Europe

About Charlie

I was actually going to write this post two weeks ago, following the Charlie Hebdo attacks on 7 January that rocked half of Europe – and quite possibly a good part of the remaining world.

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. – Voltaire

As much as I can relate to the epidemic of “Je suis Charlie” postings on Facebook I could not quite go along with it. Is it okay to ridicule someone else’s believes by publishing caricatures violating every inch of religious feeling? No, it most certainly is not. But it is of course even less okay to decide to go out and kill journalists just because you do not agree with what they are publishing. Just as the famous Voltaire quote goes freedom of speech only works when it is granted even to those we disagree with most.

So far for the regular European perspective; the notion of standing up and saying “enough is enough”. But for me, of course, there is more to it than meets the eye. And these things are right at the centre of the themes this blog has always been about: My connection to Israel and her people and my own identity as a European Pagan.

(c) Rafael Mantesso

(c) Rafael Mantesso

As far as the Israeli perspective goes the Charlie Hebdo attacks and the aftermath were a sad wake-up call that radical Islam is a force to be reckoned with even in the very heard of Europe. And to add insult to injury there was, of course, the whole Pallywood circus about how allegedly Mossad directed the attacks in order to blame radical Islam and stall peace talks in Israel. (What peace talks exactly that would be referring to right now and how it could stall them is, of course, a completely different question).

The sad truth is that Jews in Europe still do not feel safe. And sometimes I catch myself thinking that no, maybe they indeed should not. In France, I read the other day 50% of all racist attacks are directed against Jews who make only 1% of the population. At the moment there hardly seems to be a week going by without a Synagogue or other place frequented by Jews burning somewhere in Europe; 70 years after the end of Jewish prosecution in Europe Jews still rightfully feel they need extra security for their venues even though they are a tiny little group of “different” people against which there is little to no public outcry. Am I the only European who feels the people of Europe ought to be rallying behind their Jewish population just like they did behind the Charlie Hebdo victims? Yet when another Synagogue burns down it is hardly worth a front-page article in the local news.

 

“Do you know why I care so much about a tolerant Europe?”, I asked my mom the other day. It is because I am Pagan and chances are so will be my children. And with the rise of more self-confident second and third generation Paganism I am convinced that sooner or later we will also be more present in public life. A lot is already happening in the US in respect to recognition and protection of Pagan rights. Europe might right now be a calmer – and safer – place for a Pagan to live but eventually European Pagans, too, will become more visible.

Paganism is a completely different beast to all the religions we are struggling to deal with in European society right now. There is a relatively easy way of grasping who and what “the Christians”, “the Muslims”, “the Jews” and even “the Hindus” and “the Buddhists” are. It won’t be so simple with Paganism. We are a way more diverse group; we have no internal organisation worth speaking of; nobody that could speak for all or at least many of us. And of course we have a mindset that is becoming increasingly more different to that of followers of the Abrahamite religions. I see it in myself and also in may others in the Pagan blog sphere; once you have been Pagan for 15 or 20 years you start to feel how you think differently to non-Pagans; how your value system changes. The Wild Hunt for instance just recently posted an article about how Pagan religion afflicts the treatment of mental disorder but it is only a small spotlight on an increasingly different world view.

Coping with Paganism as a part of the intercultural mix that is Europe will be a challenge for our society. It will mean that people have to widen their horizons and look behind shared Abrahamite norms in order to allow Pagans in their midst. How are we going to accomplish that if European society cannot even cope with the variety Judaism and Islam add?

I feel that I need Europe to become more tolerant so I know my children and children’s children can be the self-confident, strong Pagans that I would want them to be. And ultimately, as sad as it is to think this way, I need Europe to become more tolerant so I will never have to fear for their safety and they will never have to hide their Pagan identity out of fear of prosecution.

– Migdalit

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This is Germany – Introducing Hartz IV

Want another one about Germany? Sure, here we go:

For many foreigners Germany, as most of Europe in general, is perceived as an oasis of social responsibility and welfare. It seems to be a place US Americans dreaming of a universal health insurance are pointing at as an example and people all around the place dream of coming to the country where the government will tend for them and they’ll never have a serious problem in their lives again.

