Understandably, Germans want the world to know their totalitarian past is far behind them. That’s one reason the government enthusiastically took in more than 1.1 million refugees in 2015 and is welcoming the same number or more in 2016. For many Germans, the idea they must be a “welcome culture” is tightly interwoven with the sins of their country’s past.
Yet ironically, the government’s desire to prove how liberal Germany is now is taking on some authoritarian overtones.
Frauke Petry, head of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, recently came under fire for saying in an interview that Germany “must prevent illegal border crossings and even use firearms if necessary.” Deutsche Welt explained Petry later clarified those remarks, calling the use of armed force a “last resort.” Her point, according to Petry’s supporters, was that any nation must be able to defend its borders.
Petry makes an impassioned case for reforming the current open-door refugee policies and for securing Germany’s borders. But leaving policy merits or flaws aside, her statements don’t cross the line into inciting violence against refugees or those crossing the border. Rather, they give voice to a legitimate viewpoint — one supported by a growing number of German citizens — in an important public policy debate.
Feeling the heat for its increasingly unpopular stance on refugees, Germany’s federal government seems to be abandoning the liberal principles it claims to champion. Most notably German Justice Minister Heiko Maas — roughly the equivalent of the U.S. Attorney General — recently remarked AfD is “long on its way to becoming a case” for monitoring by the domestic intelligence service. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has made similar comments. In other words, in the name of openness and liberalism, the number two in the government and the German minister charged with upholding justice want to sic a clandestine intelligence service on an opposition political party. Who, exactly, is living up to the Stasi legacy here?
As an American in Germany, I also now have to chuckle at the many frantic cries of “Stasi!” and “Nazism!” that rang out when it was alleged the NSA might be collecting information inside Germany. It seems using an intelligence service to monitor Germans citizens if fine, after all, just so long as it’s a home grown operation.