Was Merkel a faithful ‘East German’ all along?
By C.P. Champion
Note: This article was written in Nov. 2021 for the Autumn-Winter 2021 edition (Vol. 11, No. 2) of THE DORCHESTER REVIEW, pages 96-98, which ships this week. Obviously the suggestion made here is supported by the revelation in the German tabloid Bild on Dec. 13, as reported in the Daily Telegraph and National Post on Dec. 15, that Chancellor Merkel actively blocked the United States and NATO from supplying Ukraine with arms for its defence against Russian incursions and to deter an invasion that some claim is in the works. — eds.
ANGELA MERKEL IS conventionally regarded as a great statesman, her departure much lamented. But I can’t be the only amateur observer of European affairs who has wondered whether she was an “East German” Communist agent of influence all along.
She has certainly been no darling of conservatives across the West — a term her top foreign affairs advisor refuses to use. “I have eliminated ‘the West’ from my vocabulary,” Christoph Heusgen told Der Spiegel on Sep. 23. Merkel’s never-ending two decades dominating the federal Christian Democratic Union gave no rational grounds for confidence that Germany was in good hands. Even a retrospective in the high-minded leftist Spiegel’s Sep. 6 international edition was called “The Era of Missed Opportunities: A First Look at Angela Merkel’s Legacy.”
Der Spiegel reflects the orthodox view: The Chancellor’s “breathtaking career began in 1990, immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when” at age 36 “she ended her career as a physicist at the East German Academy of Sciences and switched to politics.” To many Germans she had “potential to be a godsend of history,” the “perfect” leader. Still, “Her rise was something of an irony of history.” Could it be “A woman from the East leading the West through its greatest crisis?”
She seized the helm of the party of Konrad Adenauer, Helmut Kohl, and the mighty centre-right, an important expression of post-Nazi, non-communist, philo-Christian German political culture. And she portrayed herself as an ex-Communist, hardly bold or novel after 1989. No one wanted to be that anymore. But there is little evidence that she was ever a conservative. So why seek to lead the CDU rather than a left-wing party?
SEEING HER IN her Deutsche Demokratische Republik (GDR) Communist Youth uniform and cap in a photo from 1972, and publicly revealed in 2013, one wondered if she might have been more than just an ideologically slippery climber. She was no mere useful idiot; she was too sharp for it. She even spoke Russian. Did her smiling youthful success in the movement mean nothing?
In 2013 Günther Krause, a Kohl-era cabinet minister originally from the East, revealed that her role in the Party was not “ordering theatre tickets” as she had claimed, but “Agitation and Propaganda … brainwashing in the sense of Marxism … with all the ideological tricks.” He added, “What annoys me about this woman is simply the fact that she doesn’t admit to a closeness to the system in the GDR.” And Merkel’s response, “I can only rely on my memory” is a smooth way of admitting she had no evidence to the contrary.
Even Krause insists that “Merkel and her father refused all attempts by the Ministry for State Security or Stasi, the feared secret police, to recruit them as informants.” (Spiegel, Apr. 14, 2013). But informants are not the only kind of agent.
After she had been CDU leader for a few years, the party was accused of abandoning its conservative tradition and even turning social democrat. But how surprising was it that a former Communist Party enthusiast — one who had offered few convincing signs of having undergone a conversion from Communism in letter or in spirit in the first place — would “lead” the CDU to abandon whatever was left of its “conservative” leanings?
Merkel managed to end national service, a longstanding tradition in Germany especially supported in CDU circles. She adopted the minimum wage, bad economics and social policy everywhere; and formed coalitions with the SDP. But she always smoothly held on to the top spot, and as long as it kept them in power, her CDU contemporaries went along with it.
Some of them, at least. Others, watching their party drift left, could not stay on board. This disenchantment they shared with many voters. As Der Spiegel put it, “The right-wing radical [sic] Alternative for Germany grew” during her CDU tenure “from being a fringe phenomenon to a power to be reckoned with, and became a serious and continuing risk [sic] to liberal democracy.”
For outlets of the pukka liberal-left like Spiegel, “liberal democracy” means socialist, bureaucracy-dominated or statist democracy. Yet surveying Merkel’s 20 years in office, Spiegel concludes:
Europe is worse off today than it was at the start of Merkel’s terms as chancellor. Britain is no longer a member of the EU, the governments in Hungary and Poland are no longer liberal democracies and national egos are overshadowing the idea of the union just about everywhere. Important projects like a common defense policy have stalled. ...
