Germany: Hanau shootings reveal the rise of racism in Europe
At least ten people were killed and four injured in multiple shootings in the town of Hanau, 15 miles from Frankfurt in Germany. The attacker first opened fire in a shisha bar on 19 February and then drove to another bar to carry out a similar attack. In a chase that followed, the police revealed that the perpetrator gunned down nine people, including a pregnant woman and youth of the Middle East origin, before killing himself and his mother.
The 43-year-old attacker has left behind a 24-page manifesto which makes clear the motives behind the killings as racist. In the manifesto, he calls for the extermination of peoples from the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, settled in Germany.
In the aftermath of the attack, Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised decisive action to combat racism in the country.
What is the background?
The present attack would be the third prominent one, by the extreme right in less than a year, after a synagogue attack in eastern Germany in October 2019. The attack heightens concerns over recurrent hate crimes in Germany which is home to the largest number of immigrants from the 2016 refugee crisis. The Hanau shooting has come a few days after the arrest of 12 individuals for planning attacks on the mosques across Germany. The police investigations revealed that the mosque attackers were plotting to replicate similar attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Violence owing to racism is reemerging as a pattern in Germany. In March 2009, a 17-year-old school student in the southern town of Winnenden shot dead 15 people before killing himself during a gunfight with police. In 2016, a teenager went on the rampage in Munich, shooting dead nine people at a shopping mall before turning the gun on himself. Both these attacks came after Germany was grappling with the refugee question. The State of Hesse, where the current attack took place, also witnessed in 2019 the brutal murder of a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) official by a neo-Nazi. The CDU member Walter Lübcke was targeted for his defence of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal refugee policy.
These are not isolated crimes. The attacks also come at a time when the far-right political party, Alternative for Deutschland (AfD), is making significant political progress as the country’s largest opposition in the Bundestag. In the 2017 general election, the AfD scored 14 per cent in Hesse, making it the third-strongest party after Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats. The town of Hesse and Hanau in East Germany is the most preferred by Kurds, Turks and Syrians to settle down after reaching Germany.
The shootings in Germany is, however, not an isolated incident within Europe. The United Kingdom in the past few months have witnessed a revival of lone stabbing attacks on the streets of London by convicted terrorists. The country has witnessed two such incidents in the last three months that the police has identified as incidents of terrorism.
What does it mean?
First, it is time Germany takes cognizance off the racist forces reemerging in the country. The Hanau attacks reveal not only the failure of the intelligence agency but also that off the CDU to arrest extremist racist forces within its party and outside. A party that is otherwise a staunch champion of liberal democratic values in the EU is now grappling with a tough question on racism. There are lessons to be learnt from the Hanau massacre. According to a report in the Bloomberg, the latest Interior Minister figures show that there were almost 13,000 violent rightwing extremists in Germany in 2018.
A larger question is: what has led to the rise of racism in Germany?
Second, the attack comes at an extremely delicate juncture in German politics, when Merkel’s grip on power has weakened ahead of her retirement in September 2021. She took a strong stance on refugees at the height of the Syria crisis and that is coming at a price today. The refugees have been politically accepted but economically remain to be integrated. In the absence of a strong leader, the centrist party is facing a policy and power vacuum. This has been used substantially by the far-right political parties to the point that for the last two weeks in February, the country has been in crisis after Merkel’s party aligned with the far-right Alternative for Germany in a vote for premier in the eastern state of Thuringia. The fallout of the crisis has exposed the weakening hold of Merkel on her party in the state with the resignation of her heir.
Third, a pattern has emerged in Germany, where the rise of racism is being witnessed in the Eastern part of Germany. Starting from Thuringia, Munich, Hesse, Frankfurt to Hanau, it is the eastern periphery of Germany linking to Eastern Europe where the attacks and the political ground for AfD have strengthened. Along with attacks against migrants in these cities, Dresden (in Eastern part Germany) in November 2019 declared a “Nazi emergency” to highlight the city’s increasing trend of rightwing extremism. Dresden is also the birthplace of xenophobic citizen’s organization Pegida, which stands for “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West.” The political crisis in Thuringia also reveals the same features as Pegida, where the first political forces of Nazism emerged in Germany.
