street Journal. A U.S. official confirmed to NPR the plan exists, but no orders have been issued.
Germany's government has also said Chancellor Angela Merkel was informed the U.S. is considering a troop drawdown from the country.
The possible plan has caused a stir among current and former officials in both countries, who view the U.S. military presence in Germany as one of the most strategic in the world.
"I would say it's essential," says Ben Hodges, a retired lieutenant general who commanded the U.S. Army in Europe from 2014 to 2017.
"They represent part of the U.S. contribution to NATO, which defends the interests of all 30 countries. But it also gives us a forward presence and access throughout Europe, Africa [and the] Middle East," says Hodges. Hodges, who now holds the Pershing chair for strategic studies at the Center for European Policy Analysis, calls Germany a "transit hub" for the U.S.-led alliance and a crucial deterrence against Russia.
Despite this, the news of a possible troop drawdown inside a close U.S. ally highlights the deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and Germany as well as other European nations, whose soldiers fight alongside American forces in the U.S.-led alliance.
The former U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell — who stepped down at the beginning of this month — has long advocated for a drawdown of U.S. troops in Germany. "American taxpayers no longer feel like paying too much for the defense of other countries," he told German tabloid Bild this week.
"With all respect to the former ambassador, it reflects a total lack of appreciation for what having forward base capability in Europe and specifically Germany does for American security and a lack of understanding of what those soldiers are doing," says Hodges. "I've read where he said, 'Hey, there's still 25,000 [troops]. That's a lot.' If this was the 19th century, 25,000 infantry with muskets walking across the field, that would be a lot." But it's barely enough in terms of modern warfare, he says.
NPR asked Grenell for comment by phone and email but he has not responded.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the Trump administration plans to cap the number of U.S. service members in Germany at 25,000 and wants to remove 9,500 troops by September.
Thomas Wiegold, a German expert on NATO, says that is unrealistic. "We are talking about thousands of dependents. We're talking about civilian employees and all this. So the timeframe seems rather unreal," he says.
Wiegold, a journalist whose website is devoted to military news in the region, says another thing that's puzzling about this reported proposal is the billions of dollars of infrastructure the U.S. military has already invested in Germany. "Ramstein Air Base is the largest U.S. air base outside the United States. Landstuhl medical center is the largest U.S. hospital outside the United States. Grafenwöhr training area is one of the very few high-tech training installations and the only one outside the United States," says Wiegold. And if you cut U.S. forces by a third, he says, much of that goes to waste.
German politicians are equally baffled. "Maybe the U.S. president feels a little bit worried about the fact that Germany and the German chancellor is a little bit like a role model of corona crisis compared to what happened in the U.S.?" wonders Jürgen Hardt, foreign affairs spokesman for Chancellor Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union party.
Hardt acknowledges the Trump administration's frustration over Germany's defense contributions in NATO, but he says after years of criticism, Germany is now increasing its defense budget by more than 10% a year.
One country that seems content hearing the news of a possible U.S. troop drawdown is Russia. Its Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the Russian government welcomedPresident Trump's plan, adding that the U.S. should also remove its nuclear weapons in Germany.
Twenty-two Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee wrote a letter to President Trump saying they were "very concerned" about the possible plan to remove troops from Europe.
"We believe that such steps would significantly damage U.S. national security as well as strengthen the position of Russia to our detriment," the letter said.
Retired Lt. Gen. Hodges agrees that Germany needs to spend more on its military, but he says it's not justification to remove so many U.S. troops from the country.
That a week has passed since the Journal first reported this tells him something about the Trump administration. "That tells me that they don't have a plan and they they've come up with a solution in search of a problem. And now they're trying to make it work," he says.
Hodges says the timing of this story — in a crucial election year for Trump — tells him this was likely a political decision. And he hopes that for the sake of security in Europe and in the United States, this story of such a big troop drawdown remains just a story.

June 8, 2020

For Those Who Don't Know History Will Make The Same Stupidity: German Neo's Getting Training in Russia

