Tag Archives: Germany

Economists for and against Brexit. Why don’t we believe the numbers? Lies?

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics Economics

Economics can be studied as a BA or a BSc, with the latter having more Maths and Econometric elements. The point I’m making is that Economics is a dark art and an arcane weird science akin to alchemy, it is not a perfect predictor of the future, but on balance it makes sense. People are the irrational unpredictable factor. Nonetheless, a group of 200 Economists is in favour of Remain and 27 Economists for Britain, and a further smaller ensemble of 8 in favour of Brexit (3 are in both lists). No doubt there are other groups that would bolster both camps, you can add my BSc (Econ/Stats) to the 200 camp. In addition, ten international winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics have warned against Brexit and nearly every international economic policy thinktank and institute. Even the Brexit economists accept they are the minority:

“I do not deny for a moment that there are more economists who write on blogs and in newspapers arguing against Brexit than in favour. Furthermore, opinion polls suggest that most economists believe Brexit would be damaging.”

The verdict, then? People trust economists about as much as they trust politicians and journalists! The polls are roughly 50:50 at the moment with less than 48 hours to go, but with a consistent 15% of voters undecided, who may or may not vote, or who might change their vote.

£350 million a week or £60 a year?

Polls show that the majority of people actually believe the £350m/week claim (around £252/year each) of the cost of the EU which is a blatant half-truth in that it totally ignores the UK rebate, inbound EU benefits and investment, EU jobs creation etc, which by other counts brings the cost down to about £1.15 a week. Less than a cup of coffee – the cost of reciprocal EU health and travel benefits, improved worker rights, gender equality and human rights agendas, and multicultural diversity benefits – cited by a CEBR study as a cause of UK economic growth and investment attraction. £350m a week has been consistently debunked by the BBC, Channel 4, The Guardian, The IndependentInFacts, the New Statesman, and the head of the UK Statistics Authority who says it is closer to £110m, yet people still believe it.

Brexit EU 350m Bus Poster Claim
Brexit EU 350m Bus Poster Claim

One thing, for sure, is that we don’t send £350m a week to the EU. What the net contribution of the UK to the EU budget is, after our rebate, grants, subsidies and other receipts, sources cannot be sure but vary from £83m – £164m, minus just the rebate it is around £248m but that ignores other benefits:

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£4,300  a year cost or £3,000 a year gain?

The figure on the cost of Brexit ranges from £300-£4,300 to Armageddon per family, so it is not as if either side are clean of the putting a spin on the figures. The CBI actually says that we gain around £3,000 per household from EU investment, trade, jobs and lower prices across Europe. That £3,000 a year gain (or rather, status quo) more than offsets the £200-£300 a year cost per household.

Fear, Hate and Scapegoats

Few believe, however, neither the allegedly independent academic facts nor the financial fearmongering of Vote Remain, instead preferring the demonising of the EU. They quote ‘figures’ alleging that the EU sucks us dry financially, that we are supporting the sick economies of Europe, and financing the health and benefits of millions of migrants. Neglecting the costs that 2 million Brits living in Europe run up! You see, Vote Leave‘s fearmongering is combined with scapegoating – someone to blame, that is its increased ‘sell’ factor, its USP.

The irrational human factor, always the bane of economic theory, is that we seem to need someone to hate, someone to blame. In this case, it is the EU, some kind of nine-headed Hydra, the Beast of Revelation, the government of the AntiChrist, German federal dominion redivivus, or fresh French neo-Napoleonic invasion, not to mention an influx of ‘begging and thieving gypsies’ – as some have erroneously and xenophobically characterised Romanians and Bulgarians, not to mention an entire nation of millions of Islamic terrorist Turks – Turks who are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of ISIL violence.

This may partially explain why people are predisposed to believe only the figures that reinforce their preexisting views and beliefs – much like religious argument!

It has not gone unnoticed that some of the poster campaigns and political assertions would not have been out of place in the 1930s Nazi Germany.

Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Vote Leave, EU Referendum
Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Leave.EU, EU Referendum

Bigger Lies more likely to be believed

A “big lie” or famously the große Lüge was a Nazi propaganda tool first put forward by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf (1925) suggesting that if a lie were so “colossal” nobody would believe that someone would have the “impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

“…in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”  — Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X (tr. James Murphy)

Goebbels took the theory further, and even cited the English in his development of it!

