The chant began when the refugees, having reached Germany and been assigned to wait for their asylum requests to be vetted in the north of the country, decided they wanted to move through Denmark, on to family or friends they’d heard had found good lives in Sweden.
The refugees sat on and around the train tracks in Luebeck and began intoning, “Mother Merkel, come and help us. Mother Merkel, come and save us.”
They were referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose name has long been a common chant for protesters across Europe.
But now they are unabashedly full of praise, and even love, for her. It’s a startling transformation for a politician and a country that just months ago was vilified for having pushed Greece and Europe to the crisis point by insisting on loan repayments and austerity.
“The depiction of Merkel, the depiction of Germany as a whole, even three or four months ago, was cruel and inhumane,” said Joerg Wolf, editor in chief at the Berlin think tank The Atlantic Initiative. “That hit a nerve. I think that led to what we call today the Willkommenskultur (welcoming culture). We were tired of being the bad guys. The chancellor was tired of being the villain.”
Since Merkel made a point of saying that it is a both a duty and an honor for Germany to welcome those fleeing war in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, the world’s most powerful woman has been portrayed in almost religious terms. Her nation could take in as many as 500,000 asylum seekers and possibly a million refugees this year. Her welcoming attitude comes at a time when many in Europe want to close the gates more tightly.
Europe needs the moral leadership of Germany.
Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, a harsh critic of Germany and Merkel
There are almost countless collages on social media sites depicting “compassionate Mother Merkel.” One popular tribute shows her in bishop’s robes, holding a cross, above a caption in Arabic urging refugees to “Go to Merkel, because she is fair and does no harm to any human.”
Another takes a photo of Merkel while she was swearing the oath of office in Germany, though the words she spoke have been replaced by the caption, “By God Almighty: I will protect all Syrians.”
Another that has been forwarded countless times shows her standing with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. She, the German and Christian, holds a glass of beer. Erdogan, the Turk and Muslim, holds a Quran. The caption beneath them asks: “Why does Erdogan not protect us although he is Muslim. Why does Merkel help us although she is not Muslim?”
In yet another popular meme on social media sites, her photo is shown with a collection of Middle Eastern heads of state. The caption reads: “One woman is worth more than all these men.”
We were tired of being the bad guys. The chancellor was tired of being the villain.
Joerg Wolf, editor in chief at the Berlin think tank The Atlantic Initiative
The Guardian newspaper reported that refugees were naming their newborns after her.
For those who follow European politics, there is great irony in this new image of the German leader. During the past several years of the Greek financial crisis, Merkel had come to symbolize the uncaring tyrant. Instead of the current crop of photos depicting her as benevolent, her image had been altered to look like Adolf Hitler.
The Greeks put forth a case that she was destroying their national economy without a care for the human cost. But today, even some of her most ferocious critics appear to be backing off a bit.
Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, known for being brutal in his criticism of Germany and Merkel, wrote in a piece for the highly respected Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper that Merkel and the Germans “are proving to be true heirs of Immanuel Kant and are acting in accordance with the categorical imperative.”
From an academic, that’s a compliment. He even went on to note that “Europe needs the moral leadership of Germany.”
Not all Germans are so enamored with their chancellor’s new, friendlier image. Anti-refugee protesters call her a traitor and even a slut. Commentators on her Facebook page claim she “sentenced the future of Germans to death over the last few days” and call her “a peril for the German nation and our economy!”
It’s all quite a change from someone derisively referred to as “Mutti” (a nice but unhip Mom). The nickname was in reference to her often frumpy appearance, grumpy demeanor and budget-conscious approach to life. She was known for doing her own grocery shopping, carefully picking through the red peppers and plums, crawling on the ground to find her favorite pickles, even lining up to get the refund on her plastic bottles.
Mother Merkel, come and help us. Mother Merkel, come and save us.
Chant from refugees
The German attitude was that if the issue required bold action, she would wait for others to act, then check the polls.
To date, her most memorable action in office might well be her decision to shut down all of Germany’s nuclear power stations.
Now, as Der Spiegel magazine notes, “Suddenly, she’s the refugee chancellor.”
As Wolf noted, “it is quite impressive how quickly she flipped her narrative, how quickly the narrative on Germany flipped from cruel to compassionate. Germans very much like this change. Germans like to be liked. Of course, it’s also understood that what has so quickly flipped in one direction can flip back.”
Matthew Schofield: @mattschodcnews