I grew up the same. I grew up knowing in the depth of my heard that I’d never have to starve or be cold or lack a roof upon my head if life hit me hard. The state would care for me no matter what and it would help me to get back on track. I can only guess that for a German it must have been the same, though I think that Austria has always gone the social road a few footsteps farther than Germany.

What most foreigners do not know about Germany, however, is what has happened here during the last decade. It probably started as early as 1990 when Germany got heroically reunited and the halves of the country where re-merged into one as fast as possibly without any reconsideration. When the Eastern German economy broke down millions of unemployed without much chances for a job had to be cared for and billions of tax D-Mark went into Eastern Germany, mostly being suck up by Western German companies before the random Eastern German saw any of it. When the first decade of the new, shared country came to an end it had become obvious to the government (social democrats and the green party at that time) that the vast number of unemployed would not diminish and costs for social welfare spent on long-term unemployed were exploding.

A new form of social welfare was brought into existence as an ambitious idea of „boost and challenge“. A newly founded ARGE, a common working group of bureau for employment and social services, was to apply push and pull factors on unemployed in order to get them back into a proper occupation. And instead of old-fashioned social welfare Hartz IV was brought into life. Interestingly enough the man it was named after, Peter Hartz, nearly went to jail for business crimes.

It isn’t quite easy to explain what Hartz IV is all about. Perhaps this is its core problem: it consists of a very big set of rules and regulations as for who is eligible for what and who not, as well as penalties for those turning down jobs or not taking part in educational measures. Basically people get a small amount of money – between 300 and 400 Euro for a single person – that can be subject to cuts, and people can apply for a million of additional options from aid on rent to clothing, furniture etc. Basically nobody really knows what is there to be had and what not. Besides of this mass of formularies and the same authority being in charge of unemployment and well fare money, another important change for people was that they now need to spend their personal savings before they are eligible for Hartz IV. So if you become unemployed in Germany today you’ll receive unemployment payments, pretty similar to the system in other European countries and pre-Hartz IV Germany, for a given time span – depending on how long you have been employed before. After this time span instead of social welfare money you can apply for Hartz IV if you can prove quite a bunch of things including that you have no personal savings to live on left.

During the last decade a giant and incredibly expensive agency has been built doing, in short, little less than spying on Hartz IV „customers“. If you get Hartz IV the agency needs to know everything about you. And of course its agents don’t object interfering with your life. I have already stated that there is nothing to prevent the agency from making you accept a job in the other side of Germany and then letting you alone with handling the relocation if you are unlucky.

Perhaps it could be supposed that German Hartz IV recipients have meanwhile divided into two groups: Those, often second generation unemployed, who have given up any other option then living on government money and have therefor developed quite a bunch of strategies to get the most of the money. There have been enough of those people brought to proudly tell in front of a TV camera how they don’t intend to ever work because they wouldn’t have any more than anyway. Being on the hunt for those, the government has tried to put even more pressure on unemployed but it sometimes seems like those people are always ahead of every new measure finding a way around it.

And then there is the other group. Those who really do want to get out of Hartz IV and live on their own again. Those, who don’t know the tricks and have to live on little more than a good 300 € + rent paid by the government. People that don’t eat any vegetables or fruits anymore for they simply can’t afford them. People that don’t know where to take the money for their children’s textbooks or field trip from. Many of them seem to be chance-less in Germany’s labour market and the agency, if any, only makes it more difficult to them. Desperate with Hartz IV people are pressurized into the most crazy jobs with temp agencies or uninsured 400 €-jobs giving up everything, first of all their humanity, for any kind of a job.

You don’t need to hold an MBA to know what happened: Salaries went down rapidly as did the number of regular full-term unlimited contracts. Companies rather hire a couple of 400 €-workers than one full-time contracted person and unlimited full-time contracts are becoming rare and badly paid especially for young people.Germany has reached a point where many can’t make a living on a 40 hours full-time-job anymore and have to be supported by the government; there are people out there earning even less money from their full-time job then unemployed get through Hartz IV. Which some nudnikim of course see as an argument that Hartz IV is still too high, which is the biggest nonsense I’ve ever heard.