“The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.” – Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik (“From Churchill’s Lie Factory”), Die Zeit ohne Beispiel, 12 January 1941

When even opposite minds agree

It should either be seen as really worrying or oddly reassuring that the leaders of all the parties except UKIP and other further far Right political entities are in agreement that we should not leave. For Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron to agree is a sign of institutional panic, and Corbyn is normally anti-institution. The dilemma is that people see Vote Leave as, as much a vote against the EU as against Politicians of all hues. Cameron is seen as dodgy Dave but Farage as normal Nigel, the honest speaking man of the people. It’s not just the Sun readers who believe its barely researched economic claims that Brexit fears are “nonsense” but also the entrenched traditionalist views of 75% of the Daily Telegraph readership.

The EU Referendum is not about those who have already made up their minds, but those who have yet to decide, for they will determine the UK’s fate on Thursday. Whether they will listen to 9 out of 10 economists, Richard Branson, and David Beckham, in favour of Remain or the 1 out of 10 economists, Boris Johnson, and Nigel Farage, we will see then.

More EU Referendum fact checking sites

BBC Reality Check & Live updates
BBC EU Referendum key claims round-up
Channel 4 Fact Check
Full Fact, independent fact checking charity
Katy Jon analysis

Highest Numbers Ever on World Refugee Day as Humanitarian Crisis Escalates

World Refugee Day, Record Numbers

Refugees from “forced displacement” recorded worldwide in 2015 numbered over 65 million according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. That’s nearly 1% of the world currently homeless, nationless, fleeing wars, terror, persecution and the slow death and disease of refugee poverty from relying on handouts and the generosity of others, NGOs, international aid and agencies. So far, this year, over 3,500 have died on their migrant journeys to apparent safety. World Refugee Day highlights the plight and peril of people seeking safety amidst an escalating humanitarian crisis.

“At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders. Closing borders does not solve the problem.” – Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Refugees & Migrants are People Too!

But numbers, percentages, records, are not facts or statistics, they are people too. They are not just migrants, often prefixed with the dehumanising word “illegal”, or trafficked by exploiters and transporters of vulnerable people with nothing left to risk except their life itself. They are desperate migrant peoples, refugees, asylum seekers, human beings, not cattle or ballast to be bounced around from port to port, dragged back out to sea, or denied entry based upon the decision that they may harbour an ISIL terrorist.

It’s a humanitarian crisis because they share a common humanity with the 99% of people that have settled homes and domestic security. Whilst 1% of the world control half its wealth, another 1% don’t even have a dollar a day because they are stateless, which in some countries means they officially don’t exist, being without permanent address or social security numbers. 50% of the world has access to just 1% of the world’s wealth. Global economic disparity and inequality are an injustice demanding those that have, to aid those that don’t. It’s a moral crisis as well as a humanitarian one.

Definition of a Refugee

Article 1 of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as:

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” 1951 UN Refugee Convention

Will you stand #WithRefugees?

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
“Refugees Welcome” Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

A Global Community & Worldwide Village

The benefits of global bodies like the United Nations and regional socio-economic communities like the African Union or European Union are that they can act as greater than the sum of their nation parts when they pull disparate national interests into international focus on issues facing the world as a whole, for which we a have a common responsibility.

Immigration and the EU Referendum

Whilst the United Kingdom votes this week to Leave or Remain in the EU, thinking little England rather than Great Britain, the world has bigger issues than one nation’s sovereignty or solvency. Immigration has become one of the most divisive issues in the EU Referendum campaign and the responses have turned ugly. Campaign posters have been called racist, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has admitted that we cannot control EU migrant numbers, however, nor would we be able to if we adopted a Norwegian or Swiss-style model of European Economic Area affiliation rather than full EU membership.

“Immigration has overtaken the economy as the most important issue to how the public will vote…[it] is now the most critical issue, cited as very important to their vote by 33%, up five points in a month, including just over half (52%) of leave supporters…which coincides with the official Vote Leave campaign focusing more strongly on immigration.” – Evening Standard

Opinion polls consistently show that immigration is one of the key Referendum issues, but one that is closely aligned with geography, age and gender. The majority of men and people over 65 would vote to Leave and the majority of women and people under 35 would vote to Remain. It’s often the areas with the least impact of immigration that would vote most against it. Those, such as London, with the greatest cultural diversity, are more likely to vote Remain. Integration and acceptance take time but then do bring community benefits and positivity.

It’s about perception, integration, insecurity and fear. A Guardian piece included the words of Chantelle, a young mother from Leigh, near Manchester, who despite 96.% of local residents being British thought that “80%, maybe 90%” of locals were immigrant foreigners!

