Category Archives: Germany

Is the world ready for a strong German leader?

File 20170711 5970 lzijrv.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1U.S. President Donald Trump is welcomed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the first day of the G-20 summit.
AP Photo/Jens Meyer

Johanna Schuster-Craig, Michigan State University

What does it take to be elected chancellor of the most populous country in Europe four times in a row?

Germany does not have a system of term limits for heads of state. Candidates for chancellor can seek reelection as long as their party continues to support their candidacy. However, it’s not common. The only postwar German politician to be elected for four consecutive terms was current Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mentor, Helmut Kohl, who passed away last month.

Germany’s general election will take place on Sept. 24. Chancellor Merkel is likely to be elected for a fourth term. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union, is currently polling near 40 percent.

This was not the case just two short years ago. Her decision to open the borders to refugees fleeing along the Balkan Route in 2015 was criticized for being illegal and haphazard. The year before, she had faced criticism for her handling of the Greek financial crisis. Back then, it seemed Merkel would never survive a fourth election.

Then the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. That vote was followed by President Donald Trump’s America First policies and conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. These events have fundamentally changed the global political landscape and created an opportunity for Merkel’s style of leadership to prevail.

Journalists and commentators frequently assert that Merkel has become the leader of the free world.

Despite negative images of riots in Hamburg during the recent G-20 summit, the German magazine Der Spiegel reports that Merkel’s campaign hardly took a hit. Instead, the mayor of Hamburg is being criticized.

How is Merkel so politically invincible? As a professor of German studies, I have blogged and commented on Merkel’s political appearances since 2015. One of her political strengths is her understated reaction to international conflicts. The other is her “party-manager” style of governance at home.

Deliberate approach to conflict

The G-20 summit was an important show of Merkel’s global leadership. Against this backdrop, Merkel’s slow and steady approach to governing stands in sharp contrast to the charisma of recently elected President Emmanuel Macron in France, the autocratic tendencies of President Vladimir Putin of Russia and the impulsivity of President Trump.

Before the G-20, Merkel stated in an interview that she acknowledged the vacuum of power left by Trump’s policies. Merkel said, “Apparently the American administration no longer wants to be the peacekeeping power per se for all regions of the world.” She acknowledged that this might be good or bad, depending on the context.

Several weeks before the G-20 Summit, Merkel traveled to South and Central America to shore up trade relations. She stopped in Mexico and pledged her support to President Enrique Peña Nieto in upcoming talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement. After that, she traveled to Argentina, where journalists asked her whether this international tour signaled that she was preparing to assume the mantle of the leader of the free world. Merkel replied diplomatically, saying that “no one alone in this world, no single person and no country alone can solve the problems [we have].”

This rhetoric is similar to previous appearances in which she has emphasized European unity and the need for international partnerships.

Merkel the party manager

Back home in Germany, Merkel’s leadership style is described as that of a “party manager.” Merkel attempts to keep the many factions of her party in her corner at any one given time. This strategy succeeds because the Christian Democratic Union is a “catch-all” party. A catch-all party tries to maintain diverse ideological viewpoints so that it can capture the support of a broad swath of the electorate.

In the two-party American system, both the Democratic and Republican parties have functioned as catch-all parties. In the multi-party German system, it is possible to have a political party gain representation in Parliament even with a focused ideology, like the Green Party’s focus on sustainability and social justice.

Merkel’s identity facilitates a party-manager approach because she holds a variety of minority identities. Merkel is female, Protestant in a previously predominantly Catholic party and grew up in the former East Germany.

As a party manager, Merkel maintains a strategy of keeping all options open as long as possible. In German, her governance style has earned its own verb. “To merkel” is to deliberate, evaluate a course of action and eventually choose a suitable option at the last possible moment.

This tactic drives her opponents crazy, and Germany’s dominance in the European economy and now global politics has strained the country’s relationship with some European partners.

The ConversationMerkel may not like the title “leader of the free world.” She may also be merkeling, or waiting until the last possible moment to claim it. But with an election campaign that seems assured of success, a variety of international partners pledging their support and an acknowledgment by more than just Merkel after the G-20 that President Trump’s policies leave a diplomatic vacuum, all signs point to a very powerful position for the German chancellor after Sept. 24.

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.

“Will Trump victory make Angela Merkel leader of Free World?”

Johanna Schuster-Craig, Michigan State University

After the election of Donald Trump, commentators have argued that German Chancellor Angela Merkel may become the leader of the free world, a role typically played by the president of the United States.