Hungary's far right linked to Russia | New Europe


German neo-Nazis have been getting military-style training at camps run by a far-right Russian terrorist organization, German media reported Friday, in the latest sign of deepening international cooperation between white supremacist networks.
Citing intelligence sources, German news magazine Focus reported that the extremists had attended a camp held near Saint Petersburg, where they were shown how to use weapons and explosives, and received close combat training.  
The training camp, known as Partizan, is run by the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), an ultranationalist, quasi-paramilitary organization which claims to be fighting for the “predominance of the white race.” 
The U.S. government added RIM to its list of specially designated global terrorist groups in April — the first time it had taken such action against a white supremacist organization — saying it had “provided paramilitary-style training to white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Europe.”
Encyclopedia of hate: A look at the neo-Nazi militant movements ...
 They want free speech, you know like Trump on Twitter but for us and the news"Keep Quiet"
The Russian government considers RIM to be extremist, but has not banned the group.
The German extremists who attended the camp belonged to the youth wings of two fringe German political parties widely considered to be neo-Nazi movements: the National Democratic Party and The Third Path. The Focus report did not provide further details of their attendance at the camp, but said that extremists from Sweden and Finland had previously attended the camps and gone on to fight in pro-separatist militias in eastern Ukraine.
Experts told VICE News that the German attendance at the camp highlighted the growing cooperation between white supremacist groups internationally, as they sought to build relationships with allies in other countries.
“It signals that RIM is a critical node in the transnational white supremacy extremist movement,” said Mollie Saltskog, intelligence analyst at The Soufan Group. “RIM is going beyond networking and ideology, and is actually providing paramilitary training to individuals who adhere to this violent ideology." 
Kacper Rekawek, an affiliated researcher for the Counter Extremism Project, said that Russia and Ukraine had become important hubs for the transnational white supremacist movement, where permissive government attitudes towards militant far-right groups has effectively created a safe space for extremists to network or receive military-style training.
“I don’t think these [German] guys would be able to do this sort of thing anywhere in Europe,” he told VICE News. 
Like Ukraine’s far-right Azov movement, RIM’s standing in the international white supremacist scene has been boosted by its involvement in the war in Ukraine, where its military wing, the “Imperial Legion,” fought on the side of pro-Russian separatists. 
Rekawek said RIM had acted as a “conveyor belt” for fighters into the Ukraine conflict, amplifying its appeal to extremists from other countries who wanted to increase their capacity for violence.
“They have the street cred,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘We’ve got the experience, we’re the real deal.’”
While no Americans are known to have participated in the camps, RIM has also forged ties with American white supremacists. According to a report by The Soufan Center, RIM developed close ties with Matthew Heimbach, founder of the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker Party in the U.S., and an organizer of the infamous Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Heimbach, who claims to have renounced his white nationalist views, welcomed a RIM delegation to the U.S. in 2017, and had reportedly received invitations to train with RIM, said Saltskog.
She said the main fear of intelligence services was that the extremists would return home and carry out acts of violence in their own countries, like two Swedish neo-Nazis, Viktor Melin and Anton Thulin, who attended an 11-day RIM training camp in August 2016, before carrying out a series of terrorist attacks in the Swedish city of Gothenburg a few months later. 
According to the State Department, which cited the Swedish bombings as a justification for designating RIM a terrorist organization, the Swedish prosecutor who dealt with their case found RIM was responsible for radicalizing them into action and giving them the expertise to carry out the attacks.
“The tacit knowledge transfer, for example when it comes to bomb-making … presents a great threat to the countries these individuals are from,” said Saltskog. She said the latest report out of Germany was further evidence that the U.S. decision to sanction RIM as a global terrorist group was justified.
“In my opinion, the threat is no different than if a German or Swede would travel to participate in an ISIS or al-Qaeda training camp.”
Cover: A picture taken on February 28, 2015 shows a member of the Russian Imperial Movement, a nationalist group in Russia, walking close to a banner reading "God.Tsar.Nation.We are Russians, God with us" at a training base in Saint Petersburg. (Photo: OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images)

April 5, 2020

Why is Germany's Corona Virus Rates So Low?

 Credit...Ronny Hartmann/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

They call them corona taxis: Medics outfitted in protective gear, driving around the empty streets of Heidelberg to check on patients who are at home, five or six days into being sick with the coronavirus.

They take a blood test, looking for signs that a patient is about to go into a steep decline. They might suggest hospitalization, even to a patient who has only mild symptoms; the chances of surviving that decline are vastly improved by being in a hospital when it begins.

“There is this tipping point at the end of the first week,” said Prof. Hans-Georg Kräusslich, the head of virology at University Hospital in Heidelberg, one of the country’s leading research hospitals. “If you are a person whose lungs might fail, that’s when you will start deteriorating.”

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Heidelberg’s corona taxis are only one initiative in one city. But they illustrate a level of engagement and a commitment of public resources in fighting the epidemic that help explain one of the most intriguing puzzles of the pandemic: Why is Germany’s death rate so low? 

The virus and the resulting disease, Covid-19, have hit Germany with force: According to Johns Hopkins University, the country had more than 91,000 laboratory-confirmed infections by Saturday morning, more than any other country except the United States, Italy and Spain.

But with 1,275 deaths, Germany’s fatality rate stood at 1.3 percent, compared with 12 percent in Italy, around 10 percent in Spain, France and Britain, 4 percent in China and 2.5 percent in the United States. Even South Korea, a model of flattening the curve, has a higher fatality rate, 1.7 percent.

