A few weeks ago, I was traveling to the US for business. In San Francisco, the immigration officer looked at my passport and me and said after the usual questions and answers about what I was doing here and, most important for him when I would leave the country again: “I heard you have a lot of refugees in your country. I’m so sorry. Somebody must have invited them.” He laughed and gave me my passport back.
I didn’t know what to say at that moment. So, I have taken my passport and went to the baggage claim area, feeling very uncomfortable. Was that supposed to be funny? It wasn’t. Was he really sorry about it? Probably not. What was it? Just to say something. Maybe.
What matters is that the so-called “refugee crisis” in Europe, especially in Germany, goes around the world in very different forms and shapes, far away from reality. It’s not the case that Germans celebrate incoming refugees every day with welcome parties.
One could ask the question why so many people, not only in the US, don’t make a connection between the ongoing wars in so many countries as, for instance, Afghanistan and Syria, and the citizens of these countries who become refugees and are on their way to Europe, to Germany. Because their countries have been destroyed. Just a thought.
I never wanted to write about this issue. Not here on Sand Hearts and nowhere else. Now, I feel that I have to speak up as a German. The experience at the airport in San Francisco was a trigger for me to do so. I want to add my perspective, which is, of course, somehow subjective. Those of you who know me also know that I’m often struggling with my country and my culture. However, it drives me crazy to see how and especially what is and (what isn’t) reported in other countries about what’s going on in Germany. It’s not that we celebrate day and night the newly arrived refugees. We have to deal with serious issues here. So, a few thoughts from my perspective:
Chancellor Angela Merkel is not guided by empathy
Empathy is not her strength, never has been. She is a scientist; she studied physics. And she is the daughter of a Protestant pastor, and she grew up in East Germany. She is a person with a high level of awareness and lots of sensitivity on what’s going on around her. She loves to have control. Based on her awareness and her preference to control, she leads her party, the government, and the country. She is power-oriented, but she is not the “macho politician” as her predecessor Gerhard Schröder. She is also detail-oriented, and she always learns lots of facts before she makes decisions.
Based on her scientific background, she is used to thinking in systems and to address issues holistically. That’s why she is relentlessly fighting for European solutions. She is deeply grounded in the European idea, and she is used to fighting for what she thinks is the right thing to do, even if it takes many negotiations and many different approaches to achieve compromises. Her staying power is what makes her unique. Some of her critics say that she never made hard and brave decisions before the refugee crisis. That’s not true. Remember her “no” to nuclear energy directly after Fukushima. She immediately realized that nuclear energy will never have any future again in Germany. So, she made a decision against lots of lobbyists and many members of her own party for what she considered to be right. Her decision regarding the refugees is similar; it follows her basic beliefs and what she calls her “humanitarian and legal duty”.
I do not agree with all the decisions she has ever made, but I do agree with her statement:
“To be honest with you, if we now should apologize for being friendly in a case of emergency – then, this is not my country.”
I didn’t write this paragraph to find excuses for her decisions that brought Germany in a politically difficult situation, even if I completely agree with the principle, that people that really need political asylum should be able to get it. But as always, the devil is in the details. I simply wanted to shed light on how she makes decisions. I will address another potential reason: the German demographics.
Demographic challenges: Germany is growing too old
Germany is short on qualified people to work here. Especially jobs such as craftsmen and other qualified roles in the manufacturing industry are difficult to staff. There are not enough qualified applicants. As Germany has over years one of the smallest reproduction rates, this problem is increasing, for the economy, for our social systems and especially for the state-driven retirement system. This retirement system is based on the idea that those who work pay for those who retire. Nice concept, but it has been built on an unrealistic assumption that the economy would always grow, and the reproduction rate would always remain the same. This is a structural challenge that cannot be cured with tactical manoeuvres. Changing the system is politically not possible in a country that is driven by “redistribution”. This problem could be cured with qualified (!) immigration. As especially people from Syria are much better qualified than people from other countries, this might be an additional reason for Angela Merkel’s decisions.
