Archive for June, 2010

June 29, 2010

German city “pulls the rug” from under neo-Nazi party

RIGHT-WING PARTIES ARE difficult enough to combat after they have seized power, after which they normally change the political rules and crush all opposition. But they are elusive in democratic societies as well, where they often become masters at flouting the spirit of democracy under the guise of freedom of peace and assembly. But a town in former East Germany has found a clever way to, as it were, pull the rug from under the feet of its own local neo-Nazi party while leaving its constitutionally guaranteed rights intact: It simply changed its address.

Riesa, population 34,000, is a picturesque Saxon industrial town located on the banks of the River Elbe. For the past ten years, Mannheimer Strasse has been the home of the local offices of the far right National Democratic Party (NPD) and its newspaper, the Deutsche Stimme (“German Voice”). Its politics are “conservative” in the eastern German sense of the word, with the Christian Democrats and the post-communist…

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June 29, 2010

The Catholic Church’s “Year of the Priest” ends with police raid

ONE THING’S FOR SURE: It’s a hell of a way to end the Vatican’s “Year of the Priest.” Police vans, German shepherds, uniformed officers – the bust looked like any of a number of raids on Belgian pedophile rings in recent years, except this time the target wasn’t a notorious child porn smuggler or another corrupt politician. Instead, it was the headquarters of the Belgian Catholic Church itself. 

Yesterday, police agents armed with warrants entered the offices of the archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels and of Cardinal Godfried Danneels, seizing documents and computers. They not only searched the cathedral crypt but actually drilled holes into the tombs of two past archbishops and inserted miniature cameras to search for hidden evidence. Several bishops were meeting with a Vatican envoy at the time of the raid. They were detained on the premises for several hours and their mobile phones were confiscated…

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June 16, 2010

The Bishop strikes back

THOSE NEWSPAPER READERS AMONG us who hoped thought we had seen the back of Augsburg bishop and chief army chaplain Walter Mixa last month were bemused to hear that the outspoken Bavarian is not only still hanging around the arena, he’s training for a comeback. 

The 69 year-old Mixa had long enjoyed a reputation as the Pope’s German bulldog, the Vatican’s “bad cop” in its efforts to maintain even a hint of its former influence over an increasingly secular and disaffected society. Whether it was a question of condemning pedophilia as a product of “the so-called sexual revolution” or depicting abortion as “worse than the Holocaust,” media manipulator Mixa was always on hand to deliver the necessary sound byte. But his own sullied past caught up with him earlier this year when former residents at a Church-run youth home in Schrobenhausen began accusing Mixa – a mere parish priest at the time – of submitting his young charges to brutal and byzantine punishments, literally “beating the Satan” out of an entire generation of helpless Bavarian orphans and runaways in the 1970s and 80s…

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June 14, 2010

Of Soccer World Cups and “inner Nuremberg Rallies”

I HAD NEVER HEARD of TV commentator Katrin Müller-Hohenstein before, but I know how her mind works. And doesn’t everyone else in Germany? As I made my way to the office this morning, I tried to think of how to explain why I didn’t bother watching the big Germany vs. Australia soccer game in South Africa yesterday (in the end, nobody did ask). I thought I’d say something like: “You know, I’ve never cared much for the Nuremberg Rallies. This Soccer World Cup, with all the flags on the cars and all the shouting and trumpets and fireworks, sounds too much like Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fußball for my taste.’” Germany won 4-0 by the way, or at last that’s what I heard on the BBC at breakfast.

The similarities are indeed more than obvious, but it doesn’t exactly do your career a lot of good to mention the fact. Ms. Müller-Hohenstein learned this the hard way yesterday when she made the following comment about a spectacular goal shot by German player Miro Klose: “For Miro Klose it’s an inner Nuremberg Rally [Reichsparteitag], honestly, that he shot this goal today.”

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June 11, 2010

Swedish millionaire said to be behind Auschwitz sign theft

THE SIGN OVER THE gateway to Auschwitz concentration camp bearing the infamous slogan “Work sets you free,” which was stolen by three Polish men last December 18, may have been purloined on behalf of a Swedish millionaire. (I already wrote about the Auschwitz theft here and here.) According to today’s edition of the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita, Lars-Göran Wahlström, a familiar figure in the Swedish neo-Nazi movement, had asked his friend Anders Högström to arrange the theft for money. Högström, a former neo-Nazi who until recently had been working to educate young Swedes about the evils of right wing extremism, was later arrested and admitted to having hired the three Poles to do the job. They have since received jail sentences of between one and a half and two and a half years. Högström is still awaiting trial in Poland.