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“There has been talk of a German anomaly,” said Hendrik Streeck, director of the Institute of virology at the University Hospital Bonn. Professor Streeck has been getting calls from colleagues in the United States and elsewhere. 

“‘What are you doing differently?’ they ask me,” he said. “Why is your death rate so low?”

There are several answers to this question, experts say, a mix of statistical distortions and very real differences in how the country has taken on the epidemic.

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The average age of those infected is lower in Germany than in many other countries. Many of the early patients caught the virus in Austrian and Italian ski resorts and were relatively young and healthy, Professor Kräusslich said.

“It started as an epidemic of skiers,” he said.

As infections have spread, more older people have been hit and the death rate, only 0.2 percent two weeks ago, has risen, too. But the average age of contracting the disease remains relatively low, at 49. In France, it is 62.5 and in Italy 62, according to their latest national reports.

Another explanation for the low fatality rate is that Germany has been testing far more people than most nations. That means it catches more people with few or no symptoms, increasing the number of known cases, but not the number of fatalities.

“That automatically lowers the death rate on paper,” said Professor Kräusslich.

But there are also significant medical factors that have kept the number of deaths in Germany relatively low, epidemiologists and virologists say, chief among them early and widespread testing and treatment, plenty of intensive care beds and a trusted government whose social distancing guidelines are widely observed.

ImageDrive-through testing in Halle, Germany. The country has done far more testing than any other in Europe.

Drive-through testing in Halle, Germany. The country has done far more testing than any other in Europe.Credit...Ronny Hartmann/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In mid-January, long before most Germans had given the virus much thought, Charité hospital in Berlin had already developed a test and posted the formula online.

By the time Germany recorded its first case of Covid-19 in February, laboratories across the country had built up a stock of test kits.

“The reason why we in Germany have so few deaths at the moment compared to the number of infected can be largely explained by the fact that we are doing an extremely large number of lab diagnoses,” said Dr. Christian Drosten, chief virologist at Charité, whose team developed the first test.

By now, Germany is conducting around 350,000 coronavirus tests a week, far more than any other European country. Early and widespread testing has allowed the authorities to slow the spread of the pandemic by isolating known cases while they are infectious. It has also enabled lifesaving treatment to be administered in a more timely way.

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“When I have an early diagnosis and can treat patients early — for example put them on a ventilator before they deteriorate — the chance of survival is much higher,” Professor Kräusslich said.

Medical staff, at particular risk of contracting and spreading the virus, are regularly tested. To streamline the procedure, some hospitals have started doing block tests, using the swabs of 10 employees, and following up with individual tests only if there is a positive result.

At the end of April, health authorities also plan to role out a large-scale antibody study, testing random samples of 100,000 people across Germany every week to gauge where immunity is building up.

One key to ensuring broad-based testing is that patients pay nothing for it, said Professor Streeck. This, he said, was one notable difference with the United States in the first several weeks of the outbreak. The coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress last month does provide for free testing.

“A young person with no health insurance and an itchy throat is unlikely to go to the doctor and therefore risks infecting more people,” he said.

German hospitals, whose workers are checked regularly for coronavirus, have withstood the epidemic better than those in many other countries.

German hospitals, whose workers are checked regularly for coronavirus, have withstood the epidemic better than those in many other countries.Credit...Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images

On a Friday in late February, Professor Streeck received news that for the first time, a patient at his hospital in Bonn had tested positive for the coronavirus: A 22-year-old man who had no symptoms but whose employer — a school — had asked him to take a test after learning that he had taken part in a carnival event where someone else had tested positive.

In most countries, including the United States, testing is largely limited to the sickest patients, so the man probably would have been refused a test.

Not in Germany. As soon as the test results were in, the school was shut, and all children and staff were ordered to stay at home with their families for two weeks. Some 235 people were tested.

“Testing and tracking is the strategy that was successful in South Korea and we have tried to learn from that,” Professor Streeck said.

Germany also learned from getting it wrong early on: The strategy of contact tracing should have been used even more aggressively, he said.

All those who had returned to Germany from Ischgl, an Austrian ski resort that had an outbreak, for example, should have been tracked down and tested, Professor Streeck said.

Construction workers beginning to prepare an exhibition hall in Berlin to become a treatment center for coronavirus patients. Credit...Pool photo by Clemens Bilan/EPA, via Shutterstock
A Robust Public Health Care System

Before the coronavirus pandemic swept across Germany, University Hospital in Giessen had 173 intensive care beds equipped with ventilators. In recent weeks, the hospital scrambled to create an additional 40 beds and increased the staff that was on standby to work in intensive care by as much as 50 percent.

“We have so much capacity now we are accepting patients from Italy, Spain and France,” said Susanne Herold, a specialist in lung infections at the hospital who has overseen the restructuring. “We are very strong in the intensive care area.”