Religion and culture are mixed up, not only in the news
In the news going around the world, religions and cultural issues are mixed up all the time with terrible consequences. Not only in this matter, in general. Germany is not a deeply religious country, but it is grounded in its German, Christian and European culture. So, it’s not that deeply religious Christs fear the Islamization of the Occident (as Pegida and the AfD want to make people believe). It’s much simpler: people in Germany are afraid to lose their culture, their values, to be overruled by other cultures that have different values and beliefs. People are afraid to be overruled by an increase in all sorts of criminal attacks. This fear is systematically fed by the news that mix up religious and cultural issues and that mix-up crime and religion. People are afraid of the women rights they have fought for decades. And sexual attacks and other crimes that happened, for instance, in Cologne on New Year’s Eve feed people’s fears even more.
People are afraid of not being able to walk around without fear in their own country. That’s what’s going on. People who are living next to a refugee home, which is mostly filled with young men from another culture, have fear to have their little daughters playing outside. They don’t allow their children to walk to school alone or to play outside. I know from families who already decided to sell their homes and to go elsewhere. These are issues that are not addressed anywhere.
Angela Merkel is the daughter of a Protestant pastor. She does not understand that people who don’t know a single sentence from the Bible and never visit a church feel threatened by another religion. This is exactly where culture is named religion and the other way around, causing lots of problems and misunderstandings. Both terms should be used very carefully and always be defined precisely. Crimes have to be named, and the criminalists have to be brought to justice, no matter what nation, religion or culture. Not doing so contributes to right-wing political potential, that’s destabilizing the country from the inside.
The right of asylum
I’m proud of our Basic Law (please remember that we have more than 60 years after the second world-war a “Basic Law”, it’s not even called a “constitution”). Article 16a ensures political refugees to find a home in Germany (“Persons persecuted on political grounds shall have the right of asylum”). That’s compassion in paragraphs. That’s one of the few things I love in my country. This right for political asylum is grounded in Germany’s horrible history, the Nazi regime and the Holocaust. It’s good that we have it. I don’t want to miss it. And I can tell you that as a German whose family was heavily impacted by the Nazis.
When too much is too much
Imagine a traffic jam. If it’s not an accident that blocks the road, it’s simply that too many cars want to drive at the same time on the same piece of road. As the capacity of the road is limited, too many cars at the same time, cause a traffic jam. And this is what’s happening since months in Germany. Too many refugees at the same time. That causes chaos, something this country tries to avoid at all costs.
Refugees in Germany are processed based on the federal principle the country is based on. That means, each state, such as Bavaria, Hassia (where I live), or Lower-Saxony, etc. has their central gathering points for refugees. And these “Erstaufnahmeeinrichtungen” simply crashed. There was temporarily no way to get more people in. All of them had to become very creative to master the huge amount of people. Too many people. From these centers, people are moved to different cities and villages, based on a certain “distribution formula”. And that’s when the refugees suddenly come into one’s neighborhood. The cities and villages had to identify buildings where the refugees could live, and they had to get the processes managed. And this is where the problems as mentioned earlier come from.
It’s still a huge problem that so many people are in the country who are not even properly registered. As soon as they are in a certain city, they often disappear to their families and friends somewhere in the country. And nobody has an idea who they are and where they are and how many are actually here. This is a problem that’s based on the federal principle. Merkel should have advised all Prime Ministers to shift priorities. But knowing German constitutional law, this is much easier said than done.
Many stories on what’s going on cannot be found in German newspapers. Let me give you a few examples from websites, reports and pages I’m following, and from people I trust, illustrating what’s really going in here. As an example, the child of refugees died in a hospital in Munich after it was carried across Europe by its parents for months. The child was very sick, and it got the best medical care it could get. But it died. The refugee father attacked the physicians physically because he accused them of being responsible for his child’s death. Is this understandable? Maybe. Is it acceptable? No. Who will go after them and bring this violence to justice? Nobody. Is that OK? No.
Some refugees bring illnesses in this country that were not treated here for many years. At some point, refugees have to be brought to a hospital. I know from a case in which the male refugee refused to be treated by a female doctor because of his “religion”. Is that acceptable? No. Refugees get free healthcare, and they refuse it because of religious reasons? It’s, at least, questionable. In this country, our “Grundgesetz” (Basic Law) applies. Men and women are equal before the law. In my opinion, this must be accepted by everybody who is coming into this country. It’s a shame that our President had to point this out specifically.
