REFUGEE POLITICS

A Fallen Guardian Angel

Berlin, Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel (CDU) empfängt am Montag (27.10.2014) die Präsidentin der Republik Chile, Michelle Bachelet, mit militärischen Ehren.
A chancellor in trouble.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Growing opposition to welcoming refugees in Germany is forcing the chancellor to reconsider the open door and open borders.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Germany came across as harsh for its tough stance in the euro-zone bailouts. But in its charity to hundreds of thousands of refugees, it earned admiration from many.
    • Chancellor Merkel posed for selfies with young migrants outside a refugee camp, and the welcoming images went viral.
    • One of her biggest critic has been Horst Seehofer, head of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Ms. Merkel’s CDU.
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    Audio

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The chancellor is toning down her “friendly face” approach to refugees flooding Europe and Germany. The smiling selfies taken with young refugees are old news. Now Angela Merkel, who famously declared last year that “we can do it,” must say precisely what her country can actually do.

She might be on a first-name basis with her refugees, but now is the time for straight talking. She doesn’t use the German formal “you,” but rather the informal, like a German teacher speaking to her students. You go back “to your homeland with the knowledge you have gained from us” – victory and peace assumed.

The “guardian angel” chancellor is a thing of the past.

We can be strong in embracing refugees, and also super cool in saying goodbye.

But the chancellor’s latest statement is a only soapbox speech directed at her own people. Germany is a “strong country,” she assures: We can be strong in embracing refugees, and also super cool in saying goodbye.

The master of the bold about-face has taken a new leading position. She is playing the anti-hero. Whether or not she is, we won’t know until it’s over.

At any rate, it’s about time to bring the welcome story of the friendly world power, Germany, up to date.

The chancellor trusted her fellow citizens could be capable of “longing for diversity,” when she introduced her heroic “friendly face” epic onto the political stage. “Friendly face” soundbites chattered across the international media.

Baffled commentators were caught between what seemed a powerfully historic act by the head of German government, and the tabloid feeling behind the metaphor. Even her daring threat — if Germany turned away refugees, “then that’s not my country” — was deemed the profession of a passionate heart.

It was believed that the “Untouchable One’s” heartbeat was finally being felt. The cost-cutting commissar had fled the steppes of euro-zone bailout packages and was surprising everyone with an emotional flight into international territory.

There was hardly any time to be amazed by her virtuoso shift in roles. Cheek-to-cheek in selfies with young strangers from nowhere, Chancellor Merkel, the antihero, was flying around the world by cell phone.

And over and over again, her rather awkward sentences strengthened trust in her skill as a statesman. “Every person who comes to us is a human being,” she pronounced, plain and unadorned, the way Germans like it.

Only one of those among the heads of the German federal states thought open borders could be dangerous. But Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer — head of the Christian Social Union, sister party to the chancellor’s conservative CDU — only provided incidental noise to the welcoming euphoria by the good citizens of Germany.

Freed from infighting in the European Union over vile money, Germany celebrated a long-deprived triumph of charity — not toward those nearest in the euro zone, but those farthest away, fleeing war and tragedy in the Middle East. Ms. Merkel’s casual mention that she had “a plan” was lost in the excitement of the party. Who asks about plans when the party is still going on?

The media celebrated the metamorphosis — from the stern taskmaster of indebted southern Europeans to warm-hearted host to hundreds of thousands of people from far-away cultures. The chancellor emphasized how it was the destiny of these powerless to seize power.

She let it be known that God had pushed this agenda onto our table. So then: Is it God’s plan, and not Ms. Merkel’s project on the path to world power?

Bringing God strategically into play was a gambit reminiscent of Lloyd Blankfein, the head of Goldman Sachs who, in the hurricane of scathing criticism during the financial crisis, explained the big Wall Street bank’s metaphysical mandate like this: “We do God’s work.” Mr. Blankfein, it should be noted, is still in his post today.

So now, is the refugee crisis not a matter of “loss of control” but rather of creative destruction?  Are open borders a vent for global draft? Do radical policies steamroll over old sets of rules and regulations to create room for innovation?

Back at the turn of the millennium, Angela Merkel had announced the modernization of the party that she had, by chance, ended up in.

