Johnny Cash would have turned 75 yesterday. The German paper Die Welt writes about the rapidly increasing admiration for this "conservative," deeply religious musician in Germany and recommends a new CD and DVD (HT: Marian). Don Stadler, an American in London, wrote a guest blog post in the Atlantic Review a few months ago: The Beast in Me: Johnny Cash and the American Recordings
"On the record, Europe claims to be as concerned as America about a nuclear-armed Iran. The record also shows, however, that Europe's biggest countries do a booming business with the Islamic Republic. And so far for the Continentals, manna trumps security." writes the Wall Street Journal (via American Future) and points out that Europe's exports rose 29% to €12.9 billion between 2003 and 2005. The "real story" is that "these businesses are subsidized by European taxpayers:"
Government-backed export guarantees have fueled the expansion in trade. That, in turn, has boosted Iran's economy and--indirectly by filling government coffers with revenues--its nuclear program. The German record stands out. In its 2004 annual report on export guarantees, Berlin's Economics Ministry dedicated a special section to Iran that captures its giddy excitement about business with Tehran. "Federal Government export credit guarantees played a crucial role for German exports to Iran; the volume of coverage of Iranian buyers rose by a factor of almost 3.5 to some €2.3 billion compared to the previous year," the report said. "The Federal Government thus insured something like 65% of total German exports to the country. Iran lies second in the league of countries with the highest coverage in 2004, hot on the heels of China." Iran tops Germany's list of countries with the largest outstanding export guarantees, totaling €5.5 billion. France's export guarantees to Iran amount to about €1 billion. Italy's come to €4.5 billion, accounting for 20% of Rome's overall guarantee portfolio. Little Austria had, at the end of 2005, €800 million of its exports to Iran covered by guarantees.
The WSJ concludes:
It's also hard not to see a connection between Europe's commercial interests and its lenient diplomacy. The U.N.'s December sanctions resolution orders countries to freeze the assets of only 10 specific companies and 12 individuals with ties to Iran's nuclear program. Europe's governments continue to resist U.S. calls for financial sanctions, and the German Chamber of Commerce recently estimated that tougher economic sanctions would cost 10,000 German jobs. (...) The EU continues to provide a shield for its business interests in Iran, and thus a lifeline to a regime that is unpopular at home and sponsors terror abroad.
The WSJ does not mention that German-Iranian trade relations are on the decline since 2005. The German business daily Handelsblatt writes that Iran's trade with Russia and China increased lately, while Germany's exports to Iran decreased by 7.8% in 2006 to a total of 3.8 billion Euro. The granting of new Hermes export guarantees declinedfrom 1,4 billion Euro in 2005 to 0.9 billion Euro in 2006. I don't know but I assume that Germany first granted the export guarantees (Hermesbuergschaften) as part of the so-called "critical dialog" with Iran, which started in the early 90s. This "critical dialog" has not changed Iran's policy on human rights, Israel, and the nuclear program. Thus there does not seem to be any justification for continuing to grant any export guarantees to German companies making business with Iran.
• In 1995 Charles Lane wrote the Foreign Affairs article "Germany's New Ostpolitik: Changing Iran", which indicates that German-American disagreements over Iran date back a long time:
Iran is the one sore spot in an otherwise highly cooperative German-American relationship. The United States has sought to punish the Islamic state for sponsoring terrorism. Germany has tried to maintain a "critical dialogue" of limited diplomacy and commerce, much as its Ostpolitik tried to engage Soviet bloc nations during the Cold War. U.S. officials decry Germany's shady dealings and billions of dollars in loans and credits to Iran.
UPDATE: Germany's The Lives of Others has won the Oscar! Director Von Donnersmarck thanked Arnold Schwarzenegger "for teaching me that the words 'I can't' should be stricken from my vocabulary." I know many Germans, who learned this can-do spirit in the United States. This optimism and positive attitude is one of the main reasons, why many Germans are fascinated by Americans and love the American way of life. [End of update]
"If there is any justice, this year's Academy Award for best foreign-language film will go to The Lives of Others," writes the The New Yorker about a German movie dealing with the system of observation in former East Germany.
The IHT writes "Oscar-nominated 'Lives of Others' arrives in US from Germany, where it prompted national debate." Trailer with English subtitles below and at google video. You might have to click twice on play.
The Bush Administration has taken a pounding for its unauthorized spying on American citizens in the name of national security. But imagine living in a country, the former East Germany, in which the secret police, known as the Stasi, had 100,000 employees and 200,000 informants, and whose stated goal was "to know everything." And all this for a population that never exceeded 16 million. A new German film, "The Lives of Others" (Das Leben der Anderen), which opens Friday, makes the horrors of this police state concrete by focusing on the relationship between a writer, Georg Dreyman (played by Sebastian Koch), and his actress wife, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), and a Stasi agent named Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) who monitors every minute of their waking lives through the listening devices planted in their apartment. The film has already won a host of prestigious prizes in Europe and is one of five finalists for the foreign-language Oscar this year.
