Category Archives: Europe

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.

EU-Turkey Deal

On March 7, 2016, the EU Heads of State or Government met with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to discuss the deal reached with Turkey about ten days later.  The EU Council has published an English press release of the plan here. The initial paragraphs of this plan are already disappointing, and illustrate how shortsighted the plan is. In this document, which – if enacted – may change the European landscape in very radical ways, there is no mention of the causes of flight:

The Heads of State or Government agreed that bold moves were needed to close down people smuggling routes, to break up the business model of the smugglers, to protect our external borders and to end the migration crisis in Europe.  We need to break the link between getting in a boat and getting settlement in Europe.

It’s as if the flow of refugees were invisible until rubber boats materialized in a magical, wavy mirage on the Turkish coast.

There have been a lot of good articles which explain the details of this deal, so I won’t repeat that here.  The Guardian has a Q&A page that explains the agreement, and Matthias Krupa’s piece at ZEIT ONLINE does a good job of pragmatically assessing the consequences in German politics here. The criticism of this deal has also proliferated: see the remarks of the UN Human Rights Chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in English and in German.

UN Human Rights Chief Hussein has been speaking out against inhuman treatment of refugees throughout the crisis. Back in February 2016, he expressed serious concern about the shifts in policing taking place in Austria, Croatia, Macedonia, Servia and Slovenia as these countries tried to limit entry to refugees crossing through their territory. He also accused these countries of “exacerbating ‘the chaos and misery all down the line’ and especially in Greece.”  What is a consistent argument against the plan is that this deal could break with the Geneva Convention and international human rights law – supposedly the bedrock of the European Union and protection against repeating the genocide of the Second World War. Günter Burkhardt, leader of ProAsyl (a German working group) wrote a strongly worded critique for the Frankfurter Rundschau pointing out that this deal also creates a heirarchy amongst those seeking refuge – placing Syrians above all other nationalities rather than hearing individual reasons for flight. ProAsyl is supporting refugees in Greece who want to press charges in court to have their cases heard.

While Greece – rightly so – figures prominently in the EU Heads of State plan, there is no discussion of the bloodshed and chaos causing people to flee. Furthermore, Turkey is – step-by-step, with each suicide bomber or crackdown on the freedom of the press – becoming more and more instable and autocratic. Even Horst Seehofer, right wing politician of the CSU, rejects the deal because of the concessions it makes to Turkey.

Back in November 2015, Thomas Assheuer wrote a visionary op-ed for Die Zeit called Our Culture of Welcoming (Unsere Wilkommenskultur).

What will be written in the history books about these days in October? Maybe “Europe’s Failure”? Temperatures are falling to freezing, and in Europe, thousands of refugees are sleeping outside, in the mud and cold, among them infants and children.

As spring comes, not much has changed.  In this essay, Assheuer recognizes that the flow of refugees appears as an “apocalyptic metaphor” of our present moment, which is built upon a modernity in which politics has collapsed because nation-states have become irrelevant in the face of the neoliberal global market:

The refugee is what remains after the destruction of political spaces: he is life laid bare in flight [das nackte Leben auf der Flucht].

Without the cover of deals, aid packages and political rhetoric, the essence of the refugee crisis has indeed been laid frighteningly bare: you are in need, but we will not help you. Assheuer continues:

You don’t need a lot of imagination to sketch out what happens when the flow of reguees doesn’t end, when cities and communities capitulate to the number of those seeking protection and the EU makes a solvable problem into an unsolveable one.

What will happen – as the recent successes of the AfD show – is that the political spectrum will jump to the right and Merkel (center right) “will suddenly stand there as a left-liberal European.” Assheuer predicts the return of authoritarian states 25 years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall: and the special forces soldiers from back then, he jokes, are still available for employment.

The Turkey-EU deal is evidence of Europe making a “solveable problem into an unsolveable one.” If member states had agreed to a distribution plan earlier, the pressure on Greece and other large receiving countries – like Germany and Sweden – would be less. One by one, European heads of state – the Faymanns and the Orbans – have clung to nationalist fantasies and left Merkel isolated as the only humanitarian. That position, Malte Lehming commented in Der Tagesspiegel – is one Merkel is slowly giving up. She has been pulled to the right, and perhaps supports the deal with Turkey not just because it was her idea, but because in this political climate, it may be the only alternative.

In Vienna yesterday, there were protests against the deal.

 

Refugees defy limits at Greek/Macedonian Border

There are three events that are of massive importance right now in the interaction between right-wing populism, irregular migration and refugee rights.

First, the EU and Turkey are proposing a “one-in-one-out” deal that will involve a bizarre rearrangement of refugees being returned to Turkey as those in Turkish camps then get passage to Europe. The UN has called this deal illegal and in violation of European refugee law and rights.

Second, the state (provincial) elections in Germany on Super Sunday led the AfD to a huge win in three states: Baden-Württemburg, Sachsen-Anhalt and Rheinland-Pfalz. Sachsen-Anhalt saw the AfD win almost 25% of the vote. The AfD is quickly on its way to becoming a party of hate, with party positions formally against Muslims and LGBT people. The AfD and Donald Trump share rhetorical strategies.

