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Saturday, November 21, 2020

North African Immigrants

[North Africa: The Other Side of Europe's Migrant Crisis]

The Abuse of Refugees and Migrants Along the Central Mediterranean Route

By Aseel Elgarni

    Over the last decade, the abuse of migrants and refugees travelling along the Central Mediterranean Route has destroyed and disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of people. This route is a sea journey from North Africa to Italy. People who embark on this journey face a tireless trip across the Sahara Desert, driven by promises of work and a better life in Europe. Their dreams of a better life are quickly crushed as they realize the chances of their survival lie in the hands of militias, smugglers, traffickers, and pure luck. A report comprising the stories of the death, violence, and abuse faced by refugees was completed in a collaboration between the Danish Refugee Council’s Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) and The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). As the testimonies in the report show, the Central Mediterranean route to Libya is “one of the deadliest land crossings in the world”, and over 14,000 people have lost their lives on this journey since 2015. From January to June 2020, at least 68 refugees and migrants are known to have died along this route. Normally, before they even reach the sea they are subjected to excruciating violence repeatedly along this route. The refugees also usually cross to Europe in overcrowded boats that are not nearly large enough to take on the merciless sea. By taking their chances, they are essentially playing Russian Roulette; pulling the trigger and hoping no bullet comes out. 

To cross the desert along the North African stretch, refugees are entirely dependent on smugglers. Some of the refugees are held in Libya by smugglers, and this can last a duration of over two years. The journey to Libya generally consists of overpacked pickup trucks travelling dangerously fast and changing their routes in order to avoid detection. They then arrive in the border regions where they are handed off to Libyan smugglers. Some are smuggled north to Tripoli and the coast, sometimes stopping in Bani Walid and Ash Shwayrif, areas known as ‘smuggler hubs.’ Others stop or are held in southern Libya, in the towns of Sabha, Qatrun, or Kufra. According to the report, in 2019, 7,450 refugees arrived in Italy and Malta from Libya; 5400 arriving as of June the following year. The report goes on to explain that approximately a quarter of those who crossed the sea to Europe were mostly unaccompanied children. Sudanese nationals, Bangladeshis, Somalis, Moroccans, Malians, and Eritreans made up the largest groups leaving Libya. 14,300 people were disembarked in Libya between January 2019 and June 2020 due to being intercepted at sea by the Libyan coast guard. 

    Some of the major abuses the migrants and refugees continue to face include death, sexual and gender-based violence, trafficking, severe physical abuse, and kidnapping for ransom. The exact scale of deaths that occur all throughout the route is unknown as most of the deaths remain unrecorded. Through data published by the International Organization for Immigrants, and extracted by 4mi monitors (field monitors situated along frequently used routes and in major migratory hubs), it is estimated that around 1,750 may have died during the journey across the desert between 2018 and 2019 (though the actual figure is likely higher). Furthermore, around 1,830 people were reported to have died at sea after leaving Libya (since June of this year, approximately 136 people). The context of these deaths vary from people who have been reported dying while crossing the desert - as a result of the brutality of the drivers and smugglers - or in captivity or detention in Libya. 

“The reckless and careless driving of Hilux drivers or smugglers in the desert are a major cause of the death of many migrants who unfortunately died along the journey...And their careless driving led to the death of one of the men who fell while the vehicle was at high speed. And his body was buried in the desert by the driver." - [Nigerian man interviewed by MMC in December 2019]

The UNHCR has received multiple testimonies about the sexual and gender-based violence faced by migrants and refugees at multiple stages of their journey, affecting both genders, regardless of age. A report by the Libya Gender-Based Violence Area of Responsibility stated that, “Sexual violence is used for extortion, subjugation, punishment, and entertainment, and frequently involves elements of profound cruelty and psychological torture...Men and boys are forced to witness sexual violence against women and girls (including lethal rape with objects) in official and unofficial centres of captivity and in the desert. It is frequently mentioned that men and boys are forced to rape women and girls, including family members. Women are also forced to perpetrate sexual violence against refugee and migrant men and boys. Much of this violence is carried out in public or filmed for humiliation and/or extortion purposes.” The refugees and migrants fleeing from their countries face these horrifying experiences, no doubt extending them to years of PTSD and trauma, all for a better chance at life for themselves and their children. 