As an antihero, she took the crown as “Queen of Refugees” to show German citizens that their homeland is multinational ground. And Germany celebrated itself as such.

“You know me,” was the chancellor’s campaign refrain leading up to the 2013 elections. No heckler interrupted with a “No.” That is how the chancellor’s incognito works.

 

Fleeing to Germany-01 refugees asylum seekers

 

But who really knows her plans? Since the euro crisis, Ms. Merkel has been disarming her public with a simple declaration: “No alternative.” Her recipe for success is authoritarian and keeping far from the truth — and many Germans like that.

But “no alternative” is a command. It says debating is useless. What will happen, will happen. The strong remain in the game. The Putins, the Erdogans, the Orbáns, and the Assads. Whoever lives in the camp of the peace-lovers has only one possibility of forcing them all into unaccustomed partnerships, by the radicalization of peacefulness.

Thus the chancellor secured for herself the only empty spot in the pantheon of world powers by grinding and razing Europe’s set of regulations in the name of humanity. Those who sensed the dilemma were invited to the “welcome party,” to party away the doubt.

Since she is taking a huge chance, the chancellor has constantly avoided explaining her plans before she went to work.

The destruction of democracy’s body of legislation and standards was always the collateral damage that no one recognized in time. Values were constantly falling with the standards. This can best be obscured when the subject being acted on is the core of values in the conscience of the society in which one is acting. For Germany, the conscience beats for the value of human rights. Ms. Merkel seized the opportunity.

What happens with the invasion of the helpless is HER game – still. Putin, Erdogan and Assad are now allowed to deliver and are being paid for that. They deliver to the land of smiles and are enjoying their upgrading as players in the kingdom of the peace loving.

The dissolution of Europe’s boundaries is complete. Now new deals are being negotiated. Whoever takes back people from our stock of guests gets a bonus.

Is someone there saying “human trafficking”? It has nothing to do with trafficking in humans. The “welcome” project is being seamlessly followed by the “returning home” project.

What the homesick lament as “loss of control” was the first chapter in the process of creative destruction. Whoever wants control on a global-political scale must break open national boundaries, according to Ms. Merkel’s plan.

Chapter Two was the utopian story of European consensus: management by disagreement as decelerator of the upheaval in the eye of the beholder.

But European consensus was destroyed in the euro bailout crisis. Who is surprised at the revenge of the subjugated southern states of Europe? Young people without hope in Greece, Portugal and Spain have never seen the “friendly face” of Ms. Merkel, the cost-cutting commissar. Her smile was reserved for far-off cultures.

The territory where entire nations were encouraged to set out for Germany is no longer nationally defined. The chancellor represents a new understanding of history. Changing Germany has been on the chancellor’s agenda since taking office. Now she is focusing on one subject, which is meant to make her invulnerable.

Without rival, she stands for the greatest good — human dignity. The army of refugees reflects her power. But the logic of failure runs alongside. Even the greatest good is subject to the human scale.

And the master of about-face is reacting. She has changed course. The turning maneuver is in progress. The deckchairs are being reshuffled. No one ever really saw the sun of the German welcome story anyway.

Now the story is being rewritten. The smile of the benefactress has frozen. It is no longer a matter of the fate of the guests but rather the future of the hostess.

The humanitarian super power Germany outshines all the rogue states. The right of the stronger has a new quality. Germany is presenting itself as the world power in human rights.

After saving people, it is now a matter of saving the hostess. The about-face story takes over where the welcome story left off. The smile of the hostess is extinguished.

The famous migration researcher, Paul Collier, says from Oxford that her invitation brought death to a number of “refuge-seekers” in the Aegean. Collateral damage of a winner’s story?

“Germany obviously likes the savior role,” said Mr. Collier. “(But) Germany has saved not a single Syrian. On the contrary, Germany, despite your best intentions, is instead responsible for deaths.”

The best of intentions are now also supposed to be applied in the opposite direction. We high-achievers in the kingdom of good intentions can do both, give a welcome and say goodbye. We are pros in human rights.

 

The author can be reached at gastautor@handelsblatt.com

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