All across Germany, hospitals have expanded their intensive care capacities. And they started from a high level. In January, Germany had some 28,000 intensive care beds equipped with ventilators, or 34 per 100,000 people. By comparison, that rate is 12 in Italy and 7 in the Netherlands.

By now, there are 40,000 intensive care beds available in Germany.

Some experts are cautiously optimistic that social distancing measures might be flattening the curve enough for Germany’s health care system to weather the pandemic without producing a scarcity of lifesaving equipment like ventilators.

“It is important that we have guidelines for doctors on how to practice triage between patients if they have to,” Professor Streeck said. “But I hope we will never need to use them.”

The time it takes for the number of infections to double has slowed to about eight days. If it slows a little more, to between 12 and 14 days, Professor Herold said, the models suggest that triage could be avoided.

“The curve is beginning to flatten,” she said.

Streets around the Siegestor, or Victory Arch, in Munich are empty. Credit...Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times
Trust in Government

Beyond mass testing and the preparedness of the health care system, many also see Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership as one reason the fatality rate has been kept low.

Ms. Merkel has communicated clearly, calmly and regularly throughout the crisis, as she imposed ever-stricter social distancing measures on the country. The restrictions, which have been crucial to slowing the spread of the pandemic, met with little political opposition and are broadly followed.

The chancellor’s approval ratings have soared.

“Maybe our biggest strength in Germany,” said Professor Kräusslich, “is the rational decision-making at the highest level of government combined with the trust the government enjoys in the population.”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.

March 21, 2020

The Leader of The Free World, Angela Merkel Makes A Speech and She Nailed it

Angela Merkel doesn’t do drama and she doesn’t give speeches on TV. So the mere fact that the German chancellor faced the camera across a desk andspoke to the nation Wednesday evening made the gravity of the situation clear. “Es ist ernst,” she said—“This is serious”— and those three bland words had more power than a hellfire sermon. Then she pivoted from statement to plea: “Take it seriously.” Quickly, she moved on to historical context, the reason for her unprecedented impromptu appearance: “Since German unification—no, since the Second World War—no challenge to our nation has ever demanded such a degree of common and united action.” 
 Merkel made no specific announcements and called for no nationwide curfews or additional closures. Yet what gave her address its force was her tone, which was direct, honest, and searingly empathic. She laid bare not just the test we all face but also the solace that leadership can provide. Without accusations, boasts, hedges, obfuscations, dubious claims, or apocalyptic metaphors she did what a leader is supposed to do: explain the gravity of the situation and promise that the government’s help would flow to everyone who needed it. She gave full-throated thanks to front-line medical workers, assured Germans that there is no need to hoard, and paused to offer gratitude to a group of workers who rarely get recognized by heads of state on national TV: “Those who sit at supermarket cash registers or restock shelves are doing one of the hardest jobs there is right now.”
This is a war without a human enemy, and Merkel lay no blame. She asked for the sacrifice of discipline, for heroic acts of kindness. She acknowledged the paradox in calling for solidarity and apartness at the same time. She understood how painful it is that just when people desperately want to come together, families and friends have to endure separation. To Americans, Merkel’s appeals to democracy, and her sadness at having to use the full weight of her authority, come as a welcome shock. No German could listen to her calls for self-policing without recalling that she grew up in East Germany under the eye of the Stasi. “For someone like myself, for whom freedom of travel and movement were hard-won rights,” she said, “such restrictions can only be justified when they are absolutely necessary.” No American could hear that statement and fail to contrast it with our own leader’s ringing words: “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

March 19, 2020

Germany Warned of 10 Million New Cases of COVID-19 in 3 months~~ Uk With Game Changer New Test



Nearly 10 million people in Germany could become infected with coronavirus within the next three months, if strict measures to stem its spread are not implemented, the country’s disease control agency warned on Wednesday.

Speaking at a news conference in the capital Berlin, Lothar Wieler , head of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said the government’s recent measures to limit social contact in public places, closure of all non-essential shops, bars and sport venues was extremely important to stem the spread of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.

“If we don't succeed in effectively limiting social contact in the coming weeks, it is possible that we will have up to 10 million cases in Germany in the next two to three months,” he said, adding that such a development could lead to collapse of the country’s healthcare system.

He called on citizens to follow basic hygiene measures, refrain from social gatherings, keep at least 1.5 meters distance from others and stay at home except for the most essential reasons.

Germany is the third-worst-affected country by the coronavirus pandemic in Europe, after Italy and Spain.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country rose to 9,877 as of Wednesday morning. 

The coronavirus death toll has reached to 26, according to statements by local health authorities.

Anadolu Agency website  




Public Health England is working on an antibody test which will show who has had the novel coronavirus despite having no symptoms. 

