Bernd Ulrich's retrospective on the year of refugees is titled "A Year Like No Other." Yes, that's what it was – but not a good year, neither for Germany nor for Angela Merkel.
The German chancellor’s decision in September 2015 to open Germany's borders to the refugees might have occurred "obeying necessity and not one's own inclination" (in the words of Schiller). But the decision wouldn’t have had to be made in that form if, beforehand, the correct decision or even any decision at all had been made.
It was known that the Dublin Accord, convenient as it is for us, would impose an unacceptable burden on Mediterranean countries in an emergency. Responsible officials knew months, even years beforehand that hundreds of thousands were waiting to embark for the promised land. It wasn't difficult to anticipate that the miserable situation in refugee camps would leave sufferers scarcely any choice other than to head for the land of plenty.
Did the German government see to it that the United Nations' budget for providing for displaced persons was raised instead of – as actually happened – being reduced? Did it warn authorities in Germany ahead of time and ensure they had sufficient personnel? No, it didn't.
Instead there arrived not only asylum seekers, whose acceptance is an obligation, but also adventurers and people fleeing poverty in such numbers that even today it hasn't been possible to register them all. Instead our ears ring with the famous statement "We can do it!" The sentence in no way implied that the opening of the borders was considered to be an "exception." It sounded as if the chancellor were telling us, "Have no fear; everything will turn out fine!" It sounded like a major humanitarian offensive.
And then a photograph of her went viral round the world. The selfie, taken in September 2015 at a Berlin refugee center, showed her smiling cheek-to-cheek with a refugee. Whoever still doubted that the persecuted and dispossessed were all welcome here in Germany was a hopeless case. What’s more, such a person had to hear from German economic experts that Germany was a desperately over-aged country and the influx of refugees was a good thing. The question, however, about what industries seeking to automate their work processes were supposed to do with untrained men, however strong they were, was initially voiced only very softly.
The welcome culture arrived, and with it came the notion that the country could only benefit by freeing itself from complacent narrow-mindedness and becoming as diverse and cosmopolitan as possible. The observation that a majority of the immigrants come from a pre-modern, anti-secular culture that can scarcely be joined with our own seemed to many people to be so fallacious because it was the Pegida demonstrators who had expressed the fear of Islamization in so aggressive and heavy-handed a manner.
Concerning the debate about admitting Turkey to the European Union, the former constitutional judge Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde observed at the end of 2004 that a common "we-feeling" must be more strongly developed in democratic societies than in authoritarian or technocratic ones: "What this means is that in both mental and emotional terms, that which affects others also impacts upon me, cannot be separated from my own existence. This is the basis – as an expression of solidarity – for recognizing joint responsibility, taking on commitments, engaging in reciprocal effort."
He added: "To the degree to which a community is based on a process of democratic legitimization, decisions must be positively accepted by its members as if they themselves had made them. Thus there is a wide-ranging need for shared outlooks and goals."