Controls on Immigration or Contributions from Immigration?

At the last UK election, most major political parties except the Green Party were calling for controls on immigration despite its long term benefits.

“Immigration to the UK since 2000 has been of substantial net fiscal benefit, with immigrants contributing more than they have received in benefits and transfers. This is true for immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe as well as the rest of the EU.” – The Economic Journal

A CEBR report on world economic ranking data said of the UK’s growth and dynamism:

“The United Kingdom is forecast to be the best performing economy in Western Europe … likely to overtake Germany and Japan during the 2030s … becoming the world’s 4th largest economy for a short time … The UK’s strength (though mainly in London) is its cultural diversity and its strong position in software and IT applications. Its weakness is its bad export position and unbalanced economy … It also runs the risk of breakup, with Scotland and possibly Northern Ireland seceding and will have a referendum on its continuing membership of the EU in 2016 which might prove at best disruptive and at worst lead to a more insular and less diverse culture which in turn would generate slower growth.” – CEBR

Surely, then, the UK – currently the world’s fifth largest economy, should accept a substantial share of supporting the world’s refugees rather than turning a blind eye and walking on by as the selfish ‘neighbours’ in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

The country taking by far the largest number of migrants is Germany, down to Angela Merkel’s so-called “open door policy”. Germany is currently the fourth largest powerhouse economy in the world, aided rather than restrained by its immigration policy:

“Germany’s influx of Syrian immigrants is expected to keep the country ahead of the UK for a few further years as skill shortages are alleviated, wage growth restrained and profits boosted.” – City A.M.

EU Migrants a drain on Benefits?

EU benefits claimants are the smallest group receiving either working age benefits or tax credits, according to economic and statistical data. Some 92.5% of benefit claimants are British, 5% are non-EU immigrants, and just 2.5% are EU migrants. Whilst those from outside the EU are more likely to be on benefits than EU migrants, we have a degree of control over non-EU immigrants, albeit an international responsibility to refugees and asylum seekers. Even the Daily Telegraph which is essentially pro-Brexit said this:

“…whatever the arguments for and against reducing the number of EU migrants receiving British benefits, delivering such a reduction wouldn’t make a significant difference to the overall welfare bill…and seeing as the take-up of benefits among migrants is so small, it’s also worth asking how big of a draw Britain’s welfare system really is.”

Migration Breaking Point?

Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Vote Leave, EU Referendum
Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Leave.EU, EU Referendum

UKIP’s ‘breaking point’ immigration poster calling for a Leave vote and taking back of border controls has been compared to 1930s Nazi propaganda by George Osborne and even criticised by other Brexiters, not to mention being reported to the Police for inciting racial hatred. Nigel Farage has defended the poster even saying he is the victim of hate!

Even Michael Gove “shuddered” after seeing the UKIP migrants poster based upon a photo taken of migrants crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border in October 2015, apparently of refugees arriving from Syria – a route now all but shut. Boris Johnson, who heads the official Vote Leave campaign also distanced himself from the poster and announced he was in favour of an “illegal immigrants” amnesty for those that had been here 12 years.

Far from immigration being the ‘breaking point’ for the UK, we are cruising it compared to many other austerity-hit nations, growing off the back of net contributions to the treasury from migrants of the past and present. Migrants are far more likely to start businesses than British nationals, nearly half as likely to be on benefits, pay more in taxes than they take out, and more likely to take the jobs others don’t want to do that keep the economy growing – over three-quarters are in employment, more than their British counterparts. They are not “taking our jobs” just more willing to do them.

Kristallnacht – European Xenophobia still a risk 77 years on

Kristallnacht Anniversary, Europe remembers

Nazis Smash, Loot and Burn Jewish Shops and Temples, New York Times, Nov 11 1938
Nazis Smash, Loot and Burn Jewish Shops and Temples, New York Times, Nov 11 1938

Tonight (9 Nov), around 10:30pm, begins the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht, “the night of crystal/broken glass”. People have termed the current “migrant crisis” the worst in Europe since the Holocaust. Hungary and other countries are reacting to the influx of mostly Syrian and Afghan refugees. How will Europe integrate and accept them all? Will far-Right groups grow stronger in response? 1930s Nazi Germany emerging from a background of economic austerity saw blame and scapegoating of Jews, Communists, Homosexuals, Gypsies and more besides. Kristallnacht is a demonstration of orchestrated violence by a people that a decade before had been one of the most forward thinking nations on Earth, who had allowed Berlin to become a popular city of jazz and queer expression, a place where Jews were once proud to be German.

