“Orbán is Right”

Jamie Kirchick in the Atlantic has a piece about the German migrant influx that covers basically all of the important arguments, in a tone that’s neither too incendiary nor not incendiary enough:

[T]he plain fact is that most of the migrants who have come (and continue to come) to Europe hail from Muslim-majority countries that long ago expelled their once-vibrant Jewish populations, where anti-Semitism figures prominently in state propaganda, and where belief in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories is widespread. To take just one obvious incongruity between Germany and the migrants it is accepting: Holocaust denial, a crime punishable by prison in Germany, is pervasive across the Muslim and Arab Middle East. Of course, it would be wrong to presume that every Syrian refugee holds the anti-Semitic attitudes of the country’s former defense minister, who published a book repeating the ancient blood libel about Jews killing gentile children to bake matzos for Passover. But it is equally misguided to deny that many have been profoundly influenced by the anti-Semitic environments in which they were raised.

So concerned were they not to appear indifferent to the sufferings of foreign Muslims, however, that many Germans welcomed them without properly considering the impact this move might have on their Jewish fellow citizens. It was only after he left office last year that former president Joachim Gauck admitted he is “terrified of multiculturalism,” adding: “I find it shameful … when anti-Semitism among people from Arab states is ignored or declared intelligible with reference to Israeli policies. Or if criticism of Islam is immediately suspected of growing out of racism and hatred of Muslims.” Similarly, Merkel waited until this February to publicly refer to “no-go areas,” high-crime, largely Muslim immigrant neighborhoods across Europe wherein state authorities fear to tread, and the very existence of which have long been furiously denied by liberals as an Islamophobic invention. “There are such areas and one has to call them by their name and do something about them,” Merkel said.

A month after Merkel decided to open her country’s borders to over 1 million mostly Muslim migrants in 2015, Germany’s four main intelligence agencies contributed to a little-noticed report warning, “We are importing Islamic extremism, Arab anti-Semitism, national and ethnic conflicts of other peoples as well as a different societal and legal understanding.” The intelligence services were pessimistic as to Germany’s ability to assimilate so many newcomers, whose presence, they feared, would only exacerbate pre-existing social tensions.

A different report released last year by the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee found “widespread anti-Semitism” among the 68 Syrian and Iraqi refugees the researchers surveyed. “What do we know about Jews? Sure, a religion, but they falsified it,” Bader, a 33-year-old from Damascus, told the researchers. “We know this. They have a book like ours and they have prophets and we recognize their prophets and everything, but they have faked the book that was revealed by God. … The Koran states also that it is not the same book.” Partly as a result of these sorts of attitudes, the former chairwoman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Charlotte Knoblauch said that “Jewish life is only possible in public under police protection and the strictest security precautions.”…

The chaotic nature of the influx and lack of border checks meant that most of the approximately 2 million people who entered Europe in the great wave of 2015-2016 were not refugees but economic migrants seeking jobs, according toEuropean Union Vice Commissioner Frans Timmermans. Furthermore, even many of those who could legitimately claim refugee status were not fleeing immediate danger but rather United Nations-administered camps in safe countries like Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Such places are certainly not ideal. But they do not constitute sites of persecution, war or state-directed violence, the legal standard for determining whether an individual can claim refugee status. Comparisons to the plight of the stateless Jews of Europe—many of whom, turned away from American shores, ended up in gas chambers—which were ubiquitousat the height of the 2015 migrant crisis and used as a moral cudgel against Merkel’s critics, are inappropriate.

This is a particularly interesting point:

The story of one renowned liberal Hungarian personage demonstrates this unfortunate dynamic. György Konrád is a Jewish Holocaust survivor, one of Hungary’s most celebrated living writers, and a strong critic of his country’s prime minister, the right-wing nationalist strongman Viktor Orbán. Earlier this month, Orbán’s Fidesz party was re-elected in an election that has generally been described as free not but not fair. As early as 2012, Konrád alleged in TheNew York Times that Orbán had transformed Hungary into a “junk democracy.” Yet Konrád’s estimation of Orbán changed as a result of the migrant crisis, on which the Hungarian leader emerged as a hardliner: He opposed the influx of migrants and built fences to keep them out.

