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Germany takes helm of EU presidency, Merkel urges resolve on virus recovery plan

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday called for a speedy agreement on the coronavirus recovery fund for the European Union.

The two Germans held a joint virtual press conference where they outlined the goals for Germany’s six-month presidency of the EU, which Germany officially took over on Wednesday.

Read more: Angela Merkel’s last EU Council Presidency — what to expect

Coronavirus recovery package

“We have an unprecedented crisis and it needs an unprecedented response,” von der Leyen said.

“Every day we lose will see people losing their jobs, companies going bust, the weakening of our economy. Every single day counts,” she said, calling for urgency on the agreement. 

The EU is currently in negotiations over an economic stimulus and investment program worth €750 billion to be controversially financed through shared debts. 

Von der Leyen said talks in recent weeks had shown there was common ground in many aspects, but that the details were proving difficult. 

The heads of state and government of the Member States will discuss the plan on July 17 and July 18, but wide gulfs remain on the volume, financing and type of aid to be distributed.

Merkel said: “I am going to Brussels on July 17 with the will to strike an agreement.” 

She said the even if the talks were inconclusive, “there must be an agreement in the course of the summer anyway, I can’t imagine any other option.”

Focus on fighting climate change

Von der Leyen’s plan, which Merkel has thrown her support behind, will mainly come in the form of grants for countries hit hardest by the pandemic such as Italy and Spain.

Merkel stressed that it was important that the response to the crisis was “designed in such a way that it was robust.”

Von der Leyen said the economic bailout package must be used creatively to bolster the EU’s climate change response, improve its digitalization and modernize the single market.

“We have an unprecendendent crisis and it needs an unprecendented response,” she said.

Von der Leyen, Merkel, EU Council President Charles Michel and EU Parliament President David Sassoli will meet on July 8.

Read more: Germany’s Merkel vows to spearhead coronavirus recovery efforts

Brexit trade deal ‘not at any price’

On Brexit, Merkel said Europe wanted a trade deal with the UK, but “not at any price.”

She said the EU must be prepared for a no-deal outcome.

If the two parties fail to secure an agreement by December or an extension, their trade relationship will return to World Trade Organization defaults with high tariffs and major business disruptions.

Read more: Brexit: Europe, UK trade talks stall over ‘serious differences’

EU too German?

In response to question from DW’s Berndt Riegert on whether the the other 26 EU Member States would be worried that the bloc was becoming too German, with both Merkel and von der Leyen at the helm, the two said that being a European is more important than being a national citizen.

Merkel said: “I think if there are two convinced Europeans, then maybe that is even more important. Of course I will not forget my German interests, which we have to bring to the negotiations. But we already know that the presidency is giving us an additional responsibility.” 

Von der Leyen said: The good thing is that we have known each other for a long time, we trust each other deeply. And the good thing is that when you know each other very well, you can also speak very efficiently, very plainly, because we know that we can go into the depths in great detail and therefore achieve a lot.” 

“I also always remark that this is the beautiful thing about Europe, when you consider that both of us have a very different bibliography, where we spent our childhood and where we grew up, but we are both deeply convinced and we are both deeply European. And that actually reflects the beauty of Europe.”

aw/rs (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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Coronavirus: Wealthy nations compete for remdesivir supplies

Zolgensma, a gene therapy medicine for treating spinal muscular atrophy in children under the age of two, is now available in Germany. However, a single treatment of the drug, which is produced by Swiss pharmaceuticals company Novartis, comes at the steep price of €1.9 million ($2.1 million).

The manufacturer argues that this is a reasonable price considering that without it, it costs between €2.5 and 4 million to treat the degenerative disease over a lifetime.

Gilead Sciences, which has developed remdesivir, takes a similar line of argument, saying that the drug, which is viewed as a promising tool in the fight against COVID-19, could save costs in the long run.

In an open letter earlier this week, Daniel O’Day, chairman and CEO of Gilead Sciences, wrote: “Taking the example of the United States, earlier hospital discharge would result in hospital savings of approximately $12,000 per patient. Even just considering these immediate savings to the healthcare system alone, we can see the potential value that remdesivir provides.”

“We have decided to price remdesivir well below this value,” he continued. “To ensure broad and equitable access at a time of urgent global need, we have set a price for governments of developed countries of $390 per vial. Based on current treatment patterns, the vast majority of patients are expected to receive a 5-day treatment course using 6 vials of remdesivir, which equates to $2,340 per patient.”