After 11 years as chancellor and as the leader of the largest economy in Europe, Merkel is certainly one of the most experienced heads of state in office. On Nov. 20, after a long wait, Merkel finally announced that she would seek a fourth term in the federal elections next fall.

In the upcoming campaign, Merkel is in a difficult position. She must both live up to her reputation as a defender of liberal democracy, and also contain the right-wing populist streaks in the Alternative for Germany party in order to win reelection.

As an American scholar of German studies, I have blogged about how Merkel’s public appearances function as political theater. The chancellor changes her message depending on her audience. At home, she is much more likely to appear conservative.

But in anticipation of Trump taking office in 2017, Merkel is publicly setting clear boundaries. Trump not only criticized her open-doors refugee policy, but also may represent a threat to close international collaboration between Germany and the United States.

In between Trump and the German far right

Merkel is most likely to present herself as a defender of liberal values when appearing on the international stage. On Nov. 9, Merkel congratulated Trump on his new office at a press conference. In contrast to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s celebratory statements or Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s cautious well wishes, Merkel issued a warning: If Trump cannot respect “democracy, freedom, respect for the law and for human dignity independent of background, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political beliefs,” Merkel implied that Germany will need to reevaluate the terms of its partnership with the United States.

This warning to Trump has been praised by some in the American press for its defense of liberal, democratic values.

Many Germans see Trump’s racist and xenophobic comments as statements that would be illegal under current German law. His rhetoric echoes not only the racism and anti-Semitism of the Holocaust, but also shares similarities with the authoritarian doublespeak of East German communist politics.

However, in domestic appearances, Merkel is at times illiberal, choosing to accent her conservativism to pander to the xenophobic right wing. On Nov. 6, Merkel gave an acceptance speech after receiving the nomination of her party. The speech garnered widespread attention in the U.S., mostly for the moment when Merkel stated support for banning burqas – a move designed to attract voters on the right.

Merkel’s campaign begins

As the German public was anxiously awaiting Merkel’s decision to run for office, German journalists Matthias Geis, Tina Hildebrandt and Bernd Ulrich published a full-page article in the German newspaper Die Zeit about Merkel titled “Leader of the free world? Not that, too!”

In this article, they explain the difficulties facing Merkel’s reelection campaign. Merkel, they say, has never faced more pressure to lead. Europe isn’t pulling its weight. She doesn’t have unified support from her party. Finally, she doesn’t have the same polling numbers she used to. Despite these obstacles, they write:

“Merkel can sense that the arguments she could bring against her candidacy get weaker and weaker as the global situation becomes more and more dramatic.”

Merkel couches her decision to seek reelection in similar terms. When she announced her candidacy, Merkel said she needed to run because – after the U.S. election and in relationship to Russia – the world needed to be “sorted out.” Merkel repeated this phrase in her nomination speech:

“We are dealing with a world – especially after the American election – which first needs to be sorted out, especially with respect to things like NATO and the relationship to Russia. This poses the question: What is actually to be done?”

By standing for reelection, Merkel answered her own question. Merkel sees herself as the person to “sort out” the new world order. In this narrative, the first thing to do is support her campaign. The second thing, visible in her comments about refugees and burqa bans, is to pander to voters who might abandon her party to vote for the right-wing Alternative for Germany party.

The Alternative for Germany party, which criticizes Merkel’s every move, later joked on social media that the CDU (Merkel’s party) had stolen their campaign platform.

The ConversationThe Alternative for Germany party was founded in 2013 and is a xenophobic, nationalist, right-wing party critical of the European Union. The AfD has been successful in gaining representation in local German elections. They will likely enter the national German parliament in the fall of 2017.

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.

Frauke Petry after President-Elect Donald Trump

“It’s telling that establishment politicians and journalists are selling a democratic election as the apocalypse”

Two days after the election, many in the United States and across the world feel like this is the apocalypse. The only reason Petry isn’t proclaiming the apocalypse is because the party she agrees with won. If Hilary had won, Petry surely would be declaring the end of the world.

I understand the apocalyptic sentiment, although I disagree that the world is about to end. I also disagree that the far-right is an American phenomenon: the rise of extreme right populism globally shows that nativism and racism are prevalent.

Whiteness and patriarchy are clutching to privilege , and let’s hope this is it’s last chance to maintain hegemonic power. About that, I am less hopeful: privilege reproduces privilege, and if there’s anything 500 years of imperial conquest has shown, it’s that whiteness and patriarchy are incredibly protean and adaptive. But the protest culture in US society is healthy – and must get healthier. BlackLivesMatter, NoDAPL, trans* agitation, and the access to quality, alternative journalism are just some of the signs that resistance is possible, probable and holds political potential.