A British diplomat in Germany, Sir George Ogilvie Forbes, at the time, wired home a prophetic warning the year before the outbreak of World War 2:

“I can find no words strong enough in condemnation of the disgusting treatment of so many innocent people, and the civilized world is faced with the appalling sight of 500,000 people about to rot away in starvation.”

This underestimate might have been an upper limit had nations reacted differently and earlier to Hitler’s atrocities. How we react to the modern European refugee crisis is the moral barometer of our generation. Germany is of course now leading the nations of Europe in taking in asylum seekers.

Nazi Mob Rule

Back in 1938, however, Germany witnessed an “orgy of destruction” as the then Daily Telegraph correspondent, Hugh Greene, wrote of what transpired in Berlin that night:

“Mob law ruled in Berlin throughout the afternoon and evening and hordes of hooligans indulged in an orgy of destruction. I have seen several anti-Jewish outbreaks in Germany during the last five years, but never anything as nauseating as this. Racial hatred and hysteria seemed to have taken complete hold of otherwise decent people. I saw fashionably dressed women clapping their hands and screaming with glee, while respectable middle-class mothers held up their babies to see the ‘fun’.” – Hugh Carleton Greene, Daily Telegraph, 11 November 1938

The downward rush to mob mentality was not universal and many were deeply ashamed of the pogrom, and some tried to help. The son of a US consular official heard the janitor of his apartment block cry:

“They must have emptied the insane asylums and penitentiaries to find people who’d do things like that!”

Sadly, the majority were quite sane. Inured by scapegoating hatred to a point of passive and then active involvement.

Kristallnacht destruction of Jewish property

Diplomat Shot - Nazis Aroused, The Detroit Free Press, November 8, 1938
Diplomat Shot – Nazis Aroused, The Detroit Free Press, November 8, 1938

Although it was the killing of a German diplomat by a Polish Jew in Paris that sparked the raids and riots on Jewish interests, that was just an excuse that the various Nazi factions had been waiting for.

All across Austria and Germany thousands of shops, businesses, and half of all synagogues were torched and trashed. Around a 100 people were killed. Jews were arrested, 30,000 shipped to concentration camps, and even blamed and fined for setting it off, being charged a billion Reichsmark (circa £250 million then) for “property damaged in the rioting.”

The sacrilege of the attack, including the destruction of 18 of Vienna’s 21 synagogues and nearly all the 200 or so in Germany, meant that it was an all out assault on not only the commercial but also the spiritual lives of Jews. Their national identity as Germans had already been stripped in the 1935 Nuremberg Laws when their German citizenship had been removed.

Anti-Semitism and European History

Kristallnacht synagogue desctructionThis level of anti-Semitism had not been seen since 12th-13th century UK and Europe when the blood libel allegations first triggered anti-Jewish violence, theft, murder and expulsion – mostly initiated in Norwich, England.

A less well-known massacre of about 100,000 Jews took place in 1648-49, in the Ukraine, when Cossacks rose up against the Jews blaming them for their Polish oppression.

A 2008 study on current anti-Semitic feeling in Europe, published in 2011, concluded that:

“The significantly strongest agreement with anti-Semitic prejudices is found in Poland and Hungary. In Portugal, followed closely by Germany, anti-Semitism is significantly more prominent than in the other western European countries. In Italy and France, anti-Semitic attitudes as a whole are less widespread than the European average, while the extent of anti-Semitism is least in Great Britain and the Netherlands”.

In all the countries studied apart from Italy, a majority answered that “Jews enrich our culture”. In Germany, nearly 70% said so, about the same as in Britain.

But nearly half of German respondents said that “Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era”. That’s compared to 22% for Britain, 32% for France, 40% for Italy, 68% for Hungary and 72% for Poland.

A separate study published by the German parliament in 2012 concluded that 20% of Germans held at least “latent anti-Semitism” – some sort of quiet, unspoken antipathy towards Jews.

History Repeats Itself as we do not learn

Sadly, as Churchill said, “history does nothing but repeat itself” and never learns from it. Similarly, as Santayana never said (he actually said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”), we are condemned to repeat it unless we teach and learn, and so tonight we remember. Something Judaism is good at doing.

Whilst the socio-political and economic ingredients may have similarities with the 1930s we now have the EU, instant media, stronger safeguards, and hopefully memory – bad memories at that, to remind us never to go there again. Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said “Memory is more significant than history” in an article in 2012 about the need for leaders to be great teachers.

