Refugees: today’s German heroes could become tomorrow’s villains
Europe has had quite a summer book-ended by two crises which have called into question the whole purpose of the project. First a fiscal crisis and now, more seriously, a moral one.
Greece tested the EU’s economic viability as a “union”. In the heated and final throes of all-night talks to cobble together a questionable deal, the Germans emerged on one front page after another as tyrant number crunchers, determined to impose their hegemonic housekeeping on hapless Greeks. There was panic in Berlin that Germany’s benign image was going down the Euro-shredder, sucked back into the dungeons of history.
Fast forward to the other end of summer. Migrants, refugees, asylum seekers – let’s just call them people for now – had been trekking, rafting, swimming and wading into the EU all year, all the previous years and often dying in the process. But in recent weeks we have all started to pay attention thanks to a combination of sobering numbers and gut wrenching images.
And like every story that captures the imagination, the audience demands villains, victims and heroes. Let’s just say that the roles are still being cast and depending on how events unfold, the list is fluid. Today’s German heroes could become tomorrow’s villains when the first migrant or refugee camp is burned down with casualties.
Did Aylan Kurdi’s father, as one tabloid suggested absurdly, risk his children’s lives so they could get better dental care in Canada? The narrative is as fluid and tortured as the flood of people because we Europeans, governments and people, are all forced to take a view. And make a gesture. We have skin in this crisis.
The Pope himself has told us to make our spare rooms available. But there is an opportunity in this human tide not just for the arrivals but for us. If the wrangling over Greece unmasked the paucity of the union this could reboot its raison d’être. It could remind Europe if its moral purpose.
The EU is after all nothing more than a noble and pragmatic idea born in the embers of World War Two. Europe too was a refugee from catastrophe. The pictures of Aleppo or Homs in rubble should remind us of Dresden or Coventry. Lest we forget it, especially in Germany, Europe was awash with European refugees a generation ago.
So if Europe is to survive the existential funk of recent years, if it is to prove its purpose in anything other than a lifestyle superpower that has lost its power and much of its style , it better not miss this opportunity handed to it by millions of outsiders who seem to know the value of the union far better than the millions of besieged insiders.
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