Read more: Remdesivir is no miracle cure

A single treatment of Zolgensma, produced by Swiss pharmaceuticals firm Novartis, costs €1.9 million

What is fair drug pricing?

The editor of the German specialist magazine Arznei-Telegramm, Wolfgang Becker-Brüser, is not convinced. He told DW that the costs of treating COVID-19 without remdesivir had been calculated at random.

“There is an attempt to give the impression that the price is fair,” he said. “However, if there wasn’t a pandemic and so much public attention they might have set the price much higher.”

The Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (vfa) refused to comment. “The vfa does not comment on the pricing schemes of individual companies,” it said in a statement to DW.

But in the past, the vfa has called on the pharmaceuticals sector to show responsibility with regard to consumers and demanded that affordable medicine and vaccines be made available.

An analysis by British researchers cited in the Germany weekly Der Spiegel came to the conclusion that it probably cost about €8 to produce one dose of remdesivir.

However, it is normal for the sale price to be much higher than the production price, considering companies invest huge sums into development.

Read more: How lab animals have fared in the coronavirus crisis

Gilead Sciences claims that it invested about $1 billion into remdesivir. This is actually at the lower end of the vfa’s scale for developing a new drug. The association told DW that companies tended to invest $1 to 1.6 billion in a new product.

For Wolfgang Becker-Brüser, this is “fantasy.”

“If the development costs are calculated to be so high then it is easy to demand higher prices,” he told DW.

For Alexander Nuyken, a pharmaceuticals expert at the consulting firm EY, there is a reason that development costs are so high: they encompass the risk of failure. “It has to be possible to add a premium for the risks incurred from the development of a drug to its approval,” he said.

Becker-Brüser said that in general drugs were becoming more expensive. “The number of prescriptions for new patented drugs is the same but their price is going up,” he said. This was already the case before the COVID-19 pandemic, as indicated by a report by the German health insurance company AOK from last year, according to which insurance companies are paying an increasingly high proportion of their medicine budget on particularly expensive drugs. Drugs as pricey as Zolgensma are only the tip of the iceberg.

Read more: Is the US-China rivalry tangling a coronavirus vaccine with geopolitics?

With regard to remdesivir, however, there had been some expectation that the cost per course of treatment would actually be higher. The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review, a US-based nonprofit organization that analyzes drug prices, had suggested that a reasonable price would be $2,800, while others had recommended $4,000.

But considering that remdesivir is practically a waste product, which Gilead Sciences originally developed to treat Ebola, without major success, Becker-Brüser presumes that the company opted for a compromise in view of the public pressure.

It could turn out to be a win-win situation for the company. Its share price rose when the price of remdesivir was announced earlier this week and orders have gone through the roof.

After being ineffective against Ebola, Gilead Sciences drug remdesivir is getting a second chance against COVID-19

Global competition

According to media reports, the US has already secured the entire stock of projected production for July and 90% for August.

Germany, too, has apparently secured supplies. Health Minister Jens Spahn has been applying pressure. He said that he expected “Germany and Europe to have access to supplies to such a drug.” The British government has also said that it has enough reserves.

So far, remdesivir has not been fully approved in any country and there has not been enough research into how effective it really is against the novel coronavirus. But apart from Dexamethason, it is the drug that seems to have the most potential for treating patients with SARS-CoV-2 and limiting the disease’s course.

Read more: Is dexamethasone the game changer in COVID-19 treatment?

Alexander Nuyken said that it was not surprising that the world’s wealthy nations were all eager to get hold of supplies. “That’s why it is particularly important that we find common solutions in international alliances.”

There are already several international forums in which this is being attempted and a European vaccine alliance has been formed with the WHO.

However, the problem, as with the global fight against the climate emergency, is that if the US does not play by the same rules, the attempts of other states will be curbed.

Those who benefit, said Becker-Brüser, are the pharmaceuticals giants, “which are in a position to aim higher.”

It will soon become clear how high Gilead Sciences is prepared to go. Right now, the European Union is negotiating with the US company and trying to ensure that all 27 states have supplies in the coming months.

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India’s HIV and TB patients suffer consequences of coronavirus pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic hit India, many were worried that the country’s overworked public healthcare system would not be able to cope with the added burden of the outbreak. The crisis has brought to light the flaws and discrepancies of India’s health outreach programs.

National outreach programs for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) and HIV have become severely underfunded and put on the back burner due to a shift of focus to limiting COVID-19 infections. But health professionals warn that such a move could have detrimental effects on India’s population in the future.

