By Soumya Ghosh
British philosopher Karl Popper stated in his book ‘The Open Society and its Enemies’,
Karl Popper was right about one thing. Society at times tends to tolerate the intolerant, and in doing so it opens the floodgates of extremism. This theory was exemplified by the recent terrorist attack in Berlin.
Popper furthermore believed in empirical falsification: A theory where instead of finding proof to support a hypothesis, the theory strives to find an argument or observation which negates the entire hypothesis. The events which unfolded in Breitscheidplatz a few days back are, in essence, a negation of Chancellor Merkel’s hypothesis that Willkommenskultur (welcome culture) will work.
The German dilemma
Germany is now at a crossroad facing a dichotomous choice. Should it bow down to the demands of the right-wing populists or stand true to its altruistic notions of helping those fleeing from war and persecution?
A black semi-truck plunged into a group of people at Berlin’s famed Christmas market.
Uneasy anxiety now replaced the shattered windshields of the semi-truck. Berliners were shrouded and began coming face-to-face with the stark reality of foreign-exported terrorism.
The Breitscheidplatz market quietly reopened on Thursday. Street shops sold the iconic German Glühwein, crafts, and trinkets. Most Germans are reacting to this barbaric act of terrorism with heroic calmness, the way everyone should.
A series of repercussions
When Chancellor Merkel opened the borders of Germany to million-plus migrants, most arrived from war-torn Syria and Afghanistan. However, others also exploited this opportunity to enter Germany to find better employment and living standards. Merkel, cautious of next year’s Federal elections, decided to take a more conservative stance. With a backdrop of hardening public sentiments at the CDU’s (Christian Democratic Union) conference this year, she backed a ban on the niqab and vowed to toughen asylum regulations.
In many German cities, chants of ‘Merkel Muss Weg’ (Merkel must go) replaced Merkel’s calls of ‘wir schaffen das’ (We can do it). Right-wing activists took the streets to protest against the Chancellor’s open-door policy. They exploited potential fissures within the German society and exposed the soft underbelly of German sentiments. In the due process, the debate about refugees and terrorism was reignited.
As chants of Wir Sind Das Volk (We are the people) echoed the streets of Dresden, a resurgent right-wing heralds a new era of politics in Germany. Germany, a country where many citizens continue to grapple with its Nazi past, supporting populists is no longer a taboo. Albeit, the right-wing Afd (Alternative for Germany) party is not part of the mainstream. If opinion polls were to be inferred from, they soon will have a huge say in decision making.
The pawns of politics
Frauke Petry, 41-years old, with a shoddy pixie haircut is the unlikely head of the right-wing party AfD. Petry is a mother of four, and an ex-businesswoman with a Ph.D. in Chemistry. She now leads a party, notorious for making anti-refugee and anti-Muslim comments. AfD is carefully choreographing its messaging and positing itself as socially acceptable.
The AfD party was initially conceived to oppose German participation in the Eurozone. Its mantle was to stand against German’s financial policies vis-à-vis the Eurozone crisis and in particular, Greece. Now it has assumed the mantle of right-wing populism.
Time to act
As the dominoes of countries fall to the illiberal forces in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere, the values of humanitarianism, unity, and brotherhood must be held close. Repudiation of the dystopian future painted by the populists is needed. And not by outcasting the supporters of populist parties, but by using rational arguments put forward to contradict their rather dubious claims.
Germany is now at a juncture of its own destiny. It faces a startling dilemma. The ominous question of refugees, integration, and terrorism looms large. How Chancellor Merkel decides to address them will have long-term ramifications for the future of Germany. Against the onslaught of populism, can she stay true to her altruistic notions of helping those fleeing wars? Or will her potential vulnerability in next year’s elections make her rethink about open-borders and refugees?
The ascendancy of Trump and Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union has left a power vacuum in the Western world. Germany is rightly positioned as the vanguard of liberal values. With an expansionist Russia to the east, the forces of the right to the west, it must fill this vacuum and assume the mantle of leadership. What happens in next year’s German elections doesn’t only shape Germany but probably also the world – for years to come.