Category Archives: Germany

It’s Not What it Looks Like

Tagesspiegel7.Okt.15

German news media have been having a rough week when it comes to images. Der Tagesspiegel printed a rather unfortunate front page with an image of Adolf Hitler (played by an actor for the upcoming film version of Timur Vermes’ novel Look who’s back) above a title about Merkel’s decision to make the head of the Kanzleramt (Altmaier) the coordinator for refugees. The insinuation: that the refugee crisis requires a dictator. They apologized with a sorry/notsorry-style tweet: “Oops, didn’t pay attention. Sorry! #wronglayout.”

Just a few days ago, on October 4th, the ARD television channel aired an episode of “Bericht aus Berlin,” their Sunday evening show about German politics. A discussion about refugees moderated by Rainald Becker took place against a backdrop of Angela Merkel wrapped in a black chador, posing in front of a Reichstag topped with minarets.

Merkel.BerichtausBerlin.4.Okt.2015ARD later issued a statement in which they stated that they hoped this “satirical” image would prompt discussion. Unfortunately, such images are all too common amongst the right-wing movement PEGIDA, which frequently defaces or photoshops images of the Chancellor, whom they would like to see resign. According to the ARD editors quoted in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the ARD is not too concerned about the resonance of their state-sponsored, public television graphic with the right-wing:  “We are pleased about the numerous criticisms of our graphic, and regret very much that some people are not in agreement with our representation of the Chancellor or have completely misunderstood it.”

The imagery in both of these examples, however, hints at long-standing criticisms of the German government, especially from conservative positions: if we swing too far left, and welcome (Muslim) refugees into our country, we run the risk of losing our identity. The position of the Muslim woman as a trope in this rhetoric of identity loss has been present for many decades (see the work of Fatima El-Tayeb, Yasemin Yildiz, Rita Chin, and Beverly M. Weber in English).  The identity loss, in this image, would also be drastic – and therein lies the potential for satire (which has missed the mark). For a stoic, East German CDU politician, who holds a doctorate in physical chemistry, to be swayed by the simple polemics of Salafism is more than unlikely, it is incredible. Furthermore, this image plays on racist stereotypes about the supposed submissiveness of Muslim women, and is also a way to punish Merkel for being a strong woman who is not yielding to the criticisms of some of her more conservative male colleagues in her party. Caricature is the direct outgrowth of ideological disagreement. What is bizarre about this caricature on the ARD network, however, is that this station – channel 1 – is supposed to provide dispassionate, public television broadcasting, not stoke the ideological flames of right-wing movements literally setting homes for Muslim asylum-seekers on fire.

 

 

 

Day of German Unity

October 3rd is a national holiday in Germany celebrating the reunification between the Federal Republic (West) and the German Democratic Republic (East) in 1990. Today marks the 25th anniversary of reunification.

Germans celebrate today by watching documentaries about divided Germany, visiting concerts and listening to speeches held around the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. According to Berlin Police, there are so many people out to celebrate that the S-Bahn has stopped letting people out at the Brandenburger Tor stop. At the same time, there are also demonstrations taking place between right-wingers and anti-fascists around the Berlin central train station. The numbers, as reported by the Berliner Zeitung, are not large – a little over 200 right now.

As Germans celebrate the “silver wedding anniversary” (BZ) of their reunification, the country is embroiled in a political debate about refugees, distribution through a European quota system, and rapid legal changes to adjust to the nearly 800,000 refugees Germany expects to receive this year. Joachim Gauck made headlines today for stating that the refugee crisis is an even bigger challenge that reunification. The CDU finance minister, Markus Söder (Bavaria) has apparently stated an even more foundational change to German law: he questions, according to Der Tagesspiegel, whether Germany should continue to offer asylum as a basic right (Grundrecht) in its Basic Law. This basic right, lest we forget, was enshrined in the (initially West German) Basic Law because of the horrors of Nazi persecution and their irresponsible mass movement of people against their will.

There are two historical moments worthy of remembering in face of the two political conversations happening simultaneously today: the massive amount of displaced persons (Heimatvertriebene) who flooded into (a much smaller) Germany after World War II, and the constant stream of refugees fleeing East Germany before the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961.

The numbers are staggering: upwards of 14 Million people were displaced in Eastern Europe after World War II. 236,390 East Germans fled to West Germany in 1961 alone; another 388,396  fled in 1989.

Rather than reacting with alarm, as most of the CDU/CSU has done, Germany could see itself as a master of refugee incorporation. Close to every twenty years, another wave of refugees has sought safety on Germany territory and incorporated themselves into German social and political life (1945, 1961, 1989, 2015), and the republic still stands.