by Tatevik Lazaryan
‘Hysteria’: this may be another answer during non-official talks in response to the question on what is happening in Europe in terms of the migrant issue. It is undeniable that the problem does exist; however, the representatives of both political circles and civil society, who I met in Berlin, consider the word ‘crisis’ an exaggeration.
The issue is not unprecedented: they say, in the past there was a huge influx of refugees and migrants, an example being the 1990s when during the Yugoslav Wars hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to the European countries, and Germany again found itself among the states, which let in the largest part of the flow.
According to Professor Hans-Jochen Schmidt, former German Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia, “If you have a lot of foreigners arriving, it has an influence on the society, and you need politicians to deal with it. You have to try to help them get integrated. But what is dangerous is when certain politicians, like in Germany, abuse that. They instigate prejudices, emotions. For example, I am sorry to put it that way, if you let in a lot of foreigners, and then one of these so-called migrants rapes a woman, it is extremely dangerous to say that all these people rape women. Yes, having so many migrants leads to certain difficulties, but it’s not the first time after the war we let in lots of migrants, and we have managed to cope with it”.
If refugee flows are not new for Europe, the information field in the Post-truth era and subsequent public reaction, its speed and consequences are.
While I was thinking on the theme of my article back in Berlin, everyone was closely following the Bavarian elections results: it turned out that the elections further strengthened the positions of right-wing populists.
The Critical Social Union in Bavaria (CSU), the sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) went down by 10% losing its absolute majority as compared to 2013; instead, populist Alternative for Germany (AFD) party received those 10% of votes securing its place in the Bavarian local parliament for the first time. When I was back in Yerevan, drafting my text, similar elections results were also recorded in Hesse. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU lost 10% and the AFD party gained 12%.
This far-right, anti-immigration party that came third in the 2017 Bundestag elections will have a presence in Germany’s all 16 state parliaments for the first time. In light of these developments, Angela Merkel has already announced that she will not seek any political position after 2021.
It is worth mentioning that prior to the change in the political landscape of Europe there was a certain image change, which called for other, larger transformations.
Have you ever thought why, say, 7-8 years ago, in European cities the image of a clean-shaven gentleman wearing an elegant jacket with a tie and known under the term ‘metrosexual’ was trendy and fashionable? And then why did the image suddenly change by 180 degrees? The image of a brutal lumberjack with beard emerged, became trendy and remains such to date, and despite the absence of an axe in the urban context, he still has a very masculine look, draws on physical strength and readiness to use it.
The new image of the strongly masculine European man was already formed back in 2014: it was so popular, widespread and complete that there were articles dedicated to it, and there was even a new term coined to define the phenomenon – ‘lumbersexual’.
It was towards the end of 2014 and already in 2015 that Europe witnessed a record-breaking migrant influx for the last few decades. It turned out that the public in Europe (and beyond) was very quick to react by creating this image, to receive the signals, and to even predict the “crisis” entering their homes from TV and other screens.
Symbolically speaking, Europe, a woman from ancient Greek mythology, now chose a more brutal image – that of a man. However, it is crucial to profoundly understand why this has been the choice. I am convinced this is to protect Europe’s “children”, the liberal-democratic values without changing or eliminating them.
Paradoxical as it may sound, the urge to close borders, which now gives points to right-wing populists, is probably in essence a means of protecting the idea of open borders for the public. Populists do not come up with real and positive answers to the issue but, figuratively speaking, “scratch” the itchy question. Certain success of right-wing populists is also conditioned by the lack of unity on the migrant issue in Europe and different messages coming from different countries.
To tackle the migrant issue, an all-European solidarity is necessary, an idea highlighted by the Spokesman of the European Commission German Representation Reinhard Hönighaus:
“For the European future the way our democracies find to deal with it in solidarity is a defining issue. No European country can deal with it on its own: we have advanced pretty much on the protection of our borders, on our asylum system, but we need consensus on European solidarity. There is legitimate concern among our citizens that our states should decide who is to come in, or the government should decide, the authorities and not people smugglers. Efforts are needed to step up, but we also need internal solidarity in the EU. There will be no lasting solution with some Member States saying ‘this is not our problem’.”
Regardless of whether this is an objective or exaggerated issue, whether it is migrants who have caused it or it is mere speculation around the question, the phenomenon is already having an impact on Europe’s (and not only Europe’s) political landscape with populists strengthening their positions as a side effect.
It is now hard to determine which the bigger problem is – refugees or the subsequent cultural, social and political transformations of Europe? But one thing is obvious: these are already two different problems that need separate solutions, but also unity in the EU, especially in the Post-truth era.
Tatevik Lazaryan is a journalist and anchor at RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. After getting her degree in Armenian Language and Literature, she decided to learn journalism and started studying it at Caucasus Media Institute. She prepares Radio and TV stories about political, social and cultural issues, which are on air three days a week. Twice a week she appears in front of cameras and tells the news of that day to the people, who visit azatutyun.am. In the meantime, she is praying not to tell anything about casualties on the borderline.