|“I don’t know what the hell she’s thinking,”|
quinta-feira, 3 de março de 2016
Merkologists explain Merkel
Merkologists explain Merkel
She was so predictably rational. Then came the migration crisis.
By KONSTANTIN RICHTER 3/4/16, 5:35 AM CET
BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a rare talk show appearance last Sunday to reiterate her stance on the refugee crisis. Six million people watched. She hasn’t changed her mind, she told them. German borders will be kept open. A European solution must include Turkey. And yes, she said, she still believes the crisis will — eventually — be resolved.
To people who aren’t German news junkies, Merkel’s appearance probably seemed like old news. To those in the know it obviously didn’t. In countless articles, tweets and blog postings, commentators reviewed the finer points of the Chancellor’s performance. They studied every detail with the meticulousness of Kafka scholars. How often did Merkel choose the first-person perspective? Was she quoting the Bible when she said that “belief can move mountains”? What did she mean when she called her approach “logical”? And did she really giggle at one point in the interview?
Angela Merkel has always been a politician in need of a little exegesis. Years back when she took over as CDU party leader and then as German chancellor, even seasoned correspondents didn’t know what to make of her. She was a novelty in political Berlin, a woman from East Germany and a quantum-chemistry scientist. She didn’t fit the stereotypes. They called her “a mystery” and “a sphinx” — and they got down to work.
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Understanding and explaining Merkel has turned into a kind of academic discipline. Germany still has a relatively vibrant newspaper industry and enough reporters with time on their hands to write long, thoughtful pieces. Every year or so, the country’s book publishers churn out a couple new Merkel biographies. There are Merkel blogs, Merkel plays and Merkel dissertations (“Power Physics: Leadership strategies of Angela Merkel, CDU chairwoman, in inner-party power struggles, 2000-2004”). A Hollywood-style motion picture, scheduled for release in 2017, is in the works, too.
Although the nation’s Merkologists come at the chancellor from different angles — left, right, positive, negative, religious, feminist — most of them agree on a couple of things: Merkel is a cautious and secretive politician who has been shaped by her upbringing in the socialist GDR. She shies from making commitments that could come back to haunt her. As a research scientist, she observes how things develop rather than jumping right in. She’s guided by cool rationality, rather than instinct or emotions. And she has introduced the scientific concept of backward reasoning to German politics: She defines the best possible outcome, then figures out how to get there. Some Merkologists would also argue that she lacks strong convictions and lets public opinion influence her decision-making (as in 2011 when she abruptly chose to opt out of nuclear energy). In short: They thought they had her figured out.
Merkologists have gone into overdrive, scrambling to make sense of the new Merkel.
Then last summer, when most Germans were still in vacation-mode, Merkel took the country by surprise in a very un-Merkel-like way. She made a seemingly rash decision to take in thousands of refugees stranded in Hungary. She came up with an uncharacteristically simple and emotional phrase: “We’ll make it” was Merkel’s version of Barack Obama’s “Yes we can,” and it immediately captured the popular imagination. She posed with refugees for spontaneous selfies that went viral and, according to her critics, abetted the influx. She failed to coordinate her open-borders policy with EU partners or German lawmakers. And then, as German public opinion turned against her, she simply stood pat.
“I don’t know what the hell she’s thinking,” Donald Trump said recently. Many Germans, though generally no fans of Trump, have been asking themselves the same question. Merkologists have gone into overdrive, scrambling to make sense of the new Merkel. They’re putting out more text, appearing on talk shows and writing addendums to their books — and the fog has cleared a little. Some of the most outlandish hypotheses, involving, say, the influence of extraterrestrials or the CIA, have been ruled out. But a handful of explanations remain.
The continuity theory
This one is the most popular among Merkel’s biographers. According to the continuity theory, Merkel hasn’t changed at all. She is still the super-rational scientist who methodically looks at every issue with the best possible outcome in mind. Characteristically, she let the refugee crisis simmer for a while. But when the numbers of refugees skyrocketed last summer, Merkel decided that the EU and its Schengen agreement were at risk. So she came up with the plan that Germany would bear the brunt of the crisis until a European solution could be found.
The legacy theory
This theory complements the first, but adds a little spice. It goes something like this: Although Merkel hasn’t changed all that much, she’s now less concerned with public opinion and more with how she’ll be remembered. Merkel is in her third term and has little to lose. Which is why she’s willing to think big and take a high-stakes gamble on something she truly believes to be right.
The charity theory
The theory was popular last summer but has lost some of its appeal since then. Merkel, it posits, was overwhelmed by emotion in the face of a humanitarian crisis. She’s a pastor’s daughter, after all, and more of a devout Christian than we knew. Plus, all those Southern Europeans who’d called her an austerity Nazi got to her, and she wanted to atone somehow. The charity theory found its most powerful expression in a Spiegel cover that showed Merkel as Mother Teresa. Adherents point to Merkel’s frequent use of religious terms like “belief” and “hope.” On the whole Merkologists think it unlikely that a politician as pragmatic and down-to-earth could have suddenly turned into a religious zealot.
The theory of Realitätsverlust
Some Merkel critics have argued that she’s lost the plot, and champion the theory of Realitätsverlust, which sounds a little like the theory of relativity but means something entirely different. Christian Lindner, leader of the liberal Free Democratic Party, suggested that Merkel has lost touch after 10 years in power and suffers from Realitätsverlust, or “detachment from reality.” Adherents point to a number of strategic and communicative mistakes Merkel allegedly made — such as her failure to involve other EU governments in her decisions or her claim that German borders cannot be secured. They also quote Merkel saying that Germany “is no longer my nation” if Germans aren’t welcoming to refugees — a statement that, coming from a democratically elected leader, sounds a little supercilious. Merkologists who’ve kept up with Merkel in recent months couldn’t disagree more, though, insisting that “she’s very much the same” (Süddeutsche Zeitung) or “still the old rational politician” (Der Spiegel).
The theory of betrayal
Finally, there’s the theory of betrayal, which is popular with conservative and right-wing Merkel-haters. They believe that Merkel, in her quest for total dominance of the German electorate, sold out to the left. Having successfully moved the CDU to the political center, Merkel is now fishing for Green and Social Democratic votes and thereby launching a process sure to destroy German identity. One particularly conservative biographer recently wrote that Merkel is pursuing the “radical vision” of “Germany as a multinational state.” Proponents of the theory of betrayal can point out that Merkel has made friends and earned fans on the left, including Baden-Württemberg’s Green governor Winfried Kretschmann. At the same time, Merkel’s government has also toughened Germany’s asylum laws in an effort to stem the influx of refugees. The Merkologists’ verdict? Merkel is more pragmatic and flexible than most conservative voters would like, but she hasn’t gone left-wing.
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The work of Merkologists doesn’t end here, of course. Later this month, regional elections take place in Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony-Anhalt. The coming EU summit with Turkey will dominate the news cycle early next week. If Merkel prevails and resolves the crisis in the coming months and years, she’ll likely go down as one of Germany’s great chancellors. Then she can retire and write memoirs — spawning additional biographies, in turn. And if she fails, we can expect more biographies too, though they’ll strike a different tone. It’s easy to imagine the titles: They’ll be called “Misguided — Where Merkel Went Wrong,” or better still, “A Fatal Lapse of Reason — The Rise and Fall of Angela Merkel.”
Konstantin Richter, a German novelist and journalist, is a contributing writer at POLITICO. He is the author of “Bettermann” and “Kafka was Young and He Needed the Money.”