Read more: India could have ‘several coronavirus peaks’

TB far deadlier

COVID-19 has so far claimed more than 17,000 lives in India. Yet tuberculosis remains a far more fatal disease for the South Asian country. The highly infectious disease claimed over 79,000 lives in 2019 alone, according to the latest annual TB report.

A recent joint study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and Lancaster University projected that the pandemic could add at least 110,000 more fatalities in countries including India, China and South Africa. The researchers also noted that the crisis could result in overall decreased clinic attendance as well as delayed diagnosis and treatment.

However, India’s minister for health and family welfare, Harsh Vardhan, commended the country’s progress for handling its TB crisis. “The government is committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of eliminating TB in the country by 2025, five years ahead of the global target,” he announced.

Read more: Coronavirus triggers mental health crisis in India

But Saurabh Rane, an advocate for Survivors Against TB – a community-based initiative led by TB survivors – said since the outbreak of COVID-19, “it has been an absolute nightmare for [TB] patients.”

Rane, who is a TB survivor himself, said that while most patients reach out to understand how to deal with the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic, “they don’t know if they can get the tests done in time, get time from their doctors for consultations or even procure their next batch of medications.”

Rane believes one of the greatest failures of India’s healthcare system has been the lack of communication and outreach from the New Delhi government. “If the system has not faced this before, the patient hasn’t either. Communication opens a channel to understand their problems and that is when you can find solutions for them. Increase bandwidth on the helpline, provide them chat options, figure out doorstep drug delivery mechanisms, create spaces for testing, and troubleshoot problems as they occur,” he said, adding: “The public health system has to fight an old pandemic in the middle of a new one.”

Read more: Has India’s Hindu nationalist government mismanaged the country’s response to the coronavirus?

Getting hold of HIV medication amid lockdown

India is home to the world’s third largest population of HIV+ patients. The Indian government provides lifelong ART (anti retro-viral) medication to all registered patients.

But when the nationwide lockdown was in place, many HIV sufferers couldn’t visit the hospital or clinic facilities to obtain the necessary medication due to the shutdown of public transport.

“Adherence is key to taking ART and for a total suppression of the HIV virus. It is non-negotiable, simply because we can’t negotiate with our virus. If we miss say 2-3 doses in a month or if we do not adhere at least 97% of the time, the virus can bounce back and we are likely to develop resistance,” said Loon Gangte, co-ordinator of the Delhi Network of Positive People – an initiative aimed to improve the lives of people living with HIV.

Even as restrictions are gradually lifted, those living with HIV still face fear and distress on a regular basis. Gangte says the situation is worse for low-income HIV patients as well as ostracized members of society such as sex workers and transgenders.

Despite the easing of lockdown measures, experts warn that Indians suffering from highly infectious diseases other than the coronavirus remain in a vulnerable position.

“People should not be deprived of treatment as they too have their right to health. We urge the government not to abandon initiatives on HIV/AIDS, TB, and drug addiction,” said Abu Mere, president of NNagaDao, a local non-governmental organization.

Read more: India: Being blind during the coronavirus pandemic

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US Supreme Court strikes down strict abortion law in major ruling

The US Supreme Court on Monday struck down a law in the state of Louisiana that placed restrictions on abortion rights. 

Specifically, the bill had required doctors to have a formal affiliation called “admitting privileges” to perform abortions at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of the clinic. The hospital would have the right to admit or reject the privilege. 

Lawyers for Hope Medical Group for Women, who brought the case before the Supreme Court, said two of Louisiana’s three abortion clinics would have been forced to close if the law went into effect. 

Surprise decision

In a 5-4 ruling, conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four liberal justices in the majority. ”The result in this case is controlled by our decision four years ago invalidating a nearly identical Texas law,” Roberts wrote.  

He explained that the court had settled the question of “admitting privileges” already and that there was no reason to change that consensus. 

Read more: Roe v. Wade plaintiff says she was paid to turn against abortion movement

Roberts vote came as a surprise to supporters and opponents of abortion rights, as the Chief Justice had voted in favor the identical Texas law.  

Even though he still believes the Texas case was wrongly decided, Roberts explained his rationale for voting differently by saying “the legal doctrine of stare decisis requires us, absent special circumstances, to treat like cases alike.” 

A blow to conservatives 

The decision was a blow to President Donald Trump’s administration, which had supported the law in Louisiana. Many pro-life Republicans were hoping that with the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court would tip the balance in their favor on abortion rulings. 

