Category Archives: Berlin

How the Berlin Christmas market terror attack affects Chancellor Merkel and Europe

Image 20170103 18679 1fols96.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1Italian police at a press conference after Berlin attacker was killed in Italy.
AP Photo/Luca Bruno

Johanna Schuster-Craig, Michigan State University

Germany is recovering from one of the most deadly terrorist attacks since the 1980 bombing at Munich’s Oktoberfest.

On Dec. 19, 12 people were killed when Anis Amri, a Tunisian citizen who had claimed allegiance to the Islamic State, killed a Polish truck driver and then drove his truck into a Christmas market in Berlin. Three days later, Italian police discovered Amri during a routine police search. When he was asked for identification he opened fire, and was killed by police.

In an age where radical Islamic terrorism is seen as a global threat, every attack can be used to make political arguments. As an American scholar of German studies with a focus on the political attention given to Muslim populations, I believe that the impact of the attack in Berlin will be felt in two political arenas. One is domestic: How will this most recent act of terror from a criminal asylum-seeker affect Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reelection campaign? The other is international: In the context of a divided Europe, how will Merkel’s European partners react?

Merkel’s open border policy

Merkel’s decision to open the borders in September 2015 to refugees trying to reach Germany has been both praised as a humanitarian gesture and widely criticized, even within her own party. Many on the right see refugee resettlement as a threat to German identity and security.

In the week after the Berlin attack, however, the Frankfurt General Newspaper published the results of a voter survey conducted by the Forsa Institute, a prominent polling firm. A majority of the Germans polled (68 percent) saw no relationship between Merkel’s refugee politics and the attack in Berlin. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed did believe, however, that terrorism and security would play a large role in this year’s upcoming federal elections, as Merkel is seeking a fourth term.

The far-right Alternative for Germany party lost no time pointing fingers at Merkel just minutes after the attack. Markus Pretzell, a representative of the group in the European Parliament, tweeted that the victims killed were “Merkel’s dead!”

Horst Seehofer, the head of the Christian Social Union in the province of Bavaria, struck a more tactful tone. Seehofer declared that “we owe it to the victims, to those affected and to the entire population to rethink and adjust our entire immigration and security policy.” Seehofer was quickly reprimanded for using a national tragedy to politicize Merkel’s decision in an op-ed from Peter Dausend in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit.

What effect will this event have on German politics? Various commentators suggest that most Germans are resistant to political panic. An article from Der Spiegel, published two days after the attack and widely circulated on social media, compared German, French and American responses to terrorist attacks. Americans, the authors argued, rebel against terror. The French remind themselves of their republicanism by singing the Marseillaise especially loudly. Berliners? They react as they always do: by showing themselves to be “completely unfazed.”

Merkel shines under pressure

German Chancellor Angela Merkel after her annual New Year’s speech.
AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, Pool

The same poll asked Germans if a debate about security would serve Merkel well in the coming elections. Only 17 percent said yes. And yet, it is in times of insecurity and uncertainty that Merkel appears most poised and most committed to both liberal democracy and a united Europe.

After the perpetrator of the Christmas attacks was caught, Merkel gave a five-minute press conference during which she thanked the Italian police and criminal justice system. She wished a speedy recovery to the Italian police officer who was shot by the terrorist. Finally, she also thanked all of the international partners who continue to work together and who helped bring the attacker to justice.

“Terrorism challenges all of us,” Merkel said. She added, “We feel the global solidarity of our friends across the world and you should know how deeply we also mourn your victims.” She reassured Italians and Poles that Germans mourn the life of the Italian woman killed in the attacks, as well as the life of the Polish truck driver. These statements were carefully crafted to position Germany as part of the European Union and as both dependent on and confident in European cooperation.

Not everyone shares Merkel’s vision of a united Europe. Challenges to the EU come from parties and politicians to Merkel’s right who position themselves against the European Union, such as the Alternative for Germany party. European politicians can also be quick to criticize the Schengen Agreement, which permits free movement across internal European borders, as insecure.