Research on the test is progressing quickly, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday at a press conference in Downing Street.

“The great thing about having a test to see whether you’ve had it enough, is suddenly a green light goes on above your head and you can go back to work safe and confident in the knowledge that you are most unlikely to get it again,” Johnson said.

He added that the test would be a “game-changer” economically and socially.

The government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said work at Public Health England on the antibody test is progressing "very fast" and they have valuable data on the outbreak.

Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Dr. Jenny Harries said they will develop COVID-19 kits that can be used at home, which would alleviate the burden on public health workers.

According to National Health Service (NHS) data, COVID-19 has claimed 33 more lives in the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 104. Confirmed cases have increased by 676 to a total of 2,526.

The government was following a controlled infection strategy with the goal of collective immunity but made some changes in the policy following criticism.

Johnson advised the public to refrain from unnecessary travel and social contact.

The government also decided to close schools until further notice.

Since first being detected in Wuhan, China in December, the novel coronavirus has claimed more than 7,870 lives globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

More than 194,000 cases of the virus have been confirmed in at least 164 countries and territories, with Europe as its epicenter, according to the WHO.

Despite the rising number of cases, most people who get infected suffer mild symptoms and recover.

*Writing by Firdevs Bulut

December 20, 2019

Germany Hires 600 Police to Fight The Ultra Right, One day it Could be Us but with Thousands More


                              Image result for germany hires 600 police to fight ultra right

By Tim Hume

Germany just created hundreds of new intelligence jobs to hunt down far-right extremists and neo-Nazis as part of a tough new approach to tackling the growing problem. 

The new plan, announced in Berlin by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer Tuesday, creates 600 jobs, in total — 300 in the federal police and 300 in the domestic intelligence services — and comes as a reaction to rising far-right violence in the country. In the past six months, Germany has experienced two deadly acts of terrorism: an attempted gun rampage at a synagogue in Halle that killed two people, and the assassination of a pro-refugee mayor, Walter Luebcke. 
Germany has also faced a string of recent scandals involving far-right sympathizers in the army and police, and a new office will be dedicated to sniffing out extremists in the public sector. 
“Germany has to become more active against the far-right,” Seehofer told reporters. “As a consequence of Halle, we want to assure the public — many steps are being taken.”

Officials said they would also take a broader approach to tackle right-wing extremism — monitoring entire networks rather than just individuals and widening their focus to look more at the online far-right activity.
“In the past, we have concentrated very strongly on violence-oriented right-wing extremism, focusing on certain individuals,” Thomas Haldenwang, president of the domestic intelligence service, told reporters.
“Today, we realize we need a holistic approach.”
Germany has been grappling with surging right-wing extremism in the wake of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision in 2015 to allow about one million asylum seekers into the country.  
Since then, the country’s far-right fringe has become larger and more dangerous. Officials said last year there were about 24,000 right-wing extremists, about half of whom could be considered dangerous; this year, the total of extremists has risen to 32,200, according to the Tagesspiegel newspaper. Half of all politically-motivated violent crimes in Germany last year were carried out by the far-right, according to official statistics. 
Far-right cells have also been busted in the police and military, where their access to weapons and tactical training makes them a particular security concern. Earlier this month, a special forces sergeant was revealed to have been suspended on suspicion of far-right activism, while eight members of an elite police commando unit were linked last month to a network of far-right doomsday “preppers.”
Robert Lüdecke, the spokesman for the anti-racist group the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, told VICE News that the rough new approach was welcome but “long overdue.”
“For too long, German security circles have solely been focussing on Islamist terror, while too little has been done to combat right-wing violence,” he said.
He said the failures of the German security establishment to confront the far-right had emboldened extremists while leading the targets of their threats — Muslims, Jews and other minorities, left-wing politicians, anti-racist organizations — to lose confidence in the authorities.
“The right-wing scene has gained a new self-confidence in recent years, and they fear hardly any consequences for their plans,” he said.

April 20, 2019

How Gay Liberation Came About Behind The Iron Curtain (East Germany-Russia’s Side)

 If you lived while there was an iron curtain or when it was built and then saw it come down brick by brick, you saw history like no other at the beginning of this century

Soldiers, the directive read, should strive to “deconstruct traditional moral prejudices against homosexuality.” These words come from neither some long-suppressed Obama-era executive order nor the fantasies of a gay rights group. They constituted one of five “tenets” that communist East Germany’s military adopted in September 1988, around a year before the Berlin Wall was toppled.
The order made East Germany one of the first countries to allow gay men into its military, an achievement that the United States took twenty-three years to match. And if that were not striking enough, the policy was part of a larger suite of pro-gay reforms that the East German dictatorship promulgated between 1985 and 1989. 