One of the gaps in coverage about the far-right in both countries has been the occasional lack of inclusion of LGBTQI identities as a targeted identity by the far-right. While – rightly so – racial, immigrant and religious identities are frequently identified as the targets of Trump’s wrath, Vice President-elect Mike Pence has made gay conversion therapy part of his platform. Trump just appointed a staunchly anti-gay politician, Ken Blackwell, to head his domestic transition team. The attacks on so-called “Gender Mainstreaming” in the AfD party have also received remarkably little media attention, but are starting to emerge as an issue given more press time from the AfD.

On November 6, two days before the US election, Frauke Petry gave a speech in Pforzheim that queer.de called a “taste of the coming national parliamentary campaign.” In this speech, Petry declared that “normal” families needed to be protected from educational programs which are covered in “gender sauce.” She sowed factually inaccurate information, saying that parents of school children would be required to pay for gender courses (whatever that is). She denied that homophobia was a problem, and asked parents to stand up for their (cis, hetero) children. She also declared the “classical family” to be a valuable institution, because it provides the country with children. Earlier this summer, Petry declared that there were too many gays on television.

This kind of homophobic politicking is common for those of us who grew up in the US. I’ve seen versions of these arguments in German spaces before, especially in arguments about two-parent adoption and gay marriage. Beyond discussions of sexism directed against female candidates, we need to pay strict attention to the ways in which family structure and kinship networks are used to reflect images of the nation. This moves beyond discussion of homonationalism, where minorities are painted as homophobic and whites are painted as homophilic. Nationalistic groups in the US and Germany are hardly homophilic.

Call a spade a spade.

Beware the Alternatives

In the two-party governance system of the United States, graphs like these may seem confusing:

The state news channel ARD tweeted the results of an election poll yesterday with six viable parties, and another column in grey for all the rest. The Christian Democrats, Merkel’s party, lead with 35% of voters; followed by the moderate Social Democrats with 24%. Two left-wing parties, the Left and the Greens, have about 10% each. The neo-liberal Free Democratic Party is barely making the 5% threshold required to enter parliament. Then there’s the shocker: the far-right, nationalistic party called Alternative for Germany is pulling in a whopping 12%. According to the tweet under the image, it seems like AfD is mostly gaining voters who previously voted for the center-right Christian Democrats.

If you want to understand German politics right now, the AfD is probably the most prescient indicator of how the political mood in Germany is changing.

What’s also very important to understand is that this sea change has been gradual, and been in motion for much longer than the refugee crisis. AfD was founded in 2012 and first appeared in the 2013 federal elections, where they ran primarily on a platform of Euro-scepticism. The “Alternative” in their party name is understood as desiring a political alternative to the European Union and shared currency. They are doing well because Europe has started to teeter on the edge of political and economic collapse by being embroiled in two crises: one, the Greek economic crisis, and two, the refugee crisis. They are also doing well because they have managed, as a party, to oust all of their center-right founders. The far-right has taken control of the party.

Which brings me to the initial purpose of this post: the AfD has recently made some terrifying statements that can only be described as morally corrupt. Both the chairwoman of the party, Frauke Petry, and her representative, Beatrix von Storch, called for border guards to shoot refugees as a solution to the crisis in late January.  Von Storch was nothing less than clear in this FaceBook comments thread:

Hans Werner: That’s ridiculous. Are you going to limit access of women with children on the green meadows [border landscape] with armed force?

Beatrix von Storch: Yes.

Katharina König: Shoot at children? Beatrix von Storch, #AfD says “Yes” Does anyone else have questions about this party? #coldcountry

There has been a massive amount of press attention to these statements, as there well should be. Petry and von Storch are trying to distance themselves from their PR disaster, with little success. And yet – for those voters AfD continues to poach from moderate right parties – these statements clearly have appeal. The AfD is becoming the party PEGIDA is legally prevented from becoming. On the rest of the political spectrum – including the centrist and left-wing parties – there must be some serious scrambling going on to find alternatives to the Alternativ.

Cologne – The Facts We Have

A number of Americans have asked me about the events in Cologne this past week. A number of Germans who live in America are reporting that their communities are increasingly divided and agitated about what is happening. The events on News Year’s Eve at the Cologne central train station are a global event, and #koelnhbf is the next hashtag to follow #staddefrance – although the events are quite different in magnitude.