Both of Trump’s Supreme Court appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh voted to keep the Louisiana law. 

“Today’s ruling is a bitter disappointment,” said anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, adding that it represented “the failure of the Court to allow the American people to protect the well-being of women from the tentacles of a brutal and profit-seeking abortion industry.” 

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said they were relieved that the court blocked the Louisiana law. 

 “With this win, the clinics in Louisiana can stay open to serve the one million women of reproductive age in the state,” she said in a statement. 

“But we’re concerned about tomorrow,” she said. “Unfortunately, the court’s ruling today will not stop those hell-bent on banning abortion.” 

The Louisiana law is just one of several abortion rights cases that will be appealed to the Supreme Court, which include bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected and the almost total ban passed in Alabama. 

jcg (AFP, Reuters AP) 

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German government endorses ECB bond-buying bid after courts clash

Germany’s finance ministry backed a disputed stimulus program pushed by the European Central Bank (ECB), paving a way past the power struggle between Germany’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

New information shared by the ECB “fully satisfies” the demands made by the German judges, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said in a letter to parliamentary speaker Wolfgang Schäuble.

Luxembourg vs. Karlsruhe

In a shock ruling last month, the German court threatened to ban Germany’s central bank from taking part in a crucial ECB bond-buying scheme.The Karlsruhe-based judges said ECB governors had failed to take sufficient account of the project’s side effects on banks, savers, and other stakeholders. The court asked the ECB to demonstrate the “proportionality” of the scheme and its goals within the next three months. They also ruled that the ECJ had simply rubber-stamped the central bank’s policy.

The German ruling prompted a sharp response from the ECJ judges, who believe only their court can rule on the ECB decision. 

“Divergences between courts of the member states as to the validity of such acts would indeed be liable to place in jeopardy the unity of the EU legal order,” said the Luxembourg-based ECJ.

Read more: Coronavirus and the EU: The nation versus the union?

ECB defiant but compliant

The ECB also argues it is not bound by the decisions of the German court. However, without obeying its ruling outright, the ECB provided German officials with more information last week, including details on the issue of “proportionality.”  The ECB said its €2 trillion ($2.25 trillion) scheme was an effective tool to stimulate the economy and pledged there are “sufficient safeguards having been built into the design of these programs to limit potential adverse side effects.”

Read more: Coronabonds and the idea of European financial unity

Finance Minister Scholz said that, with this new information, the ECB heads had “convincingly demonstrated its deliberations about proportionality.” His letter to Schäuble was dated on June 26 but only went public on Monday.

On Sunday, Germany’s Constitutional Court said the nation’s independent central bank was still bound by its decision, but that the Bundesbank would decide on its own whether or not it will pull out of the scheme.

“The Federal Constitutional Court is no longer involved,” judge Peter Huber told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

 dj/rs (AP, Reuters)

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India bans TikTok, WeChat, other Chinese apps over ‘security’ concerns

Indian officials barred 59 mobile apps, most of them run by Chinese companies, on Monday, saying they were engaged in “activities” which were “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, security of state and public order.”

The apps include video-sharing platform TIkTok, social media app WeChat, and UC Browser developed by a company owned by China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba.

Read more: Hello, Big Brother: How China controls its citizens through social media

TikTok and WeChat are widely popular in India. However, WeChat — which now boasts close to 1.2 billion active monthly users — is also known for being strictly monitored by the Chinese authorities.

The ban comes less than two weeks after a deadly border clash between Chinese and Indian troops, which saw at least 20 Indian soldiers lose their lives.

More to follow…

dj/rs (AFP, Reuters)

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UK ‘formally’ rejects extension on stalled post-Brexit talks

London “formally” ruled out asking for an extension that would allow its representatives more time to reach a permanent deal with the EU on their post-Brexit relationship.

UK’s Michael Gove, a Cabinet minister in charge of post-Brexit ties with the EU, said “the moment for extension has now passed.” In order to avoid a no-deal scenario, the two sides would need to negotiate a new permanent accord in the coming months, authorize it and put into force before the current temporary deal is set to expire on January 1 next year.

Read more:  Germany urges UK to be ‘more realistic’ on Brexit

“On January 1, 2021 we will take back control and regain our political and economic independence,”  Gove wrote on Twitter on Friday.