The LGBTQ movement tends to assume that gay rights are a natural extension of democracy and capitalism. But gay liberation is not as dependent on either as we think.
The rhetoric of the modern LGBTQ movement has tended to assume that gay rights are a natural extension of the promise of democracy. Their spread has become an integral part of the narrative of democracy’s progress, of “the shifting downwards and outwards of political power to the people,” to quote a character in Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer-winning play Angels in America (1991). In his second inaugural address, Barack Obama cited the U.S. gay rights movement, alongside women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement, as pivotal moments in our democracy’s story, of its promise “that the most evident of truths—that all of us are created equal—is the star that guides us still.”
When we imagine what a liberated queer minority looks like, the gulags and breadlines with which we associate twentieth-century communism do not spring to mind. We think rather of our metropolises’ gay neighborhoods—of New York’s Greenwich Village and San Francisco’s Castro, of West Hollywood and Chicago’s Boystown—and their bars, cafés, bookstores, sex shops, and theaters that have defined queer culture in this country for decades. Should we ruminate on it at all, we are likely to believe that gay liberation is not only a natural outgrowth of democracy, but also a fundamentally capitalist enterprise. The great gay historian John D’Emilio even went so far as to argue capitalism made the manifestation of modern gay subcultures possible.
At the same time, we know queer people have been a favored scapegoat of authoritarian regimes for at least a century, from Adolf Hitler’s Germany to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. As recently as early April, the Sultan of Brunei made international news for authorizing the stoning to death of gay people. So how on Earth could a communist dictatorship have issued an order that not only legalized homosexuality in its military, but also enjoined its soldiers to take an active part in ridding the country of homophobic prejudice?
The short answer is that gay liberation is not as dependent upon capitalist democracy as we have tended to assume. The strange case of East Germany illustrates just how incomplete our view of gay liberation really is.
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This story begins with two men in their early twenties, Peter Rausch and Michael Eggert, who met in an East Berlin public bath in the early 1970s. Rausch remembers that Eggert “rose out of the water like an Adonis,” and they soon became friends. It was a serendipitous meeting. Eggert had recently met with West German gay activists who had ventured behind the Berlin Wall. They had shared their aspirations with the young Eggert, who in turn began discussing them with Rausch. Of the significance of the moment, Rausch said, “It had never occurred to me that [homophobia] was wrong, rather that I was wrong.” It was the birth of gay political activism in East Germany.
East Germany, or the German Democratic Republic, was a communist dictatorship ruled by the Socialist Unity Party that hung onto power with an arsenal of carrots and sticks. The regime’s most feared organ was the Ministry for State Security, better known as the Stasi, one of the twentieth century’s most notorious secret police. A sprawling bureaucracy of tens of thousands, the Stasi also employed tens of thousands more as unofficial collaborators, whom they cajoled, coaxed, and intimidated into giving up information. In total, between a tenth and a third of East Germans collaborated with the Stasi at some point. In this respect, East Germany was an archetype of today’s surveillance society.
The East German state was never particularly hostile to homosexuality. German socialists had a grand tradition of fighting against homophobia that stretched back to socialist leader August Bebel’s 1898 address to the Reichstag, “On Homosexuality and the Penal Code,” in which he advocated for the repeal of Germany’s sodomy law, §175 of the penal code. By contrast, the Nazis had strengthened the law in 1935, criminalizing allhomosexual acts, from holding hands to kissing, a change that led to the imprisonment of almost 50,000 men.