“It hurts to admit it, but on this point Orbán was right,” Konrád told TheNew York Times about the prime minister’s position on immigration. Konrád did not withdraw any of his previous criticisms of Orbán (“not a good democrat and I don’t believe he is a good person”) or recant his worries about the ways in which Fidesz has gone about transforming Hungary into a virtual one-party state. But while Konrád still accused the prime minister of “emptying out democracy,” this did not necessarily mean that “the Schengen border [the European Union’s external boundary] should not be better defended against this tsunami.”

Konrád makes a point I have felt again and again. Much of what people like Orbán and the AfD say is bog-standard reactionary nationalism which neither I nor most other people have much time for.

But then, as soon as they begin talking immigration, they begin making more sense than the other parties. They begin describing things that actually are happening right now before the eyes of anyone who cares to see: increasing numbers of certain kinds of violent crimes, meager progress toward “integration” by a majority of the newcomers since 2015, huge burdens on the unemployment and social-welfare systems, the emergence of no-go areas, abuse of the overwhelmed asylum system, increasing resentment of lower-class Germans who see the newcomers receiving benefits they themselves are denied. Although some go in for fiery and even openly racist rhetoric, all they really need to do is recite the facts; the case makes itself.

And then they begin talking about homosexual perverts, or glorious national heros, or sinister cabals of “international financiers”, and you realize that most of their worldview is nuts, or worse. But not their arguments against immigration. Merkel’s policy disaster of 2015-2016 (which is still ongoing) gave the right-wingers one issue on which they could truthfully claim to be talking about problems nobody else (back then) was honestly addressing. She made the nuts seem normal. And Europe will never be the same for it.

‘We Want 200,000 of the Smartest’

Saw a few oral-testimony videos created by the Estonian Museum of Occupations (that is, occupations of the country, of which there were several), in which Estonians now living in the USA recalled their experiences after the war.

Estonians who left to avoid the postwar Soviet occupation were originally housed in displaced-persons camps, with 4,000 living in a camp near Geislingen, Germany.

After a few years in the camp, during which the Estonians created a native town with a rich cultural and commercial life, the UN Refugee organization started a program to permanently resettle the Estonians (and others). One male interviewee, who was born in 1936, recalled that representatives of several nations came to explain to the displaced persons what sort of refugees they wanted and why. The Belgians, he said, announced they wanted small people to work in coal mines with passages too narrow for Belgians to work in. The English said they needed nurses and caretakers for children. The Australians said they needed farmers.

And the Americans? They said “We just want 200,000 of the smartest.” The Estonian man’s father, who had run a shop and was a stamp collector, immediately raised his hands. After this came a series of intensive interviews to ascertain their cognitive ability and make sure that none of them had been either Communists or Nazis. The interviewers stressed that America didn’t want any of that ideological nonsense. “That’s not what America’s about,” they said. Then they were given a thorough medical evaluation and workup.

A woman who was involved in the same program said her family was resettled to Seabrook, New Jersey, to work in a plant that packaged frozen vegetables, one of the first of its kind in the world. They worked alongside Japanese, who had been forced to start new lives after internment during WWII.

As she said: “We Estonians were always at the top of the class, along with the Japanese.” The Estonians were put into normal American classes and had to learn English quickly. Most did within a few years. As soon as their English was good enough, the talented ones were taken off the production line and given managerial responsibilities, since it was a waste having smart people shove broccoli into cardboard packages. (Canada took a lot of Estonians, too, and Estonian-Canadians are now some of the richest and best-educated people in that country.)

Belgium announces it wants human moles. America announces it wants smart people. I can’t help thinking there’s a moral in this story about how to do immigration right.

Sensible, Playful Finns

I am on vacation now, having spent a week in Finland and about to pop down to the Baltic states. The Finnish National Museum is a fine museum as these things go, starting 18,000 years ago when the ice began to melt, then through prehistory, then through the 500 years or so when Finland belonged to Sweden, and then Russia, and then itself.