What is difficult about explaining the events in Cologne to a foreign audience is how murky the facts remain. As protests take place in front of the station today, including one by Pegida recently broken up by police, what is clear is that the events of New Year’s Eve have stoked resentments and exacerbated political tensions that have long been present. Reports of sexual violence are being instrumentalized to racialize Muslim populations and stoke xenophobic fears of “invasion.” At the same time, it has become clear that the police response to such a disturbance were ineffective – partly because of the style of criminal behavior. The Cologne Chief of Police has voluntarily entered early retirement – which means he effectively lost his job over his mishandling of the situation. Police initially reported a peaceful New Year’s Eve celebration – until tens of claims of theft and assault were filed, at which point the police created their own commission to handle the investigation.

The basic facts seem to be that a large number of drunk men were shooting off firecrackers in the crowded station, and were groping and encircling young women as a tactic to distract them from noticing that they were also being robbed. According to this article in Spiegel Online, this tactic is not new: they report that more than 11,000 people have been robbed using this tactic in the past three years. This kind of sexual harrassment is – I can well imagine – a successful diversionary tactic precisely because it is physically and emotionally violent.

A wide variety of sensationalist right-wing press attention has exaggerated these reports and attempted to create hysterical panic. Pegida leader Lutz Bachmann has posed in pictures wearing an offensive “rape-fugees not welcome” t-shirt. These stories often portray a violent mob of 1,000 migrants wantonly raping and attacking young women, like the narrative on the website Right Wing News. These reports are exaggerated, if not false. Numbers vary, but the number of rapes reported vacillates between 1 and 2; the number of men at the train station between 500 and 1,000. The state-run news media tagesschau emphasizes that we are not talking about 1,000 perpetrators; rather, the number represents the general size of the entire crowd.

The Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, a local Cologne paper, reported today that the number of reported crimes has risen from 170 to 379. About 40% of these offenses constitute sexualized crimes, like groping. The ethnicity of the perpetrators has been partially identified; an early police report erroneously called all of them “refugees.” According to the NYTimes:

The Interior Ministry identified the 31 suspects as nine Algerians, eight Moroccans, four Syrians, five Iranians, an Iraqi, a Serb, an American and two Germans. Most of the crimes they were accused of involved theft and violence, said a ministry spokesman, Tobias Plate, but at least three acts were considered sexual assaults.

According to WDR, a German state news station, the police had identified 32 suspects, with 29 “foreigners” in the group (the numbers are the same as the NYTimes, with the exception of having 3 Germans rather than 2). 22 of the suspects are supposely seeking asylum. Given the long duration of asylum proceedings, however, we have no information about how long any of these suspects have been in Germany.

According to criminologist Rita Steffens, the use of sexually-based tactics to commit theft is an emerging trend in criminal behavior that is not restricted to Cologne. The intensity and quantity of assaults are new.

In contrast to the attention being paid to determining what happened on New Year’s Eve, most of the press attention has started furiously circulating around questions of race, class, gender and integration. These debates are self-multiplying and prohibit the emergence of a reasoned response to the complex issues at hand. This press attention will be the subject of the next post.

 

 

Merkel’s Speech at the CDU Party Meeting

On December 14th, Angela Merkel gave an hour-long speech to members of her party the CDU. She’s been having quite a run, especially after being named TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year, and the speech has been widely covered by English-language media.

The Washington Post published a piece with the title “Multiculturalism is a sham, says Merkel” on December 14th. There’s not much more to that piece than its title, with one reference to her 2010 speech where she declared that “Multiculturalism has failed.” This article by the Guardian is evidence of much more responsible reporting, including several direct quotations on many issues from Merkel’s almost 80 minute speech. The Guardian also includes the statement on multiculturalism and links it to Merkel’s 2010 speech, but tempers this statement with criticisms of aid organizations as well as Merkel’s attempt to position German politics on the landscape of European integration.

What is missing from this English-language reporting is an understanding of what multiculturalism means in a German context.

Germany has never had a state-sponsored program of multicultural rights. Canada is a much better model of multicultural policy. Germans thus mean something different when they speak of multiculturalism – it’s a mix of having a diverse population, accompanied by the notion that civic participation and assimilation will happen without policies that provide access to populations of color and without having to discuss racism or equal opportunity. Multiculturalism doesn’t mean multiculturalism at all in this idiom: it is German shorthand for a policy of neglect. True multiculturalism seeks to strike a balance between group and individual rights in a way that is legally protected and does not infringe too much on human rights (although the criticisms are prevalent). German Multikulti is as much of a misnomer as using the English word “handy” to describe a cell phone.

Merkel’s speech – as is to be expected – is a political utterance. Because of its length, it also has a political logic all its own.

The speech begins with a list of events, month by month, that affected Europe. Merkel seems to be doing this intentionally: she emphasizes the role of Germany in Europe rather than allowing the nationalism of the CSU to taint her own speech. The banner raised behind her on the stage reads “For Germany and Europe,” the bright orange letters standing out against the blue banner as a political slogan.