The liberal democracies in Europe, North America, and Australia have been deeply shaken. That upheaval began exactly 20 years ago, with the Islamist terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and continued with Russia’s new aggressiveness, the rapid rise of China as a would-be superpower and the failed attempt to westernize parts of the Muslim world in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
SO SHE FAILED democratic right and left alike. Today, Spiegel says, Merkel shares the blame for a Europe “breaking apart along a fault-line between liberalism and illiberalism.” But in addition to being annoyed that people in Poland and Hungary interpret “liberal” classically, how does Spiegel think Merkel could have prevented the European crack-up? Apparently by doing more to make the EU bigger and more centralized — precisely the trend she supported that helped alienate former Communist bloc members and push Britons to a narrow Brexit win.
Merkel had also appeared to be the leader who could “stand up to Putin.” But there, too, she disappointed even the social-democratic left. “Because she knew the Eastern bloc well from her first life and because she speaks Russian, it was primarily her job to put Putin in his place and insist that Western values be upheld,” Spiegel says. Instead, “she accomplished little overall for the West’s goal of spreading freedom and democracy.”
To be sure, she’s not the first leftist to fail to manage foreign aggression. And Spiegel thinks her refusal to have American missiles stationed on German soil — a longstanding Green Party position from the Cold War — “was surely a wise decision. War with Russia should be avoided, even if it puts the West in a bad negotiating position, given that Putin knows not to expect an attack.”
Spiegel admits that Merkel’s “turnaround” was “even more obvious in the case of China, which was becoming increasingly important for German exports. She never again received the Dalai Lama in the Chancellery, and her criticism of the regime in Beijing has been quiet at best.” One might less tactfully say she had a photo op with the Dalai Lama to prove her “conservative” credentials earlier in her career, but later her true colours showed through and red was dominant.
IN THE 2014 refugee crisis Merkel again acted contrary to the interests of the West and of Germany, overriding more-than-justified conservative caution about sudden mass migration. Most now acknowledge that it was a mistake to admit a million mostly undocumented people. Der Spiegel says: “It was a moment informed by her temperament, her love of freedom, her disdain for walls, her Christian background, particularly through her father, who was a pastor.” Perhaps. But if she had been trying to weaken and demoralize the West, and to disrupt tranquil and well-ordered communities by forcing strangers among them, she would have acted precisely as she did.
Der Spiegel’s rather different view may well reflect Merkel’s own thinking. As with its claim that
An additional challenge to the liberal democratic order came in February 2020 when the state parliament in Thuringia elected an FDP [Freie Demokratische Partei, a traditional centre-right party] politician to the office of governor with votes from the right-wing radical [sic] AfD. The vote was rightly seen as an attack on Germany’s values.
SUCH ATTACKS ON “democracy” only come from the right, of course. “Anything that is reminiscent of the Nazi period is unconscionable,” Spiegel said in a typical reductio ad Hitlerum. Merkel called the vote “unforgivable” and said that the result “must be overturned.” And so Spiegel called the episode “Merkel’s greatest service to liberal democracy in Germany, an area where she wasn’t always quite as steadfast.” But she wasn’t steadfast there either: Citizens in Thuringia were exercising their voting rights, as in every election since the Federal Republic was established after the war to put the totalitarian past behind West Germany. Yet when they made a choice at the ballot box that socialists disliked this “unforgivable” result “must be overturned.”
As for Donald Trump, many people disliked him. But Merkel “found more in common with the Chinese president than with the American. Listening to her throughout her tenure, it became clear that her understanding for her authoritarian counterpart in China actually grew over time ...” Is that another coincidence?
Spiegel notes that Merkel failed by both conservative and liberal standards:
The “European Union,” the “state of the West,” “liberal democracy,” “climate”? “In all of these important areas, the situation looks worse than it did 16 years ago.”
It is revealing that Merkel disappointed conservatives in the conception of policy and socialists only in the execution. And even if she was not actively seeking to weaken the West, she certainly brought too many attitudes with her from her salad days as a clever and ambitious young Communist that had precisely that effect.