Last, it is also important to note that radical currents have long existed in Eastern Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 even though the political integration of Germany took place, the economic integration was slow and dragging. These underlined problems became evident after Germany decided to confront the refugee problem by settling them in the vacant cities in and around Frankfurt. The AfD has used this policy and the slow economic growth of the eastern states in Germany as an issue to gain support. It remains to be seen how AfD has propelled the racist sentiments among a few people leading to violent attacks.
FATF: Pakistan to remain in “Greylist”, Iran and North Korea “blacklisted”
The plenary meet of global money laundering and terror financing watchdog Financial Action Task Force (FATF), took place during February 16-21 in Paris. As per FATF’s website, over 800 representatives from 205 countries and jurisdictions, the UN, IMF, World Bank and other organizations attended the working group meetings and plenary. Improvements made by Pakistan, Iran and other countries which FATF claim “present a risk to the financial system” were discussed.
On 21 February, the plenary finalized that Pakistan will continue in the “grey-list” (or “Other Monitored Jurisdictions” list) for another four months with a harsh admonition to complete the 27 recommended points by June 2020 or face being blacklisted. North Korea and Iran were “blacklisted” (or listed as “High-Risk Jurisdictions Subject to a Call for Action” or “Non-Cooperative Countries or Territories”) as they failed to comply with global norms regarding anti-terrorism-financing and money-laundering.
Meanwhile, Abdolnasser Hemmati, Governor of the Central Bank of Iran, dismissed the FATF verdict claiming it would not hinder “Iran’s foreign trade or stability in currency rates”.
What is the background?
FATF, an inter-governmental body, was established in 1989 to maintain the integrity of international financial systems by combating terror-funding, money laundering and related threats. It presently has 39 members, including two regional organizations – the Gulf Cooperation Council and the European Commission.
FATF had given Pakistan a September 2019 deadline to end terror funding to UNSC designated terrorist organizations and sue their leadership. In November 2019, the deadline was extended to February 2020; the FATF review then concluded that Pakistan had complied with just four points. Based on FATF’s guidelines, Islamabad had submitted a report on actions taken by Pakistan to check terror financing at the International Co-operation Review Group’s (ICRG) Paris meeting. ICRG, an extension of the watchdog, had cautioned that Pakistan would be blacklisted in the absence of compliance with the remaining 22 out of 27 points to curb terror-sponsoring.
Since 2016, Iran had enacted amendments to countering the financing of terrorism regime (CFT)/anti-money laundering (AML) acts, adopted AML by law and commenced a cash-declaration regime. FATF welcomed Tehran’s commitment to addressing AML/CFT deficiencies and the decision to implement the Action Plan. However, in February 2020, FATF judged non-compliance with certain items. North Korea has time and again ignored the warnings.
As on 24 October 2019, “grey list” included 12 countries – Bahamas, Botswana, Cambodia, Ghana, Iceland, Mongolia, Panama, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Yemen and Zimbabwe; and the “blacklist” included only North Korea.
What does it mean?
FATF norms require Pakistan, Iran and North Korea to completely revamp their financial networks in order to crack down on terror factions, curb terror funding and strengthen countering terror funding and anti-money laundering. Islamabad had garnered support from China, Turkey and Malaysia but despite the lobbying failed to secure the 12 out of 39 votes required to be dropped from the grey list.
FATF said that it had recognized Tehran’s efforts and progress in the area. Hence, if Iran ratifies the Palermo and Terrorist Financing Conventions, congruent to FATF standards, the body may suspend countermeasures.
The verdict is significant as it will bring a further strain on these countries politically and economically. Often, countries that face strict banking and international finance sanctions politicize the issue. The watchdog also allows member states to independently appropriate countermeasures to heighten efficiency and reduce such risks. Nevertheless, Iran’s verdict could be a pawn in the US-Iran standoff.
Afghanistan: The US and Taliban conclude a preliminary seven days deal
On 21 February, the US and the Taliban signed a seven days of “reduction in violence” agreement. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that “this deal will be a test on Taliban willingness and ability to reduce violence in the region.” The agreement proposes that no offensive will be launched by the Taliban, Afghan or any international troops. The forces would hold their positions, but not launch any attacks, including roadside bombs, suicide attacks and attacks on check posts. Pakistan has officially welcomed the agreement.