“Bani Walid was even worse. They constantly tortured and punished my husband. I was raped again. They had no contraception, so they used plastic bags. Again, I became pregnant and again I lost my baby.” - [Somali woman, evacuated from Libya by UNHCR, 2019]

Victims of human trafficking are not likely to come forward due to the stigma and vulnerability surrounding their situations. It is still believed that forced labour and trafficking for sexual exploitation takes place along the route. In 2019, authorities in Africa and Europe were able to make numerous arrests and free Nigerian women and other West African victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. In some cases, smuggling may turn into trafficking. For example, if a refugee or migrant cannot pay the smugglers on arrival in Libya, they are instead sold for labour or sexual exploitation, or even held in debt bondage. The report states that some may negotiate to work for the smugglers in order to pay off their debt, though they are highly likely to fall victim to trafficking. Some people are also deceived by smugglers and held for ransom or sold for labour and sexual exploitation. Furthermore, kidnapping for ransom is believed to remain common on the route. 

Between 2018 and 2019, Territorial Commissions in Italy (authorities that process asylum applications) referred around 10,000 victims of trafficking to specialist organizations. Many of these reports include details accounting terrifying experiences of abuse, forced labour, and starvation taking place in Hajar near Khartoum, as well as Bani Walid.

 “The woman that took us out of Nigeria was introduced to me by a friend. She told me about the woman and explained that she would like to take some girls… that she needs some girls to take to Europe and that if interested, we should let her know. We were eight so she took us all. She said we would be going to work in Europe. She didn’t tell us the nature of the work, but we were eager to leave Nigeria because of the situation of the country…As we reached Libya, the woman said that we had to work a bit before proceeding to the crossing, since the road wasn’t clear. I asked what the work would be and she said connection work [sex work]. Then I started crying, a friend of mine and I refused to do it. They started to beat us saying we must do it. That’s the scar on my face. They beat us and said we must do it.” - [A Nigerian woman interviewed by Telling the Real Story, 2019]

Refugees and migrants are also detained on their journey to Europe. According to UNHCR Libya, as of June 2020, around 2,500 refugees and migrants remained in official detention centers. However, multiple reports have expressed concern over food shortages, overcrowding, poor hygiene conditions, lack of consistency in medical assistance, reports of abuse, forced labour, and missing people from detention centers. Unfortunately, a Libyan legislation includes a provision allowing people who have entered the country irregularly to face imprisonment for an undefined period of time as well as fines and hard labour; which means there’s little the UNHCR can do to help the people in detention centers. 

Many of the risks migrants and refugees in detention centers face are related to the arising conflicts in Libya. During heights of conflict, the already high possibility of danger further increases; in June 2019, 53 lives were lost when an airstrike targeted the Tajoura detention center-the second strike to hit the center that year. On numerous occasions, shelling had also hit neighbourhoods near detention centers; there was a case involving a shooting incident at another center. According to the report, amidst this violence, some refugees and migrants reported being forced to fight in the conflict and perform tasks such as cleaning or loading weapons, repairing and cleaning military vehicles, and removing dead bodies from the battlefield. Illness and inaccessibility to medical attention is another risk the detainees face in the centers. Since 2018, around 25 people are known to have died of tuberculosis and other illnesses in Zintan.

“I was held in a detention centre in Libya. So many people there are sick, most have tuberculosis. There is no medical treatment available. We would see people dying every day. At least two to three people each day. They took some people, at least 50 and said they would take them for treatment…but they never came back. We don’t know if they are alive or not. The people have no access to sunlight or to fresh air. Me, I did not go outdoors from 2017 until now. My sisters, they are still there. It hurts me inside.” - [Eritrean man evacuated from Libya by UNHCR, 2019]

Direct causes of death during travel include sickness and lack of access to medicine, starvation, dehydration, lack of adequate shelter, abuse, and vehicle accidents. 

