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Merkel Prepares to Step Down With Legacy of Tackling Crises
The AP wrote, “Angela Merkel will leave office as one of modern Germany’s longest-serving leaders and a global diplomatic heavyweight, with a legacy defined by her management of a succession of crises that shook a fragile Europe rather than any grand visions for her own country.”
Robert Terrell, assistant professor of history in Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, is a scholar of modern Germany and available for comment on this transition of power. Professor Terrell’s research and teaching interrogate the cultural and political histories of modern German in transnational and global frameworks.
In 16 years at the helm of Europe’s biggest economy, Merkel did end military conscription, set Germany on course for a future without nuclear and fossil-fueled power, enable the legalization of same-sex marriage, introduce a national minimum wage and benefits encouraging fathers to look after young children, among other things.
Professor Terrell offers the following perspective about Chancellor Merkel:
“Angela Merkel’s legacy is still being written, and will continue to change as shifting social contexts inform the politics of memory. Still, her leadership has certainly been marked by polarities and tensions at the national, European and global levels. In Europe, the Great Recession and the European Debt Crisis pushed Merkel into the unenviable position of trying to stabilize the economy of over two dozen states. While her push for austerity measures was well-received in Germany, it led to a degree of cultural chauvinism among Germans who essentialized the irresponsibility and idleness of the Greeks. In Greece, she remains divisive, with some Greek citizens blaming her for one of the bleakest periods in recent memory.
“The refugee crisis was another watershed moment during her chancellorship—one that will undoubtedly play a key role in shaping her legacy. Merkel’s decision to welcome well over a million refugees beginning in 2015 left the nation divided. Proponents of the Willkommenskultur—or “welcoming culture”—helped furnish arriving refugees with money, supplies and emergency accommodations. Others resisted, making the refugee crisis a catalyst for increasingly radical nativist sentiment from PEGIDA to the AfD. And, as in the United States and elsewhere, such radicalism moved establishment conservatives further to the right. In 2017, Merkel’s closest allies, the Christian Social Union (CSU), seemed close to breaking away from an alliance with her CDU that stretches back to the aftermath of the Second World War.
“But legacies often come down to words, snippets and sound bites. And the refugee crisis was also the context of what may remain her single most famous quote, ‘wir schaffen das,’ or ‘we can do this.’ The seemingly banal quote took on a life of its own. For years, ‘we can do this’ resonated with so many, I think, because it contained within it a moral imperative to do the right thing when you can.
“In 2015, just before the refugee crisis hit in full force, the German dictionary publisher Langenscheidt announced that ‘Merkeln’—a verb form of Merkel’s name—was in the running for the ‘Youth Word of the Year.’ It meant to do nothing out of caution, or to be overly deliberative. Whether simply her political style, or a conscious effort to avoid the gendered critique of impulsiveness, Merkel made a point of cautious decision making. ‘Merkeln’ ultimately got voted second, but it captured the fact that for all her international fame and decisiveness, at home, Merkel was seen as lacking charismatic leadership. But today, amid an upswell in national strife and concerns about COVID, the public seems wanting for even-keel candidates, as viewer polls around a recent chancellor-candidate debate suggest. It seems that in an era of heightened tensions, Germany, and the rest of us, could use more ‘Merkeln.'”
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