“How many people were shot crossing the Berlin Wall from West to East?” was a useful anti-Marxist dialectical query in university debates (in the days when non-leftists were allowed to speak in universities). It highlighted the lack of eastbound traffic out of the capitalist West into the whimsically named German Democratic Republic.
Such migration, though rare, was not completely nonexistent. In 1954, for example, Horst Kasner, a Protestant pastor of strongly leftist convictions, voluntarily moved from capitalist Hamburg to East Germany, taking with him his wife and weeks-old daughter Angela. Today that infant is the embattled acting Chancellor of Germany.
To come anywhere near understanding the enigma that is Angela Merkel it is necessary to explore her early life as a Communist activist in East Germany. Among the photo-shopped images of her displayed online, satirically portraying her in Nazi uniform, there is one genuine photograph. It shows her wearing the uniform of the Freie Deutsche Jugend (FDJ), the East German Communist equivalent of the Hitler Youth or Soviet Young Pioneers, in company with other members of the GDR nomenklatura.
Merkel was seldom interrogated about her Communist past for most of her political career: in Germany, too many people have sensitive histories involving personal or family service of one form of totalitarianism or another for such questioning to be considered good form. Merkel admitted to her former FDJ involvement, but insisted her activities were purely “cultural”, involving mainly the purchase of theatre tickets.
In 2013, however, a new biography, “The First Life of Angela M”, exposed her as the former FDJ Secretary for Agitation and Propaganda (“Agitprop”) at the Academy of Sciences in East Berlin. Agitprop was at the sharp end of the ideological war, involving the aggressive inculcation of Marxism-Leninism among her colleagues. It would never have been entrusted to a lukewarm Communist. Theatre tickets, anyone?
As a schoolgirl, Merkel took pains to learn fluent Russian – she could be seen learning vocabulary even while waiting at the bus stop – and at age 15 won the local Russian language “Olympics”. This was an obvious indication of her ambition: learning the language of East Germany’s Soviet masters would be of considerable advantage in pursuing a career in the Communist hierarchy.
With Merkel, as with so many other reconstructed Marxists, ambition trumped ideology. As late as September 1989 she said: “If we reform the GDR, it won’t be in terms of the Federal Republic.” Just 14 months later, in November 1990, she entered the Christian Democrat cabinet of Helmut Kohl as minister for family affairs.
Does Merkel’s past matter? Yes, very much. In the first place, it explains her inscrutability. The legendary impenetrability she has always cultivated and which has been a considerable asset to her in politics is an undoubted legacy of her upbringing and early political career in a totalitarian state where any expression of opinion was fraught with hazards. Even among the nomenklatura, where the “Party line” could change with bewildering rapidity, to reveal one’s inner thoughts could create a vulnerability liable to be exploited by rivals. Merkel has always preserved an enigmatic reserve that makes Talleyrand look transparent.
Merkel’s political assassination of her patron Kohl, though a common enough event in Western politics, was also reminiscent of a Soviet politburo putsch. Yet these partial legacies of Communism are trivial, compared to the one overriding element in Merkel’s political psyche that derives from her GDR heritage and which alone explains the otherwise inexplicable blunder, after more than a decade of seemingly hyper-cautious governance, that has brought her to her present crisis.
Political analysts have struggled unsuccessfully to understand why Merkel, after winning the September 2013 German elections under her party’s traditional slogan “No experiments”, in mid-2015 startlingly invited countless numbers of migrants into Germany. Worse still, when this proved unsustainable, she arrogantly attempted to impose them on the other member states of the European Union.
Now, just two and a half years later and as Merkel fights for her political life, the consequences for Europe have been beyond seismic. In Britain, before the EU referendum, the immigration issue was already, after sovereignty, at the top of the Brexit agenda. There was a good possibility of Leave winning the vote. However, the outcome was finely balanced; but the prospect of the EU, at Germany’s instigation, turning on a permanent spigot of immigration, combined with news footage from European cities, can not have been helpful, to phrase it mildly, to the Remain cause.
Merkel, arguably, drove Britain out of the EU. Then her migrant quotas alienated Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia and put them in serious conflict with Brussels. In German-speaking Europe the same provocation brought the Freedom Party into coalition government in Austria and, at home in Germany, the spectacular electoral success of the AfD paralysed the tired and discredited Europhile, globalist consensus. Including Theresa May, there are now two vicars’ daughters see-sawing precariously in the Italian Job bus of European politics. Welcome to Merkel’s New Weimar.
Which brings us back to the nagging question: why did she do it? Because of her Communist past, is the evident answer. Because she could. Because she had the power. Once the totalitarian mentality has been embedded in a politician’s psyche, although it may lie concealed for more than a decade of opportunist vote-seeking, image fabricating (the “Mutti” imposture), self-conscious superficial conformity to Western “democratic” totems, the will to exercise power is never extinguished.
Hailed as “Queen of Europe”, while Merkel counterfeited the humble, shabby Hausfrau, her instincts remained discreetly imperial. Hitler always had a portrait of Frederick the Great in his office; Merkel has one of Catherine the Great in hers. Apparently her Russian sympathies are not extinct. Nor was the immigration ukase her first lapse into autocracy. Her absolutist ban on nuclear power, in the wake of the Fukushima accident in 2011, was impulsive and left Germany dependent on Russian energy sources.
Now, after the longest power vacuum in Germany since 1945, Merkel is still bargaining in the smoke-free rooms where coalitions are constructed. Nobody wheels and deals more adroitly than this ex-commissar, but on this occasion a coalition deal will not solve her problems. The CSU wing of her party is mutinous, desperate to steal the AfD’s clothes to avert electoral losses, fired up by the Austrian election result and aligning with Viktor Orban of Hungary. The SPD supports President Macron’s EU integrationist policy. Merkel’s rivals want her to form a minority government and suffer the death of a thousand cuts. The German public would prefer another election.
Angela Merkel brought all this on herself by succumbing to the hubris engendered by prolonged wielding of power. To any normal person it was madness to encourage the already alarming irruption of migrants into Europe. To a politician bred in the totalitarian tradition of Marxism-Leninism, with its longstanding penchant for using migration and “internationalism” to subvert the West, the dimly perceived opinions of the lumpen-electorate were of no account.
Even if Merkel eventually emerges with some patched-up coalition, her era is over. The myth is debunked; she would be just another discredited politician clinging to the furniture after her time has passed. The words may be optimistic soundbites, the music is Götterdammerung.