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Suicides and Hopes and Fears

Berlin.

For days all Germany followed intensely a news story full of tragedy which, like Shakespeare’s tragic plays, also had side notes almost verging on comedy.

Thanks to inside information – some surmised American sources – it was learned that a dangerous terrorist was in an apartment house in the East German city of Chemnitz, planning an explosion similar to the ones in Brussels and elsewhere. Elaborate plans were made to capture the young man – Djebar Al-Bakr, 22, an alleged refugee from Syria with possible ISIS connections. Although many policemen surrounded the building, somehow – no-one knows exactly how or at least no-one is admitting it – he escaped. It was partly, they say, because they feared shooting at him and hitting someone else. In the apartment they did indeed find a container with highly explosive acetone peroxide, but they couldn’t find him. An emergency alarm was issued for all Germany, police were everywhere, especially at railway stations and airports, one of which, in Berlin, he had evidently planned to blow up. People feared even going outdoors, especially to travel centers, and the whole country waited with bated breath to see when and how the police would find and arrest him. Of course all the Muslim-haters saw their warnings confirmed.

Two days later came the news that El-Bakr had been caught. At first ambiguously, even reluctantly, it was revealed that it had not exactly been a clear-cut coup by the police. In the Leipzig railway station Al-Bakr had asked three countrymen to put him up. They agreed but, after recognizing him, had tied him up in their apartment and called the police. Thus, paradoxically for some, it had actually been genuine Syrian refugees who saved the day!

But the story had not ended. The authorities hoped to get crucial information from him about possible connections, perhaps with ISIS forces in Germany, about accomplices or other plans. But a week ago Djebar Al-Bakr took his own life in his Leipzig prison cell, hanging himself with his T-shirt.

How was this possible? The prison authorities said they checked him every quarter hour – or was it every half hour? After a ceiling lamp was broken and an electrical plug broken in apparent suicide attempts, they gave him underwear which tore easily – but somehow also a firmer T-shirt.

There were calls for the Minister of Justice in Saxony to resign, if not the Minister-President. Both deny any mistakes. Some now demand a central German prison for terrorists. Others disagree. Of course a commission will soon begin to investigate. And El-Bakr’s brother, very suspicious, insists that pious Muslims never commit suicide. Saxon authorities, never all too transparent in their relations with the far right, now have a worse reputation than ever.

But not only did the police and prison managers end up looking like the comic old Keystone Kops of slapstick films, and not only was a possible source of information lost, but one more laser-sharp light was turned on the tragedy of today’s world, where young men, motivated by the mass killings in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, by murderous attacks with super-modern missiles and drones against their country-people, perhaps people they held near and dear, react in the only way their limited vision and capabilities permit, by hitting out blindly and brutally at any and all of “the others” whom they hold responsible. And the people of the western world shudder, understandably, but wonder, in all too widespread ignorance, “Why do they hate us?” How useful it all is for the powerful forces who fear any ties and solidarity between the peoples.

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Lots more is happening in Germany. Ignoring huge demonstrations in seven German cities on September 17th, with over 300,000 participants, and other mass protests in Brussels and elsewhere, the Canadian-European trade agreement (CETA) was agreed upon – almost! Coincidentally right there in Belgium, or its Walloon region, there was such opposition that the Belgian government temporarily withdrew its support, thus holding up, at least temporarily, the deal for all 28 EU countries and Canada. A lot of people breathed a sigh of relief and held to hopes that CETA and the US-EU treaty TTIP could both, despite all wealthy powers supporting them, be dumped on the garbage pile.

Among the CETA fans, if with varying degrees of wealth, was the leadership of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), a member of Germany’s governing coalition. This added spice to speculation about the next German government after federal elections in September. Almost a hundred political personalities from the SPD, the Greens and the LINKE (Left) met in Berlin to discuss a possible three-way coalition – if the voting results permit one, that is. Major hurdles are the refusal of the LINKE to approve any deployment of Germany’s troops outside its borders and its demands for an end to weapons sales. Both SPD and Greens insist that the LINKE approve of sending German in uniforms abroad, as at present in Syria, Afghanistan, Mali, Turkey and other conflict areas. Will the LINKE give in? Some want to, some say this question is crucial to the party’s justification.

No foreign policy decisions but plenty of local ones are up for discussion on the city-state level in Berlin, where these same three parties are negotiating a new coalition government – and who will get which cabinet seat (here called Senate seat). After two earlier coalitions between the LINKE and the SPD the former ended up losing almost half its voters. Can such a result be avoided? What compromises are justified, which ones are detrimental? We shall see.

Some hopes have been kindled by another meeting in Berlin. After four long years Putin is again visiting the city. At least linguistically he and Angela Merkel should get along; he learned German during his 5 years in Dresden for the KGB and she studied Russian for a while in Donetsk, one of the cities now rebelling against rule from the Ukrainian Kiev government – now headed by Pres. Petro Poroshenko, who, like Hollande from Paris, is also in Berlin for the talks. They will certainly deal both with the continuing menace of more war in the Ukraine and the human disaster in Syria. May there be more than linguistic exchanges – and at least a few steps toward peace in both areas!

In conclusion, a note on the far more personal hopes and fears in one of the biggest supermarket chains in Germany (Tingelmann). It went broke and could not be bought up by another firm because of legal rules against monopoly cartels. The powers-that-be, even the bankrupt boss, have been arguing for months on closing or retitling the 430 stores, with 12,000 largely underpaid employees, mostly women, often with families to support, who fear the worst.

Involved in every subject I have touched on, I think, is the question of personal suffering – and, as a common denominator, the burning but never-ending need to alleviate or do away with it.

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Victor Grossman writes the Berlin Bulletin, which you can subscribe to for free by sending an email to: wechsler_grossman@yahoo.de.

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