Also on Friday, the UK government announced that it would introduce border checks in stages after January 1, going back on an original plan to that would impose full control on EU goods after the temporarily deal expires. Instead, UK importers of most EU goods would be able to delay submitting customs declarations or pay tariffs for the six months, although they would be required to keep customs records. Full checks are expected to be put in place by July next year.

Still no deal for Northern Ireland

The UK has consistently rejected the possibility of asking for more time to negotiate with the EU. With talks stalling and the end of the temporary deal drawing closer, however, many have speculated that London could change its mind and call for an extension. Such a move would legally be possible only until the end of June.

Read more:  Does the coronavirus crisis make a no-deal Brexit more likely?

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said the bloc was taking the UK’s extension decision “as a definitive one.”  Commenting on border checks, the EU official noted that the UK was still expected to provide details on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is a sensitive political issue.

Michael Gove and Boris Johnson were the most prominent Conservative politicians in the ‘Vote Leave’ referendum campaign, while campaign strategist Dominic Cummings (right in shot) is now the prime minister’s lead adviser

Separately, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said it was important to “make progress on substance” during faltering talks with the UK.

“To give every chance to the negotiations, we agreed to intensify talks in the next weeks and months,” he added.

All eyes on Johnson, von der Leyen

Since the UK formally left the EU’s political institutions on January 31 this year, albeit with relatively little change to its trade and travel ties to the bloc during the transition period, several rounds of talks ended with no visible results. EU officials have been unusually frank in their criticism of the UK, with Barnier saying this week that Britain was “looking to pick and choose the most attractive elements of the (EU) single market without the obligations.”

Read more:  Brexit: EU accuses UK of trying to maintain economic benefits amid coronavirus recession

Barnier noted the UK was “demanding a lot more than Canada, Japan, or many of our other partners.”

UK Prime Minister  Boris Johnson is due to speak with EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Monday in a bid to make a breakthrough on the stalled talks.

dj/msh (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)

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Lebanon in currency crisis as protests spread across the country

Lebanon’s government held crisis talks Friday as the currency plummeted to a record low on the black market, leading to a night of angry protests. President Michel Aoun announced after the meeting that the central bank would begin injecting dollars into the market in an attempt to strengthen the pound.

The country is entering the worst recession in a decade with the Lebanese pound down 70% from its official rate.

Protests on Thursday night saw roads blocked across the country and security forces working together to use tear gas against protesters. Demonstrators chanted slogans of national unity, with many pointing fingers at the financial sector.

Read more: Syrian currency crisis: Idlib facing the next catastrophe 

Protesters shout slogans in Beirut

“Thief, thief, Riad Salame is a thief,” some protesters chanted, referring to the governor of the central bank. Hundreds of protesters in Beirut targeted the central bank. Many accuse Salame and the political class of being corrupt and incompetent.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab duly chaired an “urgent” cabinet meeting, also attended by Salame and representatives of the country’s money changers.

Following a second meeting at the presidential palace, The presidency tweeted images of members of the central bank taking oaths at the presidential palace.

Why is the currency in freefall now?

Despite efforts to control the currency depreciation in recent weeks, the Lebanese pound tumbled to more than 6,000 to the dollar on Thursday, down from 4,000 on the black market in recent days. The pound had maintained a fixed rate of 1,500 to the dollar for nearly 30 years since the economy was affected by the civil war (1975-1990).

The Lebanese pound began to lose value last fall. The recent acceleration in devaluation appeared to reflect the growing shortage of foreign currency on the market amid the coronavirus crisis. It also signaled panic over new US sanctions that will affect neighboring Syria in the coming days as well as a lack of trust in the government’s management of the crisis.

Read more: Syria: New US sanctions set to make Assad squirm

The Lebanese government is heavily indebted and has been in talks for weeks with the International Monetary Fund after it asked for a financial rescue plan. There are no signs of an imminent deal.

Before the current flare-up of unrest, protests were widespread early in the year despite the COVID-19 lockdown that was in place.

ed/msh (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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Racism in Germany ‘an issue for society as a whole’

Deutsche Welle: The US protests were strongly supported here in Germany. What are your thoughts on the current events here?

Karamba Diaby: The situation in the United States is very, very disturbing. And you can see how divided American society is: Especially the president, really shows no empathy. Instead, his messages divide society. I find that very, very disturbing. As far as Germany is concerned, I think it’s good that there are initiatives that have taken to the streets, that people in Germany have risen up.

