Is a Two-State Solution possible?

This post was written by Tim Kelly, Hyun Seung Noh, Allissa Fisher and Ashton Knippenberg

In his 2010 article, “One State/Two States: Rethinking Israel and Palestine”, Danny Rubinstein presents the argument that though some might support a two-state solution, in reality it might not be feasible. For his article featured in Dissent Magazine, Rubinstein uses the example of 50-year-old Palestinian spokesperson Sufian Abu-Zaida, who has recently changed his mind about a two-state possibility after years of work moderating talks between Israelis and Palestinians. By now, most of the world forces are backing the idea of Israel helping the Palestinians create a state of their own. “The Obama administration, the European Union, Russia, those Arab states that still maintain their initiative of almost a decade ago (to establish peace with Israel in exchange for its withdrawal to the 1967 border),” writes Rubenstein. But for some reason, the Palestinians seem to not want to cooperate.

Sufian Abu-Zaida via ALRAY Palestinian Media Agency

Sufian Abu-Zaida via ALRAY Palestinian Media Agency

Rubenstein goes on to describe the current (2010) situation in the West Bank, where Israelis hinder Palestinian progress by controlling major waterways, roads and infrastructure. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is one of the few who continue to work to change this situation, but the decline in the Palestinian nationalist movement in the past few years has pushed the reality of two-states (which both sides seem to want) out of the realm of possibility.

Using several examples, Rubenstein constructs reasoning for this decline in the Palestinian nationalist movement and shows that in 2010, hundreds of thousands of were Palestinians applying for Israeli citizenship without embarrassment because of the fear of losing residency. He concludes, after deeply analyzing the differences between older and younger generations of Palestinian politicians and explaining the thought processes of several refugees, that though perhaps both sides might want a two state solution, trends in 2010 severely hindered this hope.

It seems as though Rubenstein’s opinion on the inevitability of a one-state solution aren’t universally held. Jane Adas also an article in the New York City and Tri-State News as a response to Danny Rubenstein’s “Keeping the Two-State Solution Alive.” In her response she not only sites and explains the main points of his argument but also supplies plausible reasons why the idea of a single state are not so popular. She references a Green Party representative Norman Finkelstein as well as U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer arguing that, although a single state between Isreal and Palestine seems promising, it may not be a resounding success long term. Finkelstein feels that there is a lack of support for both sides. Adas explains that “he suspects that declining support for Israel has less to do with intermarriage than with the fact that both Israel’s history as we now know it and Israel’s present behavior have become indefensible from a liberal, moral standpoint.” This historical controversy between these two groups has allowed for a lot of mistrust that may not be so easily forgotten in the long run of a developing single state. He further explains that this mistrust has lead to some economic disagreements and sanctions that hinder the Palestinians.

Kurtzer disagrees with the possibility of a unified single state on more of a cultural level. Not only are there economic disputes but there are many social discrepancies. He feels that “both parties not only had histories of bad behavior—Israel’s settlement expansion and Palestinians’ ‘predisposition to resort to violence when things got tough’—and were divided on substantive issues, but each side also was divided internally.” His argument is that their individual differences historically do not allow for the proper cultural diffusion that Rubenstein encourages.

In “Is it too late for a two-state solution?,” written for +972, an online magazine, Lisa Goldman supports the points in Rubinstein’s article, saying that Rubinstein’s claim that the waning of the Palestinian national movement will ultimately be the catalyst for a single state is very much true. She also mentions that the purpose of Rubinstein’s article is not just to show what is happening, but also to warn people that it might not be possible to reverse the process. At large, her article outwardly seems to agree with Rubinstein’s theory by pretending as neutrality. In her writing, Goldman is trying to prove to Rubinstein’s readers that a one-state solution is becoming the more realistic possibility, even though Rubinstein never outwardly spoke of a one-state is solution, implying that she sneakily supports the idea of Israel’s most prominent journalist, Danny Rubinstein, especially in her use of the contradictory title, “is it too late for a two-state solution?.” The purpose of her article is to make people see the Palestinian situation and to justify the argument that a one-state solution might be an inescapable result.

+972 magazine logo via

+972 magazine logo via

According +972 magazine’s webpage, the magazine was found in 2010 to provide fresh, original, on-the-ground reporting and analysis of events in Israel and Palestine. Moreover, the publication is committed to human rights and freedom of information, so it does not represent any one organization, political party or specific agenda, according to the site’s “about” section. +972 allows guest contributors to publish as a fair and credible medium, based on English-language. Differing from the information found on the +972 web page, the print version of +972 magazine is known for left-wing news, sponsored by Israel-friendly-companies and organizations. Lisa Goldman is a cofounder of +972 magazine and is a former journalist of Israel. Her response article toward Danny Rubinstein is a supporting article in accordance with her political viewpoint.



Budget Cuts to Largest American Youth Exchange Program

My sophomore year of high school I was lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship through the U.S. and German governments that allowed me to travel to Germany and stay as a foreign exchange student for an entire year. The program is called Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (or CBYX for short). The program was started in 1983 and is funded by both American and German governments and awards 700 scholarships to American and German students annually.

The program suffered budget cuts that will reduce the funding by 50% and could even jeopardize the future of it. There are over 23,000 alumni of the program, all of which would be sad to see the funding cut in half.

My year I spent in Germany was one of the best years of my life. I spent my time going to a German Gymnasium which is the American equivalent to a college prep school. I was placed right outside of Frankfurt in a small town called Usingen. During my time there I created many lasting friendships, I was able to travel all around Europe, and I became almost fluent in German. The trip meant a lot to me and I’m sure to all the other alumni as well.

Congress appropriates the budget which therein includes money for the state department to function. However, the state department uses that money how they deem fit. There should be more oversight by the public to ensure money is being spent appropriately and efficiently. I am surprised that the state department would find it necessary to cut the budget for the program that has been around for over 33 years and only costs $4 million. Luckily, the German parliament stepped in last minute and provided $2 million to fill the budget gap.