The list is overwhelming. January: Charlie Hebdo. February: Minsk negotiations for peace in Ukraine. March: the German Wings crash. April: a special meeting of European leaders in the face of hundreds of deaths in the Mediterranean. June and July: Greek negotiations, a test of strength for Europe that has not yet been passed. June: G7 summit about climate change and the recognition of climate refugees. August: Prognosis of asylum seekers for this year: 800,000. Sept. 4-5: Thousands of refugees were stranded in Budapest, and Germany and Austria’s decided to allow them free entry. Merkel calls this decision “a humanitarian imperative.”  October 4: 25 years of German Reunification. November 13: the attacks in Paris. November 15: Cancellation of the German soccer match in Hannover.

By twenty minutes in, Merkel begins her historical rallying cry. Germany survived the Cold War and rebuilt itself out of rubble after the Holocaust. It is a country which doesn’t hedge its bets. Citing several famous historical utterances, Merkel insists that Germany chose freedom, not *some* freedom. (Wir wählen die Freiheit, nicht *etwa* Freiheit.) The economic miracle which followed World War II brought affluence for everyone, not affluence for almost everyone (Wohlstand für alle, nicht Wohlstand für *fast* alle).

This historical precedent also applies to the refugee crisis. After thanking the volunteers who are serving across the country to assist the processing of refugees, Merkel does the exact opposite of what her speech has set us up to expect. She hedges her bets. Germany can do it, but only if they reduce the number of refugees. According to Merkel, this is in no way contradictory and is in everyone’s best interest: Germany can only integrate so many refugees; Europe can only house so many refugees, and as for the refugees – well, no one leaves their homeland lightly, she says.

Germany can do it, but only with European help and partners like Greece and Turkey securing their borders. Refugees – at least some of them – have to be deported so that it becomes clear that legal protection is a status and laws have consequences.

And all of this takes time. Merkel undergoes a thought experiment about halfway through the speech. She asks her audience to imagine Germany in 2025. Later she will talk about imagining Germany 25 years from now. That repetition of 25, even though mathematically inconsistent, is important. 2015 is the 25th anniversary year of German reunification. It’s a symbolic gesture towards the unforeseeable changes Germany has already undergone since the Fall of the Iron Curtain, and an acknowledgement that just as many changes await them in the coming 25 years.

She uses this thought experiment to point out how young the refugee problem is. In ten years, she posits, Germans will look back on the actors of today and judge them for their lack of imagination. It’s only been four months! How impatient are we if we later look back and realize that we didn’t even allow ourselves the necessary time to arrive at a solution to a massive problem.

Some of her sustainable solutions to the refugee problem have ominous overtones: the establishment of a central database at all levels of civil society for refugees, as well as a two-year waiting period for family togetherness if subjects do not receive immediate refugee status. Merkel lauds Turkey, despite recent claims of humanitarian abuses by Amnesty International, as a primary partner in solving this global problem.  Rich countries are to be criticized for allowing aid organizations like UNHCR and the World Food Program to run out of funding, she says.

The part to her speech which is being picked up in these English language articles is actually a very small portion placed near the end. During this section, Merkel ponders the effects of cultural contact. After such an influx, what will remain of the Germany we know?

After stating her opposition to multiculturalism, she states: “The opposite of that [Multikulti] is integration. Integration that demands the openness to those who come to us, but as well as the readiness of those who come to us to adhere to our values and traditions. […] We will learn from our mistakes. […] Countries always profit from successful immigration, but that requires integration.”

She portrays the CDU as a people’s party; a party that creates bridges; a party that is neither a worker’s party nor a party of the elite, but which can cross borders and recognize individual dignity. The positioning is strategic – and pits the CDU against the SPD (traditionally blue-collar) and die Linke (a socialist party). More importantly, Merkel comes full circle and portrays the CDU as the party which developed the European vision and led directly to the integration of European countries into the EU.

This is, most likely, a simplification – but it is a strategic one.

English-language coverage of this speech misrepresents Merkel’s positioning by focusing on one line with a certain cultural connotation in Germany. Merkel agitates in this speech primarily for the German position within Europe – which, of course, requires an articulation of national identity and preservation of purportedly German values. But she is primarily pushing back against the anti-European sentiments of PEGIDA and the AfD party; she is cajoling her European partners to participate in solving the refugee problem together; and she is no more racist than any other central right party (and probably only moderately racist when compared to the rhetoric coming from the CSU, the AfD and PEGIDA). (It’s also ridiculous that I find myself in a position where I am quantifying levels of racism.) But it’s important to see the shades of intensity when comparing Merkel to some of the more populist elements of her party.