I hope that more people in society at large will become aware of the topic. To what extent is this now a change of mindset, change of perspective on racism in everyday life, on anti-racism in Germany? To what extent this will change things, we have to wait and see. What is currently being achieved is that people are taking the streets, demonstrating, reporting on it. This is also a good basis for us to make suggestions on how to make this coexistence better.

Read more: Afro-German politicians pushing for change

Do you have the feeling that after this great wave of protests, not only worldwide but also here in Germany, there will be more, and more permanent, changes in society?

One can only hope so. I think that in many places, due to the media coverage, many people are concerned and wondering how we can better shape our coexistence. This is sorely necessary, and I hope that many organizations will participate, but also that society as a whole will see that this is an important issue. This is not just a minority issue, but an issue for society as a whole.

Germany’s Green party has called for deleting the word “race” from the Constitution. What is your point of view on that?

I personally find it important that we delete the term “race” from the Constitution, that we [use] ethnicity or other terms. For that, we need a majority of people on board, and the discussion has started.

Ed. note: The term “Rasse,” or “race,” is mentioned in Article 3 of the German Constitution: “No person shall be favored or disfavored because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions.” However, the term also translates to “breed” for non-human animals. In light of current scientific consensus on the nonexistence of differing human “races” as well as Germany’s Nazi history, the word has increasingly become seen as a loaded term that should not be applied to humans.

Read more: Merriam-Webster dictionary to revise the definition of racism

What do you say to those who say “I don’t see color”?

Well, it’s a way of denying something that is reality — only if you perceive the diversity of society as reality. If you deny that, you’re not ready to face the challenges [it implies].

Here’s an example: I have a plate of salad in front of me. I could say this is a colorful salad. I am happy to put it that way and enjoy it with its diversity. I have olives in there, lettuce, tomato — a colorful salad. I could also just say “the salad is salad.” Then I don’t see it in its diversity; I’ve sent the message that all the ingredients are the same for me.

But, it’s better to notice it. Diversity is not all sunshine and rainbows; diversity is the challenge that arises. Different people — old and young, men and women, people of differing religious beliefs, etc. — all of these are a part of the variety, a sign of diversity. You simply have to deal with the associated challenges.

Your own office in Halle was attacked in January this year …

Yes. That is very worrying. But I must say that I personally am experiencing a very, very big wave of solidarity. Not just on social media, but people have come to the office, school classes from Halle have come to me [to show support]. Solidarity is tremendously important to us.

Is the government doing enough to better integrate people with a migration background?

Unfortunately, much needs to be done. Here we have a fourth of the population of Germany that has a migration background. If you look at the German Bundestag, only 8% of us do. In the German media, it’s just 6%, and it is also extremely low in public service. That is one of the reasons why the exclusion of many people in this country is not being made clear. I would hope we could do more in that direction.

You also deal with the topic of colonialism in Germany — a less well-known aspect of German history. As far as this culture of remembrance is concerned, how far has Germany come in recent years?

I know that the Foreign Office has taken up the issue. What I miss is the intensive examination of colonial history within that culture of remembrance, the reworking of colonial history in such a way that it is given much more importance in textbooks and in museums, so that we then address issues related to it.

The Berlin Senate passed a regional anti-discrimination law on Thursday. Are other German states ready to take these steps too?

I very much welcome that Berlin has enacted that. It is important to know that the General Act on Equal Treatment (Eds: Germany’s federal-level equality act) has existed for 16 years. However, we know that there are many gaps. For example, we do not have the right to file a class-action suit. Many things are under the responsibility of the individual states. I, therefore, hope that many states will follow Berlin’s example, and not just set up an anti-discrimination body. That is one thing, but a state-level law would be preferable.

Germany’s anti-discrimination agency released a report on June 9, and the number of racist attacks rose sharply in 2019

The revelations about racism and discrimination were very worrying. I think it is extremely important to strengthen the work of the anti-discrimination agency. But decentralization of work is also important so that not everything ends up in Berlin at the anti-discrimination office. The anti-discrimination agency’s work will be strengthened by making clear laws. Regarding right-wing extremism and racism, it’s a good thing that in the Cabinet and Parliament, we have the opportunity to propose some measures that will be implemented, which may also lead to us asking which questions are the most important.

The government has now taken note of the Afrozensus, taken by the Initiative of Black People in Germany (ISD). What do you think of this collaboration?

I think the initiatives are very, very good — and they are also involved in many other activities. We also have a Cabinet Committee against racism. I hope that the perspectives of many people — Germans, Africans in Germany, African communities — can really be taken into account at the government level. Their perspectives can really enrich politics.