“They would give us a little water only once in the morning. They would beat us to rush us, saying there are thieves and bandits on the way. Our brothers would fall and die of thirst. You just leave them there. There are times when you don’t even bury them properly. This is a fact, because we dumped many of our brothers and sisters on the way. The Sahara is difficult.” - [Kidane from Eritrea, interviewed by Telling the Real Story, 2019]

Out of desperation, these refugees and migrants submit themselves to the worst possible conditions any human could ever withstand. The blatant disregard for human lives is too commonly ignored, and as a result, suffering ensues. Raising awareness about the horror they are forced to endure is crucial in order to push our governments to increase international aid and advocate for the lives of fellow human beings. They have lost hope, in all its meaning. As Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said, “To live without hope, is to cease to live.” 



Thousands of refugees and migrants suffer extreme rights abuses on journeys to Africa’s Mediterranean coast, new UNHCR/MMC report shows

Abuse, protection, and justice along routes between East and West Africa and Africa’s Mediterranean coast 

Tuesday, November 17, 2020


Wirecard - Who’s at fault?

By Shayan Siddiqui 

August 19th, 2020, marked Wirecard’s delisting from Germany’s prestigious DAX index as it filed for insolvency. This should mark the end of the rather spectacular downfall of what was Germany’s premier fintech company engaged in the largest fraud since Enron and the largest in German history.

How did they get away with it for so long?

How Wirecard got away with its web of deception for so long is a multifaceted affair. To delve into the factors that contributed to this affair, we will be assessing the government, accounting, and internal factors mainly at play.

It was easy to see that Wirecard did have the support of the German government in some regard. This company was Germany’s response to Silicon Valley. At its peak, Wirecard was one of Germany’s most valuable firms, with shares trading at near 200 Euros and a market capitalization of 24 Billion Euros. Much like Elon Musk, the firm was quite hostile towards short sellers.  After a bombshell Financial Times (FT) article was published, Wirecard said all claims of fraud were baseless. The topic of Wirecard fraud became more worrying when the FT published a follow-up article with more evidence claiming even more fraud, money laundering, and a whole host of other financial wrongdoings. As a result of this, BaFin, the German financial regulators banned all short selling of Wirecard for two months. The situation became even more concerning when German authorities launched a full-blown investigation into the two FT journalists responsible for the stories, claiming that they met with short-sellers and published articles in order to manipulate the market. These charges have since been dropped, but what has been revealed was that German authorities were so fiercely supportive of Wirecard that their judgment was clouded. The implication of the government's support is a highly polarizing issue as Germany prepares to elect a new Chancellor; this includes the SPD’s choice of candidate, Olaf Schultz, who was the finance minister when this scandal came to light. The political effects of the Wirecard scandal will come to light once the election results are in.

Now we have the accounting side of it all.  The house of cards started to crumble once KPMG’s special report came out, claiming multiple irregularities. Why were these irregularities not found out earlier? For all of Wirecard’s history, the accounting firm Ernst & Young (EY) did the books.  Up until 2020, none of the reports they released highlighted any irregularities, but the story behind these reports questioned why they did not find any. In 2016, a whistleblower came forward to EY, pointing out irregularities in Wirecard’s acquisition of multiple firms in India. Along with this, it was discovered that auditors were offered bribes in India. This really raises the question of why EY did not investigate the Wirecard.  Certified accountants have a responsibility to serve the public interest and maintain trust in the profession. Letting fraud go undetected certainly undermines both those objectives. We know from KPMG’s forensic audit that the special audit that EY planned to do was shut down by Wirecard executive Jan Marsalek, who is now a fugitive on Interpol’s most-wanted list. Why did this not raise any alarm bells at EY? It would suggest some complacency at best and participation at worst in the fraud. EY has now been sued for accounting fraud, so it is only a matter of time until the truth comes to light.

The way Wirecard interacted with investors was interesting. They tried to play off what they were doing by claiming it was very complicated and could not be understood, so they urged others to just trust the financials they gave them. In reality, the figures that were presented were most likely false. By the end of it, after their fraud was revealed, 1.9 billion euros were missing from their accounts. Prosecutors in Germany suspect Wirecard was looted by its members, as several loans were given to companies overseas that had ties to Wirecard board members. The people who lost the most from this fraud were the investors. Wirecard is insolvent with 3.4 billion euros of debt. SoftBank has taken a one billion dollar loss from investment in Wirecard. Commerzbank, ABN Amro, ING, and DBBW have a joint two billion line of credit to Wirecard that has been 90% used. Each of their exposure stands at 200 million euros. However, the group that has been hurt the most are the individual investors, the ones saving for retirement, education for their children, or for financial freedom. These banks can stand to take a hit in the millions to billions of euros; the average person can’t see one of the components of their portfolio become 0 euros from 200 or even from 100 euros. The need for greater checks and balances in the European security market is coming too late for some. The EU has promised an investigation into BaFin, and FREP, a private-sector watchdog that regulates accounting firms.  In the future, we will most likely see a stronger involvement of the EU regulatory body on securities regulation as so far, local regulating bodies have restricted it. 

