Migration – Emigration – Fleeing
Aman, beam me up!
This may sound a bit emotional, but I’m happy you exist. I am anyways, but especially am right now. When I write to you, it’s like I can beam myself out of all the insanity that I’m surrounded by on a daily basis. And I, like so many others, am suffering from it. People are talking about emigrating. For some people it’s just party talk. Others mean it seriously.
On the other hand, this letter beams me back into the middle of everything that’s happened in the weeks since I last wrote you. Is it still the same country? I don’t recognize the politics; I don’t recognize my colleagues. I can’t remember ignorance, meanness and resentment ever being bound together into such a hysteric, roaring bundle as quickly as they were after January 1st, 2016.
At the same time, I always have the feeling that I have to tell you something: Aman, be patient with me, I’m a European. We enslaved the world, but those were either my ancestors or, to a much larger extent, the British, the Spanish and the French. And we Europeans of today, we Easyjet-setters, are a strangely spoiled brood — we only know the stories of war and a life of affluence.
And a certain inexperience of the world is indeed actually one of the reasons for the excitement, for the political smear campaign, for the anti-constitutional suggestions, for the sheer opportunism that many are escaping into as if a new regime is already visible on the horizon and it’s about to be payday. Another reason may just be racism.
Refugees and “people with immigrant backgrounds” are no longer allowed to enter public swimming pools?! Refugees have to forfeit a significant portion of their money?! Mali is a safe third world country? Refugees have to wear a red armband, otherwise they won’t receive any money? The fact is, the people talking about the compulsion to integrate are the ones doing everything to make this integration difficult — mistrust, measures saying families cannot follow, and then lamenting that only “young men traveling alone” are coming to Germany.
It really is insane. 2015 was stressful. 2016 is insane. And the panic is growing, especially among the so-called people’s parties. The radical right-wing AfD (Alternative for Germany) party could supposedly receive 10 percent of the vote nationally. There are elections in March in some German states. And since one of the promises of salvation of the old Federal Republic of Germany was a stabil ‘party landscape,’ as the saying goes – Landschaft (landscape) is a very German word – that’s why this shift, which is a pretty unsettling shift among the old constellations, is almost a cultural breach for many.
They seem to really fear the pitchforks that an AfD spokeswoman wants to drive them out of office with. She recently said so at a demonstration. Political violence is suddenly on the table. On the other hand, there were 1,000 attacks on refugees or refugee shelters or generally-speaking anti-immigrant attacks last year. And this should be classified as terrorism, if you wouldn’t just rather – as many still would – talk about the “concerned citizens,” whose concerns need to be “taken seriously.”
This is the climate post-Cologne. Hardly anybody is talking anymore about the reasons people leave their homes and become refugees. The vast majority will only discuss the need to close borders, right now, unconditionally. They don’t talk about how to do that. They don’t talk about whether refugees, who still want to come, should be shot. They don’t talk about how Europe wouldn’t exist anymore, because Europe, this Europe, the one that wanted to put war in its past, is based on the free flow of people and dissolution of borders.
That seems to be all the same to you. You would rather talk about the return of the nation state, because you see what happened in Cologne as a failure of government. But a lot of people are quite gladly discussing the state now, which on the one hand is typical for this country, a country that has sought its fortune or better said misfortune in submission to authority; and on the other hand it’s cynical, because this call for the state, a strong state, often comes from those that wanted nothing, more each and every neoliberal day, than to get rid of the state wholesale.
But how does one come up with the idea of the nation state being a solution for an epochal phenomenon, like global migration? It’s obvious that they want to export weapons but that they don’t want to import the people that are fleeing the wars being wages with these weapons. But that won’t succeed. Because then they’d have to sacrifice everything that makes Europe what it is, at least constitutionally: freedom, equality, fraternity. And yes, you probably see things differently, they way my friend, Pankaj Mishra, does. In his book, From the Ruins of Empire, he analyses the West’s lies and crimes during the colonial period, drawing a connection between the democratic aspirations of countries like Iran, Turkey and China and interventions by the West. His conclusion is that Europe created an unjust world, which is now fleeing back to the origin of this evil by a devious refugee route.
So what, to put it differently, is a century? What is a century and a half? Circles eventually close but that’s not how people are thinking in these über-hectic times, and this is unique heckling. And the worst people are the ones that want nothing more than to drive Angela Merkel out, the crowds on the streets carrying gallows and signs that say “traitor” on them. But there are also the professors in the more reactionary sections of the daily papers, who say the same thing differently: Merkel betrayed “us” because her basic task is to prevent “harm to the German people.”
This is the sentiment behind what you quoted from the Zizek text. It’s one of the must unpleasant thought patterns, because it really is so reactionary, that’s currently making the rounds: Accordingly, egoism is the essential nationalistic kit, ethics are just for the good days, responsibility is for dreamers and humanitarianism is accordingly an episode in the European monotony. They’re riding with their backs to the sun. They’re reversing the course of history — this is their hope. However this plan won’t work, because in doing so, they’re taking away the breathing room. This is the danger. They detach Europe from the rest of the world. By trying to protect Europe with walls, with border fences, with boats in the Mediterranean and with arrangements with dictators like Recep Erdogan, they’re actually destroying it themselves.
Because the 21st century is the century of diversity. The culture warriors here don’t want to accept that. They rather spread the image of a murderous Islam, which automatically turns men into rapists. They rather fuel prejudice and hate, producing contempt for the democratic system. They’re acting like liberals, feminists and progressives, of all people, are to be blamed for what happened in Cologne. They’re truly ignorant. And sometimes I really can’t believe my eyes when I read some of the things they’re writing. And sometimes I have to question everything I thought about certain people.
Or about people in general. And this, to say something positive, has something thoroughly good to it. It’s a real reality check. And this is what you’re talking about. It’s what’s happening in the world. It’s the “agonistic intimacy,” which is what so many countries and cultures are made of. And yet, Europe has a strange phantasm, that of national homogeneity, something that’s hard to comprehend on a continent that’s been plowed through over and over by mass migrations. But maybe that’s exactly the fear that resurfaces in moments like these.
A historian just compared the current situation to the fall of Rome. Comparisons are dumb for the most part. This one was too. If the Romans had voted on it, would it have changed anything? If they had debated it? In the current situation, and this is what your question is getting at, it would certainly be difficult to hold a referendum for one thing. And I also don’t think that’s necessary. The essence of representative systems is what the people express by voting. I’m not an absolute advocate of this system. But it has its advantages. It currently guarantees a modicum of stability. Does Angela Merkel need to communicate differently, speak differently? Could she? Yes, with certainty. Parliament is the place for such a debate and it’s symptomatic and incorrect that this place is no longer being used.
The problem with the entire discussion is that it’s being held in such a defensive and fearful manner. But a few days ago, I saw how Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, casually and self-evidently explained why he took Syrian refugees into his country and why diversity is the future. And in Europe? There are politicians, from Poland in this case, that are seriously saying that vegetarians and bicyclists can not be allowed to be in power.
Aman, beam me up. Sometimes I really don’t know what I’ve lost on this continent.
Berlin, 27th of January 2016