Many people are upset that the U.S. state department would make such a poor decision. The U.S. ambassador to Germany from 2009 to 2013, Phillip Murphy, expressed his disappointment and surprise in the budget cuts. Murphy went far enough to say that it is one of the most important exchange programs to the U.S.. Phillip Murphy is not the only politician to express his disapproval of the budget cuts; Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, said she strongly supports the program and even said she brought it up in talks with President Obama.

I hope that the U.S. State Department will review the budget cuts and reconsider. While I was abroad I was able to have experiences I will likely never have again. Educating 700 students each year about another country’s government, culture and people creates a much stronger relationship between the two countries. Others should be able to have the same opportunities that I had and the U.S. State Department should realize how important this exchange program is.



Pegida and the Future of Islam in Germany

The movement called Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) has dominated headlines in Germany for months. News reports and blog posts have quieted down in February, so what now? Did the Pegida movement enjoy a prolonged fifteen minutes of fame and will soon fizzle out? Or are we merely witnessing a temporary lull in activity, before the movement once again forces itself into the headlines?

The Sprengsatz blog provides short, well-defined commentary on politics in Germany, and has commented frequently on the issue of Pegida. The blog’s author, Michael Spreng, maintains that Pegida is finished. A combination of factors has led to Pegida’s fading. Mr. Spreng is quick to point out that Pegida’s fall is more the result of self-destruction than the reaction of Germany’s leading political forces. The latter’s attempt at addressing the Pegida issue has been poorly coordinated and at times contradictory. For readers unfamiliar with Pegida, its talking points can be boiled down to this: Muslims and mass numbers of immigrants are subverting Germany’s economy and culture. This complaint is not new; from intelligentsia on down to neo-Nazis and hooligans, the idea that Muslim immigrants are burdening the German state has existed for decades. What sets Pegida apart is its membership from many different social groups. Such a large number of people demonstrating in the streets for a common cause, one as divisive as this, were bound to gain media attention.

Pegida protesters on the march

Pegida protesters on the march (Photo: Zukunftskinder)

Pegida’s apparent strength in numbers hasn’t gone unquestioned, and Spreng is quick to point this out. He distinguishes those caught up in the furor of Pegida as either Anhänger or Mitläufer. The difference is an important one, given that an Anhänger is someone who fully supports a movement. Mitläufer tend to be people who are involved in a movement but whose commitment and conviction is tenuous at best. Spreng considers a large portion of Pegida’s so-called followers to actually be Mitläufer, which is significant in that it means the number of people who actually believe in Pegida’s platform is smaller than people realize.

When it comes to the establishment response to Pegida, Germany’s two leading political parties, the CDU and SPD, have shown a surprising disunity. Standing up against racism and bigotry is a mutual priority for both parties (in the broadest sense the CDU is conservative and the SPD is liberal). While Chancellor Merkel (CDU) has unequivocally rejected what Pegida represents, members of her own party have shuddered at her assertion that “Islam belongs to Germany.” Countering the Chancellor’s assertion was the governor of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich (CDU), who retorted, “Islam does not belong to Saxony.”

The contradictions continued within the SPD as the party’s General Secretary utterly rejected any notion of holding a dialogue with Pegida. Strikingly, Sigmar Gabriel, an SPD member and Vice-Chancellor in Merkel’s government, chose to meet with Pegida supporters (Spreng uses Anhänger, meaning that Gabriel met with devoted members of the movement). Spreng’s contempt for this is plain to see, and he refers to such actions and contradictions as “spineless” and “opportunistic”

The issue of Pegida would perhaps be less complex were it not for its timing. Pegida’s arrival could not have come at a better time for the AfD (Alternative For Germany), Germany’s Euro-skeptic party. The AfD has had its own share of controversy and accusations of having intolerants within its ranks, but that has not stopped them from making electoral gains. What connects the AfD and Pegida is the issue of immigration. With the appearance that Pegida was gaining popular support from regular, fed-up Germans, the AfD sought to capitalize on the moment and join forces with Pegida. In this regard both Pegida and the AfD are populist movements, whose emergence Spreng again attributes to social and financial angst.

With the CDU and SPD providing confusing and unorganized responses to Pegida, and with the AfD actively seeking to fan the flames of populism, what more could possibly assist in Pegida’s rise? Enter Charlie Hebdo. The terrorist attack in Paris was as tragic as it was inopportune. The tragedy transcends the deaths of innocents in that those seeking to advance a narrative use those same deaths as fodder. Germany’s far-right political forces, both big and small, fringe and legitimate, have sought to describe the Paris attacks as motivated by an entire religion and culture: Islam. Before this situation could progress any further, action had to be taken.

Vigil against terror

Political and faith leaders rally in solidarity after the Charlie Hebdo attack (Photo:

Thus Angela Merkel flew to Paris and walked in solidarity, with a throng of other world leaders, for the victims, for free speech, and to show defiance against extremism. What was striking was to see the leaders of France and Germany, historically not the best of friends, tightly linking arms and walking together for a common cause. Merkel then moved quickly to quash whatever xenophobia may have been simmering back home. In front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Merkel stood with fellow German leaders and leaders of Germany’s main religious groups, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and asserted the official position that what occurred in Paris was not indicative of an entire religion’s goals. On the contrary, Merkel has promoted the narrative that extremists who would or have committed terrorism, have perverted the teachings of Islam. Lastly, Merkel addressed Muslim leaders in Germany by declaring that members of the Islamic faith have a responsibility to assuage the fears and bias the German people may hold against them. That process includes an outright repudiation of extremist and fundamentalist ideology. To my surprise, Mr. Spreng gives Merkel full support for her actions, stating “Merkel has done everything right,” and asserting that the Pegida issue is or very soon will be over. Pegida’s founder, Lutz Bachmann, was recently ousted after a picture of him surfaced sporting a Hitler moustache and hairstyle.