Soon after the war, in 1950, only a year into its rule, the East German government shifted to a milder version of the sodomy law, which it repealed entirely in 1968 (the only holdover was a higher age of consent for homosexual sex). It did so not only because of German socialism’s legacy of fighting §175. The regime also hoped that by purging the country of fascist relics, it could draw a favorable contrast between itself and West Germany. Indeed, East Germany’s reform of the sodomy law stood in stark contrast to democratic West Germany, where the new regime, led by conservative chancellor Konrad Adenauer (who won a landslide reelection in 1957 running under the slogan “No Experiments!”) kept the Nazi version of §175 in place.
East Germany quickly repealed its sodomy laws, hoping that by purging the country of fascist relics, it could draw a favorable contrast between itself and West Germany, where homosexuality remained illegal.
That difference meant that while East Germany convicted approximately 4,000 men under the statute between 1949 and 1968, West Germany convicted over 50,000 men between 1949 and 1969—a fivefold per capita difference. This does not mean that East Germany was a gay paradise. Only a handful of bars in its cities catered to gay male clientele. For the most part, gay men had to cruise in parks, train stations, public toilets, or baths such as the one at which Rausch and Eggert met. These could be dangerous locations, where thugs waited to beat and rob unsuspecting men. Lesbians, if anything, had it worse. There were no bars for them, no cruising spots, no opportunities to meet one another.
Rausch, Eggert, and a few of their friends decided to do something. They believed the socialist government would help them carve out a gay-friendly space in society, if only they described for it the tribulations they faced. For the most part they seemed to believe in the socialist experiment. And so they began meeting regularly, planning social events and strategizing about how best to lobby the government.
Eventually they began submitting petitions, requesting first that the state open a gay and lesbian “communication center” that would act as a social hub for queer people and spread information about sexuality to all East Germans. When that effort failed, they requested permission to form a so-called “interest community” (akin to a club for entomology or philately). They argued that such an organization would allow them, as gay individuals, to “accomplish the full development of our socialist personalities.”
All that Rausch, Eggert, and their by now dozens of comrades really wanted was a place to meet regularly with other gay men and lesbians. But the government—and especially the Stasi—went into high alarm at the thought of such a group existing. Not, however, because they believed homosexuality might have deleterious social effects or because they were opposed to homosexuality on moral grounds. Rather, the Stasi was concerned that a gay and lesbian club would be a target for “enemy intelligence services,” and believed that gay men had already been targeted for recruitment by the West German state. In one internal memo, the secret police emphasized that “homosexuals with their labile personalities have long been a target of enemy activity.”
Nonetheless Rausch and Eggert’s group—which came to be known as the Homosexual Interest Group Berlin (HIB)—continued having unauthorized meetings for several years, eventually finding a semipermanent (though still illicit) home in the basement of a furniture museum whose director, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, was a trans woman and, as it turned out, a Stasi informant. When one of the HIB’s members, a pugnacious lesbian activist named Ursula Sillge, tried to organize a countrywide meeting of lesbians in 1978, the police intervened, forcing the group to disband.
But the early 1980s brought significant change for lesbians and gay men in East Germany. Disillusioned with the government’s refusal to acknowledge its gay citizens, groups began organizing themselves under the auspices of the Protestant church. The church was East Germany’s only genuinely (if only incompletely) autonomous institution and home to many East Germans critical of the regime. Other groups, including feminists, environmentalists, and peace activists, also found space to organize within the church in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many church leaders actively opposed giving gay activists space to organize, but the church’s loose structure meant that younger, more progressive clergy had leeway to offer space and resources to whomever they desired.
Organizing under a religious umbrella guaranteed activists a modicum of independence. They could gather, plan activities, and pressure the government without needing to seek permission from the regime or worry that the police might arrest them for participating in an illegal group. Because these groups provided such a convenient setting for queer social life and political activism, they spread rapidly throughout the country. By 1984 there were around a dozen of them, each of them drawing anywhere from dozens to hundreds of attendees to their events.
Ralf Dose, a West Berlin gay activist and historian, recalls: “When we organized something, we had to send around lots of invitations just to get 10 people to show up. [East German activists] were used to hanging up just one small notice and then there were 250 people.” Unlike their West German confreres, of course, they were not competing for attention with an extensive commercial subculture. 

Under pressure to stem the tide of gay liberation, the Stasi arrived at a novel solution: give activists what they wanted. No complaints to be made, they reasoned, meant nothing to organize about.
The Stasi, which had thousands of informants within the church, soon caught wind of these efforts. Nothing had changed in the secret police’s view of gay rights and they set to work undermining the new crop of activists. They recruited informants within the groups, both to gather information and to sow discord. Moles accused gay men of misogyny and encouraged lesbians to form their own groups. They cultivated antagonism between the church and the activists, and even accused other activists of being Stasi agents.
But to little avail. Membership continued to swell and activists began to coordinate strategy at national meetings. They soon agreed on a set of wide-ranging policy goals, including better access to housing, abolition of the higher age of consent for homosexual sex, ability to serve in the military, and better access to sexual health services. As the groups grew, the Stasi became increasingly concerned that they posed an existential threat to the socialist regime.
Under pressure to stem the tide of gay liberation, the secret police began debating new strategies. Departments exchanged flurries of memos debating what course of action the government should pursue. In 1985 the Stasi finally produced a new set of guidelines on how to prevent what it termed “the political misuse of homosexuals.” Some of its recommendations were unsurprising, such as ramping up surveillance of gay activist leaders. But its final recommendation was entirely novel. It insisted that the government find “resolution[s] to homosexuals’ humanitarian problems.” That is, the Stasi decided to actually address activists’ demands.
Their rationale for doing so was actually rather simple. If the government tackled gay men and lesbians’ concerns, then all those church-affiliated activist groups would have no reason to exist. No complaints to be made, Stasi officials reasoned, meant nothing to organize about.
Thus began a series of genuinely radical changes in East German society. The state-censored newspapers, which for decades had hardly ever mentioned homosexuality, suddenly started printing dozens of stories about gay men and lesbians. The government also freed periodicals to accept personal advertisements from gay men and lesbians looking for partners.
The state tasked Berlin psychology professor Reiner Werner with writing a book titled Homosexuality: A Call to Knowledge and Tolerance, which appeared in 1987. Its initial run of 50,000 copies sold out in a matter of weeks. (It would also approve a gay film, Coming Out, that premiered on November 9, 1989, the night the Berlin Wall fell.)
In addition, the state began granting official recognition to gay groups, such as the Sunday Club, a secular activist collective run by Sillge that had been meeting in East Berlin since the early 1980s. And it authorized East Germany’s first gay discos, such as Die Busch, a club that still exists today.
The government even allowed gay chapters within the Free German Youth (FDJ), the state’s official youth scouting organization, and mandated that all FDJ members attend educational sessions dealing with homosexuality. All of a sudden, East German youth were required to attend meetings of gay groups such as the Sunday Club. Remembering this moment, Rausch told me, “The joke was that suddenly everyone was standing in line to get into the Sunday Club,” only a couple years after it had been a target of state repression.
In 1987 the East German Supreme Court struck down the law that set a higher age of consent for gay men and lesbians. The following year, the military allowed gay soldiers, reversing a policy the government had instituted in the 1950s. 

