A distinctive light on the inner state of Germany

by Karl Müller

In the past two weeks, three events have shed a distinctive light on the state of things in Germany and the bearing of the country’s political class. The first was the result of three state elections on 13 March, the second the EU-Turkey summit on 17 and 18 March… and the third was the Leipzig Book Fair, 17-20 March.

The state elections in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt have led to shifts in the votes hitherto unknown in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. A new party, the “Alternative für Deutschland” AfD (Alternative for Germany), has entered all three State Parliaments for the first time. It won 15.1% of the votes in Baden-Wuerttemberg, 12.6% in Rhineland-Palatinate and 24.2% in Saxony-Anhalt. In Baden-Wuerttemberg and in Saxony-Anhalt the new party received more votes than the SPD (Social Democratic Party).

Elections in three federal states

In a democracy one might assume that after such a result the other parties would start to wonder their politics went wrong and how they could more reflect the will of the voters of the new party. Far from it: Grotesquely, the first reactions of the other parties were that they felt confirmed in their politics. This even included statements that the large majority of the voters had fully confirmed the chancellor’s migration politics which are, with some restrictions, also the migration politics of SPD, the Green Party and Die Linke (The Left). Only the CSU saw this differently, however, theirs was also an emphasis on self-praise – after all they had been warning of the chancellor’s misdirected migration politics for a long time.
The question what the AfD’s voters really wanted did not play a role, just the appeal to lead the lost and confused AfD voters back to the path of the politically correct parties. For a long time, the position that these citizens “had fears” which had to be cured by “education”, has been repeated again and again. There was no consideration that there might have been factual reasons for their vote against the current parties.
This reminds me of the end of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). While many people were fleeing from the GDR to the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), there was no self-criticism in the GDR leadership. But on 2 October 1989 we could read in the SED’s [the GDR’s leading party’s] newspaper “Neues Deutschland” about these people: “They all have treated our moral values with contempt, ostracizing themselves from our society. We should not shed any tears for them.”
Is there now a fundamental difference from the hateful style in which the propaganda machine of the government and Angela Merkel’s mantra “Wir schaffen das” [we can handle it] denounce their opponents? This perfidity is even bigger than during the final days of the GDR – also due to the still unbowed will to power, the application of all kinds of mechanisms of maintaining power and the backing from the power beyond the Atlantic. The polarization of the German society has progressed far; the country’s citizens are fragmented in many respects.

EU-Turkey summit

On 18 March, the EU government heads and the Turkish Prime Minister have agreed on a common declaration. In the German leading media, this declaration has been described as mostly successful, containing only a few points open to criticism. It has also been described as mostly a success for Angela Merkel and her politics. However, it is worthwhile to study this declaration (http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2016/03/18-eu-turkey-statement/) in detail and to think about its consequences. The declaration contains many critical points so that it can already be claimed that it is not solving problems but rather adding new ones.
One example: the declaration has little to do with our legal principles. Thus, point 1 of the declaration stipulates: “All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey.” This is actually a matter of course and coincides with current law; we are dealing with “irregular” migrants and one may ask why this has not been practiced before. Or, in other words: Why is the German government continuously polemicizing against those who speak about breaches of migration law if they are now so openly admitted? Point 2 of the declaration also adds: “For every Syrian being returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU [...]”. In plain text this means: For each migrant from Syria coming to Greece illegally, one Syrian from a Turkish refugee camp is allowed to immigrate to the EU, not for a limited period but permanently. The crucial word is “resettlement”. We could also say: Turkey is rewarded for its breach of law. But even if we overlook this violation, hoping that this might decisively reduce the number of migrants, we are surprised by a further reading of point 2. The “human trafficking” with Turkey in 2016 has an upper limit to the sum of 72,000. They should be shared among all EU states, excluding Hungary and Slovakia. But what is this figure, compared to the 1.1 million migrants who came to Germany in 2015 alone… and the 60 million people who are on the move. And the provision is only valid for Syrians. Nothing is arranged for the other countries.

“Protected zone” – what for?

Highly problematic is the last point of the agreement: “The EU and its Member States will work with Turkey in any joint endeavour to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria, in particular in certain areas near the Turkish border which would allow for the local population and refugees to live in areas which will be safer.” For a long time, the Turkish government has been demanding so-called “protected zones” on Syrian territory along the common border. The purpose of this became obvious in the last months: military action against the Kurds living in the area. Is the EU now going to support this? And of course it is not a question if the Syrian government would agree to these “protected zones”. Is international law to be ignored again?
These references regarding the problematic content of the agreement between the EU and Turkey should suffice. Much more important is another aspect: the unanimous adulation for the German Chancellor and her migration politics ignoring all facts. Just as a reminder: The fact that the number of migrants coming to Germany has actually dropped during the past weeks has not been caused by the Federal Government’s politics but by the governments which are being harshly criticized by Angela Merkel, that is, the Balkan states which have closed their borders to Greece.
And: the problem of a mass migration of 60 million people can indeed not be solved by a single state, and also not by the EU. Neither a German “Welcoming Culture” nor a “Fortress Europe” will offer a solution. The problem is concerning the global community as a whole. Peace and justice? Or moving on with globalization, imperialism and war – and millions of migrants? We cannot do justice to this topic here.

Not just “Café Europe” at the Leipzig Book Fair

Leipzig Book Fair: under the headline “Europe 21. Area of reflection regarding the society of tomorrow” the German Robert Bosch Stiftung, the direction of the Leipzig Book Fair and the German Foreign Office were offering a number of events on questions on “migration and integration” in the “Café Europe”, which was established for this purpose. Those who expected an open forum for discussions were disappointed. The spokesmen of the political class were among themselves. The enemy stereotypes were unambiguous: all those who were criticising the German Chancellor’s mantra, all those who stick to the idea of sovereign or democratic nation states… and – who would be surprised – Russia. Nicely fitting into this setting was the announcement that this year’s “Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding” was awarded to the intellectual prototype of the German Transatlantic, Heinrich August Winkler, for his work “History of the West”. One might wonder about the connections between transatlantic ties, migration politics and enemy stereotype Russia. But these questions were not asked in the “Café Europe”. It would have put the inquirer among the enemies.
However, also this year the Book Fair, with its 2000 exhibitors beyond the questionable “manga” youth cult, some 3,500 readings, talks and discussions and its nearly 200,000 visitors was a place for meeting people and for open and free conversation. Attempts from influential circles, ahead of the Fair, for censorship against a German political magazine (Compact) were justifiably rejected by the Fair’s direction pointing out the freedoms of opinion and press. The price for this was some broken windows in one of the exhibition halls and loud bawling next to the booth of the magazine mentioned. The majority of visitors and the majority of citizens, however, do not want to be associated with these kinds of methods. More than ever the people appreciate equal, open and free conversations on an honest and well-founded basis. This is a chance for our country.    •