Founder and former leader of Pegida, Lutz Bachmann

Founder and former leader of Pegida, Lutz Bachmann. Photo: The Guardian

Bachmann’s indiscretion and the AfD’s beginning to show a lack of support are contributing to what Spreng refers to as the “self-destruction” of the movement. He describes it as an issue worthy of only a footnote in the history books. I am not so convinced. Europe is facing some very tricky situations: terrorism, the financial crisis, the Ukrainian civil war, immigration, social issues, and even the fight against ISIS. Any one of the preceding issues could be the spark that ignites further upheaval on the political fringe. What will be left to be seen, is whether such an upheaval will activate the passions and frustrations of the general population and influence elections.

Racial conversation reignited following incidents

What do an NBA owner and a banana have in common?

Unfortunately, this is not some riddle. Unfortunately, incidents involving both have brought the state of race relations back to the forefront of human consciousness on both sides of the Atlantic decades after racism was said to be dead.


The Clippers protest the comments made by their owner by throwing their warm up jerseys in center court in the pregame warm ups of their first round playoff game against the Golden State Warriors. Photo by Jose Carlos Fajardo.

On this side of the pond, recordings of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist remarks emerged. Outrage ensued. Companies suspended and canceled sponsorships with the team; players warmed up with their practice jersey’s inside out–concealing the logo of the team whose owner not only insulted his players but also a nation and world that believed days of racism and prejudice were long gone.

Unfortunately, again, another incident the same weekend in Spain indicates that modern day racism is not isolated to the United States.  In Saturday’s match against Villareal, FC Barcelona’s Dani Alves, a Brazilian native, had a banana thrown at him in the middle of the match.

The near simultaneous occurrence of both incidents highlights the state of racial relations in the Western world. As an issue mostly spoken about in the past tense, these incidents indicates that racism is still very much a modern day issue. Institutionalized segregation and racism may be over, but occurrences like these show that deep-seeded prejudice and ignorance still exist in 2014.   While NBA commissioner Adam Silver acted swiftly and sharply by banning Sterling from the league for life, the response to the banana throwing incident and other recent incidents has lead to sharp criticism of those that govern the world’s most popular sport.

Alves, the player involved in the latest banana throwing incident called on FIFA be more proactive in combating racism in soccer. Although FIFA sent a strong message to youth development programs by punishing FC Barcelona for illegal players, Alves believes that FIFA needs to concentrate on more important things than the happenings at La Masia (FC Barcelona’s youth academy). “[FIFA] needs to give their attention to more serious things,” Alves said.

Although FIFA President Joseph Blatter tweeted his support of Silver’s decision, many in Europe (Alves included) are calling on him to do more to combat racism that has plagued leagues for decades.


One of Blatter’s harshest critics is retired British NBA player John Amaechi, who believes the punishments enacted by the NBA will translate to more “pretty posters” by FIFA instead of substantive action taken to combat racism in Europe.

In America, a long and sometimes ugly history with race relations lead to decisive and meaningful action in a league where a majority of its players are African-American. On the other hand, if the past is any indication, European soccer officials will continue to wait for the next banana peel to slip on.




12: Modern Day Russian Propaganda or a Cultural Exposé?

Nikita Mikhalkov’s 12 (2007) is a Russian film in which a group of 12 jurors must decide the fate of an 18-year old Chechen boy (Apti Magamaev) accused of murdering his Russian stepfather, a military officer. The film, an adaptation of Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957), holds much of the same characteristics as the latter: each of the 12 men come in with their own biases and prejudices and must come to a unanimous decision before being allowed to leave the room. In 12, however, the men aren’t stuffed into a cramped juror room; instead, the jurors are placed in a dilapidated school gymnasium that’s conveniently near the courthouse. The crumbling state of the gym is meant to symbolize Russia’s crumbling and failing infrastructure.

Like the film’s older cousin, 11 men immediately come to the conclusion that the boy is guilty (without viewing or attempting to debunk any of the prosecution’s evidence) and one man, not knowing whether the boy is truly guilty or not, votes not guilty because he realizes that this is someone’s life they have in their hands and they need to ponder more about their decision before they decide to convict him.


The film’s cover, courtesy of IMDB

In the film, the twelve men represent the different types of Russian men–there’s the racist and anti-Semitic cabbie, a surgeon from the Caucasus, a Harvard-educated television producer, an elderly Jewish intellectual, a musician, a cemetery manager, and others. Each of them share a bit from their personal lives with the group, thus allowing the viewer to understand more about them as a person. Throughout the film, we get bits and pieces of the Chechen boy’s war-torn life–from him growing up with his mother and father and learning the art of the lezginka (a traditional Chechen dance) to attempting to survive in an abandoned basement alone after his family was murdered.

The movie is highly emotional and keeps you planted in your seat right from the start. Each man tells his own sad tale: one shares how he blames himself for his son’s suicide, another tells the men how his business scams the mourning families of the deceased out of thousands of Rubles, etc. These intertwine with the boy’s story, even though we barely hear him actually speak throughout the whole film.

Structurally, the film is spectacular. The actors’ performances are mesmerizing and the cinematography is beautiful.

However, I do have one huge issue with this film: it completely misrepresents Russian-Chechen relations and is undoubtedly “Pro-Putin.”

It seems extremely likely to me that the beginning of the film would have been the same in real life–that is, that 11/12 of the men deemed the boy guilty from the very start just because he is a Chechen. It comes as no surprise that the cabbie regards the boy as  “a stinking Chechen dog.” However, *spoiler alert* the men slowly debunk the prosecution’s evidence and unanimously decide that the boy is not guilty. But, knowing that the boy will most likely die as soon as he gets out of jail because he will go looking for his stepfather’s murderer, one of the jurors wants to keep him in jail in order to keep the boy alive.

After discussing this with the rest of the jurors, this same man decides that he will help the boy by basically adopting him. He waits for the boy outside of the jail and tells him that he will help him find whoever killed his stepfather.

This is highly unrealistic.


Along with directing and co-writing the film, Nikita Mikhalkov (center) is also the head juror that ends up adopting the boy in the end

Russians and Chechens have long had their problems with each other and Mikhalkov’s portrayal of the kind and open-minded Russians is simply impractical. Tensions between the two cultures are still high and many Russians are still very racist toward Chechens.