This most likely won’t be the last major fraud to happen in the investment world. The need for regulation to protect investors is paramount to instill market confidence. We most likely won’t see a hot German stock pick for a while as investors try to gain confidence in the German or even European markets again. As always, before investment, make sure to analyze a company's financials and any news coming out in order to prevent exposure to fraud.


Wirecard collapses into insolvency

Wirecard scandal will drive supervision overhaul, says EU economy chief

Prosecutors suspect Wirecard was looted before collapse

Accountant Responsibility

Whistleblower warned EY of Wirecard fraud four years before collapse

Wirecard: the scandal spreads to German politics

Wirecard scandal

Wirecard fallout: a history of corporate deception

Wirecard scandal drives German coalition to tighter oversight

EY sued over Wirecard audit after management board comes under investigation

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

30 Years of Reunification

30 Years of Reunification 

By: Karina Zybaczynski

The victory of freedom or hostile takeover - what unites Germany and what still divides them 

“Germany, an economic and political colossus in the heart of Europe, was reborn today on the stroke of midnight as a single country after more than 45 years of division. More than a million people  witnessed the historic end of two separate German states as the Federal Republic’s black, red and gold  flag, complete with rampant eagle, was brought in by 20 young people from both parts of Berlin and  raised on a special flagstaff in front of the Reichstag, dedicated To The German People” 

[“The Guardian” - 10/03/1990] 


Thirty years later, the German reunification has been a resounding success as East Germans were freed from the yoke of communism. In three decades, the new liberated Germany has been a steady and pragmatic presence on the European scene. It has championed the expansion of the European Union to the east, including formerly communist nations such as Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania, and has pioneered the creation of one single European currency, the euro. It has powered solid and constant growth across the continent and, more visibly, throughout the European Union.  

As Germany approached the 30-year mark since reunification on Saturday, October 3rd, government officials and dignitaries praised East and West for how both have grown together. But, despite all rapprochement, there is still a significant political gap between the two parts of the country, and this East-West schism shows to this day.

The East-West Schism after the Fall of the Berlin Wall

The narrative that the East turned its back on everything political as a result of disappointments in the 1990s and is, therefore, less interested in politics than the West has been empirically refuted. The East proves that comparatively, low voter turnout is no evidence of political disinterest; on the contrary,  East Germans are anything but apolitical, and they often express their opinions and demands  "unconventionally", as a study by the Center for Social Research in Halle shows. 

Shortly after 1990, the level of classical political participation in the East was high, driven by the mobilization of the turning point. But then, as is well known, a historic economic collapse occurred from which the region was not able to recover for a long time. "There is currently no evidence of a turnaround in the East," wrote German newspaper Der Spiegel in April 1991. Millions of people were affected by the collapse of the East German economy and the loss of their jobs. The immediate consequence of the unification crisis was a feeling of injustice. Justice was and is always a central topic of conversation in everyday life. It is frequently combined with the accusation that the life achievements of those who had to spend decades in the GDR are not properly appreciated. In addition, there was the demotion of many working women to housewives, the loneliness of the SED (The Social Unity Party of Germany - Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands)  victims and other fates. For many people, the social awakening and democratic liberation were coupled with enormous disappointments and great uncertainty. Some of these were shocking experiences that touched almost every family in East Germany. 

The common view of post-wall Germany is that what had been presented as a reunification became a de facto annexation. West Germany was only prepared to incorporate the five eastern regions on its own terms; East German social models and structures were considered dysfunctional or outmoded – the  West had all the answers. The people who criticize the reunification often have the feeling that social change broke over them without their being able to help shape it. That is why today if you simplify it,  these two perspectives stand opposite each other: the reunification as a success story and the malicious takeover of the east by the west. 

