These Strangers, in a foreign World,
Protection asked of me—
Befriend them, lest Yourself in Heaven
Be found a Refugee—. Emily Dickinson
Two or three years ago the German Chancellor Angela Merkel was one of the most popular European leaders of the 21st century. She appeared unbeatable as her party swept to an overwhelming victory in 2013. Her success seemed an anomaly in the male-dominated German politics of recent years. Journalists wondered how a plain-spoken middle aged woman whose nickname was “Mutti” (Mommy) could wield such power amid the turbulent struggles of the European Union in difficult economic times.
Merkel grew up in East Germany when it was a Communist country. Although a bright student, she was not a natural leader. In university she studied science and became a physicist and did not engage in public life. It wasn’t until the fall of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany that she was drawn to political life, and few people would have predicted that she would become a leader. But, improbable or not, this quiet woman made her way past the bombastic male leaders of the party and eventually emerged as the leader.
But then came the refugee crisis. When thousands of Syrian refugees tried to make their way to safety in Europe, Merkel announced that Germany would accept them. She called on other European countries to do the same. Some were welcomed, and many Germans appeared at first to be willing to make sacrifices to find housing and food for refugees. Then the inevitable bitter violence broke out. Demonstrators were soon calling for an end to refugees and a retreat to a “Germany for the Germans” mentality. Merkel’s CDU party suffered severe electoral losses. Undoubtedly the influx of refugees caused some voters to turn to severe anti-immigrant policies.
But the verdict is still out on what Angela Merkel will do—whether she will stand for Chancellor again or not. She seems to be sticking to her guns and insisting that the decision to accept refugees is the only morally defensible policy. Many idealists and religious people would agree with her. The refugees are still fleeing unbearable conditions in many countries. Despite a backlash; despite the fears; it was a proud day for Angela Merkel when she decided that Germany would be a moral leader in that path. Let’s hope that by working with other countries, and international organizations, she will be able to make it work. The quiet woman from Germany has been a strong leader—a strong “Mutti” insisting that the world should honor its deepest ideals. Good luck to her!