Near the end is a wall of stolid official portraits of Finnish Presidents, which people respectfully breezed by until they started doing things like this:

After this came a wall of listening stations where you could sample Finnish metal, along with a proud notice that Barack Obama had noted that Finland was most famous for two things: good governance and metal music.

Something else strikes you about Helsinki: public amenities work. There is some graffiti, but it’s not omnipresent as it is in Germany. I didn’t see a single tram or metro car with graffiti on it. Nor did I see any with key-scratches in their windows. This is what happens when the graffiti gets removed too quickly; the antisocial morons instead start scratching or acid-etching their idiotic symbols directly into the plexiglas windows of streetcars. This is so common in Germany that there’s even a German word for it: Scratching (g). Since the glass is ruined, it has to be replaced, costing German taxpayers millions.

There are desperate-sounding notices in many German streetcars offering 500 or 600-euro rewards for information leading to the capture of people who do this, but I’ve never heard of anybody claiming one. There’s simply no way to patrol all of the streetcars thoroughly enough to catch even a fraction of the people doing this, and the only penalty will be a fine of a few hundred Euros. If the scratchers are juveniles, there won’t even be that.

This is a classic example of a public good that can only be maintained by general, voluntary adherence to norms and values. And that’s what’s missing in many big German cities. Even in Düsseldorf, which is a prosperous and well-run place, every second streetcar has a scratched window in it. The ones that go to parts of town with lots of foreigners in them look hopeless; there are some windows you can barely even see out of, as rival teams over-scratch each other’s tags. The people in the trams have reacted with learned helplessness, or you could even say learned hopelessness. Having nice public streetcars is just one of those nice things we apparently can’t have anymore.

(Another thing Helsinki has is a public bike-share system in which every single bike works. God only knows what would happen to these bikes in most German cities. They’d probably be used to break escalators, another fun hobby of the young and stupid.)

Is this all down to foreigners? No, there are surely some asocial young Germans who do this sort of thing. But let me drop a truth bomb on you here: Scratching is mostly done by young males with, as it’s put delicately in Germany, a “migration background”. I’ve seen scratching being done live before my eyes in passing streetcars about 10 times, and every single time it’s been a group of young men with what is delicately described in German as a “southern appearance”. Every single time. Anyone who denies this is an imported problem in Germany is, as we Americans like to say, pissing on your leg and telling you it’s raining.

When you bring this up in educated liberal circles, the general response is a lot of hemming and hawing about how these problems are created by “disaffected” young people who feel “excluded” and “marginalized”. The solution is “education” and “sensitization”, and opening up more teen centers, and fostering “more pathways to social inclusion”. After a while it begins to sound stale and forced, like some filmstrip from a 1970s social-worker training seminar.

But even in educated liberal circles, after the 6th or 7th glass of burgundy, Klaus the ad-man or Bettina the psychologist will sometimes pipe up and say: “You know what? Fuck all that stuff about sensitivity and integration and inclusion. I ride to work every day on the metro to save the environment, and I just hate the fact that the windows are all scratched. It’s pointless and idiotic and depressing. Whoever is doing should be thrown into fucking prison, or kicked out of the goddamn country. I know I sound like a right-winger here, but it really just gets to you because it’s so goddamned stupid and pointless. There’s no excuse for it. I don’t want to ‘understand’ the ‘context’ that makes people do this, I want to cut their fucking hands off. It’s gotten so depressing that I’m going to buy a car, even thought I don’t want to, just so I don’t have to have see this every day.”

I’ve seen this scenario unfold many times at dinner parties. After this, an uncomfortable silence descends, and then someone mentions the latest political scandal.

Prosperous, well-ordered Northern European social democracies live, to paraphrase Böckenförde, from preconditions they themselves cannot guarantee. Import enough people who don’t understand — or who reject — the implicit social conventions of these places, and society begins to slowly develop cracks.

