Clearly unworthy when measured up against previous winners such as Obama and the EU, Angela Merkel wasn’t awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after all, but, following in the footsteps of other German chancellors (post and, ahem, prewar) she has been declared Time’s “person of the year”. Such a designation does not necessarily denote approval, but in this case it most certainly does.
To trudge through the hagiography in which Time explains its choice is to risk drowning in syrup. To believe it just takes naiveté, although ignorance helps. And the article is as interesting for what it doesn’t say as for what it does. Given the pieties that saturate most of the American media, it’s no great surprise to see Time hymn Merkel’s catastrophic decision to, as the magazine puts it, throw open Germany’s doors “to a pressing throng of refugees and migrants”. That decision was “the most generous, openhearted gesture of recent history”. It was also “bold, fraught [and] immensely empathetic”.
And Time’s omissions are no great surprise either. In what purported to be something of an overview of Merkel’s career, it is revealing that the article has nothing to say about her disastrous energy policy (a mixture of panic and greenery) or the failure to build on the economic reforms that her rather braver predecessor had put in place. It had nothing to say either about her curiously equivocal attitude towards Russia, tough talk on some days, boosting a Russian gas deal on others (to the horror of large swaths of Eastern Europe). The piece does look at the role Merkel played during the euro zone crisis, but there is nothing on the role she played in ramming through the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, an affront to democracy that is not the only reminder that she had not left the authoritarianism of her East German homeland (where she did rather better than the article suggested) entirely behind.
To be fair, the article also notes this:
The paradox is that by opening the gates to Syrians, Merkel threw into doubt the larger project of Europe. The most immediate danger is the free movement between Schengen countries. That barely visible border between Austria and Germany is now backed up for miles, as police open every truck looking for smugglers. Sweden has shut its doors, recently imposing border checks. And France declared a state of emergency after the Paris attacks, which amplified fears that terrorists may be entering with refugees, as two of the Paris attackers reportedly had. Many Germans share those fears, but elected officials in Berlin seem more concerned that all the other attackers evidently grew up in Europe and were radicalized in the ethnic ghettos that spring up when immigrants are not integrated in society, a prevalent problem in Belgium, for example.
And, of course, admitting large numbers of new immigrants will just do wonders for an integration process that has, to say the least, been less than a success.
In a post back in February 2011, I noted that Merkel and other European leaders had recently condemned multiculturalism, a policy that Merkel admitted had “failed, totally”. I concluded it by asking what Cameron, Sarkozy, and Merkel would actually do about this. My guess was “nothing”.
In Merkel’s case, I was clearly too optimistic.
The writers of the Time piece do, however, briefly discuss some of the more hostile responses to Merkel’s grand gesture:
Germany’s right wing has surged as well, with thousands attending weekly anti-immigrant rallies in Dresden…. “What unites us,” says Lutz Bachmann, co-founder of the movement, called Pegida, “is the feeling that the politicians are no longer paying attention to us.”
Some analysts share that concern, arguing that by stigmatizing all right-wingers as neo-Nazis, German postwar politics offers no legitimate outlook for those who find no ear in center-right parties that, lately, are far more center than right.
That last sentence is worth remembering.
Der Spiegel looks at this question (and related topics) in a much more detailed article that is well worth your time. It comes with a clear slant, but, even if you adjust for that it’s not difficult to detect the damage that Merkel’s narcissistic irresponsibility risks doing to German politics
Here’s an extract with a few numbers:
German society seems more unsettled than it has in a long time. In a survey performed by TNS Forschung for SPIEGEL, 84 percent of respondents said that the large number of refugees currently coming to Germany will result in “lasting changes” to the country. Some 54 percent said they are concerned that the danger of terrorism is higher due to the influx of refugees and 51 percent believe that the crime rate will rise. Forty-three percent are worried that unemployment will increase.
They clearly don’t think it will be their year.