Back in 2003, Sacks had delivered a lecture at the University of Cambridge on “Power and Responsibility”, in the subsequent discussion he drew attention to:

“the distinction between memory and history is crucial to Judaism. Three-quarters of the Hebrew bible is historical. Jews were, in Baruch Halpern’s phrase, “the first historians”. They were as J.H. Plum says in The Death of the Past the first people to see meaning in history, history as a narrative. Yet it’s very interesting to ask what the biblical word for history is and there isn’t one. When Hebrew was revived for the modern state of Israel and they wanted a word for history, they came up with historic, they chose the Greek word. Instead the bible uses a quite different word which appears 169 times, zachor: remember. There is a difference between history and memory; to be very crude, history is his story – it happened some time else to someone else. Memory is my story.”

Shifts in Society grow slowly at first then explode

It is sobering to note that 10 years before Kristallnacht the Nazi NSDAP gained just 2.6% of the vote in the 1928 German Reichstag elections, 2 years later that was 18% and after 2 further years the Nazis were the largest party and Hitler had 37% of the vote in the Presidential election. By 1933 Hitler was in coalition with Hindenburg’s DNVP and it took just months to suspend civil liberties in the name of protecting the people, ban trade unions – who were heavily “associated” with Communism, open Dachau – at first for just political prisoners, and on April 1 to initiate a one-day boycott of Jewish shops and businesses. Within less than 6 months Hitler banned all democratic opposition and declared the Nazis “the only political party in Germany.” By 1934, in just 18 months, Hitler’s coup received 90% support in a public plebiscite.

It took only six-and-a-half years for Hitler’s support to rise 40-fold from a small far right protest group to absolute dictatorial control. One would hope that it should be impossible now? Yet far-right groups have grown in influence again, as in 1930s Germany, on the back of high unemployment, austerity and spreading fear about difference, security and xenophobia.

A 2013 Guardian article, argued that we do not need to fear a European lurch to the far-Right whilst a 2014 article elsewhere and on Al Jazeera said the opposite after the far-Right did gain significant seats. The Guardian had played down any extremist showings of 7-21% in Austria, Czechoslovakia, France and Greece, among far-right parties and then enumerates the more limited 1-5% polled elsewhere. Quoting another report the writer dismissed “the far right [being] on course to gain 34 to 50 seats in the European Parliament, which is roughly 4% to 7% of the total”. In fact, the National Front is leading the pre-European election polls in France with 24%, a four-fold increase in just 4 years. UKIP has made not insignificant gains in the UK polls and potentially in the European elections.

Left Foot Forward (LFF) quotes Le Nouvel Observateur columnist Jean-Gabriel Fredet’s comment that, “Fear of immigration, crises of identity and recession combined have created a climate propitious to ultranationalist, anti-European ideology”. LFF comments: “Ironically, France’s [Front Nationale] FN has grown in popularity as the party has combined  anti-immigrant sentiment with the sort of anti-globalisation, anti-market rhetoric that is usually the preserve of the left. This explains why the French Socialist Party is losing just as many voters to Len Pen as the centre-right UMP.”

Far-Left parties, for example the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia, Syriza in Greece and in Germany, Die Linke, are also making gains at the expense of centrist parties of all flavours.

End Scapegoating of Migrants, Jews, Muslims…

Hermann Göring met with other Nazi leaders barely days after Kristallnacht on 12 November to build on what had happened:

“I have received a letter written on the Führer’s orders requesting that the Jewish question be now, once and for all, coordinated and solved one way or another… I should not want to leave any doubt, gentlemen, as to the aim of today’s meeting. We have not come together merely to talk again, but to make decisions, and I implore competent agencies to take all measures for the elimination of the Jew from the German economy…”

We should be careful of any “economic” arguments that are made to “solve” the current migrant crisis, especially when immigrants actually make a positive net contribution to the economy by some measures, and in others are a zero-sum cost. The Guardian writes that “There’s plenty more space for humanity on this ‘tiny’ island.”

German Jews Pouring into this country, Daily Mail, 1938
German Jews Pouring into this country, Daily Mail, 1938

It comes as no surprise that the Daily Mail, in 1938 was complaining about the “German Jews Pouring into this country by the back door” and reporting a magistrate as saying how the law would be enforced “to the fullest” to eject them. Echoes of attitudes to the Calais migrant crisis?