Various political camps in France have criticized Merkel’s decision to open the borders in light of the most recent attack. French Republican candidate for president Francois Fillon, for instance, reproached Merkel for having underestimated the threat of radical Islamists. This reproach – echoed by far-right leaders in France’s National Front – may be a way of deflecting embarrassment that Amri traveled through France without detection on his way to Italy.

Like most heads of state, Merkel gave a short televised New Year’s address on Dec. 31. She declared Islamic terrorism to be the most difficult test of contemporary society. But she also criticized the efforts of the far right across Europe to undermine liberal democracy. Questioning achievements like a united Europe or parliamentary democracy, as the far right does, creates “distorted images,” she said.

The ConversationShe called on Germans to strengthen democracy, admonishing those who believe that a “prosperous future” could ever be found in going it alone as a nation: “Where…Europe is challenged as a whole, Europe must also find answers as a whole – irrespective of how tedious and tough it is.”

Johanna Schuster-Craig, Assistant Professor of German and Global Studies, Michigan State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Protests in Berlin

Berliners have been demonstrating today against the conditions at a registration point for refugees in their city. Tim Lüddeman (@timluedde) tweeted this composite image and a link to photos of the demonstration for non-commercial purposes with the hashtag #EsReicht (Enough!) that was the slogan of the demonstration, along with #LeGeSo, the German abbreviation for Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales (Provincial Office for Health and Social Concerns, much like the DHHS in the US).

The LaGeSo offices have been criticized for long wait times, ineptitude and the development of a black market around the selling of paper numbers designed to create order in serving those waiting. On October 6, 2015 ZDF broadcast alarming images of mass stampedes outside the office, with hundreds of young men in hoodies and jeans pushing each other to try and get access to the building in the darkness of early morning.

 

On October 8, 2015, Michel Friedman investigated LaGeSo on his television program on n-24, the German CNN-style 24-hour news channel. Die Welt has posted what seems to be an excerpt of this report on their website with commentary (Trigger warning for this video: Footage of near attempted suicide as protest). According to this article in Die Welt, over 18,000 refugees have arrived in Berlin since the beginning of September, when Merkel declared open borders. Homeless, without financial support, and understandably frustrated and angry, the young men featured in this video are spending their evenings sleeping in parks; their days standing in line for their numbers to flash on a large screen. From the hats and coats in the photographs of the demonstration, it is visibly cold. Winter is coming – and yet, their numbers don’t appear. Jaafar’s VLOG presents a calmer journalistic take on the conditions.

Four days ago, 20 refugees started a lawsuit against the LaGeSo. According to updates posted by rbb (Radio Berlin-Brandenburg), that number has climbed to 50. These refugees do not have lawyers, but are being supported by the initiative known as “Moabit Helps!” Moabit, the district where LaGeSo is located, hosted several anti-PEGIDA demonstrations this past summer – demos which took place in the Turmstraße, where a large park served as a gathering place. Protestors are frustrated with the incompetence of Mario Czaja, a CDU politician who serves as the Sozialsenator (Senator for Social Affairs and Health). Czaja previously faced controversy in 2006 when Spiegel Online noticed that his purported degree in economics actually came from a university known as a degree mill. He was required to step down from – yes – his post on the Research and Science committee. Protesters today began to chant “Mario Czaja, Enough is Enough!”:

As a continuation of the protest, a 30km long candlelight vigil was planned for this evening. Some reports are stating 7-8,000 people have shown up. Critics point to the holes in the chain; PEGIDA’s recent demonstrations have supposedly gathered 10,000.  Still: the images are haunting, like this one from the far eastern suburb of Kaulsdorf:

Germany’s refugee crisis is producing two distinct political struggles: first there are the refugees, whose struggle in this humanitarian crisis for humane treatment seems endlessly traumatizing and often remains elusive. Last night at midnight, for instance, Hungary succeeded in sealing its border to Croatia to hinder refugees from entering their country; tonight, despite the protest, I suspect that refugees will still be sleeping in the cold in the park. The second struggle is an internal political struggle creating wide rifts not just between Right and Left, but also between the Right and the Far Right.  The Greens recently helped pass a change in asylum law with which they are uneasy.  PEGIDA-Chemnitz continues its two-week long protest against the construction of a new asylum home. In Cologne today, Henriette Reker, candidate for leading mayor supported by a broad coalition (CDU, Green, FDP, Freie Wähler) was stabbed by a right-wing extremist. Darkness and light are not static – they alternate as surely as night and day. During certain times of the year, however, especially in northern Europe, either one or the other predominates. Winter is coming.

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Angela Merkel appears on Anne Will

On October 7th, 34 (male) CDU politicians issued a public letter criticizing Angela Merkel for her refugee politics. This letter lists suggestions for handling the refugee crisis as well as articulates frustration with the Chancellor as a representative of their party who no longer seems to adhere to the political mission of the CDU nor to European laws such as the Dublin Agreement.  That only male CDU politicians signed this letter deserves a later post to itself.

On the same day, Chancellor Merkel appeared as a guest on the political talk show Anne Will. Sitting on beige, leather, Bauhaus-style chairs in front of a live studio audience, Merkel spoke with Anne Will about the criticism from her own party and Merkel’s “plan” for dealing with the refugee crisis.  Repeating over and over again, “We can do it,” Merkel committed to her approach to refugee policy.

Several reviews of the television broadcast, such as this one from Die Zeit, state that Merkel’s appearance was received positively by politicians. Sabine Rau, an ARD journalist, commented after the broadcast that this appearance was part of a broader offensive strategy to maintain control amid dissent, as the tagesschau reports.

Maintaining control was clearly the Chancellor’s focus during the broadcast: often talking over Frau Will and refusing to buckle under pressure, Merkel seemed confident about both her political decisions and her position as chancellor. Precisely this confidence has irritated many over the past several months, especially after Merkel proclaimed the German borders open to Syrian refugees on September 4th of this year. With that step, the Dublin Agreement, which states that refugees are supposed to be processed in the country within Europe where they first set foot, was essentially null and void. Other countries, like Greece and Hungary, who simply sent refugees who wanted to leave towards Germany, are, however, also at fault for facilitating the transfer of refugees across European borders and the breakdown of Schengen and Dublin – that does not fall solely to the Chancellor.

What I find fascinating about these two media events: one, the frustrated letter from CDU politicians, and two, the broadcast interview on Anne Will, is the lack of ideological difference between most of them. Merkel, for instance, emphasized in conversation many of the suggestions made by the CDU in their letter: strengthening Europe’s outer borders; providing Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Libanon with support for caring for refugees; speeding up refugee processing times. The ideological conflict seems to hinge on one point: can any action actually stop the flow of refugees into Germany?

The CDU/CSU wants to believe that some show of strength – a border fence or control, for instance – could help. Or even if the Chancellor would stop taking selfies with refugees. (As Merkel pointed out, the promise of a selfie with the German Chancellor is not what drives people to flee). But Merkel is much more honest when she says that this is impossible. With or without a policy of open German borders, people see Germany as a desirable destination. Irregular migration – across what the Chancellor acknowledges are porous inner-European borders – will persist with or without fences or border patrols. When asked by Anne Will if Germany should stop accepting refugees, the Chancellor replied: “How is that supposed to work? You can’t close the border. There is no stop to admission (Aufnahmestopp).

The last question of the Will broadcast is actually the most telling: Frau Will asked the Chancellor if the Germany we know today will persist in the face of such massive, sudden immigration. Chancellor Merkel was insistent: the values of Germany (values being a favorite phrase of right-wing politics across the globe) such as free speech, the social market economy, and freedom of religion will not change. She’s sure of it.

The political right, however, isn’t so sure Germany will persist – neither the Germany they know nor the Chancellor who has represented them for ten years. Oh, Ye of little faith.