These countries have two choices. First, like Germany, they can permit uncontrolled mass immigration from culturally remote countries and, in particular, from the social classes in those countries which have no familiarity with political and social systems like those of Northern Europe. That is, from the lower-middle and working classes. The lower classes of these societies are notorious for lacking an appreciation of public spaces and public property; if I don’t own it and nobody else (or at least nobody powerful enough for me to respect) does, it doesn’t matter how I treat it. (Their homes are usually pristine, because this is property they own and care about. It’s public places which are treated poorly. It’s a cultural thing.)

After you import very large numbers of these people (not homeopathic doses like Finland), you notice things changing in your country. The parks are littered with trash dumped mainly by foreigners. Streetcar windows are scratched. Certain kinds of crime rise. The native population becomes ever more frustrated, and begins voting for the only parties which dare to talk about the problem: the right-wingers. And then come the sociologists, criminologists, social workers, and politicians, with the classic four-step response. (1) At first, they defensively deny there is any problem. (2) Then, forced by overwhelming evidence, they admit the problem exists. (3) Then they claim it’s really caused mostly by native Germans, Swedes, or French people, so associating the problem with foreigners is racism and xenophobia.

Then, gradually, some or even most of them are forced by overwhelming evidence to step (4), in which they admit that yes, the problems are disproportionately caused by foreigners. Then they start with vague promises to “investigate the root causes” of the problem, and “sensitize the relevant population groups” to “certain cultural norms”, and to build more teen centers and create more training programs (at taxpayer expense, naturally, since these groups are assumed to be unable to address the problems themselves) for those “disaffected youth” who feel “marginalized and excluded”.

A country can, if it wishes, go through all of that long, painful, expensive, and conflict-ridden process.

Or you can be like Finland, which has strictly limited the number of foreigners it has accepted from very different cultures. And which has clean, beautiful cities, pristine streetcars, and public bike-share programs which work like magic.

Finland Very Quietly Rejects Mass Immigration

You generally associate the Scandinavian/Nordic countries with generous immigration policies, but Finland, very quietly, has opted out of that paradigm. Finland has not accepted large number of immigrants from the developing world, and remains about 98% Finnish. I am in Helsinki right now, in an Airbnb apartment in a lower-middle class suburb. Anywhere in Germany, the list of the 60 people in this apartment complex would be at least 30-40% foreign. Here, every single name is Finnish, except for perhaps 2-3 Swedish stragglers, which don’t really count, and 1 Arabic name.
My Lonely Planet Guide to Finland interviews Alexis Kouros, editor of the Helsinki Times:
“Q: Immigration is a hot topic in the EU at the moment. How well do Finns relate to immigrants?
A: I would say that for the majority of cases, very well. … You know, Finland has very few immigrants, and there are, as in all countries in Europe, some parts of society that are uncomfortable with immigrants being here. But I would say that the people I know, they are fantastic, they relate very well.”
I’ve highlighted two statements which you might imagine are connected in some way.
You almost get the idea that successive Finnish governments, no matter what their political orientation, all agreed on a few things:
  • We Finns have a very distinct language, culture, and society.
  • Most Finns like it, and would prefer that it stay the way it is.
  • People from Somalia, Afghanistan, or Nigeria are fine folks. However, they’re unlikely to fit in here unless they have special skills and/or a special affinity for Finnish culture, which is a fairly odd thing for a non-Finn to have.
  • European countries which have imported large numbers of people from these countries seem to have lots of problems with those people. In fact, those countries can’t seem to stop talking about those problems every single day.
  • Some of those problems are caused by the immigrants. Other problems are caused by the fact that Europeans are not immigrant nations, and have a lot of difficulty dealing with foreigners.
  • Whatever the source of those problems, we Finns don’t want them.
  • Therefore, we are going to quietly, discreetly, decline to import large numbers of ordinary people from very different cultures. A small number of educated people with special talents will be fine. Hundreds of thousands of random people is too much.
  • Fortunately, we’re a tiny country nobody really cares about. So as long as we’re discreet, nobody will attack us for our supposed xenophobia.

It seems to have worked out pretty well for Finland.

I Am Germany

Just a note: The site’s been quiet because my social media time is not being taken over completely by curating I am Germany, a rotating-curation Twitter account. I’ve been doing it since last Sunday, and my turn expires this coming Sunday.