Similarly, in December 1938, the Netherlands closed their borders to Jewish refugees arguing that it would cause economic pressures and would only “further fan the flames of anti-Semitism“. Despite SDAP pressure the then Dutch government opposed letting in more “undesirable” Jews to its “already densely overcrowded territory” as that would change the character of the Dutch “tribe”.

Party politics and economics aside, what we should be aware of from the lessons of history is the scapegoating of any minority, race, nation, diversity, disability etc., in the name of blame for current economic troubles. What we need is more immigration, greater integration and further interfaith understanding. Only then can we learn from each other and hopefully consign extremism, fear and terror to history.

[An older version of this article was published here in 2013 and on facebook.]

70 years since Bergen-Belsen liberation & deaths of Anne Frank, Josef Capek

70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen

It’s 70 years today since the liberation of Bergen-Belsen (#Belsen70), another example of man’s inhumanity to man and what happens when you scapegoat an entire – or rather several – people groups, dehumanise, persecute, incarcerate and attempt to wipe them out. It is also 33 years since I visited Belsen as a 15 year-old, the same age as the famous diarist, Anne Frank, who died there just months before its liberation. It left indelible memories on me and a life-long belief in human rights for all people.

The concentration camp had various purposes during the Second World War, from Soviet and Italian POWs, Jewish internment, as well as housing other people groups including Czechs, Poles, homosexuals, Christians who opposed Nazism, Romani and Sinti ‘gypsies’.

Anne Frank

Anne Frank author of Diary of a Young Girl, who died at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945
Anne Frank (1929-1945)

The Dutch Jewish teenager Anne Frank is remembered through her diary “The Diary of a Young Girl”. The UK based Anne Frank Trust, whose motto is “Challenge Prejudice, Reduce Hatred” ran a social media campaign on 14 April under the hashtag #NotSilent in which people recorded themselves reading one-minute extracts from her diary about life in hiding in Nazi-occupied Netherlands.

“We’re much too young to deal with these problems, but they keep thrusting themselves on us until, finally, we’re forced to think up a solution, though most of the time our solutions crumble when faced with the facts. It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.

It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquillity will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them!” – 15th July, 1944, Diary of A Young Girl, Anne Frank

Her hopefulness echoes the words of Nelson Mandela:

“People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite” – Nelson Mandela

Josef Capek

Another internee was Josef Čapek, from what is now the Czech Republic, a Cubist painter, cartoonist, writer and playwright. He wrote the utopian play “Land of Many Names” and is credited by his brother as being the first to invent and use the word “robot”. He was critical of Hitler and Nazism and was arrested in 1939 upon the invasion of Czechoslovakia, though he managed to write “Poems from a Concentration Camp” at Bergen-Belsen, though died in 1945 shortly before liberation.

British Liberation of Bergen-Belsen

Some 50-70,000 are though to have died, some 30,000 of them Jewish, among the 120,000 held there, escalating to 20,000 a month before liberation put a stop to it. It was far from the worst of camps, and yet it was enough to shock those that discovered it, almost by accident.

Bergen-Belsen, To the memory of all those who died in this place, Jewish Holocaust monument  © KatyJon
Bergen-Belsen “To the memory of all those who died in this place” © KatyJon

The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945, by the British 11th Armoured Division who discovered approximately 60,000 prisoners inside and at satellite camps, mostly emaciated and/or seriously ill with typhus or similar. Lying, unburied, around the camp lay 13,000 corpses and even some still living among them. Another 14,000 died of infection and starvation in the 10 weeks following liberation.

The BBC’s Richard Dimbleby was there and reported:

“Over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which… The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them … Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live…This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.”

The BBC also recently interviewed one of the few remaining survivors, Gena Turgel.

Memorials to Bergen-Belsen

The SS destroyed most of the inmate records and the British, after making the SS build mass graves for the unburied, then destroyed the camp by fire because of the disease there.

Bergen-Belsen First Anniversary of Liberation, Central Jewish Committtee monument, 15 April 1946 © KatyJon
Bergen-Belsen First Anniversary of Liberation, Central Jewish Committtee monument, 15 April 1946 © KatyJon

Whilst nature was allowed to take over the remains, in the way that only nature does, the mass mounds of graves containing up to 5,000 people each remained obvious. Over the following months wooden monuments were erected by varying groups and a year later a stone monument was erected by the Central Jewish Committee of the British Sector.

Never forget Human Rights!

