German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has urged Germans not to lose hope in these times of uncertainty, as Germany grapples with finding a new government. He insisted people could remain optimistic.
It's been three months since Germany's parliamentary elections, but the country finds itself in a political quagmire: the previous government remains in charge on an interim basis, handling administrative matters but doing little else. Likewise, Germany's newly elected parliament, the Bundestag, is poised to get to work, but must remain idle for now. Without agreement among parties over who will join forces to form a coalition, MPs cannot begin their work in the Bundestag's various committees, which are essential to the parliament's functioning.
More and more Germans are perplexed by the political standstill. But is there cause for concern? No, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in his Christmas message: Not everything "unexpected" must "inspire fear." Not even when the formation of a government "takes longer than foreseen." He added that: "I can assure you that the state is functioning in accordance with the rules set out in our Basic Law specifically for a situation like this, even though in recent decades these didn't need to be applied. So we have every reason to be confident."
Shepherds of Bethlehem didn't lose hope
The German president's Christmas message, which is traditionally aired on the evening of Christmas Day, struck a confident and optimistic tone. Despite the uncertainty prevalent at home and in global affairs, Steinmeier urged Germans to remain hopeful. "We live in times when we're constantly confronted with the unexpected," he said. "These are disconcerting times." He said that we yearn for continuity and certainty, "but if we didn't have it in us to bravely and openly confront the unexpected, then the shepherds of Bethlehem would have given up long before completing their search," he said in reference to the Nativity story.
"Over the past decades, we have time and again overcome crises and reinvented ourselves. We have remained a country with policies that are guided by the principles of economic reason and social justice," Steinmeier said. "And we are a country that has the strength and willpower to maintain our cohesion and bring us closer together." But much work still lies ahead for citizens and politicians alike.
Marshaling optimism against rural exodus
Steinmeier said he had witnessed what could be achieved during his first year in office. He has traveled extensively throughout Germany, for instance to the state of Saxony, where young people are taking action to counter the rural exodus. "These people are working to save their town, making sure it's a place worth living in — maybe even a place worth returning to." Steinmeier said he was deeply impressed by their efforts, and the support of the mayor, to breathe new life into their town. It now boasts a cafe run by volunteers as a meeting point for locals, a small grassroots cinema, a playground built by locals, and houses that are taken care of and fixed up by the community so that young families can live there.
"The kinds of people I've met in Saxony and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, or in Bavaria and Lower Saxony, are truly inspiring — and they deserve our encouragement," the president emphasized and added: "More than that, they deserve the support of politicians." These small examples carry a broader message for us all, he insisted: "They show us that we're not in a helpless situation. Our future is not set in stone! We can overcome the sense of powerlessness and alienation, on both a large and small scale, if we take action as a community. If we stop calling on others to be responsible and start to realize that responsibility begins with us."
Cherishing the Christmas moment all year long
Steinmeier concluded by thanking "all those who are looking after others" and by wishing everyone a blessed Christmas, including "those in our country who did not grow up in the Christian tradition, to those who have a different faith, or who may have no religion at all."
For Christians, the calm between Christmas and New Year's Eve is symbolic of the Christmas story's promise of peace, Steinmeier noted and added that he hopes "that you, that all of us, will be able to experience this moment – a Christmas moment that we can remember and cherish all year long."