In a way Hartz IV is slowly destroying the country and the fear caused by it brings down what was left of social behavior. It has been discussed all the time since its implementation, even the supreme court has ordered changes so it would fit Germany’s basic law, and with all these changes and additions all it does is getting even more and more complicated. Around here, in Germany, children are raised in poverty, again, without much odds for improvement. Hartz IV is handed down from generation to generation with no money to support children’s education or chances on the labour market.

This is Germany, the social security save haven in 2010.

yours,

Migdalit

protecting families

Hey everybody,

So, I’m living in Germany for the moment, so why don’t write a little bit about Germany. Who says, in the end, that it have to be those kick ass exotic locations expats have to write about?

Germany, like other European countries, has included the protection of the family in its basic law. Reality, however, looks different. Reality here is tough. There would be the definition of a „family“ in the first place. Right now there’s quite a hullabaloo going on about Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s (male) life partner accompanying him whenever possible – even paying for the stay himself. Of course, homosexuality still is a difficult topic in Germany, where equality is achieved slowly and with many drawbacks. Public opinion is, at best, still controversial. It for sure is remarkable that in a climate like that Mr Westerwelle hasn’t only come out on the issue, but as well chosen to remain living his relationship as what it is, the most natural thing in the world, when he became Minister of Foreign Affairs in Autumn 2009.

However the problem of „defintion“ of a family of course isn’t limited on homosexual relationships. For one whilst in other countries, such as Australia or South Africa the „defacto marriage“ has become acknowledged for, for instance, visa issues German authorities have chosen a different approach: They label something „family“ depending on whether it benefits them. So if two people obtaining social welfare money („Hartz IV“) are sharing an apartment they are considered partners meaning that they get less money per person then would they live alone. This leads to situations as curios as room mates not being accepted for social welfare because the other room-mate (!) has an income. And as this also applies for alimony, room mates have, as well, found themself transferring money to their ex-room mates as ordered by court because court found them partners for no more then the fact that they chose to share an apartment.

On the other hand if the acknowledgement of a partnership would mean the state having to give or let go of money nothing short of a valid (and best of German) marriage certificate will get people the status of being „a family“. This is true for migration issues (going as far as European Union internal migration), tax issues and all kind of assistance a family might be suspect to. There just is no such thing as a „defacto marriage“ in German legal terminology. Thus if I ever happened to be unemployed in Germany I would likely find myself in the situation of having to marry my boyfriend so he could insure me and in order to avoid possible deportation (!) from Germany because accompanying of a life partner is not a valid reasons for intra-EU migration.

Companies, however, aren’t that focused on marriage certificates. My boyfriend and me can get a shared insurance and stuff. And for the rest of it it’s mostly a matter of good luck and HR person’s mood anyhow. One declared the whole furniture of our apartment belonging to me and tried to pressurize us into being happy we got as much as a car to transport the stuff – which she didn’t get away with. For that person as „only“ a life partner I wasn’t existant whatsoever. During the next relocation with another HR person of the same company in charge little difference was made between me and a legally married spouse. But, other than during relocation no. 1 she was very helpful from the beginning whilst HR person no. 1 was a pain in the ass to begin with.

And then companies and the state alike have long given up any idea of „protection of the family“. For instance the „Agentur für Arbeit“ (Bureau of Occupation) has been known for making unemployed moms accept jobs on the other side of Germany regardless of extended families, therefor important assistance for that single mom, being ripped apart. Having one spouse accept a job hundreds of kilometers away, so all he sees of his family is when he drives home for the weekend, is considered pretty normal by both government agencies and companies applying deeply family unfriendly relocation policies. Nobody can tell me this is considered „protection of the family“.

Families are ripped apart without reconsideration and without much possibilities to object however state and companies have little to offer to fill the voids caused thereby. I’ve seen plenty of young moms trapped with their children because stranded in a strange town without the slightest assistance they have nobody to look for their children even for some hours. And this is not talking about kindergarten opening hours, which have nothing to do with adult’s working hours. In fact in today’s Germany you can feel lucky as much as obtaining a place at the kindergarten and this with personnel being paid so badly that they have been on strike twice since we moved here.