The account has almost 12,000 followers, so there’s plenty of give and take. Check it out!

Fraktur, on Acid. And Steroids.

Everybody loves the Fraktur font:

Bildergebnis für fraktur

There’s something spine-tingling and half-forbidden about it, because lots of old documents in German are written in Fraktur, and who knows what kind of horrible things they might say? (I know what you’re thinking, but no, it wasn’t invented by the Nazis. By the time they came to power, it had been largely superseded. At first revived it on the grounds that it was ur-German (g), but later decided to severely limit its use. Especially in German-occupied Europe, they replaced the difficult-to-read Fraktur with Antiqua.)

But Fraktur’s back, baby, and it’s thornier than ever — thanks to death metal. Via Holsteiner Death Fest, here’s a poster for the upcoming “Holsteiner Death Fest” in Ahrensburg, Germany:

fraktur on steroids

WTF, ‘Gustav Eisen’? Get with the program!

Special Edition

The cover of the East German youth magazine (g) “Trommel” (Drum), a special edition for the 11th Party Conference of the East German Communist Party, in 1986. The headline reads “Comrades Know the Way”.


Honi soit qui mal y pense.

The Honest German

A friend of mine used to work at a bank doing numbers stuff. One of the things banks have to do is determine how likely people are to repay their debts. And because actual money is on the line, they ignore politically-correct pieties. If the numbers say one nationality is more likely to repay than another, that goes into the algorithm.

My friend, who is not German, said it’s well-known all across the banking world that Germans are more likely to repay their debts than almost any other group on the planet. Nobody knows exactly why, but this stereotype is so reliable that banks even figure it into their algorithms and lending policies. I asked her which nationalities had a worse reputation for repaying her debts, but she politely declined spill the beans, since this information is strictly for internal consumption.

Having a high overall rate of debt repayment doesn’t just benefit borrowers, it benefits everybody, all the time. It’s easier to get loans, and you get them at a lower interest rate. Therefore, there’s more money in productive circulation. Everyone is slightly more prosperous.

Social trust works in the background all the time, making certain countries so much more pleasant to live in than others.

Which brings me to a fascinating comparative international study of honesty, summarized by James Thompson here. Demographically similar cohorts were recruited in a number of countries, from Germany to Morocco to Tanzania, and invited to play dice game which had real monetary rewards. They were allowed to play the game alone, unobserved, and reported their results on the honor system. The result:


According to the study, Germans and Slovaks have the highest estimated proportion of honest people of all the countries studied. And this has many beneficial knock-on effects, as the study’s authors point out:

Good institutions that limit cheating and rule violations, such as corruption, tax evasion and political fraud are crucial for prosperity and development. Yet, even very strong institutions cannot control all situations that may allow for cheating. Well-functioning societies also require the intrinsic honesty of citizens. Cultural characteristics, such as whether people see themselves as independent or part of a larger collective, that is, how individualist or collectivist a society is, might also influence the prevalence of rule violations due to differences in the perceived scope of moral responsibilities, which is larger in more individualist cultures.

If cheating is pervasive in society and goes often unpunished, then people might view dishonesty in certain everyday affairs as justifiable without jeopardising their self-concept of being honest. Experiencing frequent unfairness, an inevitable by-product of cheating, can also increase dishonesty. Economic systems, institutions and business cultures shape people’s ethical values, and can likewise impact individual honesty.

As Thompson wryly noted in 2016: “Avoid Tanzania and Morocco and head for Germany and Slovakia (which many of the citizens of Tanzania and Morocco are seeking to do).”

The authors of the original study, Simon Gächter & Jonathan F. Schulz, attributed the differences to cultural matters. But Thompson and Heiner Rindermann took the study data and found that the correlation between national-level IQ and honesty was even stronger than for the cultural factors the authors’ initial study pointed to.

Whatever the reason, living in high-trust, high-honesty societies is just another of those blessings which Germans take for granted, unless and until they move to a society which doesn’t work like Germany does.