Bergen-Belsen "To the memory of all those who died in this place" © KatyJon
Bergen-Belsen “To the memory of all those who died in this place” © KatyJon

In 1952 Germany’s president, Theodor Heuss, called on the German nation to never forget what had happened at Bergen-Belsen. Nor should we, whether Jew, Christian and other faiths, gypsy, mentally ill or disabled, political enemy or prisoner of war, all deserve human rights and not inhuman treatment or attempted genocide.

India gives equal rights to Hijra trans as third gender identity

India has, today, ruled in its highest court that transgender people, usually called Hijra there, will henceforth have the option to be recognised as a third gender and all forms, documents and facilities will have to provide for them as such. Whilst numbering some 2-5 million people or up to 1-in-200 of the population, they will be given minority rights, job quotas, full access to education, adoption and healthcare.

Hijras New Delhi India 1994

In development since 2009, and in time for India’s current elections, the Election Commission has also allowed for a third gender option, “Other”, on voting forms.

Justice KS Radhakrishnan, headed up the Supreme Court ruling and said:

“It is the right of every human being to choose their gender…Recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue…The spirit of the Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender.”

Anita Shenoy, lawyer for the petitioner National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) said:

“We are quite thrilled by the judgement…The court order gives legal sanctity to the third gender. The judges said the government must make sure that they have access to medical care and other facilities like separate wards in hospitals and separate toilets.”

The case demanding equal rights first came to court in 2012 initiated by a trans-activist group led by trans Hindi film star Laxmi Narayan Tripathi. She said, upon hearing the ruling:

Hijra Kolkata India 2013

India is the world’s largest democracy yet especially in rural areas is far from an equal society. Tripathi proclaimed that, “The progress of the country is dependent upon [the] human rights of the people and we are very happy with the judgement.”

These rights are extended to trans and or intersex people that are living in a way that is different to their birth gender and yet also allows post-op transsexuals to legally choose their gender: male, female or transgender/other. Thus both binary and non-binary individuals are able to choose their identity, it is not a category that is being forced upon them but one they have fought for.

Western trans activists should remember two things here, firstly, that hijra=trans is not an exact Western/Eastern label match. The cultural evolution of their fight for recognition comes off the back of centuries of religious, social and cultural development, in context, and against different prejudices, classes and castes. Their identity was formed in the crucible of their history. We should not, therefore, seek to impose our LGBTI rights battles on their personal and political paths, we should, however, support them in their moves to self-assert their chosen identities.

Secondly, the concept of ‘third gender’ has been sought by them, whereas many in the West oppose that concept and fear its use in a 1930s anti-Semitic way to categorise and potentially segregate trans people as if with some kind of yellow star (Jews) or pink triangle (homosexuals).

Trans masculine identities in India

“If trans people are a minority with almost no rights in this country [India], transmen are a minority within that minority.” Just as “there are hijras, kinnars, mangalamukhis, aravanis, kothis, jogappas, shiv shaktis among trans women as identities, there is a wide range of trans masculine expressions”, says an Indian transman, one of 74 that co-signed a letter to the Indian Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, “We have many names to identify ourselves like bhaiya, thirunambi, gandabasaka, babu, ftm, trans man etc. For an umbrella term, to refer to us in all our diversity, we would like the use of the term, trans masculine. We do not identify with PAGFB [Persons Assigned Gender Female at Birth] which is what is being used in reports and meetings here to describe our identities. We strongly urge you to refer to us by identities that we assume, not ones that are imposed on us without due democratic discussions and consent.”

Another “term for FTM in Hindi is Sadhin“. Last November, an Indian trans man fled the country after being ‘outed’ by the media and sought asylum in the UK. This was before this week’s more positive news for trans rights.  Although more sparse, trans masculine support does exist in India, but they have a lower profile in society, media and rights activism.

[The above section of this post has been reblogged many times including on several transmen Tumblr blogs – read the comments and reposts there for more thoughts]

LGB Gay Rights in India

Meanwhile, LGB rights of India’s gays, lesbians and bisexuals, are still behind the times though, having recently restored an old British colonial law banning homosexual activity. India has granted these historical Hijra rights, yet still bans gay sex in a logical anomaly. How is gay sex to be defined now there are three genders? If a newly defined Hijra/Third Gender has sex with a man is it gay or straight sex? If a Hijra has sex with another Hijra is that homosexual?

Trans rights in Pakistan

Back in 2011 after actions that began in 2009 Pakistan granted “third gender” status and improved rights to trans people, for example on national identity cards, employment and inheritance rights. Whilst many Hijra end up begging, wedding dancing or in prostitution, Pakistan has been enterprising in employing them as official agents pursuing tax evaders. Apparently, recovery rates are up 15%!

