What were your worst moments in Chennai

Migration - emigration - flight
Aman, beam me up!

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

Dear Aman,
 
that may sound a bit pathetic now: But I'm glad that you exist. Anyway. But especially now. When I write to you, for a moment it is as if I can beam myself out of the madness that surrounds me every day. What I, like so many others, suffer from. People talk about emigrating. For some, this is party talk. For some it is serious.
 
On the other hand, this letter beams me right back into everything that has happened in the weeks since I last wrote you. Is that still the same country? I don't recognize politics, I don't recognize my colleagues. I can't remember that ignorance, meanness and resentment ever combined into a hysterical, roaring bundle as quickly as after January 1st, 2016.
 
At the same time, I always have the feeling that I have to say: Aman, be patient with me, I'm only European, we may have subjugated the world, but they were either my ancestors or, for the most part, English, Spanish and French - and us Today's Europeans, we easy jet setters, are a strange spoiled breed, we only know the stories of war and a life of prosperity.
 
And a certain inexperience is actually one of the reasons for the excitement, for the political smear campaigns, for the anti-constitutional proposals, for the sheer opportunism into which many take refuge, as if a new regime was already visible on the horizon and payday was coming soon. Another reason may be racism.
 
Refugees and "people with a migrant background" are no longer allowed to enter municipal swimming pools or only with company? Refugees have to give up a substantial part of their money ?! Is Mali a safe third country? Refugees have to wear red bracelets, otherwise they won't get any money? The fact is: Those who always talk about the compulsion to integrate do everything to make this integration more difficult - mistrust, measures, the family is not allowed to comply, and then it is lamented that only "young men traveling alone" come to Germany.
 
It’s really crazy. 2015 was just exhausting, 2016 is crazy. And panic is growing, especially among the so-called people's parties, because the right-wing extremist AfD is now said to get more than 10 percent of the votes nationwide. In March there are elections in some federal states. And because one of the promises of salvation of the old Federal Republic was the stable party landscape, as it is called - a very German word: landscape - that is why the change, the rather unsettling change in the old constellations is almost a cultural break for many.
 
You really seem to fear the pitchforks with which an AfD speaker wants to drive you out of office, she said recently at a demonstration. Political violence is suddenly an issue, on the other hand there were 1000 attacks on refugees or refugee shelters or in general xenophobic attacks, what one would call terror - if you don't prefer, as many still do, by the "concerned citizens" want to speak, whose worries one must "take seriously".
 
Such is the climate after Cologne. Hardly anyone speaks more publicly about the causes of flight and displacement, most of them only talk about the fact that the borders have to be closed, absolutely, now. But they don't talk about how that should work. They don't talk about whether to shoot refugees if they want to come anyway. You are not talking about the fact that Europe will then no longer exist because Europe, this Europe that wanted to overcome the war, is based on freedom of movement and the dismantling of borders.
 
But they don't seem to care. They prefer to talk about the return of the nation state because they call what happened in Cologne a state failure. In general, many people are particularly fond of talking about the state again, which on the one hand is typical of this country, which has so often sought its luck or, better still, its misfortune in submission to the authorities; and what is on the other hand cynical, because this call for the state, the strong state, comes particularly often from those who in all the neoliberal days wanted to do nothing more than abolish the state in general.
 
But how can one come up with the idea that the nation state is a solution to an epoch-making phenomenon like global migration? Sure, they want to export weapons, but not import people who are fleeing the wars that are waged with these weapons. But that won't work. Because for this they would have to sacrifice everything that defines Europe, at least in constitutional theory: freedom, equality, fraternity. And yes, you probably see it differently, just as my friend Pankaj Mishra sees it differently, who in his book "From the Ruins of Empire" analyzes the lies and crimes of the West in the colonial era and establishes the connection between the democratization efforts in Countries like Iran, Turkey, China and the interventions of the West. His conclusion: Europe created the unjust world, which is now fleeing to the source of the evil by taking a detour.
 
In other words, what is a century, what are 150 years? The circles close at some point, but of course hardly anyone in these hectic times thinks that it is a single hackle, and worst of all are those who want nothing more than to push Angela Merkel away, the crowd on the street with the gallows and the word "Traitor to the people" on the posters, but also the professors in the reactionary sections of the daily newspapers, who put it differently and yet mean the same thing: Merkel betrayed "us" because it is her basic task to "avert harm to the German people".
 
That is the thought you are quoting from the Zizek text. It is one of the most unpleasant, because it is really the most retrograde thought patterns that are currently making the rounds: Egoism is then the essential nation-state kit, ethics is only something for good-weather days, responsibility something for dreamers, and humanity would therefore only be an episode in Europe It doesn't matter. You ride with your back to the sun. You reverse the course of history, such is your hope. But this plan will not work because it will make you breathe. That is the danger. They detach Europe from the rest of the world, and by wanting to protect Europe with walls, with border fences, with boats in the Mediterranean and with agreements with dictators like Recep Erdogan, they are destroying Europe.
 
Because the 21st century is the century of diversity. The culture fighters here do not want to admit that. They prefer to spread the image of murderous Islam that automatically turns men into rapists. They prefer to stir up prejudice and hatred and produce contempt for the democratic system. They pretend that leftists, feminists and progressives are to blame for what happened in Cologne. They are real ignoramuses, and sometimes I really can't believe my eyes when I read some of the things they write. And sometimes I have to question everything I've thought of certain people.
 
Or about people in general. And that, to say something positive, definitely has something good. A real reality check. And that's what you mean. It's what happens in the world. It is the "agonistic intimacy" that defines so many countries and cultures. Europe has a strange phantasm, that of national homogeneity, which is difficult to understand for a continent that has been plowed through again and again by migrations of peoples. But maybe that's exactly the fear that comes back up in moments like these.
 
A historian has just compared the current situation to the fall of Rome. Comparisons are mostly stupid. It was this one too. Would it have changed anything if the Romans had voted on it? What if they had debated? In the current situation, and that is what your question is aimed at, it would certainly be difficult, on the one hand, to hold a referendum. And I don't think it's necessary either. It is the essence of the representative system that the people express themselves in elections. I am not a pure advocate of this system. But it has its merits. It currently guarantees a minimum of stability. Could, should Angela Merkel communicate differently, speak differently? Yes for sure. Parliament is the place for such a debate and it is symptomatic and wrong that this place is no longer used.
 
The problem with the whole discussion is that it is so insanely defensive and frightened. A few days ago I saw Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, explain so easily and naturally why he accepted Syrian refugees in his country and why diversity is the future. And in Europe? Are there politicians, in this case from Poland, who seriously say that vegetarians and cyclists are not allowed to have power.
 
Aman, beam me up. Sometimes I really don't know what I've lost on this continent.
 
All best,
George
 
Berlin, January 27, 2016

author

Georg Diez worked as an editor for the features section of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung and the Zeit. Today he writes about cultural and political affairs for Spiegel magazine and once a week his much-read column "The Critic" on Spiegel Online. He is a co-founder of the experimental journalism platform www.60pages.com and a book author. Most recently, "Alexanderplatz Berlin" (60pages) and "The Last Freedom" (Berlin Verlag) appeared on the right to one's own death. Georg Diez lives with his family in Berlin.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan New Delhi
January 2016

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