That didn’t stop Russians and film critics worldwide from eating this film up. 12 has a 78% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes from the critics and an 84% approval rating from the viewers. Even Putin said that the film “brought a tear to the eye.”

Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman even marks the film as “heavy-handed.”

With that being said, I think Mikhalkov touches on a lot of contemporary Russian issues (example: pointing out the crumbling Russian infrastructure).

I think it would do the film an injustice to fully praise it or condemn it. Regardless of the perhaps too forgiving portrayal of Russians, Mikhalkov perfectly exposes Russian stereotypes and shows the viewers a side to Russia that many never get to experience for themselves (let alone know even existed).

Additionally, regardless of the negative things I’ve said about the film, it is one that I’ve had in my possession for about 4 years and one that I watch fairly regularly, especially if I want to get a good cry in.




History Redux Indeed

If you haven’t read Rachel Alvord’s interview with Dagmar Bazzoni, you can do so here. Bazzoni was born in Austria in 1943 and has some very interesting thoughts on World War 2 and Putin to share. I read through it a few times and the Putin-to-Hitler comparisons reminded me of a movie I saw a few years ago, The Wave (‘Die Welle’ auf Deutsch [Available on Netflix!])

Directed by Dennis Gansel, The Wave is a modern German take on a social experiment that took place in Palo Alto in 1967. Jürgen Vogel plays Herr Wenger, the German stand-in for high school teacher Ron Jones, the man behind the myth. Jones explains in his personal account:

“We were studying Nazi Germany and in the middle of a lecture I was interrupted by the question. How could the German populace claim ignorance of the slaughter of the Jewish people? How could the townspeople, railroad conductors, teachers, doctors, claim they knew nothing about concentration camps and human carnage? How can people who were neighbors and maybe even friends of the Jewish citizen say they weren’t there when it happened? It was a good question. I didn’t know the answer. In as such, as there were several months still to go in the school year and I was already at World War II, I decided to take a week and explore the question.”

The results of this experiment were astounding. Ordinary high school students transformed into the very image of fascism we all know. In the space of a week they became a close-knit secret community, fostered along by slogans like “Strength Through Discipline,” “Strength Through Community,” and “Strength Through Action.” Each day Jones pushed the students a little bit closer to a fuller manifestation of Nazi Germany. Just as the students had fully adopted this new mindset, Ron Jones / “Herr Wenger” do the unthinkable…

The Wave

Herr Wenger addresses his converts

I’ll let you explore how it ends but the crux of the story is riveting. Essentially the experiment shows how easily people can be blindly convinced into detestable acts. It also answers the question to how Germans could willfully claim ignorance of the Nazi acts or even go so far as to deny them. Jones sums up the explanation his students were reticent to believe:

“If our enactment of the Fascist mentality is complete, not one of you will ever admit to being at this final Third Wave rally. Like the Germans, you will have trouble admitting to yourself that you come this far. You will not allow your friends and parents to know that you were willing to give up individual freedom and power for the dictates of order and unseen leaders. You can’t admit to being manipulated. Being a follower. To accepting the Third Wave as a way of life. You won’t admit to participating in this madness. You will keep this day and this rally a secret. It’s a secret I shall share with you.”


The teacher discusses autocracy

Doesn’t Herr Wenger bear an odd resemblance to Putin?

The similarities between these movements and Putin are arguable to say the least. Our class, especially the session led by Ulrike Langer (a German news foreign correspondent) last week, and Rachel’s interview raised some discussion of Putin’s following in Russia, and this film is a great visual tool for understanding the possibilities of such a radical following.

Watching the Watchers: Germany’s Commitment to Privacy

The global furor surrounding Edward Snowden’s June 2013 revelation of U.S. Government data collecting and processing practices seems to have calmed as the initial outrage has become a more organized push for transparency and reform.

The European Union has made far greater strides toward transparency than the U.S. in recent years, insofar as each EU member country must have a comprehensive set of laws protecting its citizens against unauthorized data collection, whether by individuals or government agencies.

This European approach to careful protection of individual privacy has been made quite clear through such sweeping policies as ending information sharing with the U.S.– a decision which the German government made shortly after the Snowden leaks, and effective immediately.

Information gathering isn't always so tranparent... Credit: Tuzen at Flickr

Information gathering isn’t always so tranparent…
Credit: Tuzen at Flickr

For those of you who don’t read German, cloud security company Perspecsys lays out a pretty clear picture of the significant reforms set forth in Germany’s Bundesdatenschutzgesetz, also known as the BDSG, because the Germans love acronyms.

Germany's BDSG explicitly protects individual rights to privacy.

Germany’s BDSG explicitly protects individual rights to privacy.

The BDSG has existed in various forms since the 1960s, but the 2009 reforms to the law have put a more intense emphasis on personal privacy in an increasingly digitized world.

The 2009 reforms include:

  • Data collection requires express permission from the individual in question. This applies to any and all data, from name to IP address.
  • In granting permission to gather an individual’s data, the individual in question determines the exact conditions of use of said data, including purpose, location, and expiration of permission.
  • At any time, any individual who has made their data available for any purpose may revoke their permission without opposition.
  • All organizations which manage personal data must have comprehensive policies in place to protect said data in accordance with the BDSG.


The BDSG is a sort of legal solidification of what seems to be a growing sentiment amongst the German public, but in addition to civilian protests such as the “Blurmany” debacle, there is a devotion to the cause of privacy throughout the German government itself.


Okay, so this is exaggerated, but it's exaggerated for effect!

Okay, so this is exaggerated, but it’s exaggerated for effect!

UK-based blogger and eDisclosure activist Chris Dale helps to put this predilection for privacy in a personal context in his analysis of four articles concerning data privacy in Germany, writing:

“We consent to the erosion of our privacy continually, usually as a result of an unconscious trade-off between that erosion and some benefit – if we choose to carry a mobile phone, then our location is traceable, but the benefit outweighs the downside. The same is true of many other web or GPS-based functions. The difference between them and Street View is that the latter is disconnected from our own choice – we may choose not to use Street View but we have little control over its usefulness to those who want to eye up our houses for burglarious purposes, or over the risk that it happens to catch us coming out of a massage parlour, as happened to one man”

I feel that a point like this helps to distinguish the real rallying cry of those Germans who have a real desire for privacy. The issue isn’t that these people have anything to hide, but rather that without transparency and protective measures, there is no way of knowing who could be looking at your data for what reason.