In an interview conducted by “Der Spiegel”, German sociologist and head of the research project "The  Controversial Legacy of 1989" Alexander Leistner offered some insight into how East Germans look back on the reunification; “these are two highly condensed narratives about extremely complex events.  They make history more tangible, but in some cases, they also reflect individual experiences. As early as the 1990s, negative terms such as crisis, bankruptcy, and even colonization appeared in connection  with the fall of the Wall, even from people whose existence was damaged by reunification.” 

Regarding why many people still find it difficult to understand the fall of 1989 as a complex historical process that simple explanations do not do justice to, Leistner believes that “simplifying narratives get caught, also in terms of politics of memory. In reunified Germany, efforts are still being made to overload 1989 as an identity-creating moment. In ceremonial speeches and exhibitions in the public debate with the GDR, people perceive 1989 as an act of self-liberation and as a completed process. An extremely shortened narrative, because for many people it was not always a success story, nor was it completed. The individual biographical catastrophes to which the collapse of the GDR led was not recognized for a long time, sometimes even stigmatized”. 

What many West Germans fail to recognize to this day: In the West, only little has changed as a result of reunification, in contrast to almost everything in the East. Because of this non-simultaneity, there are completely different memories between West and East. 

The empathic West German view is still missing, there is a lack of understanding to recognize that the first experiences with the West German democratic society were not all positive for many East  Germans. Many people in the West still do not understand the shock of the almost lightning-fast transformation that hit the East Germans. To this day, however, one can still hear accusations of ingratitude to the East Germans in the West.

"Midnight Heralds the Rebirth of Germany"

“Many decades of multi-layered history rolled away at midnight when the bell peeled for a new  Germany. It is almost three decades since the building of the Wall, four since the final breakdown of postwar Allied co-operation, five since the first air raids on the German capital and six since Hitler began his political Battle for Berlin. A multitude of walls are being demolished today between divided communities; but it is Berlin which, for the most obvious historical reasons, grips our imagination”  (The Guardian, October 3rd, 1990). 

The reunification of Germany signified, for many, a new beginning, a clean slate for Germany to thrive as a single European nation, not a spoil of war for the United States and the USSR. The most renowned symbol of the East-West schism and a key part of the legacy of the Cold War in Germany, the Berlin  Wall, fell quite as unexpectedly as it had appeared. The swift downfall of the German Democratic  Republic was triggered by the visible decay of the other communist regimes in eastern Europe and the  Soviet Union. The liberalizing reforms of President Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union appalled the GDR regime, which in desperation was, by 1988, forbidding the circulation within East Germany of Soviet publications that it viewed as dangerously subversive. The Berlin Wall was in effect breached in the summer of 1989 when a reformist Hungarian government began allowing East Germans to escape to the West through Hungary’s newly opened border with Austria. By the fall, thousands of East  Germans had followed this route, while thousands of others sought asylum in the West German embassies in Prague and Warsaw, demanding that they be allowed to emigrate to West Germany.  

45 years after the split that separated families and siblings, October 3rd, 1990 signified, as it has been put by some, the “rebirth” of Germany and the reunion of the German people. Breaking the barrier imposed for almost half a century and emerging as an economic power on the European continent has been one of the most astonishing achievements of Germany - and one of the most burning wishes of all formerly communist nations.  

Once the European Union began its expansion, the geopolitics of Europe changed quite dramatically;  from foreign and internal policy mainly influenced by France, the EU’s policies shifted towards a more  “German” approach. The reasons why this shift happened were due to the relatively recently gained centrality of Germany in the EU, as the enlargement placed Germany at the geographic heart of the Union; furthermore, a centrality has been identified also from a political and diplomatic point of view (Willy Brandt’s “Ostpolitik” is usually cited as the primary evidence that Germany has been at the center of the East-West relations and of the dialogue of the East-West détante). Some are afraid of the “German hegemony”, primarily because of the predominance of Germany in many aspects:  demographic, economic, and financial. Germany has always had a cult of stability and austerity, and it has sacrificed many elements of national pride in order to assume its role as a strong European country (the Deutschmark is one of the most prominent examples, as it signified the post-war success of the  German nation).  

