Opinion: A silence that speaks volumes | Opinion | DW | 25.02.2016
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Opinion: A silence that speaks volumes

No Merkel speech. Silence, too, from parliamentarians. Were they just being efficient? There's no way the new asylum rules would not have been passed. So, has the government done its job? Marko Langer isn’t convinced.

Maybe it's naïve to expect a few honest words from the boss, given the campaign season and the doomsday sort of mood surrounding the European Union. Instead: Germany can't do everything on its own. Time for someone else to step up.

No, the chancellor doesn't think like that. But it would have been nice to call out to her: "Hey, nice to see you!" Because Angela Merkel was there, she was standing next to the urn where the blue cards for "agree" and the red cards for "do not agree" are deposited. Even though it was clear what the result would be.

24 hours in the German parliament

Was it all just routine? Sort of. After months of lobbying for the new asylum rules - within the CDU/CSU, within the governing coalition with the Social Democrats, and with the marginalized opposition - things did get a little shaky in the last few days. The events in Clausnitz, Saxony, and another arson attack on a home for refugees can hardly be described as routine.

And so began a tough 24 hours in the German parliament. On Wednesday, there was an additional item on the agenda of the 157th session of the Bundestagt: A debate about what went on in Clausnitz and Bautzen. The discussion was allotted one hour and ten minutes. Neither the chancellor nor any of her ministers attended. Politics is all about symbolism. "This special debate will certainly not be remembered as one of parliament's finest moments," commented the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Marko Langer Kommentarbild App PROVISORISCH

DW's Marko Langer

But just 24 hours later, there they all were: The chancellor, the ministers, the parliamentary group leaders - even the visitor's deck was full. The MPs all had to be there to personally cast their votes.

Beyond speech

Unfortunately, recently deceased German author and essayist Roger Willemsen could not be there. His punchy observations about political life were always welcome. A passage from one of his books reads:

"It makes you want to go out into the streets, to find what it is that drives people, and yet is utterly without parliamentary representation. It makes you want to move beyond speech, to hear something truly intentioned and resilient, something that is removed from the inauthentic palaver."

Palaver? Passing the second asylum package, which foresees fast tracking the asylum process for refugees from so-called safe countries of origin, was surely more than that. People with limited protection under German law will be prohibited from bringing their family members to Germany for a period of two years, and deporting asylum seekers will become easier. And despite this, as an observer, one feels the desire to move "beyond speech" - just like Willemsen.

Why? Not just because of the misanthropy attributed to these new laws by religious and aid organizations. That's something that will be judged by reasonable, clever people far removed from election campaigns and daily politics. People like Holocaust survivor Ruth Klüger, who appeared before parliament in January to praise the generosity of the chancellor and her policy on refugees.

Red, blue, yellow - colorless

No, anyone who was listening for a longer time on that morning in the Bundestag would have wished to move beyond speech. Anyone who witnessed the speeches by a variety of different parliamentarians whose names are only of relevance to specialists or in their local constituency. People like Nina Warken, who represents the CDU on an internal affairs committee, and who was seen rummaging through her blue handbag during her frequently interrupted contribution. Or Ulla Jelpke (Left Party) who wore symbolic red and could only seem to find words such as "unbearable" and "disgusting" for the government's proposals. At least the Green Party was represented by their parliamentary group leader, Katrin Göring-Eckhardt. Who wore a yellow jacket, by the way.

Willy Brandt

Please, I have nothing against red or blue camouflaged backbenchers, or colorless opposition leaders! They also do difficult, responsible, important parliamentary jobs. But the fact that, on this morning, so many different speakers felt compelled to refer to Willy Brandt and his experience with fleeing his home and living in exile highlights the whole dilemma. The people that we really would have liked to have heard from this week remained silent. And what a shame that was, to be perfectly blunt.

Although, in the end, they would have said something wrong. Namely, the whole truth about this terrible new asylum legislation, which is pretty much the complete opposite of the welcome culture we saw in 2015.

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