LGBT rights in Nepal

Thirteen years ago Nepal’s LGBT activists initiated a campaign for full LGBT equality, which resulted in a landmark decision in 2007 but which took another 5-6 years for full implementation of trans equality. The court decision ordered the then government to scrap all laws that discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and “that they study and implement a same-sex marriage policy, and that citizens be allowed to self-identify as a third gender on all official documents and registers.”

Nepalese activists have urged the government to use the word “other” rather than “third gender” or “trans” as a “more inclusive” term that allows full “self-identification”.

Trans rights in Bangladesh

Last year, Bangladesh also granted third gender rights and recognition to Hijras – a term in Bangladesh adopted by 10,000+ people including many male-to-female presenting individuals and some intersex persons. Cabinet Secretary Muhammad Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said: “They will be referred to as hijras in both English and Bangla. Any other translations to English would be misleading.”

Non-Western Trans terminology

Across India, South and Southeast Asia numerous terms describe gender non-conforming people in ways which, because of cultural, historical and religious differences, are not totally synonymous with Western usage of trans terminology. For example in Thailand and, Cambodia, they are called, Kathoey, elsewhere the most common term is Hijra, but we also find Aravani, Aruvani, Jagappa, or Chhakka (Kannada), Bambaiya (Hindi), Khusra (Punjabi) and Kojja (Telugu). In Pakistan, terms include Khwaaja sira, Khusra (trans), Zenana (crossdresser) and Narnban (eunuch).

Polynesian Samoa has its Fa’afafine, Tonga its Fakaleiti, and Hawaii and Tahiti their Mahu. Both fa’a- and faka- are prefixes meaning “like a” or “in the manner of” and fafine and leiti mean ‘woman’ or ‘lady’. On the surface, therefore, they would pass as the prefix trans- before woman, but Western legal, political and cultural transgender terminology should not be imposed on their cultural-historical usage of the terms.

Native Americas traditions

Numerous indigenous Native American tribes had gender options outside the seemingly conventional Western binary. Berdache was a term meaning effeminate male used by Westerners of some tribal members encountered. More recently, the preferred term is Two-spirit, but some tribes went beyond three to several gender expressions, roles and identities. The Mohave Indians had the terms Alyha (Male-born) and Hwame (Female-born) for their Two-spirit identities. “Two-spirit natives comprised a distinct social class within most of these tribal communities; for example, among the Hidatsa of the northern Plains, two-spirits were observed at no less than fifteen to twenty a village and typically pitched their tipis together in a group.”

Similarly, among southern Mexico’s Zapotec there were the Muxe/Muxhe possibly a variant of the Spanish word for woman, mujer, describing people born male but who behaved as female in role, dress or sexuality. Because the word described effeminacy across gender or sexuality it accounted for some 6% of the population in some studies.

Modern Western/Antipodean/Americas Gender Identification

Three or more genders?
Three or more genders?

Argentina, Australia and New Zealand all allow passports to be stamped with the full range of internationally allowable options: Gender – | M | F | X |. Despite it being explored and to some extent encouraged by the Liberal Democrats, the UK Passport and Identity Service seems to have mothballed any likely change in Great Britain. Although as of June 2014 it has now been tabled for another Early Day Motion in Parliament, though is perhaps unlikely to reach debate stages.

In Europe, Germany has recently allowed “other” as a temporary designation on birth certificates to allow families to delay decisions on children born with intersex differences. The Netherlands are considering a third category to protect trans people during transition.

All gender designation is ultimately sexism. However, in an imperfect and unequal world some level of gender designation for protection can benefit in the here and now. Ideally gender neutral bathrooms would be the norm, but how to protect the vulnerable? The sooner all nations accept fully equal sexual relations, parenting and marriage between two or more persons of any gender, the sooner we can dispense with legal gender designation.

More important than third or more genders, reinforcing the binary, opposing the binary, gender sexism, is the simple inalienable human right to self-identify. Restricting identification, whether legally or culturally, to just two genders goes against human respect and rights especially when medically there are dozens of conditions that can make typical birth-sex identification impossible, quite apart from gender identity issues and/or gender non-conformity. Celebrate diversity and difference and the right to self-identify, as Radhakrishnan has said: “It is the right of every human being to choose their gender” – and that includes “Other” and “None”, in my opinion.

This post is an extended edited version of an article that first appeared here.

More news sites coverage of this:
BBC World
The Guardian
The Times of India