Are you not sometimes frustrated that when German media invite black people to discuss topics, it is usually only to talk about their own experiences with racism?

“Frustrated” is maybe not the right term. But I wonder why the perspective of people with a migration background is less often asked when it comes to discussing certain social issues. It is very often asked regarding right-wing extremism. I think it’s good to be asked because you also publicly present your perspective on the topic. But it would be preferable to be also asked regarding issues of education, research, health, nursing, and much more so that people can share and consider various perspectives.

Dr. Karamba Diaby is a scientist and Social Democratic (SPD) politician who since 2013 has served as Member of the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament. He completed his undergraduate education in his native Senegal at Dakar’s Cheikh Anta Diop University, after which he moved to East Germany for his graduate studies, which he finalized in 1991. For over two decades he worked in the nonprofit field and in local government in numerous capacities including issues of diversity, education, and human rights. In 2013, he became the first black person born in Africa elected to serve in German Parliament.

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May 8, 1945: Total Defeat or Day of Liberation?

On May 8, 1945 the guns finally fell silent. World War II, started by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Third Reich in 1939, was over. The unconditional surrender of Germany’s armed forces, the Wehrmacht, brought to an end the suffering of millions — initially, however, only in Europe because Nazi Germany’s ally, Japan, continued fighting and would only concede defeat in August when the Americans had dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

For the international anti-Hitler coalition — led by the Soviet Union, the United States, Great Britain and France — May 8 was, despite all the suffering that had gone before, a day to celebrate. That joy was not shared by most Germans. Their country had been destroyed and then divided into four zones of occupation by the victorious powers. Defeat had been complete and overwhelming. It triggered emotions of guilt and shame. The Third Reich had set the terrible conflict in motion with its invasion of Poland. Unprecedented crimes against humanity followed, above all the systematic extermination of six million Jews.

In the post-war years, any sense of outrage over these crimes was still not enough for most Germans to consider May 8 as a day of liberation — in contrast to the European countries that German forces had occupied during the six years of war. Now the tables had been turned: Germany defeated and occupied. An ideological war between the communist Soviet Union and an alliance of democracies in the West began to take hold, signaling the division of Germany and the division of Europe.

Theodor Heuss: ‘We knew of these things’

On May 8, 1949, exactly four years after the end of World War II, representatives of the country’s political parties gathered in the city of Bonn to enact a new constitution (Basic Law) for the emerging Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany). The Free Democrat Theodor Heuss (FDP) was in a reflective mood as he looked back on the end of the war: “The fundamental fact is that for each of us May 8, 1945 remains the most tragic and questionable paradox of history. Why? Because we were, at one and the same time, redeemed and annihilated.”

In September 1949, Heuss was elected as Germany’s first federal president. Three years later, his visit to the former Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp was seen as a watershed moment. “The Germans must never forget what was done by people of their nation during these shameful years,” said West Germany’s head of state as he contemplated Germany’s biggest crime — the Holocaust. And, Heuss added, “We knew of these things.”

A monument to the Red Army: “The Liberator”

While senior West German politicians struggled to come up with the right gestures, and the right words, to describe the crimes committed in Germany’s name, the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) — founded on October 7, 1949 — had adopted the occupying Soviet Union’s state cult of anti-fascism. The most visible manifestation of this development was the gigantic War Memorial and Military Cemetery at Treptower Park for more than 5,000 war dead, inaugurated on the fourth anniversary of the end of the conflict.

At the heart of the complex is a soldier cradling a small child in his arm while at the same time crushing a Nazi swastika under the heel of his boot. With this monument, towering 30 meters into the sky above, East Germany’s leaders took a firm grip on the imagery that would be employed to commemorate the end of the war. “The Liberator,” as the gigantic figure was called, embodied the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany. Its political system, based on violence and oppression, would be imposed on the whole of the Eastern Bloc by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. 

The Soviet War Memorial in Berlin was built to commemorate the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who died in WWII.

Walter Ulbricht attacks West Germany’s accession to NATO

East Germany styled itself as a bulwark against fascism and imperialism. The country’s enemies were to be found west of the Elbe River and west of the Atlantic: in West Germany and the USA. There was no forum for a critical appraisal of Germany’s responsibility for the horrors committed during the Nazi era. Walter Ulbricht set the tone by, at the behest of the Soviets, imposing the Zwangsvereinigung – the forced merger of the Communist Party (KPD) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in East Germany to form the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED).