What is the background?
During recent weeks, the negotiations between the US and the Taliban became intense, and an announcement was expected between the two over a ceasefire and a long term road map towards political stability in Afghanistan. Instead of a ceasefire, both countries agreed to a “Reduction in Violence” agreement.
Earlier this month, both the US and the Taliban agreed to sign the first phase of the deal, after seven days “reduction in violence”, to bring an end to the conflict. Last year (2019) witnessed several attempts and failures in the peace talks between the US and the Taliban.
The Afghan government has been side-lined from the US-Taliban talks. Last week, President Ashraf Ghani was declared the winner in presidential elections held in September 2019. Ghani’s rival Abdullah Abdullah has disputed the election results and said that he would form an alternative government.
The US special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, who leads the US negotiations, is surprised by the election results and is trying to prevent a political crisis in Afghanistan. The US had distanced itself from acknowledging the election results.
What does it mean?
First, the reduction in violence will be a step forward to end the two-decade-long war in Afghanistan. The phase one agreement is expected to be signed by 29 February in Doha. However, the possibility that the parties involved could spark unrest in Afghanistan, during the seven-day reduction in violence, the agreement cannot be ruled out.
Second, the Afghan election result, which was declared the same week of the signing of the deal shows a keen focus to have, a leader in Afghanistan to further work on intra-Afghan talks. The political chaos that emerged between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, however, could harm the US-Taliban deal.
Third, the seven-day reduction will test Taliban leadership’s ability to control its forces in-line with any peace deal signed.
Fourth, the US and Taliban have never been so close to agreeing on a peace-deal. If successful, the seven-day “reduction in violence” would be followed by a US-Taliban peace deal and pave the way for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. This will be a fulfilment of the 2016-campaign promise by Trump and is likely to become a Trump card for Trump’s 2020 election campaign.
Fifth, it is unclear how Pakistan’s military and other neighbours including Iran and India would respond to the US-Taliban peace deal and the withdrawal of foreign troops.
South Sudan: President and Opposition leader announce unity deal
On 20 February 2020, South Sudan’s rival leaders agreed to form a unity government. This unity deal comes as a breakthrough after months of delays and other significant issues caused by the civil war. Opposition leader Riek Machar stated that he and President Salva Kiir agreed to resolve any outstanding issues after the government’s formation. Kiir stated that the new government would be formed on Saturday and that he will appoint Machar as his first vice president.
The rival leaders have missed this deadline twice missed in the past year to form the transitional government that would lead to elections in three years. This deal comes amid anticipation of the United States and others, who feared South Sudan might slide into fighting again if a new government was not formed.
What is the background?
The civil war in South Sudan broke out two years after the nation gained their long-fought independence from Sudan when President Salva Kiir, who belongs to the majority Dinka ethnic group, fired his deputy, Riek Machar, who belongs to the Nuer ethnic group. The conflict caused major problems to the oil-rich nation’s economy and the people who have suffered from hunger, poverty, human rights violations and, displacement.
The two sides first signed a power-sharing deal in September 2018, but negotiations since then had been unable to reach the previous two deadlines in May 2019 and November 2019. Machar has long demanded that President Kiir reverse his decision to increase the number of states to 32, seeing it as means through which the President can boost his power base. However, on 15 February 2020 agreed to the opposition’s demand to reduce the number of states by returning to a system of 10 states and sacked all 32 state governors, raising hopes of an end to the deadlock.
Further, the country has been put under severe external pressure in the form of sanctions and other pressure to get the rival sides to make a lasting peace. The US, UK, and Norway have frequently urged both sides to compromise and avoid a return to conflict.
What does it mean?
This announcement is a significant step forward after years of stalled negotiations in South Sudan. However, even though this deal is seen as a sign of hope and has been appreciated internally and externally. A crucial implication of the deal is that it would help unlock the oil reserves and boost flagging production in the oil-rich nation.