• The only German movies, that won an Oscar for best foreign film, were set in the Nazi era:"The Tin Drum" and "Nowhere in Africa." The last two years the academy nominated films about Nazi-Germany as well: "Downfall" and "The Final Days." I like best The Tin Drum and The Final Days about Sophie Scholl of the resistance group White Rose.
I have created an aStore at Amazon.com with direct links to all four films and a few more good German movies, including "The Boat" and "Beyond Silence," which were nominated for an Oscar in 1983 and 1997, as well as three excellent German movies, which were submitted for the Academy Award, but did not receive a nomination: "Run Lola Run" (1998), "The Experiment" (2001) and "Good Bye, Lenin" (2003). Three more decent movies ("Manitu's Shoe," "Edukators," and "Rosenstrasse") are included as well. My favorite German movie is "Run, Lola, Run." What is your favorite German movie? German Films has a list of German films submitted for the Academy Award (OSCAR) for Best Foreign Language Film.
• "German films are riding on a wave of critical and commercial acclaim as directors find that they can make people laugh—to everyone's surprise," writes the Economist.com (via: TheYellowDuckPond)
Every February, millions of Americans and Canadians celebrate Black History Month, sometimes referred to as African-American History Month or African Heritage Month. While the month-long series of events discusses oppression and prejudices against people of color, the main aim is to recognize the rich history and culture and significant contributions to society made by people with African heritage. The United Kingdom has a Black History Month in October of every year. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote in February 2006 that the Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland ("Black People in Germany Initiative") has been organizing a Black History Month in Germany since 1990 but I have not found much information on their homepage. In order to shed more light on the history and contributions of black people in Germany, the Atlantic Review has teamed up with Jewels in the Jungle blogger Bill, an African-American who has been living in Germany for years, as well as two Afro-German friends of his: Patrick and Patricia.
"Black Germans? Are you serious?" Answer: Definitely! About.com guide Hyde Flippo, a retired teacher of German language, history, and literature in the U.S.A. provides some statistics and some history:
Black Germans? Non-Germans may be understandably surprised to learn that there are Afro-Germans (Afrodeutsche), but many Germans themselves are unaware of the concept of a German who is also black (ein Schwarzer). While compared to other minorities, such as the 2 million Turks living in Germany, blacks are definitely a tiny minority among Germany's 82 million people. While EU countries do not keep track of ethnicity, there are an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Blacks living in Germany today. The history of black people in Germany goes back much further than most people think. One of the first Africans known to have lived in Germany was Anton Wilhelm Amo(1703-1759). Born in what is today's Ghana, Amo came under the protection of the Duke (Herzog) of Wolfenbüttel in Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) and grew up in the duke's castle. He was both the first African known to attend a German university (Halle) and the first to obtain a doctorate degree (in 1729). As a professor, under his preferred name of Antonius Guilelmus Amo Afer, he taught at two German universities and published several scholarly works, including a Latin treatise entitled De Arte Sobrie et Accurate Philosophandi (1736, "On the Art of Philosophizing Soberly and Accurately"). Knowing the level of his achievements, it is all the more surprising to learn that Amo returned to Africa in 1747. Most accounts claim the reason for his return to his native Africa was the racial discrimination he encountered in Germany.
While Germany does not have a series of big events labeled "Black History Month," there are nevertheless quite a few projects that highlight Afro-Germans.
Below the jump, this Atlantic Review post presents some quotes from articles about various Afro-German artists and their views on life in Germany, followed by a few thoughts on the concept of Black History Month: Continue reading "Black History Month in Germany"
• "Despite some people making useful suggestions, elsewhere in the EU it seems all but impossible to shake of the spectre of that damned EU constitution. Current European Union president Angela Merkel keeps on bringing the bloody thing up, repeating the same thing that has been said ever since the thing was rejected by the French and Dutch referendums back in the summer of 2005," opines Nosemonkey.
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times is surprisingly supportive of Germany's position on Afghanistan:
The old saw that there are no military solutions to political conflicts was never more true than in Afghanistan. Yet, in the five years since U.S. forces toppled the Taliban government with a "light footprint," the Bush administration has never spent enough on reconstruction, opium-crop substitution payments for farmers, road building, education, healthcare or jobs programs — or enough on security to make sure the rebuilding succeeds. Bush will not get the full support and cooperation of NATO allies until he demonstrates that reconstruction is not a second priority to fighting Al Qaeda. There are serious differences with Germany, which has sent thousands of troops and spent millions in Afghanistan, commanded NATO forces and been responsible for security in the country's north, where Berlin believes its style of nation-building has been notably successful. The government of Angela Merkel has signaled it believes that Washington is relying too heavily on military solutions. The war effort cannot be allowed to falter over an "Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus" cultural divide on whether to emphasize military commitment or nation-building. Both approaches are necessary. NATO needs to bear its share of the burden, contributing troops to the fight in the south and continuing to lift conditions on their deployment. And Washington, however distracted by its Iraqi adventure, cannot shortchange the effort to rebuild the nation whose failure led directly to 9/11. The possibility that democracy could fail in Afghanistan is awful to contemplate.
