Migration – Emigration – Fleeing
I don’t understand it myself...

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

Dear Aman,

I’d be happy to describe to you what’s going on in Germany at the moment – at least I’d be happy to try, because actually I don’t understand it myself. And incidentally that’s the way it is for most Germans – except for the ones who set refugee homes on fire: at least they know that they hate, and hate is what they’re looking for because they often have little to hold onto in their lives.

Everyone else, on the other hand, finds it difficult to say what kind of country they live in. Sometimes it seems like a dark Germany that scares them because the citizens flock together to form an obtuse mass. Then again it seems like a bright Germany that gives them courage because the citizens unite in solidarity. And then it seems like a dark Germany again in which the politicians cut their values and their humanity down a notch while the citizens provide the necessary help for everyone who needs it.

And there are many – 40,000, 80,000, 1.5 million people, from Syria, from Iraq, from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Eritrea or the Balkan states. They come because they’re fleeing from war and persecution in their homelands or in search of a better life for themselves and their children. Those are the numbers for this year, for Germany alone, and as always politics are made with those numbers, images are used to manipulate opinions, the media come under suspicion of being biased, etc.

Could we have known that these people were coming? No, say the politicians who have been looking the other way for years, who have ignored the war in Syria, who were hoping the refugees would stay in the camps in Jordan or Lebanon, who thought the journeys would be too far and the ocean too wide and the fences too high – they didn’t know human nature very well, that’s evident once again; they’re not acquainted with the despair, they don’t know what volition all those people have who set out with only a plastic bag in their hand.

Yes, say those who’ve been dedicated to the refugees’ cause for years, who’ve been interested in the war in Syria, which has been like a gaping moral wound in the West for four years; yes, say those who think in historical dimensions and understand the large-scale geo-political devastation wrought by the Americans since they invaded Iraq and threw the country into turmoil because they weren’t willing or able to create a democratic order there the way they did in Germany after World War Two.

We could go back even further, to 1919 and Woodrow Wilson’s betrayal when, after World War One, he broke his promise of independence for many countries, or back even further to the nineteenth or even the eighteenth centuries to the havoc caused by colonialism, and perhaps we’ll get there in the course of our correspondence: as you can see, I really just want to tell you what’s happening here right now, in Berlin, where I live and where the refugees find themselves confronted with a bureaucracy that often comes across as sadistic in its Kafkaesque opacity – and no sooner do I start than the entire vast history of the world washes over me.

But perhaps that’s also quite apt for the current situation: because the fates of the individual human beings who come here mingle with fears that are older, raise questions that are more fundamental, open dimensions that are more permanent. When there is talk – rightly or wrongly – of a “new Völkerwanderung”, then already that choice of words alone suggests that we’re facing something between the Mongol invasions of Europe and the Turkish march on Vienna. And indeed, the fears that are often invoked are fears of “Überfremdung” (foreign infiltration) and in particular the “Islamisation” of the so-called “Abendland” (occident) – another word I haven’t heard for a very, very long time.

In a certain sense it’s as if Europe had woken up out of a slumber that lasted twenty-five years – and now that reality is breaking over this languishing continent in all its vehemence, many people seem overwhelmed. Until now, for example, Germany has had a hard time admitting that it’s an immigration country – at least conservative politics have refused to accept that reality. In the present situation that’s backlashing, because the country that essentially grants unqualified right of asylum – a circumstance rooted in the history of Nazi Germany – has no immigration law that corresponds to the current needs.

So much for today. There’s plenty I can still tell you: about our chancellor, who confuses everyone except herself, about scenes of the kind I’ve never seen in Europe, scenes of readiness to help and scenes of chaos, about my hopes and doubts, about optimism and pessimism. But I’d be more interested in your perspective on all this, which seems to Germany like a historic watershed, but to many parts of the world naturally doesn’t.

Warm regards,