A better title? “Merkel insists on German Role in European Union and Stakes CDU’s Distance from German Far-Right.” But that’s not so catchy, is it?

I guess that’s why I’m not writing for the Washington Post. 

Digital Narratives

North German Radio (NDR – a subsidiary of ARD) has started a new long-form narrative storytelling series they are promoting with the hashtag #EinMomentDerBleibt  (A Moment Which Remains). In twenty to thirty minute videos, refugees to Germany – all shot standing or sitting next to a wooden chair against a white photostudio paper background – tell their stories about how they came to Germany.

Here is the story of Aeda and Bassam, from Syria. They tell their story in Arabic, and are dubbed in German in a way where viewers can still hear their own voices. They are from Damascus, and Bassam came along the sea route to Germany, where he watched another boat perish before his eyes. He himself developed heart problems from the journey. His wife often defers to him, and walks out of the frame at the beginning of the video as the story becomes too painful. The family patriarch standing on the sterile, white background looks lonely. The mood, in this story as well as some of the other videos available, bears a testament to the strengths of the traumatized. His wife walks off the stage, but he remains standing. She rejoins him and finds her voice. Bassam was the first to make it to Greece. After a long time, Aeda decided to take the children and join him, without his knowing, and with the help of a trafficker. There’s a steeliness to both of them. Aeda and the children were imprisoned twice, once on the Turkish coast and once in Greece. They travelled as a family from Greece to Macedonia by train, where they witnessed the death of a forty-year old man on the train. The man’s 15 year old son, who has some kind of mental disability, was taken along by his father on the trip, and was left alone after his death.

The family travelled by foot through Serbia and Hungary. Bassam reports that the Hungarian police were by far the most brutal, and had no empathy for the differences between children and adults making the journey, especially very small children.

According to the NDR schedule from last week, these short narrative films are airing late at night – after 11pm. There are ten portraits listed on the NDR website with refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, and other countries.

Given the escalating violence against homes for asylum seekers, refugee children in schools, and even the violence incurred by the policing of left-wing demonstrations to occupy buildings with the hopes of finding refugees housing, this kind of storytelling is imminently political and a laudable intervention to allow refugees to speak for themselves over a long period of time (rather than in soundbytes) or to merely be spoken about by politicians and journalists. I don’t know if these videos always air at night, but rather than filling airtime after most people have gone to bed, this series should be playing at prime time. Air them in the late afternoon, cut out a rereun of the odious Two and a Half Men, and then show another one after parents and adults get home from work. Cut the piano music that introduces the trailer and story; make the entry into the storytelling as steely as the narrative that follows. Find a way to market not to the volunteers who are already sympathetic, but to the tough brutes who think that the AfD and Pegida offer viable alternatives.

The lines between agitprop, propaganda and publicity are so porous. And in this age of populist Hetze – whether it’s Donald Trump, Horst Seehofer or Marine LePen – the only thing we might have going for the rest of us is spin. So spin this. Spin people’s stories and give them as much agency as possible (at least 30 minutes worth) for them to wind up and come back down.

 

Feminist Refugee Politics – II

The most recent news developments in Germany – including the kidnapping and murder of a refugee child, the spray-painting of slurs on a Holocaust memorial to the Rroma victims, and a rather creepy demonstration of the AfD in Erfurt – make it clear that violence will accompany refugee politics into the winter. If there’s anything that feminist and anti-racist research has consistently engaged with, it’s issues of violence. For this reason, in the context of the European migration crisis, I have been pondering (admittedly in a vacuum) what would constitute a feminist, anti-racist response to those seeking asylum in Germany and those protesting with racist paroles. As of yet, I am not connected with activists on the ground who have more experience and information than I do and welcome suggestions for improvement or links or twitter handles.

In a dossier compiled to highlight anti-racist approaches to right-wing demonstrations in Saxony, the Heinrich Böll Foundation offered a checklist for those who might be trying to develop anti-racist events in their location.  Their suggestions are recognizable to anyone engaged in ethical activist struggle: do not assume that you know what is best for those for whom you are attempting to advocate; sometimes the police are the best source of support, sometimes not; make sure to have an action plan for all possible outcomes; and be willing to deny neo-nazis access access to a protected space.  What I mean by “recognizable” is that the HBF’s suggestions are widely accepted as best practices for organizing (at the very least, these suggestions are commonly articulated in the US).