Probably I should state here that this is far from being an exclusively German problem. Marrying in Israel, for instance, where only marriages by religious officials, haredim, if Jewish, are legal, can be a problem to secular or non-Jewish Israelis and definition problems of „family“ are pretty the same in Austria – in other European countries unmarried couples have even less rights than in Germany / Austria. However it seems to me that whilst in Austria cases where that kind of approach really did destroy families are seldom to be found, in Germany they are considered normal. If I complain about my boyfriend’s company’s transferring policy giving me a hard time and probably forcing me into a decision between my life partner (thus family) and my career (or me working at all) I am constantly looked at like I was a green-skinned alien. And if my eyes nearly come falling out when somebody – once more – tells me about families being ripped apart all I get from Germans nearby is a blank look.

This is the one thing I don’t get about Germans: Why have they given up themselves? Why have they allowed themselves to become so afraid of their own shadow they don’t dare to see anymore that most of the shit happening in this place was caused by no less than themselves?

yours,

Migdalit

I Ain’t German!

Hey guys,

I’m still going through a terrible time here. Germany and me just won’t find a common stance. After having lived in a country as strange as Israel, with all these issues I never had to think about before all around me and still finding so much happiness and joy there, it comes as a shock to move next door, from Austria to Germany, and feel like I came there all the way from Mars. Especially given that I have already lived in Bavaria for two years and, though there have been issues about identity and feeling accepted during those final months, have never felt such a complete stranger back then.

It’s not about Germans not knowing how to take care of this year’s masses of snow. It’s not about Germans not knowing how to drive a car in hilly land either. Those are actually the things about Germany that make me giggle. Perhaps because it boosts my patriotism, perhaps because it makes them look so human – or perhaps both of all. When you move abroad you expect things and people to be different after all.

Perhaps, I am pondering these days, a part of the ongoing issue between Germany and me is just about this: How people don’t see Austrians aren’t Germans. We seem to be so similar on the first glimpse. We speak the same language and a lot of our customs, the way we dress looks similar. We share quite a few pages of history too. So maybe when you are an Austrian living in Germany people just expect you to fit in. To assimilate instead of integrate. And with “people” I mean those on either side of the border. The border, that in a way, doesn’t exist anymore since the Schengen accords that opened Europe up to people and goods.

The truth is Austrians aren’t Germans. It’s not politically correct to speak about differences these days. I don’t care. Austrians aren’t Germans as little as Bavarians are Saxons as little as Upper Austrians are Viennese. Perhaps it doesn’t matter in places like the US, in places like Israel or South Africa where people relocating from one side of the continent to another a couple of times during their live is everyday business. In Middle Europe it does matter. In Middle Europe people don’t know what it is like to be the new gal in town. People don’t understand how hard it is to find friends if you haven’t gone to school in this place, if you haven’t played in the same sand pit as the other kids. After more than a year back to Germany and three relocations during these 13 months I still have no clue how to meet people my age and how to make friends in Germany. I haven’t yet found out where they meet or how I could approach them without scaring them away, for every social activity in Germany seems to be knitted after a harsh set of rules I do not know. But people don’t know about that. They think as an Austrian I am as good as a German (apart from these guys who still think Austrians climbed out of their caves just some years ago) and they expect I do know about German society rules. But I don’t.

I’m not going into what was better in Israel or South Africa or such. It’s no use. Sure, if I could I would just pack my things, board the next plane to Tel Aviv and sit in Gan HaYarkon crying until the world feels alright again. I did that 16 months ago, so I know what I’m talking about. Right now, however, I have to face that I am trapped in the one country that probably fits my personality least. I have to face that I have to make the most out of it for the time being. There will be a day when I’ll be able to sit at strange river again and cry until there are no tears left. For simple relief that it’s over. Until then I’ll have to confuse Germans with my smile. Until then I’ll have to learn those zillions of unspoken rules – so I can break them in the most elegant way. And when I leave this town perhaps some people will have found out that Austrians aren’t Germans.

yours,

Migdalit

On the Run

A late shabbat shalom to all of you,

Twenty years after the fall of what used to be called the „iron curtain“, and the division of Europe it caused, the topic seems to be back in the media in Germany. Only now, it sometimes seems to me, it’s not the Eastern “dictatorships” that are the source of propaganda, but the Western “democracies”, namely: Germany. The new, united Germany, featuring still so many difficulties between “East” and “West”.