Högström revealed Wahlström’s name…

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June 9, 2010

Don’t like separation of Church and State? Come to Germany!

THE TEXAS BOARD OF Education has repeatedly captured the headlines in recent months for its attempts to rewrite American history – and even reality itself – by imposing strict ideological guidelines on the Lone Star State’s school textbooks. These guidelines include deemphasizing Thomas Jefferson as a Founding Father because of his promotion of the separation of church and state. I suppose they are within their rights in doing so, but first let me suggest that if American religious conservatives came to Germany, they might come away with a realization that old Thomas J. was a good deal smarter than they give him credit for.

Time are getting tough in Germany now that the federal government in Berlin has passed an unprecedented austerity program, with cuts amounting to over 11 billion Euros by next year. State and local governments are following the capital’s lead. It seems like everything is going to be chopped down to size…

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June 7, 2010

Does religion make people violent? A sociologist says yes

WE ALL SUSPECT THERE’S a connection between religiosity and violence, but a German criminologist recently decided to find out once and for all. The results of his survey, entitled Religion, Integration and Delinquency Among Young People in Germany, which he published over the weekend, are likely to pour new gasoline on an already raging controversy.

Professor Christian Pfeiffer, a social psychologist and former justice minister in the regional government in Hanover, is currently serving as the director of the Criminological Research Institute of Lower Saxony. After evaluating a survey on religious attitudes and violent behavior conducted among 45,000 students of both genders (including 10,000 from immigrant backgrounds) between the ages of fourteen and sixteen at German schools, Pfeiffer discovered that the more religious young, male Muslim immigrants are, the less well-integrated and more violent they become. He found that “very religious” Muslim immigrant youths were the most violent, at a rate of 23.5 percent…

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June 3, 2010

Swedish crime author tells his version of Israeli assault

IF YOU UTTER THE term “Swedish crime fiction,” chances are that most Americans will think of the late Stieg Larsson, author of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the two other books in the series. But long before Larsson hit the bestseller lists last year (and then tragically died at age 50), author and playwright Henning Mankell of Inspector Wallander fame had been the man to watch when it came to Swedish police novels. I’d say it’s bad news for Israel that Europe’s leading crime author was also an eyewitness to what much of the world regards as a criminal act, namely the assault last Monday by Israeli special forces on a relief flotilla bound for Gaza that resulted in nine deaths and a number of injuries.

Mankell, age 62, who had been sailing on the “Sofia,” one of the ships in the convoy, was briefly detained by the Israeli commandos…

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June 3, 2010

Threatened Swedish artist invited to complete his lecture

IT’S BEEN A DIFFICULT month for Swedish artist Lars Vilks. It’s bad enough that the man’s greatest claim to artistic fame is a crude sketch of the Prophet Mohammed with a human head and a dog’s body that he jotted down in 2007 – it’s not exactly the “Mona Lisa,” after all. He has been receiving death threats ever since. On May 11 Vilks was physically attacked by a mob of outraged Muslim students at the University of Uppsala while he delivered a lecture on freedom of expression and art, during which he showed a short film depicting gay young men with Muhammed masks engaging in sexual intercourse. In the following days his enemies hacked his computer website and set his house on fire…

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June 3, 2010

Sweden locks down on “Everyone Draw Mohammed Day”

GLOBALIZATION CAN BE A wonderful – and a terrifying – thing. On “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” yesterday, the Pakistani government blocked both Facebook and Youtube, and the Swedish government closed its Islamabad embassy – all because the American TV series “South Park” presented the Prophet Mohammed in a bear suit and a Swedish artist called Lars Vilks published a caricature of him as a dog, prompting a wave of death threats as well as physical attacks against Vilks’s person and his home. Government spokesmen in Stockholm did not provide a specific reason for the embassy closure, pointing instead to “the general security situation in Pakistan.” In Lahore, demonstrators trampled Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian flags, demanding that Pakistan break off diplomatic relations with the three Scandinavian nations. The diplomatic lockdown appears to be a reasonable precaution: two years ago a suicide bomber killed…

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