Under his leadership, May 8 became the “Day of Liberation,” an annual ritual that East Germany instrumentalized for propaganda purposes right through to the dying days of communism, with a focus on current events or goals. Walter Ulbricht, for instance, used the 10th anniversary of the end of the war to rail against West Germany’s accession to NATO. At a mass rally in East Berlin, attended by some 200,000 people, he accused the West of blocking German reunification while East Germany, “a peace-loving and democratic state,” battled to bring the divided country together.

Konrad Adenauer speaks of “cleansing and transformation”

At the same time, West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (CDU) spoke of Germany’s NATO membership — that he himself had forced through — as an expression of trust in the fledgling democracy. In Paris, ten years after the end of the war, the Christian Democrat politician argued that the German people had paid with “boundless suffering” for the atrocities carried out in their name by a fanaticized leadership: “In this suffering a cleansing and transformation came to pass.”

To mark the 20th anniversary of the end of the war, Adenauer‘s successor Ludwig Erhard (CDU) became the first high-ranking politician in the West to use the word “liberation.” However, he used it to refer to curbs on freedom in communist states. If the defeat of Hitler’s Germany had banished all injustice and tyranny from the world, then humanity would have reason enough, he said, “to celebrate 8th May as a memorial to freedom.”

Konrad Hermann Josef Adenauer was the first post-war Chancellor of Germany from 1949 to 1963.

Willy Brandt praises women, refugees and displaced people

It was to be another five years before the political elite in West Germany really began to re-think their position on the end of the war. In 1970, under the first social democrat chancellor, Willy Brandt, the Moscow and Warsaw Treaties were signed. It was reconciliation with one-time enemies in war, the Soviet Union and Poland, and milestones in what became known as the policy of détente. It would lead, one year later, to the social democrat being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In his speech marking the 8th of May Willy Brandt did not actually use the word “liberation”but was at pains to recognize and commemorate the role of women, refugees and displaced people in the rebuilding of Germany. He was especially effusive in his praise for “our fellow Germans in the GDR.” They had, as he put it, in the face of great adversity not of their own choosing, “achieved successes that they can be proud of and which we must fully respect.”

Helmut Kohl talks twice of a “Day of Liberation”

Under Willy Brandt’s former foreign minister Walter Scheel (FDP), who served as federal president from 1974, there was a decisive change in West Germany’s approach to the meaning of May 8, 1945: “We were liberated from a terrible yoke. From war, murder, subjugation and barbarity,” he said on the 30th anniversary of the end of the war: “But we have not forgotten that this liberation came from outside. That we, the Germans, were not capable of shaking off this yoke ourselves.” The head of state pointed out that it was not in 1945 that Germany had lost its honor, but far earlier: in 1933, with Hitler’s seizure of power.

Another federal president came to a remarkably similar conclusion in 1985: the Christian Democrat Richard von Weizsäcker. His address four decades after the end of the war is generally seen as the greatest and most important on this theme. Intriguingly, he was far from being the first person to speak explicitly of a “Day of Liberation.” Chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU) used the same language in that same year — twice. Initially in February in his “Report on the State of the Nation in a Divided Germany” and then on April 21 in the presence of US President Ronald Reagan on the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and then West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on their visit to the military cemetery in Bitburg, western Germany in 1985.

Richard von Weizsäcker: “Look truth straight in the eye”

What makes von Weizsäcker’s speech so special it that when he refers to May 8, 1945 as a “Day of Liberation” nobody is excluded: “It liberated us all from the inhuman system of violence and persecution that the Nazis established.” In East Germany, meanwhile, leader Erich Honecker insisted on highlighting the things that divided East and West. He said the liberation from Hitler and his fascist system gave the German people the opportunity to build their lives on a wholly new foundation, and “We used this opportunity.”

The two German states did not manage to arrive at a similar evaluation of the end of the war until after the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. For just a couple of months, East Germany was governed by the country’s only freely-elected prime minister: Lothar de Maizière (CDU). On the 45th anniversary of the end of the war in 1990, he told a gathering of the World Jewish Congress in Berlin that May 8 “will cast long shadows on the post-war history of the Germans” while at the same time demonstrating their “inability to mourn.” He said the Germans must learn, “to live with this history honestly and sincerely, to be open to its admonishments and memories.” De Maizière’s words are reminiscent of von Weizsäcker’s in his famous 1985 address: “Today, on May 8, let us as best we can, look truth straight in the eye.”

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