The tradeoff that Dale mentions has been heavy on my mind lately: where does convenience require a sacrifice? Is it really worth your privacy to be able to find a gas station near you when you really need it? Feel free to comment below, and be sure to look both ways as you leave the massage parlor- you never know who’s watching.


From Right to Left: Is History Repeating Itself?

Dagmar Bazzoni was born in Salzburg, Austria in 1943. Shortly after the end of World War II, she and her family moved to a Red Cross station in Aschaffenburg, Germany, before relocating again to Frankfurt am Main in 1951. Ten years later, she moved to America where she learned English, started a family, and settled in St. Louis, Missouri, where she still lives today. 

Although she remembers very little of the war itself, Bazzoni’s childhood was defined by its consequences. In this interview, she talks about some of what she does remember, and her fears that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin may be following in the footsteps of Adolf Hitler, the man who led Germany to war in the first place. 


Rachel Alvord: Do you remember Hitler and his time in power at all? What do you remember from after the war?

Dagmar Bazzoni: It’s like learning from what your parents talked about, and people talked about, and when I went to school, people talking about it at school. I was pretty young. I was only about three years old, so I don’t remember anything. I was maybe… four years old, in my first good memories. I do remember it was just really bad after the war, there was nothing available and they had to build Germany back up. There was hardly any food available. We were lucky because my dad worked for the Americans, so he was able to bring food home that was stale, that the Americans didn’t want to eat. Stale doughnuts, bread, things like that.

I know, the reason people at first thought Hitler was so great was because he provided a lot of jobs building the Autobahn and so on. And once they realized he just wanted more and more, they started turning against him, but they couldn’t do anything by then.

Do you remember what people said about Hitler when you were living in Austria/Germany?

Yeah, that he just was going crazy, that he just… just wanted power. He wanted to conquer the whole world. More and more people lost their lives, and they just realized it was not going to be a good world, and that they weren’t going to be able to win that war. And then there was what he did to the Jews… that was just horrible. And you know, a lot of Germans tried to help the Jews, and the French, the French helped them too. But you know back then the French, they really didn’t like us. I don’t know about the British, I think they just wished the Americans had done something sooner.

They didn’t talk good about him, I know that. I know my parents didn’t, I know my other relatives didn’t. I know a lot of other people, from what I remember, said if it had been like it was in the beginning it would have been okay, but they said he just wanted more power, more countries, and he didn’t care how many people got killed. They didn’t speak highly of him, let’s put it that way. They really hated him. And I guess that’s why they tried several times to assassinate him. But it didn’t work. Now the people who were higher up, they of course liked him because you know he gave them power. They thought he was God. But the average person did not like him.

Do you think that’s how Putin is now?

He might even be worse, because he’s more sneaky. I really think that he’s gonna be worse, unless somebody stops him. I don’t think Hitler was as sneaky. He was pretty much out in the open, and he didn’t care if people liked him or not. He did what he wanted to do. But Putin is more sneaky about it, and all of a sudden he surprises people with the things he does. So I really think he’s worse. But how much worse can he be than the things with Hitler? You know?

What does Putin do that reminds you of Hitler?

He wants the power, he wants to take more land, and more land, and more land. That’s what makes me think, why can’t he just be satisfied with everything being at peace and having his country and letting it go at that? I think he just wants more and more, and the more he can get, the more he’s gonna take.

How do they differ? Do they differ?

I don’t know, but they’re pretty much the same about having the power and doing what they want to do. It doesn’t matter what other nations think or say, it doesn’t matter. They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. I think what’s holding him back now is the sanctions that were put on them, but I doubt that will hold up. I think as long as we get all those other nations together on our side, he’s gonna be a little more cautious. But once there’s a few more countries he can get away from us, he’s going to be like a loose canon.

Hitler did a lot of good things for Germany after WWI, and public opinion of him in 1925 or 1935 was obviously very different from public opinion of him in 1945. Do you think it’s a similar situation in Russia, or do you think Putin’s regime is entirely negative?

I’m not sure about that. I was very surprised, but I think a lot of people were surprised… well, he must have put a lot of people to work with the Olympics and so on, but now I dunno what’s happening. I dunno. I don’t really know how to answer that, because… I don’t know. I think he’s greedy, and he’ll do anything he thinks he can get away with. What surprised me, he waited until the Olympics were just about over, and he started doing this with the Ukraine. It was just planned, it was planned. And the way he went about it was very sneaky, and of course it was wrong. But I dunno how to answer that question. I dunno, he’s just unpredictable, and I don’t trust him.

Do you think Putin has any goals that expand outside of Russia? Do you agree with the claim that he wants to reconstruct the Soviet Union, for example?

Oh yes. Definitely yes.

Hitler used the excuse of Lebensraum and claimed to be working for the sake of German people and so on. Russia obviously doesn’t have the same space problems that Germany did/does, so why do you think that about Putin? What excuse do you think he has?

It’s greed, number one. He probably can come up with any excuse he wants to, of course, but greed is number one.

Is there anything that can be done to prevent Putin from going to the same lengths that Hitler did?

Yeah, our nations sticking together and putting sanctions on him. Now what I really think, I better not say, but… you can put two and two together on that one. Convince him… I think he’s so far gone, he’ll do anything he can get away with. I don’t think there’s any real way to stop him. The only way of stopping him is putting our nations together and putting sanctions against him, unless we go to war, and nobody wants to do that.

Do you know if other people see Putin the same way you do, or is this just a personal correlation you’ve found?