Third, a thousand refugees – among many thousands trapped for days in Greece at the Macedonian border – have defied the border crossing and begun to reach Macedonia. There is amazing footage posted on YouTube from the town of Chamilo as people attempt to cross the river. It’s cold; three people have died trying to cross the river. It’s being called the #marchofhope. Macedonia is not a member of the EU. I am not sure of the legal ramifications for crossing from the EU (i.e., Greece) into a non-member state. *UPDATE 3/16/2016: It seems as if this crossing was primarily motivated by activists distributing leaflets in Arabic trying to convince people to risk their lives for a political statement. The Macedonian police simply held and then deported those who crossed.

Chaos breeds chaos; anxiety produces more anxiety. Where is the leadership whose values are rooted in common sense and a sense of humanitarian urgency?

What now?

In the days after the Paris attacks, as France bombs the Syrian city of Raqqa, and American politicians use this tragedy to further their own political campaigns; as family members are called to account not only for the death of their family members, but also for their inability to discern radicalism developing in their brothers, whom they must now also grieve; and as refugees now reckon with growing hate and animosity towards them – if they have been lucky enough to make it to Europe; there is very little I find worthy of saying.

As Sabine Hark, a prominent German feminist, has written on the feministische studien blog, we have a duty to work together to develop a new moral order – one which does not privilege the victims of Paris over the victims of Beirut or Bagdad – in which everyone has the same right to participation; the same right to both share and make the world.

Laurent Dubois has written on the Soccer Politics and Africa is a Country blogs about the historical role of the Stade de France as a place of (literal and metaphorical) refuge.

Mohammed Abdeslam, a brother of two of the attackers in Paris, gave a moving press conference this morning, shown in video by the New York Times. His final words: “We are indeed thinking of the victims, the families of the victims. But you have to understand, we have family, we have a mom, and he remains her child. Thank you.”

PEGIDA marched through the streets of Dresden as usual.

The Naivete of Evil

Bernd Ulrich, the main editor for Die Zeit‘s political pages, has written a beautiful essay in the October 7th edition of the paper. Despite my frequent blog posts and twitter and facebook accounts, I am an open Luddite who makes her students hand-write assignments and who has a paper subscription to Die Zeit. I also have an erratic mail carrier, which means that the arrival of my paper can arrive anywhere from three days to three weeks late. Despite seeing the click bait for this essay on twitter, I’m glad to have read this one on paper. The graphic design is quite strong, featuring a long length of barbed wire which ropes its way through the article, dividing the manifesto-like text from other columns and advertisements:

Zeit image

The essay by Ulrich is titled “The Naivete of Evil,” which is a play on Hannah Arendt’s famous subtitle for her book detailing the Eichmann trials in Jerusalem in the 1960s. Written in numbered, thematic sections, Ulrich’s article lays out a comprehensive understanding of the global forces which have led to the refugee crisis in Europe. The conditions of depravity in the Middle East, he asserts, are twenty years in the making – they did not happen overnight. (Americans might also do well to remember that the War on Terror is now almost fifteen years old).   Furthermore, Ulrich identifies a transition amongst Germans on what Demetrios G. Papademetriou, President Emeritus of the Migration Policy Institute, called “the day after” on WEBZ earlier this week. Suddenly, Germans are feeling overwhelmed – and for good reason, given that there are simply not enough doctors, lawyers, teachers and social workers to reach the refugees who need them. Not just traumatized refugees, but also their caregivers, are in shock that events far, far away from them have led to “physical, mental and financial” realities on German soil. The inability to foresee the problem – even though it has been obvious that something like this was brewing – has created a political vacuum. And a vacuum must be filled: in this case, by Horst Seehofer scapegoating the Chancellor and clinging to the dream that a change in course will stop the tide.

Like the Chancellor, Ulrich asserts that this is a fantasy – one among many. Fantasies of fences (which can only function if aggressively enforced); fantasies of military might (Europe, America and now Russia will only inflict damage); and fantasies of being overrun (hold up, says Ulrich, you can’t declare a state of emergency with these numbers) are ever present in the national imagination.  Ulrich even engages with the rich propaganda found at PEGIDA rallies and in Lachmann’s article I analyzed yesterday. “Of course the West is in Danger” reads the title of section 8 – but not because of the refugees. Because of Europeans:

“This, the aggressive nationalism, the exclusion and internal de-liberalization are the tangible threats against the West. Because all of that, unfortunately, is actually present in European genes.”

Ulrich is not actually advancing a genetic argument – that last bit is a metaphor which reads better in German than in my poor translation here. What he’s saying is that nationalism has a European precedent – and it is this nationalism that threatens to undo us.

As for the Middle East, Ulrich says, it would probably be better for all of us if we admitted that our imperial and militaristic strategies have failed. Knowing our limits is the first step towards moving beyond them (Ulrich citing here a quote by Baruch de Spinoza he freely adapted).

Admitting that there are limits seems like a particularly difficult pill for politics to swallow. Fortification is not a way to acknowledge limits – it is rather a desire to construct those limits on terms that are self-directed and seen as politically beneficial. If we follow Ulrich’s line of reasoning, however, limits are given to us by the situation itself rather than by our own imagination, which is why attempts to defend the Vaterland through nationalistic means or to stop the flow of refugees simply because we feel overwhelmed misses the mark.