Personal comments: The last two sentences in the editorial indicate a simplistic and unrealistic view of Afghanistan and international terrorism. This view seems to be very common and at the heart of the West's problems in Afghanistan: (1) Afghanistan has not been a "nation" which NATO can "rebuild" now. Such statements are considered arrogant in many parts of the world and indicate a lack of understanding and delusions of grandeur. This Western megalomania is hurting the West's interests. We should be more realistic and beware of quagmires.
(2) Blaming 9/11 on the "failure" of this "nation" is a rather simplistic reading of history. Al Qaeda is a global movement and does not depend on Afghanistan as a safe haven to plan and train for terrorist attacks. The 9/11 hijackers did not receive their pilot training in Afghanistan. Planning and training for the next 9/11 attack is likely to take place in Europe, the U.S., Canada, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. Domestic law enforcement authorities and intelligence agencies need more money and better equipment and have to continue to improve cooperation with their international partners.
(3)President Bush's mantra "We're taking the fight to the terrorists abroad, so we don't have to face them here at home." is not entirely wrong, but it is largely wishful thinking and creates a false sense of security. Killing Taliban in Afghanistan does not significantly reduce the terrorist threat and does not make Europe or the United States significantly safer. In fact, accidentally killing civilians is likely to increase support for the Taliban and increase the risk of terrorism. So, what is the cost-benefit analysis of the war on southern Afghanistan? Besides, Al Qaeda is on the march, reorganizing and regrouping in Pakistan ("with passive connivance of Pakistani authorities") and elsewhere. Even if Afghanistan would turn into a model democracy, Europe and the US will obviously continue to be at risk of terrorist attacks.
(4) Considering it "awful to contemplate" the failure of democracy in Afghanistan indicates an unwillingness to face the tough reality. It would be wiser, if the LA Times were more realistic of what can be achieved in Afghanistan and where the other Al Qaeda threats are coming from.
Daniel Dombey in the Financial Times: "The full text of an internal European Union document on Iran reveals that officials from the bloc are pessimistic about the chances of stopping Iran from getting enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb. The reflection paper, written by the staff of Javier Solana, EU foreign policy chief, circulated to the EU’s 27 governments last week, concedes that Iran will probably acquire sufficient capacity to enrich uranium for a weapons programme “at some stage”, adding that the programme has been held back by Tehran’s own technical shortcomings, rather than international pressure."
While it may well be too late to stop Iran acquiring its own fissile material, it is certainly not too late to halt Iran from having the bomb. To achieve this goal will require a different diplomatic strategy from the one presently supported by the European Union and the United States. It means abandoning the "zero enrichment" goal in favor of a "delayed limited enrichment" plan. (...) Tehran would be disciplined by knowing that if Iran made any move toward building a nuclear weapon through the production of weapons-grade fissile material, or any hardware in which to put it, all hell would break loose. A full range of economic sanctions would take immediate effect, and military options would be on the table. One advantage of this approach, if the United States and the European Union could swallow their reservations, is that it would allow time for a more moderate political dynamic to take hold in Iran. But this plan's greatest benefit is that it would win genuine universal support, not only from "any peaceful use" enthusiasts, but also Russia and China, which are likely to continue being extremely reluctant Security Council enforcers of the present "zero enrichment" strategy.
• Steven R. Weisman in the International Herald Tribune: "European negotiators, yielding to pressure from the United States, have agreed to widen a ban on financial transactions with Iran and on the export of materials and technology that Iran could use to develop nuclear weapons."
What conclusions can be drawn from the US-North Korea Deal? • Kim Murphy in The LA Times: "The debate in Iran now appears to focus on how hard Tehran should press for favorable terms. 'The hard-liners, perhaps impressed by North Korea's achievement, are now inclined to be more resilient and more uncompromising,' said Sadegh Zibakalam, professor of politics at Tehran University. 'They say if North Korea could do it, why shouldn't we? Why should we let the United States dictate to us rather than negotiate with us?'"
• Fred Kaplan in Slate: "A constant mantra for the past dozen years --- chanted by Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney on several occasions --- is that the Agreed Framework, which the Clinton administration signed with North Korea in 1994, was a naive and disastrous failure. And yet the deal that Bush's diplomats just negotiated is very similar to Clinton's accord in substance --- and nearly identical in its approach to arms control."
• Harvard professor Graham Allison in the Asia Times: "This is a significant step for the Bush administration into the reality zone, a strong departure from its previous failed approach and a good first step. So that's the good news. The bad news is that this is four years, eight bombs' worth of plutonium, and one nuclear test after the Bush administration departed from this point that it had inherited essentially from the Clinton administration."
At a farewell reception at Blair House for the retiring chief of protocol, Don Ensenat, who was President Bush's Yale roommate, the president shook hands with Washington Life Magazine's Soroush Shehabi. "I'm the grandson of one of the late Shah's ministers," said Soroush, "and I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and the regime we all despise will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized." "I know," President Bush answered. "But does Vice President Cheney know?" asked Soroush. President Bush chuckled and walked away.