"She is the surprise of a cloud
In the burning heart of the May!"
- Rabindranath Tagore. 'Krishna Kali'
Angela Merkel is there and is not there. Her party is over and not over. After being at the helm of united Germany for 16 years (a record for all western democracies) and ushering in a fresh vision and style to German, European, and World politics is Merkel taking a breather or pondering some higher role in global politics? Only time will tell. For now, she is still the Chancellor until the new incumbent takes over.
Accolades have been chasing Merkel since she announced that Germany would have a new Chancellor after this September elections. Currently in her mid-sixties (no age to retire in politics), and having earned the sweet nickname Mutti-Mother (superior?) -in her own country. She has been compared to other great ladies of modern politics-Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher: Sirimao Bandarnayake, and Aung Saan Suu Ki. The lady premiers of Bangladesh are not mentioned-not surprisingly, since longevity at the top has been the criterion! Ironically, the feeling of 'enough is enough' that was predominant in the case of Indira and Thatcher is absent in the tributes paid to Merkel. While in office she was always among the first three in the list of most powerful individuals in the world and carried that distinction with remarkable ease-as if to show that she deserved it by right.
Who then is this influential feminist (according to her own most recent statement about herself) who strode national-regional-global politics with inbuilt confidence – two images come to my mind: Merkel walking casually with Obama and Merkel standing dauntingly, while Trump is seated at a table with that arrogant trademark pout of his! How, without having children of her own gave the motherly warmth to her nation, which was defeated, humiliated, divided, and reunited in the historically short span of forty years?
Merkel was born in the mid-1950s when Germany was crushed under 'collective guilt' nationally and internationally, as the stories of the 'Holocaust' were being circulated en-mass! A hunt was on for the perpetrators of the Nazi atrocities, Germany was torn between the capitalist and socialist ideologies as the later novels of German Nobel laureate Heinrich Boll depicts. Berlin Wall, conceived mentally for a long time, became a reality in 1961 thrusting a dagger deep into the German soul. The Capitalist allies, keen not to repeat mistakes of Versailles –imposing impossible penalties on Germany (Keynes had warned against those)- focused on rebuilding Germany after their own ideas and convenience (For instance, the Berlin Air-Lift). Socialist counterparts wanted to force an unnatural 'quiet' on the eastern front. Berlin, rightly acclaimed as the 'Home of the creative of World' was divided, so was the nation.
All of this befell a people who had..."respect for education and culture, science and scholarship; a tendency towards theorizing and the pursuit of theoretical ideas to the point of extremism; a deep and transcendental romanticism and love of nature; industry, fortitude, discipline and obedience to authority; a sense of mission, of the high seriousness with which life should be taken; a restless unrelaxednes", Vikram Seth. ('Two Lives').
Merkel grew up in East Germany as her father was posted there. Either because of her father or on her own she came to believe in God and religion. Life in the East must have been comparatively quiet and lackluster. The West was being introduced to the vulgar consumerism of forced Capitalist life style-perhaps Kennedy was aware of this when he made that much-hyped 'I am a Berliner' speech. Merkel later remarked with characteristic understatement that life in the East could be called comfortable as you knew you could not influence 'certain' (my quotes) things. The umbrella of the 'certain things' must have been all-engulfing! It also speaks volumes of her mindset which was evident when she refused State employment because she would be expected to 'report' on her colleagues-pleading that she was bad at keeping secrets! Uncanny understatement once again!
Merkel has a doctorate in chemistry and it is not easy to trace how she developed excellent liberal leanings. She came to politics in her thirties-most opportune time for entry since the steel curtain had already started thinning. Glasnost and Perestroika were watchwords for the West but for Merkel they must have been living processes-both intellectual and political! This innate liberalism was evident in one of her first political statements- she is remembered to have said that she believed in a multi-cultural Germany. This must-have served as, once again with typical understatement, a warning to all those Germans who still secretly idolized Hitler and Nazism. (This is not just guesswork: there were reports that during the Cold War huge crowds flocked to cinema houses in East Germany to watch a propaganda film showing Hitler in the darkest possible colours) Merkel, aware of this hidden legacy of hers hit at the roots of the myth of the special ethnic identity of Germans which had thrown an entire people into mass hysteria for two generations.
In the same speech, Merkel also said that the new Germany (where the people were facing problems of re-integration since different planning styles had evolved in West and East) would believe in being competitive. Thus, imbibing the essence of the free economy and uprooting the State's domination of policy. Meanwhile, the other world leaders were still groping and guessing- what the giant of a unified Germany would be up to!. Merkel's words must have been like 'the surprise of a cloud/ In the burning heart of May.'
It is for the pundits of international politics to assess Merkel's highs and lows and a crowd of those is sparing no effort. I for one would like to view her from a world-historical perspective.
It is a cliché to dub the 20th century as unique yet so it is! Suffice it to say that this century created the maximum happiness and maximum suffering! Achievements of mankind did galore, and yet aberrations of the human mind always kept pace with them. Millions were saved from disease and destitution only to be killed by revenge and war! Freedom and democracy flourished but so did dictatorship and totalitarian states! Ideology (I define it as a science of socio-economic betterment) emerged as a guarantee against all evil, but ideological allergies created fresh evils! Lenin's ideology was based on Class; Hitler's on Race. (I regard the two as the pacesetters of the 20th century-rest of the world leaders only responded, reacted, and fell victims to their initiatives.) Two wars, endless strife all over the world, depression, and recession, abortive attempts at the wild goose chase of world peace. Cold War and the doomed from outset remapping of the globe, double-speak of military action to save democracy and human dignity, the hypocrisy of foreign policy, emergence of the arms trade to mint money and spending a fraction of hit on charity….the list can go on.
Gorbachev blasted the Socialist State, which had lost the liberationist urge of Socialism right after Lenin's death; Hitler (out of frustration or guilt?) killed himself and his. Mandela destroyed the ghost of Apartheid. The world, unshackled of the schizophrenic thought and breakneck speed of the leaders of change, found itself suspended in ideological mid-air. Merkel's preoccupation with multi-culturalism and competition spoke initially for reunified Germany is truly a roadmap for the world.
Merkel has been essentially a European leader. She has reiterated, proudly, that Europe has 7% of the world population, 25% of world GDP, and also 50% of social spending. With this pride, she has been able to stand up to the Trumps and Putins who lead larger nations! She stood up during the influx of Islamic migrants into Europe and suggested that the EU must have a mandatory solidarity mechanism to deal with asylum seekers. She also showed remarkable resilience (a rare quality among leaders of her standing) after the Paris terrorist attacks and agreed to deeper scrutiny of applications for asylum in Germany (already accepted 8,00,000 and still counting) and the other EU members.
Angela Merkel cannot retire! The world wants her with her true liberal agenda, fortitude, and persuasiveness. She should dedicate herself to carry the gospel of liberalism (being the believer she is) to one and all. The New Economic Order is still a distant dream. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is heavily tilted towards the privileged. Terrorism seems to be going out of hand, and narrow identities of race, religion, language are bouncing back. Hasty do-gooders of the 20th century created more problems and fewer solutions.
Did the world ever need Angela Merkel more?
- Vinay Hardikar
(The writer has been working in the public sphere of Maharashtra for the last five decades. His versatile personality has several dimensions, but the primary ones remain to be that of an established writer, journalist, editor, critic, activist, and teacher.)
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