Oh yeah, people I’ve talked to in my German group*, and pretty much all fourteen of us agree on that. It’s just… it’s not good, not good. If we can strip him of his power, that would be a good thing, but how do we go about it? We really don’t know the full story, what’s going on over there. Is he killing people, is he jailing people… who knows? We only hear really what he wants us to hear. We don’t know exactly what’s going on. What he does to people over there… I’m surprised that so many people in the Ukraine signed up to be part of Russia again, that they were so willing to be part of Russia again. There’s gotta be something behind it, some other force, I dunno.

Bazzoni routinely meets and spends afternoons with a group of friends made up of other German-American women to chat, catch up with each other, and apparently, gossip about international politics.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I wish that we could get the nations together and strip him of his power, if that’s possible. He won’t give up his power easily, I know that, but it’d be a solution. I dunno, I just don’t trust him, he’s just too sneaky. And he wants power, he definitely wants power. And he did say something – or I read something in the news about that – that if he wanted to he could bomb North America. So that means he has something there, and I just thought ‘oh, where did that come from, something’s not right there.’ But he knows that if he does too much, there’ll be sanctions and Russia will suffer. If that’s what’s holding him back, I dunno, but to make statements like that? He’s just got something planned, and that’s scary.

Bazzoni and her friends are hardly the first people to draw comparisons between the two political leaders. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble drew a direct line between Putin’s invasion of Crimea and the Nazi seizure of the Sudetenland in 1938. Though his statements made news everywhere from Germany itself to (perhaps more significantly) the state of Israel, he himself made the connection almost a month after Hillary Clinton did, highlighting the fact that these sentiments are not new. 

It goes without saying that calling Putin the next Hitler is a strong accusation, but the parallels are clearly there for people to find. So what do you think? Do you agree that history is in danger of repeating itself, or do you think Putin’s ambitions will follow a different road?

How the Edukators Taught Me

The Edukators: Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei (2004) directed by Hans Weingartner

The chances are overwhelming that you’re not Burghart Klaussner. I’m also willing to bet you’ve never come home to burglars rearranging your furniture as a form of political discourse.  In ‘The Edukators,’ a 2004 Palme d’Or nominee at the Cannes Film Festival, you can see just that in a sneakily riveting indie flick.

Two of the first German actors with whom I ever became familiar were Daniel Brühl (Private Friedrich Zöller in Inglorious Basterds) and Burghart Klaussner (from Goodbye Lenin! and Yella), and together they form a divisive duo atop this cast. Brühl plays Jan, a left-leaning revolutionary bent on sending the rich capitalists a message. He and his friend Peter (played by Stipe Erceg) break into wealthy homes and rearrange furniture before leaving notes like, “Your days of plenty are over” or simply, “You have too much money.” That second one is cheesy I know, but imagine seeing that plastered across your wall while all your furniture stands in the corner in a magnificent heap. The attack on their sense of security is the most powerful.

"You have too much money. - The Edukators"

“You have too much money. – The Edukators”

Their string of successful break-ins comes to a stop though when Hardenberg, played by the unshakable Burghart Klaussner, catches them in the act. The plot turns noticeably darker in this scene when Jan has to incapacitate Hardenberg until they figure out their next step.

Jule and Hardenberg meet again.

Jule and Hardenberg meet again.

I’ll leave some plot to the imagination, but what follows is the crux of the film, as the Edukators and Hardenberg have a series of long, in-depth conversations about the differences between the rich and poor in a capitalist society, something to which all Germans had to adjust following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Much like a lot of recent literature, the film tells of a struggle to maintain one’s identity in a changing world.

Jan and Hardenberg realize their similarities.

Jan and Hardenberg realize their similarities.

It’s hard to see past the glaring holes in the revolutionaries’ plan, wherein they have no idea how society would function if their plans actually succeeded, but I found at the heart of the film a more important lesson.

*Spoiler Alert* (even though you’re going to keep reading anyway)

As the four protagonists live and converse in the wooded mountains of Austria, Hardenberg goes through a brief transformation where he relates his own youth to that of the Edukators. It turns out he was the spitting image of their ‘free love, anti-establishment’ ways, until he grew up and adopted capitalism in order to pay the bills. At a closer look though, I watched the characters realize that their struggle was not so important as the fact that they fought proactively to establish their identity. It’s a good message for post-Wall Germans and viewers alike, that although society may not play itself out as we’d hope, it’s nonetheless important to struggle for our own place and identity.

This place seems like a good one to find my identity...

Peter and Hardenberg discuss their takes on identity in the picturesque Austrian Alps

The final scene is a bit discouraging, as it turns out Hardenberg has re-assumed his capitalist ways, and turns the kidnappers in to the police. They’re fortunately one step ahead and have already left the country by the time the police arrive. The final note bears an ominous message that really drives home the anti-capitalist sentiment of the film: “Some people never change.”

"Some people never change."

“Manche Menschen ändern sich nie.”

The viewer is left to ponder his or her own opinions but Weingartner presents an intelligible, well-constructed argument against capitalism that at the very least makes the viewer step back and wonder, and I believe that to be a vital aspect to spinning a good yarn.




Check out the movie’s interactive website here and the review written by Joe Yang from ‘Foreign-Films-For-You’

All pictures courtesy of Echte Tunus from his blog.


Anchors Abroad: An Interview with Brent Goff

From his beginnings at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Brent Goff has made his mark across national and international news platforms.

DW's AGENDA with Brent Goff

DW’s AGENDA with Brent Goff

Goff’s broad news presence ranges from CNN in Berlin and Washington, Time Magazine in Germany and German radio stations to news outlets in the U.S., NewsChannel11 in North Carolina and mid-Missouri’s own KOMU-TV.

Now, he is considered one of the best known faces at Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcaster.

With a passion for politics and foreign affairs, Goff hosts his own DW talk show, “AGENDA,” and he is also DW’s main anchor or presenter.

He shed some light on his transition from the U.S. to Germany, along with varying positions he’s held in the journalism field.

Rachel Wittel: Your career seemed to take off quickly after working at KOMU and NewsChannel11 in North Carolina. What drove you to make the move over seas?

Brent Goff: I had always been interested in reporting overseas. While working on my MA at Georgetown University in WashingtonDC, I worked part-time for CNN International. Frank Sesno was the bureau chief at the time and he encouraged me to go abroad. I worked as a producer for CNN in Berlin after I finished my MA at Georgetown. And once I was in Berlin, I knew that international news was the place to be!


