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IMMIGRATION

‘Germany is not an open society’: Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on leaving Berlin

Ai Weiwei, the Chinese activist and artist, has lived in self-imposed exile in Berlin since 2015. But he plans to leave Germany because he believes it is too intolerant.

'Germany is not an open society': Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on leaving Berlin
Ai Wewei in his studio in Berlin. Photo: DPA

In an interview with the German daily Welt published Friday, Ai said: “Germany is not an open society. It is a society that wants to be open, but above all it protects itself. German culture is so strong that it doesn't really accept other ideas and arguments.”

Ai, 61, added that there is “hardly any room for open debate”.

The artist, who is an outspoken critic of China's government, moved to Berlin in July 2015 after spending four years under house arrest in China.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Ai Weiwei (@aiww) on Aug 9, 2019 at 12:33am PDT

The artist said he had reported experiences of discrimination to authorities while living in Berlin, such as being thrown out of taxis. However, the office investigating them had come to the conclusion the incidents involved “cultural differences” rather than discriminatory offences, he said.

Ai added: “This sounds to me like the Chinese government justifying its violations of human rights with 'cultural differences' to the West.”

Ai also slammed German politicians and cultural institutions for not denouncing Chinese human rights violations.

“My family and I enjoyed living here very much, but I am leaving Berlin,” he said. “This country doesn't need me because it's so self-centered.”

READ ALSO: Ai Weiwei 'loves Berlin' and plans long stay

The artist doesn't yet know where he'll move to with his family.

“I don't have a place I belong to because China has rejected me since I was born,” he said.  “Those who know their destination are no longer refugees. I am a refugee.”

In the last year Ai had spoken out about feeling less secure in Germany.

He said he was “fighting battles” wherever he went “including with German people who say I should be grateful to them because I am a refugee, and they paid for my life”.

In the interview with the Guardian at the end of last year he added: “This is the mood in Germany right now, the posters I see in the streets saying: ‘We can make our own babies, we don’t need foreigners.’ It’s the mood in much of Europe, including the UK. It’s very scary because this kind of moment is a reflection of the 1930s.”

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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