Migration – Emigration – Fleeing It’s a different country, there’s been a rupture in time

Correspondence
Correspondence | Photo: © Colourbox.de/Goethe Institut Max Mueller Bhavan New Delhi

Dear Aman,

there were elections, state elections. The right-wing, radical party, AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), and their rejection of refugee policy achieved big successes. Some people are in shock, others are acting like nothing happened. I believe it’s a different country, that there’s been a rupture in time. And now the question of the before and the after comes back up. How can we recognize this rip in time, the one births misfortune, that leaks darkness? Isn’t there anything we could have done, have seen, have known?

But they’re everywhere, or am I fooling myself? The signs that we’re in a new era. And they resemble each other, they’re similar in many parts of the world. It’s an epochal break, and the contours of the new one, of the 21s century, are becoming more and more distinct. The values of the old word, the values that a large portion of humanity had settled on after so many wars and so much carnage, don’t seem to be so important anymore. They’re no longer attractive in a time when authoritarian politics are fueled by fear.

That’s what links Trump to Modi. That’s what I hear from you from what you recount in India; I hear it in the tragic, moving words of a man who killed himself because he was “against the nation.” It’s this foolish, deadly fiction, that’s primarily just a vessel of hate and violence and that gives people a sense of security; security that’s only achieved at the expense of other people’s insecurity. It’s prosperity that relies on injustice, peace that gives birth to war.

Europe is also transforming right now, and the refugees are just a trigger. It could have been anything. It was once the Jews. They could become the target of attacks again. But today it’s most notably the Muslims that have been pigeonholed as the bad guys, because they revere a vicious God – everyone knows this all of the sudden. Their God oppresses women and kills people. An Austrian politician just said in parliament, and wearing a red tie, that they’re the Neanderthals coming back, a species that was luckily eradicated in Europe a long time ago.

It almost makes me speechless. I wasn’t acquainted with this kind of language; at most, I’ve heard it in history books. I’m not religious, and I believe that all of the monotheistic religions have violent tendencies. Their logic alone tempts violence. But the aggression towards Muslims, and especially coming from educated people, surprises, shocks me. But what does that even mean – educated? People really like clinging to this catchword, which would suggest that you can describe where the evil is coming from – namely that there’s a different, dark cause, which is the opposite of an education, which is supposed to make sure that people know they’re not allowed to torture, that they have to stick together, that respect is the only path to peace. But is education a safeguard against stupidity?

Obviously not. A friend of mine is a musician. He calls me practically every day to complain about how racist the people in his milieu are when talking about refugees, how they generalize. They blame Angela Merkel for the migrant flows that have global causes; they obfuscate correlations that are so obviously clear and plain: Not only the wars and injustices that are causes of the refugees’ movements, but also internal injustices and conflicts caused by many years of wonky capitalism – capitalism that favored the rich above everyone else and gave many people the feeling that they’re no longer part of society, since promises of prosperity and advancement are hardly applicable anymore.   

And if that’s the case? Then you can either get angry, which is one reaction – the authoritarian one. Or you think about how things could be different. That’s the other, constructive variant. I don’t say left or right, because these categories have lost their meaning in many respects. Authoritarian gist and fear are also inside people who would describe themselves as on the left. These categories have been offset – another part of the new world that we’re slipping into, without a plan, without certainties, fumbling, as we say here, for prospect, sometimes helplessly.

The thing people are afraid of is change. Hasn’t that always been the case? To me, being locked in an unchanging world is a dreadful idea. But the people who voted for AfD in three state elections en masse last weekend see things differently. Almost 25% in eastern Germany; 15% and 12.6% in the west. Concerned political commentators are now asking if they are all really right-wing radicals, as if there’s a litmus test for that.

I’ll tell you, I don’t care what people call them, whoever votes for a party that’s seriously discussing shooting refugees at the border, that’s spreading racist slogans and champions aggressive, egotistical nationalism, is so far away from what I consider democratically defensible, that one has to conclude that they want a different society. They don’t want a democracy. And so this election Sunday in March was really a break, and a cesura, for Germany, but also for Europe. It’s been hinted at already, this shift. It’s been proclaimed before. The pressure on Angela Merkel has been amplified by the media – her tone is a lot less humanistic recently than it was in summer and fall of last year. She increasingly seems to be returning to the old impulses of realpolitik. She does this even if many liberal or left-wing people see her as the only person to hope for, who they want to hope for, almost spitefully, since most of them didn’t used to have a friendly disposition towards this woman.

Are they deluding themselves? Or am I deluding myself? I’m don’t know exactly. A few days ago, I was sitting with a woman who has been committed to helping refugees for a long time. She’s part of a network of often very influential and powerful women. They’ve done a lot, I’d say. But that wasn’t enough for this woman. She was unsure of how she should continue. She had the feeling that the dynamics coming out of our civil society, everything positive that happened in recent months, has to be cast into a different form; that there has to be a transition into concrete policy perhaps; that the proposals and ideas, which have already changed society, need to become more visible, more sustainable and more resilient. And I think that’s right. The question posed by the success of the right-wing radicals, is how to counter them. To openly and consciously fight for the world that we want and that they hate.

A few days ago, three refugees drowned while trying to cross a little river on the Greek-Macedonian border. They were among the many thousands who for days, for weeks, have been held up on the border there, that was closed because European governments wanted it that way. That’s their policy. It’s official. It’s “on the record.” And later, when people ask once more, how could you guys have allowed that, nobody will have known anything about it. Now, according to lots of news reports, there were activists or aid workers on site – this speck of earth is called Idomeni – that supposedly encouraged them to get on their way, to find another route. They’re saying that leaflets were distributed that supposedly encouraged refugees to stop waiting. Some of these leaflets were signed, “Kommando Norbert Blüm,” after the former CDU minister, who is 80-years-old today and possesses the  remnants of a conscious and spent a night in this camp – in the rain, in the mud – out of solidarity, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Or perhaps it was out of rage, or maybe he was just clueless.

But what does all of this mean? What are these reports trying to say? That it’s the aid workers’ fault, the people supporting the refugees, and not the governments who have publicly dismissed the idea of human rights? The Balkan route has been closed since Austria closed its borders. Greece and Italy will become giant detention camps. And Turkey is our partner in a deal that won’t work and is extremely immoral. But morals are the stuff of calmer times it seems. Morality has become a explicative it seems. Morality – this is what I always think – is something people are afraid of, especially in this country, because this word recalls what happened here in the thirties and forties, when the Germans got angry. Because they were the ones that killed all the Jews and waged all the wars, not Hitler.

What could we have known, what could we have done? The summer months will be hard, I’m afraid, and sad. There will be some hard, but in the end, hopefully good years ahead of us.

I’m happy that you’re coming to Europe soon. I hope I can accompany you on your trips to the edges of this continent, to the edges of humanity.

As always, my warmest regards,
Georg

Berlin, 17th of March 2016