DW’s “Talking Germany” presenter Peter Craven interviewing Goff

I’ve heard it tends to be easier starting out as a reporter in order to remain a reporter and possibly move up to an anchor position. That’s not at all the case in your path. How did you decide to make the switch back to reporting after producing and also working in print and radio? Then taking on anchoring roles?

There are no rules in this business when it comes to charting a path. My path may appear to be unusual, but once you talk to other journalists who have worked abroad as reporters, anchors, in print and radio, you quickly realize that they all have unique stories about how they ended up where they are.

You earned a Bachelor’s in German, Journalism and Political Science [at MU] – wow! What role has German played in your life and career choices? Similarly, what intrigued you most about German to continue studying and working in that business?

I had learned Latin in high school and I wanted to try something different when I arrived at Mizzou. German was my first choice because I had always been interested in Germany’s rich history with its glorious high and tragic lows. I was a Fulbright Scholar in Hamburg in 1995-96. I assisted in lecturing journalism courses at the university in Hamburg–in German! But my language abilities served me most once I arrived in Berlin. Speaking the language opens up so many doors…and one of those doors was at Germany’s international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle.

What should reporters in the U.S. investigate or focus on in Germany? What important factors tend to be missed in newscasts?

Journalists in the US who report on Germany should not rely on cognitive crutches. Too often we use what we know to explain what we don’t know. That translates into an abundance of stories about Oktoberfest, German beer, Nazis and the Holocaust. Germany is Europe’s most powerful country. It is a global exporter, second only to China. And its geopolitical influence around the world is enormous. Obama calls Merkel everyday to find out what Putin is doing! All of that needs to be reported….in addition to Bavarian beer lovers!

AGENDA's Goff giving commentary on DW's Insider blog

AGENDA’s Goff giving commentary on DW’s Insider blog

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you’re working your dream job now! From what I can tell, your talk show – “AGENDA” – allows you to anchor while reporting on political issues not only in Europe, but across the globe. How did you get to this point? Is this what you’ve always wanted to do? What’s your next move?

I love hosting my own talk show! AGENDA started in 2012 as an experiment. We wanted to combine the elements of a hard talk one-on-one interview with the breadth of a news magazine. The result was 3 guests talking about 3 headlines of the week. The show has just been nominated for an international Emmy in current affairs. There are other projects in the pipeline. Perhaps that is the part of this profession that can be a “dream.” News and consumers of news are changing constantly. We have to keep up with that change. That means never a dull moment—for me, a dream come true everyday!

For more biographical information about Brent Goff, click here.

To see related blogs I’ve written featuring Goff’s work, click here.

Europe’s Jihadists

The conflict in Syria is now in its third year. It can be characterized by the heavy influx of foreign fighters – up to 11,000 as of December – as well as the sustained use of social media, particularly Twitter and YouTube, by rebel groups.

To set the stage for readers who are unfamiliar with the Syrian conflict, here is a VERY superficial, and entirely insufficient summary of the situation. Bashar al-Assad has been the president of Syria for 14 years, following his father who ruled for 30 years prior. Assad is the leader of the Ba’ath party, which promotes a pan-Arab state and is ideologically tied to Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party in Iraq, as well as an Alawite. Alawis are a branch of Shia Islam, generally ideologically opposed to the vast majority of Muslims – Sunnis.

In the general upheaval of the Arab Spring, Syrians protested for better living conditions and political representation and were met with harsh retribution by state forces. Soon, the protests evolved into outright civil war which has devastated most of the country. There have been accusations of chemical weapons and other extrajudicial killings by both the Syrian regime and rebel factions. Both sides receive heavy support from external actors – generally aligned with their respective religious ideologies. For a really good breakdown of these groups, see this series of Reddit posts: One, Two, Three, Four.

Of particular interest (and concern to some) is the increasing number of foreign fighters coming from Europe and North America. Germany, this blog’s focus, has contributed about 270 jihadists.

One of these Germans, a rapper named Deso Dogg, made headlines inside and out of the social media community after he converted to Islam, moved to Syria as a jihadist and was reportedly killed, then confirmed to be alive. He now goes by the name Abu Talha al-Almani and outspokenly encourages German-Muslims to leave Germany and participate in jihad.

Though Germany is Europe’s most populous country, many European jihadists have come from smaller nations like the Netherlands and Belgium, although that trend seems to be changing. They increasingly use social media to document their lives as jihadists; one Dutch fighter posts regularly on his Tumblr (WARNING MAY BE GRAPHIC), mixing images of dead fighters and children with AK-47s and even posts titled “cats of the mujahideen” (NOT GRAPHIC, JUST KITTIES). He even has an account set up to answer questions that his followers might have. While many foreign nationals join existing factions, there is at least one faction that is comprised entirely of foreign fighters, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (Army of Emigrants and Supporters) who you can follow on Twitter here.

Opposition groups have always used social media to promote their message; they often post videos of successful missile attacks or hard fighting to improve their image. Just as often they post ultimatums, decrees, or threats towards other groups. The Syrian conflict’s fighting has spread to the internet. Journalists (and regular people) have jumped at the chance to follow every detail of the conflict via primary sources. The entrance of western voices into this mix is a way for Syrian groups to reach out to western audiences who are mostly disinterested and possibly gain support.

For more information on the Syrian conflict, check out which is a great example of citizen-journalism, essentially collating the thousands of social media posts into a more coherent picture.

Few Choices for Merkel in Russian-Ukrainian Conundrum

Putin and Merkel in 2007 (Frank Augstein|AP)

Putin and Merkel in 2007 (Frank Augstein|AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is between a rock and a hard place these days. Being the leader of the country that’s financially propping up the European Union is tough enough without throwing in a balancing act when the Russian president flies off the handle while holding the EU’s natural gas pipes in one hand and Ukraine in the other.