“Sichere Herkunftsländer”

One of the primary methods for the conferral of refugee status in Germany relies on the notion of “secure countries of origin.” In the talks between Merkel and Erdoğan, for instance, Turkey – in return for agreeing to secure its borders and keep more refugees from fleeing Turkish camps experiencing deteriorating conditions – was supposed to be declared a “secure country of origin.”  The Balkan states currently are seen as secure countries of origin. Die Zeit had an article a while back about the complications of declaring certain locations “safe”: due to the prevalence of common law known as kanun, Albania might no longer considered a safe country of origin for women. Similar concerns have been voiced for Rroma from Balkan states. Deutschlandfunk’s Europa Heute program recently aired a segment on the way that the Kurdish party in Turkey is the only electoral party positioning itself against homophobia.  This alliance between two oppressed groups – given Erdoğan’s tactics to persecute Kurds and LGBTs in Turkey – is important: not all identity groups experience insecurity in the same way. What is safe for majority cisgender men does not translate to safety for all people; those experiencing insecurity may sometimes be able to share strategies for survival through alliances. The moniker “secure country of origin” is thus reductive and can be disastrous for “women and other minorities,” including handicapped refugees. Feminist refugee politics would make use of a nuanced understanding of hierarchies of power based on an understanding of place.

Masculinity

As I mentioned here, a great deal of refugees daring to cross the Mediterranean or undertake the journey across the dangerous Balkan land route are male. It is unclear from the statistics I’ve seen how many men between the age of 14-34 are fleeing with partners or children. What has been garnering a lot of press attention – to the delight of the right-wingers, including “colonial” feminists – are reports of male violence within homes for asylum seekers, whether this consists of rape, knife fights or assault.  There is a large body of sociological research about gendered differences and group dynamics.  Given the contrast between a predominance of young, male refugees and mostly female volunteers attempting to support them, combined with cultural differences in problem-solving, gender roles and conflict resolution, a feminist refugee politics would require an informed approach to masculinity. This could include, but does not require, more male volunteers. More important than the gender of volunteers is an understanding of gender dynamics amongst volunteers. What conditions feed violence, especially gendered violence, within housing and registration centers? What kind of code-switching, cultural and linguistic, is required for German women to engage most effectively with men seeking refuge, and vice-versa? It is encouraging that we already have large amounts of research which engages with these questions. The challenge is to facilitate the application of this theoretical work to those providing services.

Trauma-informed model of care

Building on this understanding of gendered dynamics is an understanding of trauma, an area to which feminist critics have made important contributions (see Caruth, Scarry and Hartman, among others). What seems important is to move away from the racist association of (Muslim) male refugees as perpetrators (and a danger to white German women, as PinkStinks has articulated) and to include other kinds of trauma beyond sexualized violence. It has become widely accepted that trauma encompasses more varied experiences than was previously understood: how each person experiences an event – and this research on subjectivity has been a cornerstone of feminist research – starkly influences whether a specific experience will be felt as trauma.  War, chaos, culture shock and prolonged periods of instability can all be experienced as trauma.  Madeline Hron’s book, Translating Pain, explores how these migratory traumas are communicated in French and Czech literature; Gloria Anzaldua’s seminal work Borderlands offers vivid analysis of subjectivity for Chican@s in the US who are American citizens but consistently perceived as foreign or misplaced.  The prevalence of long-term mental health concerns caused by the rupture of migration will require a nation-wide impetus to develop trauma-informed models of care appropriate to the cultural needs of Muslim men and women. (See a moving articulation of one kind of pain in the documentary film Neukölln Unlimited.)

A Return to Multiculturalism

Finally, feminism must return to engaging theories of multiculturalism, no matter what politicians declare has happened to Multikulti.  Theoretical engagement with multiculturalism is quite different from its superficial engagement in politics.  As a system of population management, multiculturalism requires an articulation of group versus individual rights, as well as an understanding of gender as it travels between cultural spaces and legal expectations for cultural assimilation (see Susan Moller Okin). Journalistic scandals that only a few years ago had seemed somewhat dated, such as concerns about polygamy and child brides, are resurfacing.  By taking young girls into custody and separating them from kinship structures, the state may be perceived as causing further trauma or as delivering women and girls exploitation, as well as many other reactions in between.  Our attention must be directed to the cases for which there are no obvious solutions, and we should be prepared to negotiate pragmatically for solutions which attempt to minimize trauma without sacrificing attention to justice.  This work is tricky, because policy is rarely flexible and often requires on quantifying benefits for the most people. Making these kinds of decisions thus threatens to disrupt coalitions and alliances among groups with shared interests. It will cause conflict. At the same time, we must distinguish between journalistic scandals and public health concerns. The latter often feeds misplaced attention to populations stigmatized by the polemic attention of the former.

