These are no ordinary crimes or criminals. All of Germany is agape at what took place for two years, ending in 2017, in a small and picturesque southwestern city at the foothills of the Black Forest, behind sedate facades where nothing interesting is supposed to happen. A mother, Berrin T., and her boyfriend, Christian L., kept abusing and raping her own son, who was then aged 7. They also put videos and photos of him onto the darknet to advertise him as a sex slave, then repeatedly sold him to pedophiles who raped him, again and again.
Yesterday, a court sentenced the boyfriend to 12 years and the mother to 12 and a half. That is less than the maximum sentence of 15 years would have been, because they cooperated and helped build cases against the other pedophiles. And yet, what’s even 15 years? The boy, now aged 10 and in foster care, will spend the rest of life with this trauma. He will still be a young man when Berrin T. and Christian L. get out. He could run into them on the streets.
There is also something especially creepy about the setting. Of course the crimes would have been no less horrible if they had taken place in gritty Berlin. But to be confronted with this sort of depravity, perversion and sadism, behind such tranquil and mundane walls? A mother raping and selling her son. We will never understand the depths of human nature.
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Many foreign observers of Germany know that a populist party, called the Alternative for Germany (AfD), which was founded in 2013 and entered parliament in 2017, has been growing on the far right. It is at 15 percent in the most recent survey by Emnid, one of Germany’s big polling outfits. That fits neatly into a bigger narrative of rising populism in the Western world.
Less noticed, but at least as interesting, is a concomitant rise on the left of the Green Party. They got just short of 9 percent in last September’s general election. But in the same Emnid poll, they are now also at 15 percent, exactly equal with the AfD and only a hair behind the Social Democrats (SPD) at 18 percent. Manfred Güllner of Forsa, another leading German pollster, thinks that the Greens will eventually pass the SPD to become Germany’s leading center-left party.
That has Berlin’s wonks talking. The SPD appears to be in long-term decline, like its social-democratic sister parties elsewhere in Europe: stuck in industrial-era mentalities, with no ideas for the post-industrial information age, and with its traditional blue-collar workers defecting to the AfD.
By contrast, the Greens have always appealed more to the well-heeled and well-educated middle classes and even elites. They never did well when they pretended to be radical lefties marching under the banner of soak-the-rich redistribution. But now they’re rallying behind moderate, sensible and responsible party leaders like Robert Habeck (pictured), with a message that climate change is the greatest threat to humanity.
What does the rise of the Greens mean? Above all, that the narrative of a general right-ward or even populist shift was too simple. The Greens also stand for the “welcome culture” toward refugees and immigrants that has allegedly gone out of fashion. They may become a force to be reckoned with, not only counterbalancing the AfD but also forming future coalition governments and setting actual policy.
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Recep Tayyip Erdogan is coming to Germany after all, on September 28 and 29. You may recall that a lot of German politicians, including Cem Özdemir, who has Turkish roots, were making the case that a visit by the neo-Ottoman wannabe sultan of Turkey would be inappropriate: He increasingly tramples on democracy and civic rights at home and likes to meddle in German politics by mobilizing the many Turkish Germans.
That argument never held water. Erdogan is a problematic and dangerous man. But so are a good dozen other world leaders, including Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. You have to talk to them. Even if that means feeding their egos. So yes, Erdogan will get full military honors from president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and then an official state banquet.