Erika Steinbach has caused a social media firestorm by posting a picture some have labeled xenophobic on Twitter. The parliamentarian has refused to back down, even as she faces critique from within her own party.
Erika Steinbach, a conservative politician with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is facing intense backlash over an image she tweeted depicting a blonde child surrounded by South Asian women. Atop the picture is the caption "Germany 2030," and underneath, as if the women were asking the child, "Where are you from then?"
The veteran politician who represents the state of Hesse in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, has categorically rejected accusations of racism.
"The picture was sent to me by a worried father from Frankfurt whose child only has two other Germans in his school class," she told the Monday edition of the popular "Bild" newspaper. "It is not an aggressive photo, there are no Arabic refugees depicted, just friendly Indians looking curiously and [interestedly] at a child."
She continued her defensive strategy on Twitter, responding to criticism with phrases like "I also reject racism!" She also recalled her family's past in occupied Poland, responding to a statement that she was repeating earlier German mistakes by reminding the public "my grandfather was also in a concentration camp."
Her insistence was unable to convince her detractors, however, who continued the crusade of disapproval against the former leader of the German Federation of Expellees.
Anton Hofreiter, leader of the opposition Green party in parliament, told the Cologne daily "Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger" that it was especially problematic considering Steinbach's role as a expert on human rights policy for the CDU. Fellow opposition politician Dietmar Bartsch, of the Left Party, said he expects "[CDU Bundestag chair] Mr. Kauder will not let this racist gaffe from Ms. Steinbach pass by without any consequences."
Targeted from all sides
Even her fellow conservatives distanced themselves from Steinbach, with the CDU Secretary-General Peter Tauber writing on Twitter that he would "not respond to [the] tweet ... as [he didn't] want to use more derogatory language."
Integration, tolerance and security have been hot topics in Germany since Europe's refugee crisis began in earnest last year. After initially adopting an open-door policy, the Merkel administration has tried in recent weeks to address the crisis by having some North Africa countries, such as Morocco and Tunisia, declared safe countries of origin. The government has also tried to speed-up the deportation of those whose asylum applications are rejected.
But it can prove difficult to return migrants to their homeland, either because of a lack of documentation or an unwillingness on the part of the home country to have them back. In that vein, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière was traveling to Morocco on Monday in support of the government's plan.