Feminist Refugee Politics – Points of Entry

What constitutes a feminist refugee politics?

This question is not new. But there are some particularities about the current crisis which demand that discussions of gender take a larger part in conversations than it has so far. Gender matters – it always matters. There are a couple of tropes that have been circulating which are specifically about gendered trends. One, which I have blogged about for the feministische studien, reflects the relationship between Kanzlerin Merkel and the CDU. To set up a binary: Merkel = female. The CDU (if we look at the photoshopped image from Die Welt below) = male.  (The caption reads: #MoreWomen Campaign. Without men Angela Merkel stands almost alone up there.)

The ideological conflict between moderate CDU members and the far-right CSU is influenced in some way by this discrepancy in proportional representation between female head of state and male party members. There are masculine expectations for hard power which Merkel supposedly inadequately exercises, especially in the eyes of her sister party. And now to deconstruct said binary: It is more likely for the press or party members to discredit Merkel as a “monarch” or “Mama Merkel” than to acknowledge that Merkel’s experiences growing up under dictatorship in the GDR (East Germany) are historically legitimate reasons for reacting to this kind of humanitarian crisis with open arms. Merkel, in a beautiful moment of living standpoint theory, insists that she knows what it is like to live behind a closed border and that she is very well aware of the violence a sealed border requires. Thus her emphasis on sentences like “Fences don’t help.

Another trope that has been given a lot of airtime is assertion that the refugees/forced migrants are 70% (or more) male. Given recent discrepancies brought to light by Nando Sigona on The Conversation, in an article which recounts his Twitter communications with Frontex that reveal that a large number of migrants might be counted twice, it seems increasingly urgent to use rigor in the ways that we quantify. While the majority may be young men, the racist associations of criminality, rape, assault and possible infiltration by religious terrorists rest on gendered fears of masculinity. The anonymous blog called The Syrian Boy has an interesting collection of images (the sources are unclear) which aim to disrupt that generalization.

According to this article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, this is how the gender totals break down across age groups:

  • 70% of asylum-seekers who were in the EU in 2014 were male
  • the gender split amongst children was nearly equal
  • 54% of the refugees are between the ages of 14-34 years; 75% of this group are men
  • refugees above 65 years of age were more likely to be women

They list their source as raw data from eurostat.

According to statistics from the Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees in Germany cited in the SZ, in 2014:

  • 2/3 of all asylum applications were from men
  • 28% of all applications were submitted for children under 16 (the largest group; slightly more boys than girls
  • among 16-34 year olds, the proportion was 70-77% men

The German feminist blog PinkStinks.de has published a recent post frustrated with the way these numbers are being interpreted as representing a threat to (White German) women. As they write on PinkStinks:

And while they [the editors of the magazine EMMA] raise important demands in order to protect women, they also swear on the image of a constantly assaultive Muslim man. “Our equality is in danger, too, when hundreds of thousands of mostly young men pour into our country.”

These political moves are unacceptable, PinkStinks writes:

The line was crossed a long time ago. And not just at the point where demands for equality and more protection for women are used in the service of nationalistic interests, but also at the point where people who are fleeing are being instrumentalized in order to push through their own images of equality and more protection for women.

It is nothing new to cover up racism with assertions of needing to protect women. Laura Bush was used effectively by her husband’s presidency to argue for protections for women under the Taliban and to justify war after 9/11. Blue burkas pervaded the national imagery alongside the image of vicious terrorists. These are tropes with which the Right is all too familiar – not just in Germany, the EU or in the United States. Canada just had a presidential campaign in which the niqab was a potent political symbol. The HuffPost has an entire page devoted to niqab articles. Düsseldorf just banned the piece of clothing for elementary school mothers.

While women’s equality is being evoked by (male?) politicians in the service of nationalism, what do we make of this info graphic from a study conducted by the Humbolt University in Berlin about volunteers in serving this population? This tweet from the WDR (Westdeutsche Rundfunk) describes the exact opposite proportions of volunteers compared to refugees: 70% are female; 30% male. (The tweet comment reads: There’s room for improvement, boys!)

 

The very acts of fleeing and helping are gendered; for forced migrants, the physical obstacles they encounter are great. It seems, however, as if the obstacles impeding men from assisting these people in effective ways are just as great within European society, if not as evident as the physical obstacles along the flight path.

For right now, this is simply about gathering evidence that shows some of the points at which gender is functioning as political capital in the European crisis. Part II (to be posted later) will explore how these tropes and images can inform feminist refugee politics.

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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