If you have had a hard time following this whole ordeal with Ukraine, here is how the whole thing got started, in a nut shell. Late last year, the Western half of Ukraine wanted to become more integrated with the European Union -you know, break down some trade barriers and sell some grain to their neighbours (Ukraine is the world’s 3rd largest grain exporter)-.   The Eastern part of Ukraine is very pro-Russia and no so very pro EU. Viktor Yanukovych was the president at the time, and he was from the East and has a lot of Russian Support. (For a much more analytical, visual, and rather pro-Western Ukraine explanation, check out Max Fisher’s blog post for the Washington Post)

Clashes between Western protesters and the government get out of hand and Yanukovych flees (deeper explanation on Fisher’s Blog). The Ukrainian parliament decides to make the chairman of parliament the acting president. Putin decides that Yanukovych is still the president, and that parliament’s actions are unacceptable; so Putin gets the Russian parliament to grant him permission to use military force. Russian troops move into Crimea (a section of the Eastern part of Ukraine), in order to “quell protests,” but also to set the scene for Crimea to be annexed by Russia (something that the Ukrainian parliament is now set t vote on).

The UK prime minister, David Cameron, and the US president, Barack Obama, are working with Chancellor Merkel in trying to find a way to deescalate tensions in Crimea.

Merkel’s Dilema

Obama has already put a hold on bank accounts and travel documents for Russians and Ukrainians who support Putin’s actions and undermine Ukrainian autonomy. Merkel, on the other hand, is in no such position to hold Russia accountable.

As you can see from this lovely map that Wikier Samuel Bailey shared on wikipedia, most of Europe’s natural gas comes from Russia. This means that Merkel has to be very careful in dealing with the man who has his hand on the tap.As NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, pointed out on The Rachel Maddow Show that this dynamic was forcing Merkel to play “good cop” to Obama’s “bad cop.”


John Cassidy, a political blogger for The New Yorker, seems to think Merkel is the key fixing this situation:

If there is a solution to the crisis, it may lay in Berlin, in the personage of Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor and the de facto leader of the European Union. Since the Russian troops moved into Crimea, Merkel has said little publicly, confining herself to a few anodyne comments about “preserving the territorial integrity” of Ukraine. Behind the scenes, though, she is at the center of things. And, if anybody can persuade Putin that it is in his interests to order his soldiers back to their barracks, she might be the one.

On March 12th, Merkel quit playing “good cop” and gave a speech making it clear that military intervention would not be an option on the side of the EU or its member states. She did, however, say that it Russia were to take Crimea away from Ukraine, it would severely impact the relationship that Russia has with the EU and that Russia’s economy would suffer.

A video with English subtitles of her speech can be found here (unfortunately not many sites have an English translation because American media is currently focused on the disappearance of a Malaysian airplane). If you sprechen Sie Deutsch, you can watch Merkel’s full speech, below.

As you can imagine, the whole situation has been cause for great angst all over the world, and European bloggers have been particularly vocal about it. Many are vocal purely in the sense that they are history buffs or news junkies and unlike the media, who recounts the events of the day, they want to give you a holistic picture of the whole affair. One such blog was written by Jean Quatremer, with help from Lorraine Millot, of the French news site Liberation. The duo try to present the facts of the entire situation in an unbiased manner for their readers.

Other blogs offer less of a picture and more an opinion. A user called vincimus, on the German blog site Terra-Germania, is outraged. He (or possibly she) plays the  role of the conspiracy theorist. He writes in short sentences with vague references to different events and explanations of the situation. Vincimus asserts that Americans and Unkrainian “oligarchs” stormed parliament to overthrow the elected president and states that 10o,000 voices have been allowed to make the decisions of 44 million people.

In a political blog post on, Von Lutz Kinkel agrees with Merkel, for the most part, but asserts that she’s just going through the motions. He believes that essentially, Crimea has already been lost to Russia. He says that Merkel can’t admit this, because if she does it essentially tells Russia that annexing other countries is acceptable and they can continue doing such things with no consequences. Kinkel appears to support the idea of the EU and Germany sanctioning Russia, but balances this thought by asking if they can morally implement sanctions when Germany has gone against international law in the past.

As for you, Dear Reader…

If you were to ask me, I would actually advise not to read any blogs about this situation. The fact is bloggers (including myself) get things wrong. If they had the necessary expertise to tell you the whole story, they wouldn’t be a blogger; they’d be a journalist, historian, or academic. Bloggers have interesting opinions, but they often like to present them as fact.

What you should really do is follow a news service like the BBC, who covers the context of the situation, the politics involved, and gets the first hand interviews with the people -from the politicians to the refugees- on the ground. Alternatively, you could follow Human Rights Watch, who has boots on the ground during situations like these and aggregates first hand accounts into reports and press releases.

Blogs, in these situations, are really just a bunch of noise; and it makes me hate to read them. 

Olympics Commercial Says Games Have Always Been Gay

There’s no doubt security was one of the biggest concerns at this years Winter Olympics. However, Russia’s anti-gay policies were likely one of the most widely talked about topics, both before and during the games. But whether Russian President Vladimir Putin likes it or not, some would argue the winter games have always been a little gay.

That’s according to the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion. The organization published this ad to play up the homoerotic nature of the luge.

The 2014 Winter Olympics came under huge scrutiny when Putin passed his anti-gay legislation last year. It bans the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors,” and essentially limits the rights of the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people.

The CEO of CIDI told Global News:

“We like to focus on humour, yet at the same time really send a strong message about the need for inclusive behaviours in something like the Olympic Games.”

The CEO says the response to the video has been overwhelmingly positive. Not to mention, its gone viral with nearly 6 million views.

One blogger from Slovenia wrote:

“Oh, Canada, you’re so diverse and inclusive. I like that about you … Take that, Putin.”

Others, like a writer for Liberty Voice, say the company could’ve gone with a a tune that did a better job of suggesting the “wonderfully gay core of the 80s.” Charles Mudede, a contributing writer for Slog said the following might have been better.

Either way, I think humor is the best way to go when tackling such a sensitive topic. The ad makes you at least chuckle, while highlighting the need for the Olympics to remain inclusive of everyone.