Learning from taxi drivers is what I do all the time. My favorite taxi driver who makes all my airport trips told me recently that he had customers to pick up from the local hospital. The address they have given him was an address where refugees live. You may ask “how did they pay?” They paid with a taxi voucher; my taxi driver had to turn back to the city to get his money. Oh wow. That creates trouble in a country with lots of people who live below minimum wage on social welfare, who have no chance ever to use a taxi.
Imagine a Bavarian District Administrator (“Landrat”), who tried everything to “manage” the situation with the incredibly huge amount of refugees in his district, who simply couldn’t stand it anymore to hear lots of high-level statements from Berlin, but no concrete help and support at the front line. This person went to Berlin and processed his own, lonely rally in front of the parliament. Brave. Powerful. And it shows the mere desperation of somebody who desperately tried to do his best.
The political landscape changed a lot: right-wing parties become way too strong
This is a long-term trend that has its roots in the German unification more than 25 years ago. At this point, the political landscape shifted to the left, even the party of the chancellor made a turn to the left. And with “Die Linke” there was all of a sudden a socialist party in the parliament, with origins in East Germany. There was less and less space for right-conservative people. Years later, many of these people were afraid of the Euro and the European monetary policy and found a new home within the new party AfD, which was initially totally focused on fighting against the European financial regulations. The party presented itself as an alternative to the German liberal party FDP which supported the Euro politics with only a few critics (and the party is nowadays close to being meaningless). Many liberal people switched from the FDP to the new AfD. But very quickly, the AfD evolved into an organization that became a new home for many very right-winged people and even worse, also for those who can be called racists or – Nazis. People who left the AfD in the meantime can tell insights that prove that this evolvement is even worse than it looks from the outside.
How do you deal with radical movements and tendencies, regardless if they come from the right or the left-hand side? In my opinion, address the real issues people are concerned about and fight them with good decisions and even better solutions. But this is not happening. Many problems are still not properly solved, and the lack of European solidarity makes things even worse. The established German parties call all newbies “radical” and by doing so, they open a space for them to become really radical. A kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. Isn’t this a horribly dangerous situation?
Currently, it seems almost impossible to say anything negative about the refugee situation, without being pushed to the right-wing of the political landscape, or even labeled a “Nazi.”
Dealing with Germany’s Nazi crimes was very different in West and East Germany
In West Germany, people learned in school a lot about Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, and the second world-war. The history had been processed, not pushed away. People learned since decades to live with many different cultures together. Currently, we have 8.2 million foreign people who live in Germany (overall population is 81.2 million). But these 8.2 million live mostly in the western part of the country. And that’s part of the current problem.
The “DDR” did not really process the past. The German Nazi past and the Holocaust were pushed away, not discussed. The horrible crimes had not been processed across the society. In addition to that, people didn’t learn how to deal with foreign cultures beforehand. East Germany was for decades a very isolated country. Fast forward to today, most Eastern states have a very small percentage of foreign people living there, often between 1 and 3% only. Now, we are all one country since more than 25 years. But people’s perceptions are still very different.
This background is not an excuse at all. Not by any means. But it might help you to understand why right conservative people and racists that are active in organizations like Pegida or the new right-wing party AfD have found their power base in East Germany. It may also explain why people’s resistance is so big over there, even if the percentage of foreign people, in general, is very low in the East part of the country.
Regarding the recent crimes against refugees in Clausnitz: This is a shame, and not acceptable at all. Clausnitz is not my country.
Fighting against other people just because of their race, their religion or any other reasons is simply not acceptable. See Basic Law, Article 3: Equality before the Law.
Let me close my thoughts with those from Christian Nürnberger, a highly respected German journalist and publicist, who summed up Clausnitz perfectly:
“Many of the Turks, Africans and Arabs that are living here are much better integrated in our society than those Saxons who whoop it up in in Dresden, Clausnitz, and Bautzen. And the problem is: We cannot send this hate mob back in their country of origin. We have to live with this mob. But what we don’t have to do is this: sending the political party who has raised this mob and is continuing to do so, with ten percent or more in the German parliament. We have to call on the AfD to take a firm stand and to ensure that their frantic supporters behave accordingly. But it won’t be sufficient that the party distances itself from the crimes. That’s their method: their leadership personnel behaves as serious middle-class agents, while they set targeted signals at the same time – such as shooting on refugees – and are happy about fire-raisers, rowdies and whips. This has to change. The civilized German society must outlaw the AfD for driving hate.”