The refugee crisis is the all-consuming topic in Germany. DW's Alexander Kudascheff writes that it is putting German society to an unparalleled test.
The German people are - probably - romantics. At the moment, they are most definitely disconcerted. Perplexed. Uncertain about how they should deal with over 1 million refugees. At first, they were overwhelmingly helpful. But now, that has given way to anger and rejection.
Both the political and social discourse is at times hateful, and very seldom rational. There is barely even an attempt to answer the pressing questions about how Germany should absorb, care for and integrate more than a million people.
Those from the pro-refugee camp are dismissed as naive dreamers. Those against the open-door policy are quickly branded right-wing radicals or Nazis. The political discourse has gone off the rails. What's worse, almost every day sees reports of an attack on a home for refugees. There have been over 1,000 incidents to date - a shocking number.
New Year's Eve changed everything
Ever since crowds of North African immigrants robbed, sexually assaulted, and even raped women in Cologne on New Year's Eve, barely anyone is talking about the refugees anymore. It was an appalling failure on the part of the police, who were unable to protect these women's dignity. Nor were they able to protect the Cologne Cathedral, which was bombarded with fireworks and rockets for hours.
They could not force people to respect one of Europe's most beautiful churches, nor the mass that was being celebrated inside - the kind of respect and esteem that, incidentally, can be expected of every refugee in the world. Since that night, the faith of the Germans has faltered - the faith they had in themselves and in the refugees.
And since that night, the criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel has dramatically picked up pace. She opened Germany's borders at a time when refugees appeared to be stranded in Hungary. The decision was a humanitarian one, and the majority of Germans supported it. But beyond that, she seems to have no plan.
The influx shows no sign of slowing down, yet Merkel can only repeat her mantra: Secure the EU's external borders, redistribute the refugees across the EU, defend the Schengen agreement of open internal borders, fight the causes of the flow of refugees and cooperate with Turkey. In summary, find a European solution, one that is rational and moral.
The problem is, there is no sign of such a solution. And Merkel's support in Germany and within her own party is melting away like snow on a warm spring day. Merkel is alone on the political stage. She's been left alone. She may have reached historic heights, but she can still fall.
No one knows what to do next
This is having two unpleasant political side effects - Europe is more divided than ever, or rather more united than it has ever been against Germany and Merkel. And in Germany, the far-right faction is threatening to become a political factor. This could subside if the refugee crisis is properly managed. But the EU's resilience has been pushed to breaking point, and the outcome is uncertain. Many people are asking themselves: Was the European Union a fair-weather idea?
At any rate, national egotism, or the willingness to act unilaterally, is winning the day. It's a high price to pay for Merkel's humanitarian gesture, and the price will only be higher if the idea of swift integration proves to be an illusion. If parallel societies form. If the clash of cultures - in this case with the traditions of the Islamic world - becomes more intense than anyone wants.
Many Germans sense this and fear it. It is what is inflaming the political discussion and making it more aggressive. This is also what is disconcerting many Germans as they find themselves unable to act in the rational, coolly analytical and sober way they normally would. Like I said, the Germans are often romantics.
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