However, there remain several challenges in the peace process. Integrating tens of thousands of former rival forces into a united army will be a tedious process. Addressing issues of poverty, displacement, hunger, child soldiers, bloody localized conflicts, sexual violence and plunder of public funds would need to be addressed to ensure that the peace process is successful. Thus, what lies ahead for South Sudan are many political battles that should hopefully be tackled and not result in another conflict.
Thailand: The Court dissolves the opposition party
On 21 February, the Constitutional Court of Thailand dissolved the Future Forward Party (FFP), the opposition. The party was disbanded on the charge of “accepting 191.3 million baht from an illegitimate source”. It was given as a loan by the party leader and business tycoon, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, for the party’s development. The court ruled that the money loaned by Thanathorn to the party was considered “other benefits” under Section 66 of the Political Parties Act. This Act limits donations to 10 million baht per donor per year for each party. The court also banned 16 members of the party including Thanathorn, secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul and spokesperson Pannika Wanich from politics for ten years.
What is the background?
The FFP was formed in 2018 and was able to capture 81 out of 500 seats in House of Representative in 2019 General Elections. The party due to their young leaders had garnered youth support and was also seen as an alternative to old corrupt leadership in power. They have been a vocal critique of the military-backed ruling coalition headed by Prayut Chan-O-Cha. Hence, the crackdown; FFP since its formation have faced 28 legal cases. In the 2019 election, even after winning a seat, Thanathorn was barred from the Parliament, on the charges of Media Law violation, which he denied.
Some of the legal cases against FFP have been bizarre. Previously, they were charged for plotting to overthrow the monarchy as their logo was found similar to Illuminati, a secret organization mentioned in Dan Brown’s famous novel. Also, the ruling coalition wanted to form a Parliament Corruption Committee for looking into whether Thanathorn’s mother once owned a plot of land had encroached any forest land. These cases point out the desperation to disband the FFP.
In Thai politics, such developments are not new. Previously Thaksin Shinawatra and his party have faced similar legal restrictions and cases. The Thai military who have led more than nine coups and returned to power repeatedly is known for the crackdown of their opposition.
Chan-O-Cha is former Army General and dictator who led the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), since the 2014 coup. Apart from the FFP, any critique of his government has met with similar resistance. In a recent attack on mob protest, the Thai military killed around 81 protestors.
What does it mean?
First, the legal action taken against FFP is unnecessary. There are other political parties in Thailand, who have received similar loans, no action has been taken against them. This is a piety charge for dissolving a political party. The verdict was predetermined and was evident; the judgment was reached and read within an hour.
Second, the verdict also underlines the failure of the judiciary. In a democracy, a neu judiciary plays a pivotal role. Such an incident has been repeated in Thai political history, depicts the state of democracy.
Thailand is also known for its corruption. There is also growing public anger due to the failing political systems and economy. Disbanding the party might increase people’s anger against the government, especially among the youth.
Third, the FFP provided hope for the youth of Thailand, who believed in change. Although the party may form again under a different name, it will be a weak party for fighting in the next election in 2024. Hence, ending the hope of change among the youth.
Also in the news…
Greta Thunberg in Hamburg
Climate activist Greta Thunberg led the Hamburg chapter of “Fridays for Future” campaign, on 21 February. Leading a crowd of approximately 50000-60000, she made scathing remarks against the politicians for their silence, insensitivity and inaction over the climate crisis. She made a call for more mass gatherings and protests to ensure some action in this regard. The Hamburg protests coincided with a local election, and climate change is one of the electoral issues being raised.
Coronavirus scare in Europe
The death of two people in Italy due to Novel Coronavirus, set the bells ringing across Europe. The Italian Health Ministry has ordered for quarantine of at least a dozen towns, where people tested positive to the virus. Codogno, with three positive cases, was the first town to come under lockdown. While the Italian government stressed that the situation is under control, it is a matter of concern that enough steps could not be taken to curb the spread within and outside Asia.
The US designates China’s media houses as arms of the state
The United States this week, designated five Chinese media houses as the arm or the ‘extension’ of the government at Beijing. This implies that the media houses would now require to comply with rules set for foreign embassies and consulates. These rules and regulations are governed by the Foreign Missions Act. They would also need the government’s approval for personnel and property management, thereby aiming to counter the Chinese narrative and influence in the US.