Many heads of state feared the unification of Germany; Margaret Thatcher and Giulio Andreotti were openly opposed to the reunification of East and West Germany, while François Mitterrand, although sharing their worries, accepted it as inevitable. Giulio Andreotti is even thought to have said that “he loved Germany so much, he preferred it when there were two of them”.  

It is, indeed, a well-known fact that, once Germany was reunited, it held significantly more power and had a much more important say in the European political scene. The fears of the leaders of the most influential countries of the European continent that Germany, now holding as much power as France,  could shape Europe in its own, distinct way, were founded. Now, many people consider that Germany is the most powerful European nation and some even fear the prospect of German hegemony in the European Union. The political and ideological divide between East and West, which has kept Germany and its people apart for the better part of the Cold War, can still be felt nowadays, as the German nation bears to this day the painful scars of communism. However, many argue that the willpower of the  Germans and their ironclad determination has greatly contributed to overcoming the chasm between East and West during the last 30 years. Dividing Germany has always been seen as a political weapon to prevent the rise of another influential state in Europe but, despite all efforts made towards turning Germany into a second-tier nation in Europe, we are now witnessing the indisputable predominance of  Germany in numerous aspects in European politics and geopolitics. 

Was Germany truly reborn that night? Has Germany risen from its own ashes or is it simply reminiscing upon its past glory? Only time will tell, but the story of East and West becoming one again after almost half a century of communist influence still resonates throughout the Eastern, post-communist nations who are still struggling to overcome their complexes. The enlargement of the European Union has offered former communist nations a chance to follow in the footsteps of Germany - but is Germany’s post-communist story one of success or is it rather still a tale of divide? 


The Guardian, archive, “German Reunification October 1990”, (German reunification:  together into the great unknown - archive, October 1990),

David Gow, “Midnight heralds the rebirth of Germany”, October 3, 1990  o Editorial: Together into the great unknown, October 3, 1990  

Anna Tomforde, “After unity, Germans face fight for inner reunification”, October 3, 1990

Deutsche Welle, “German Unity Day: Steinmeier hails 'joy and courage'”, published  on October 3, 2020, (German Unity Day: Steinmeier  hails 'joy and courage'

Natalia Liubchenkova,, “German Reunification: archive pictures show  Unity Day as it happened 30 years ago”, published on October 3, 2020, 2020, (German Reunification: archive pictures show Unity Day as it  happened 30 years ago)  

The Economist, “Thirty years after reunification, Germany is shouldering more  responsibility”, published on October 3, 2020, (Thirty  years after reunification, Germany is shouldering more responsibility

Kate Connolly, The Guardian, “German reunification 25 years on: how different are  east and west really”, published on October 2, 2015, (German reunification 25 years on: how different are east and west really)  

Hanz Omar Sayami , Guido Grigat , Frank Kalinowski and Benjamin Bidder, Der  Spiegel, “Was die Deutschen heute eint - und was sie noch immer trennt” (What  unites Germans today - and what still divides them), September 13, 2020, (Was die  Deutschen eint - und was sie noch immer trennt - DER SPIEGEL - Wirtschaft)  

Joachim Mohr, Der Spiegel, “"Erst rauschhafter Aufbruch, dann radikaler Absturz"”  ("First an intoxicating departure, then a radical crash") - interview with Alexander  Leistner, published on October 3, 2020, (Wiedervereinigung: "Erst rauschhafter Aufbruch, dann radikaler Absturz" - DER  SPIEGEL)  

Constantin Eckner, Der Spiegel, “Wie politisch ist der Osten?” (How political is the  east?), published on October 3, 2020, (Deutsche  Einheit: Wie politisch ist der Osten? - DER SPIEGEL - Politik)  

Der Spiegel, “Eine Industrieregion zerbricht” (An industrial region falls apart),  published on April 15, 1991, (Eine Industrieregion  zerbricht - DER SPIEGEL 16/1991)  

Karl-Dieter Opp, Helga Sievers, “Politische Partizipation in Ostdeutschland”,  (Politische Partizipation in Ostdeutschland merkel 

Marcel Fürstenau, Deutsche Welle, “Germany faces old problems 30 years after  reunification”, published on October 3, 2020,  (Germany faces old problems 30 years after reunification)  

Britannica, “Germany - The reunification of Germany”,  (Germany - The reunification of Germany)

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