The unexpected gay golden age in East Germany reveals a much more dynamic politics in the former Soviet bloc than we are wont to acknowledge.
West Germans caught wind of these changes and began venturing across the Wall in larger numbers to see East Germany’s gay liberation for themselves. Some even found the subculture there more pleasing than the commercialized one in the West. Martin, an American gay man who lived in West Berlin in the 1980s, recalled, “The gay community in East Berlin was kind of warmer and more friendly than in the West.”
It must be noted that these rapid changes, which Rausch described as a “gay and lesbian Wende” (turning point), were accompanied by continued Stasi surveillance of activists. At least a tenth of the members of gay activist groups passed information to the Stasi. The secret police also resorted to petty torments. One leader, for instance, was forbidden from pursuing graduate study as punishment for their activism. But for many queer people in East Germany, life improved dramatically in those years. Gay men and lesbians in the East still lacked the kind of sprawling, commercial subculture that defined queer life in West Germany. But for all that, West German activists had not succeeded in convincing their national government to act on their concerns. 
By 1989 two very different visions of gay life and politics existed in the two Germanies. It is by no means clear which of the two states was more modern or progressive on the question of homosexuality by our standards today. That very ambivalence is the point: West Germany was not de facto a better place for gay men and lesbians in the Cold War era.
East Germany’s unexpected liberation of its queer minority poses a complex problem for historians of socialism, especially the fact that the greatly feared Stasi stood behind it. The unexpected gay golden age in East Germany reveals a much more dynamic politics in the former Soviet bloc than we are still wont to acknowledge. And East Germany was not alone: while homosexuality remained illegal in the Soviet Union until the early 1990s, other communist countries, including Czechoslovakia and Hungary, pursued more progressive trajectories similar to East Germany.
Socialism is not necessarily the best form of government for queer people. Stalin, after all, recriminalized sodomy in 1934 and sent an untold number of queer people to the Gulag. Nonetheless it is also true that queer people were sometimes better off under socialism. Just as other historians have begun to argue for a more nuanced picture of socialism—Kristen Ghodsee recently contended that “women have better sex under socialism”—this history shows that socialism is not inimical to gay rights. Neither is capitalism necessarily good for gay rights. 

Policies related to sexuality are poor prognosticators of other politics. Gay liberation is not always a result of liberal democracy, nor is its absence isometric with authoritarianism.
The complex relations between a state and its citizens, and the specific ways in which states function, are what determine gay liberation’s path more than raw ideology. Gay activists in East Germany knew their government’s pressure points better than did those in West Germany, and they were better able to leverage that knowledge.
Furthermore, this history reveals that policies related to sexuality are poor prognosticators of other political metrics. Gay liberation is not always a result of liberal democracy, nor is its absence isometric with authoritarianism. Different political systems treat queer people in different ways that are orthogonal to their other values.
In March 1990, East Germany’s Congress of Writers held its final meeting. One of the speakers was a twenty-nine-year-old gay man, Ronald Schernikau, who had been born in East Germany, fled westward with his mother at the age of six, and then returned to East Germany in 1986. A committed communist, he was also one of the few openly gay authors West Germany produced in its forty years. His address eulogized the departed socialist state and offered a searing indictment of capitalism. “Whosoever wishes the West’s colorfulness,” he told the gathered writers, “must reap the West’s despair.”
Schernikau died of AIDS the following year as Germany began the still-painful process of reunification. With him went the gay liberation for which East Germans had for two decades campaigned. Queer Germans would wait years until the new republic adopted similar measures, and the unified country never again saw the kind of vivified queer activism that had coursed across the socialist countryside in the 1980s

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