Migration – Emigration – Fleeing
Is the continent breaking up again right now?

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

Dear Aman,

I visited Lageso again today. That’s what they call the official post in Berlin where refugees have to register. Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales [Office for Health and Social Affairs Berlin], abbreviated as Lageso.

Like Pegida. Or Hogesa. It’s been an autumn of abbreviations with six letters. Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident. That’s what one is called. And Hooligans Against Salafists.

These are the scary six-letter-groups that have changed Germany. Especially Pegida, who march through Dresden every Monday and are getting more and more radical. They carry signs that say “traitor” on them and have a gallows with them that they hold ready for Angela Merkel.

And yesterday I happened to read two columns that spoke of a “putsch” against Merkel. This is the mood in Germany at the moment. Just as The Economist is calling Merkel a model European, which isn’t true either, CDU politicians and political journalists in Berlin with bite reflexes are working to push Merkel out of office. 

But what for? And why?

Back to Lageso. I was there for the first time in the end of summer. The people there were quiet, they were tired, they had made it. They were in Germany. There were about 400 people, I’d say, that were waiting to get a number, with which they’d continue to wait to get an appointment to make an application, which they then had to wait again to have processed.

That was strange to begin with. Even in Berlin, where a lot of stuff doesn’t work, an airport for instance, that’s supposed to cost 5.4 billion euros instead of 1.1 billion and may never be finished.

Is this Germany, some of them asked, the country where everything works and is on time according to cliché?

Is this Germany, many asked, when they saw the images of Lageso a few weeks after I was there, in late-September, early-October?

They were images of dismay, images of desperation, images of distress. “This is worse than in Turkey, worse than in Hungary,” said a Syrian refugee. “If I had the money, I’d go back.”

I was there one morning to behold the scene. Five thirty. Darkness. The shaded forms can be seen from a distance. They’re standing on the street, ten, 20, 200, more. Men on one side, women, children and families on the other.

The door opens at six. The people make a dash for it to secure the best place, they want these numbers, they need these numbers, it’s all about numbers. As if in the 21st century they couldn’t regulate everything online that isn’t working here. Every morning the same scenes, ambulances driving off with the injured of the mad scramble.

Maybe it’s not supposed to work. There are stories of corruption in Lageso, there are stories of violence against refugees by security guards, there was a boy, Mohamed, who got lost in the chaos and was only found weeks later, abused and murdered.

“We will manage,” that’s what Angela Merkel said. The help and the openness of a large share of the population reflect this.

“We won’t manage,” that’s the mood that they spin, the media, the politicians. Images like the ones from Lageso are useful for demonstrating that it isn’t working.

The chaos is produced synthetically, so it often seems, so some say. The chaos shows we won’t manage.

And that was the point at which I had to cringe for a second when I read your mail. I thought, yes, you’re right, yes, that’s the view that I wanted to present, forms without dignity, without civilization. That’s the image that should be generated, because it can be manipulated to dehumanize the refugees, to reduce them, make them into an abstract quantity, into a number.

I wanted to present this mechanism to you. And I realized all of the sudden, that this sight, this point of view, this thinking has made a greater impression on me than I thought.

You talk about the state, the nation, the framework that the Europeans gave to politics – and you talk about it critically.
You say that it’s old thinking, that it’s dangerous thinking. And you’re right.

“What the Left has missed, is the utopia of internationalism,” my friend Nils recently said at lunch. If you believe in the nation as a solution for anything, then you’ve already lost.

But why did it sound for you like that’s what I wanted to suggest? Or did I even say it that clearly?

Alternatively: The state, the way it currently exists, may actually function better than the supranational constructions, the EU for instance, which degrades into egoisms.

Aman, how do you see an ideal order? What do you see for the future? What can Europe learn, from India, from other parts of the world?

What Europe is going through right now is a renationalization not only of thought, but also in politics. Egoism. Pop-psychological conjecture. Old role plays.

It is horrible. It’s as if you were to break through the base and realize that there’s no net, nothing to stop you and hold you up.
Is the continent breaking up again right now in front of our eyes? Sometimes it seems like it. The dramatic part of this is almost less, as you rightly say, that it’s breaking up, which is dramatic enough – the really dramatic part is that there’s a thought vacuum, a perplexity in policy, which you observed from a distance very well and precisely and better than I did.

In a certain sense you caught me. You noticed something in me that I don’t want to see. I consider myself to be outside of a world of thought that only talks about “self-defence” and “invasion” and “measures.” They just decided that Syrian refugees will only receive a provisional admittance and that there families in Syria won’t be able to join them here, where they would be protected.

They should remain amidst war, in distress and in misery. How can a country overcome this moral blemish? This kind of decision?
But am I myself so far removed from this policy? In your words a self-evident utopia appears, one that I’m missing. With the relentless news reports here it’s hardly possible, it seems sometimes, to lift your head up and regard the situation clearly and to see yourself in this scenario, one character among others.

You spoke of Abdul, who is a mentch, as my friend Igor would say, Yiddish for a person of integrity; he is a musafir, that’s what you call him, and it’s good that you told me about him, because of course there’s dignity in him, there is beauty and there is liberty in him.

But we want to see the people that are coming as weak. We want to see them as a mass. We also arguably want to see them as degraded, to whom we can give back some dignity out of our good graces.

We, we, we.

Who is this we?

It’s an awful train of thought you’re referring to. It’s an extremely Western, European, German view. It’s the egoism of colonists. It’s the white man’s burden, again and again.

Abdul, the mystery, the man that crossed the German-Swiss border in bright cycling gear, who was happy here and then again not, because happiness is an attribute not a condition. This Abdul that disappeared again, who knows where to – this Abdul is existence in the emphatic sense.

Not in this pitifully threatened, threatening tone, which is used when talking about the mass of refugees, as beings who remain in the minority in their passiveness.

A person is most dangerous, so it seems, and also most normal in what he or she does. Free and self-determined.
This person is the threat. For any order.

Thank you for showing me that again with Abdul’s story.

It was very quiet again today in Legaso by the way. I’m going to try and find out why it was like that today and what changed. And I’ll report back to you.

Sincerely yours, as always,

Berlin, 11th of November 2015