Angela Merkel’s dastardly decision to throw open Germany’s borders to more than 1 million mainly Syrian migrants in 2015 didn’t quite go as planned.
The German Chancellor’s grandiloquent gesture meant to exorcise German history once and for all instead cleaved through the middle of a once-reliably measured and “open” nation.
Even in Germany, where most people one meets will insist with conviction that any stance outside of the squishy center is “extreme,” the migration question has exposed the chasm between rulers and the ruled.
Last week saw violent protests engulf the eastern city of Chemnitz, where a 35-year-old carpenter was stabbed to death. Two suspects are in custody. One suspect is Syrian, and the other Iraqi.
Famed German tolerance, the kind Merkel drew upon when declaring, “Wir schaffen das”—We can do this—has boiled dry, in Chemnitz at least.
As always, social media disfigured the protests, echo-chambering and manicuring events to suit both extremes. As always, the simplistic tapestry of black and white is more a shade of gray. What started as a demonstration of grief, was soon hijacked by the mirroring of extreme Left and Right.
Ghastly images of troglodytic Nazi bootboys joined in violent communion with, of course, their black-clad Antifa cousins, peppered paper and pixel. Both groups are execrable to anyone with an IQ above that of processed cheese.
Yet one politician of establishment cloth gets the point millions of people have scrawled across ballots recently: immigration is the issue.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer defended the protests, even claiming, quite unbelievably for staid German sensibilities that he would have joined in.
“If I were not a minister, I would have taken to the streets as a citizen—of course, not together with radicals,” Seehofer told German media.
Seehofer’s comment represents a clean break with the pervading liberal consensus which would have ruled Germany for another 50 years, if not for Merkel’s whimsy that let 1.5 million people cross into the country, no questions asked.
That decision ultimately led to a public spat between the two. The decades-long alliance between Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Seehofer’s Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) almost dissolved earlier this year after Seehofer, mindful of next month’s Bavarian state elections, demanded the power to send back migrants already registered in other European Union countries. Merkel buckled.
Alas, it’s probably too little, too late. Polls suggest Seehofer will lose out to the Alternative for Germany’s (AfD) hardline stance on the hot button of immigration.
Few establishment politicians would risk passing comment on febrile events like those at Chemnitz. But Seehofer went further, declaring immigration to be “the mother of all problems.”
Yet populism is supposed to be the preserve of the downtrodden and left behind. Germany is a rich, industrious, largely successful, and equal country. Though, Chemnitz nestles in the impoverished East, populist support across Germany is at levels unthinkable since 1945.
Why? Author and journalist Douglas Murray underscores a point radiant to anyone except establishment politicians: the stifling of debate has driven boiling swathes of ordinary voters into populist parties.
In Germany, for reasons which do not need belaboring, immigration is a taboo subject where the only “acceptable” opinion is to demand entirely open borders.
A refusal even to countenance a fair airing of the pros and cons of admitting 1.5 million people, many of whom now languish at the bottom of a highly-educated society, led to the hard-right AfD becoming the official opposition after riding a wave of anger into the Bundestag.
Scenes such as those in Cologne and Hamburg on New Year’s Eve 2015, where hundreds of women were sexually assaulted by groups of men predominated by new arrivals, inflamed a debate Germans were verboten to have.
The public mood has since hardened, with two-thirds of Germans agreeing with Seehofer that asylum-seekers already registered in another European country should be returned from the already glutinous border.
Across Europe, the immigration issue trumps all others. Italy, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary have witnessed hegemonic center-left parties dissolve into irrelevance as their blue-collar voters saunter toward the populist right. Sweden is next.
Immigration, no matter what fretful British commentators may claim, also won Brexit. Soon after, the historically noisome Front National scooped a third of the French vote.
Alongside the threat of terrorism, immigration lofts the top two concerns of citizens in every country in the European Union.
It is now the battleground upon which the future of Europe will be decided. Matteo Salvini, Italian deputy prime minister, is the de facto leader of what political scientist David Goodhart calls the “Somewheres.” Salvini squares off against the “Anywheres” champion in French President Emmanuel Macron.
Once heralded both as a populist antidote (quite unbelievably given his Rothschild years), and even a populist himself, Macron—darling of the Davosie—now enjoys a lower approval rating (31 percent) than President Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, Salvini’s Lega party has doubled its support since the March election and is now the most popular in Italy.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed within the contours of the European Parliament. Manfred Weber, leader of that power-center’s largest group of center-right lawmakers, earlier this week said he would “reach out” to Salvini and Hungary prime minister Victor Orbán ahead of parliamentary elections next May.
Weber, chairman of the European People’s Party (EPP)—a clot of center-right parties—senses the mood, imploring conservatives and populists to “listen to each other” and “find compromises.”
Weber hopes to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission president after next May’s crucial elections in which populists hope to elect one-third of lawmakers on populist platforms.
“We might desire something else, sure. But this is the reality,” Weber told Italian newspaper La Stampa. Someone, it seems, is listening.
Photo Credit: John MacDougall/AFP