Right now, while writing these lines, I’m watching yet another documentary – German private TV channel “VOX” featuring “Süddeutsche Zeitung TV” this time – about life in the German Democratic Republic (DDR). I’ve seen quite a lot of them recently – and I’ve talked to people both in Eastern and Western Germany – and somehow they seem to be all pretty similar. Perhaps not in what they are reporting on and in what people they are talking with, but still in the outcome; the message.

Let’s take today’s example: In the spotlight: three women that used to belong to the “NVA”, the DDR’s army. All three of them volunteered, all three of them liked their work and life in the DDR. After its end only one of them could move with her career, as a security officer for the Federal Republic of Germany. The other two of them went unemployed and still struggle to find a place within the “new” united Germany. However all the three of them agree on one thing: It might not all have been perfect but still, life was better “back then” and they had been left alone, if not straight betrayed by “Western” Germany that – until today – all too often makes “Eastern” Germans feel as second class citizens. The documentary is pretty interesting that way; those women and their families are left quite a lot of space to tell their stories from their own point of view. Great journalistic craftsmanship so to say. But then, there is that narrator again, like the little voice in the background of one’s consciousness: “People tend to glorify history”, he declares. Again and again.

I haven’t seen a single documentary so far, where that narrator’s voice was missing. Not a single documentary, where I really felt like people where encouraged to make up their own mind. And sometimes, when I hear that narrator’s voice again, another voice raises in the background of my consciousness: “History is written by the winners”, that particular one says.

No doubt: The death strip, the withdrawal of so many basic, even human rights of DDR citizens were wrong in uncountable ways. In the end perhaps wrong for the further existence of that nation itself, most of all. Why couldn’t a state founded on the principle of the power of the people, be brought to trust her own citizens? I wonder had they had the freedom to come and go as they please, how many DDR “refugees” would have returned to their land of origin after some months at capitalist “utopia”? Some 15% of the population have made the run for the west during the time of forced separation, I learned tonight. No wonder no state can go on like that

… but will the “united” Germany be able to? For some ten years talented, ambitious people have left exactly that Germany. And just like the DDR “back then” nobody in the “new” Germany gives a shit. German television is running documentaries and whole series on emigrants – everybody knows. And still nobody gives a shit. And whilst nobody cares those, who still have dreams, the achievers and achievers of tomorrow, the people that build up societies, companies, whole countries, are on the run from this particular one. Again. The only thing history teaches men is that history teaches men nothing – Mahatma Ghandi.

Sometimes there’s just no more to add to a wise man’s words

yours thoughtfully

Migdalit

moving on

Hello everyone,

just a short notice as I have to work: After Sarah just recently informed me the student protests started in Vienna some weeks ago had also spread to German universities and a switzerland friend notified Basel university had also been occupied due to the obvious lack in quality of academic teaching there, it’s no official:

University protests spread over Europe

the Austrian public news network titled this morning:

Reaching out from Austria in the meantime in nearly 20 German universities rooms are occupied. In Munich 250 students of the Ludwig-Maximilian University keep the Audimax occupied, in Switzerland auditoriums of Basel University are occupied. (source)

And still, now getting close to four weeks of protests, Austrian students – which have meanwhile teamed up with the steelworker’s union and other noteworthy Austrian associations – are as active as on day one with auditoriums still being held occupied and protests all over Austria’s major cities and universities being joined by the most unlikely supporters. As a matter of fact students in Germany and Switzerland are known to be in close contact with Austrian students.

Only here in Germany there’s surprisingly little about it in the media, whilst Austrian media – all the way from ORF, via der Standard to Kronenzeitung – have been very supportive of or at least covering (Kronenzeitung) the protest. As weird as it seems it might be exactly this media coverage that has given the protests the fuel to go on as long as this and spread as far as they did. And if you’d ask me they can’t spread far enough!

with very warm regards and blessings to the protesting students in all three countries

yours,

Migdalit

P.S.: Did I mention I feel a little proud for being Austrian today?

P.P.S.: And before I forget: the position of Minister of Science is still open in Austria …