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REFUGEE CRISIS AND MERKEL

By Duriya Hashmi in Bonn

SHE disembarks from her car in Düsseldorf and waves to the children waiting to welcome her. Then there are selfies and formal handshakes; pianists mark the occasion with the Ode to Joy for the chancellor.

Yet she, some believe, does not have much to rejoice about.

The CDU is celebrating its 70th anniversary in the NRW parliament.

But this year, the show is also about the party throwing its weight behind its embattled leader after she stumbled badly in recent state elections and opinion polls.

As the broadcast shows Angela Merkel taking the podium, 72-year-old LouiseFassbender, a loyal CDU supporter, listens intently. She wants to know how the chancellor responds to the debacle of Berlin and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. And when Merkel stresses in her speech the need to think of others, Fassbender disappointedly infers that the chancellor intends to continue with her controversial policy on refugees.

She has been voting for the CDU for many years. Lately, though, disagreement with the party`s position on handling the refugee crisis is turning into discontent. `I cannot think about supporting any other party,` she says. `But Frau Merkel has made very irrational decisions about welcoming refugees.

Fassbender lives with her Yemeni male tenants who share with her everything, from coffee to gossip. She has no fear of Muslims, but she does have one complaint: `They don`t take responsibility to clean the house,` she says. As a person who has seen both the world and war, she explains: `We rebuilt Germany through hard work, but Merkel miscalculated the migrants` tendency to avoid work. Skilled Germans are growing old and I fear there won`t be many in future.` She cites the example of her brother, who she says had to dismiss three Muslim employees for taking too many prayer breaks during working hours on a construction project.

The CDU is Germany`s leading Conservative party. In post-war West Germany, CDU chancellors Konrad Adenauer and Ludwig Erhard were the leading figures behind the country`s `economic miracle`.`A lot of Germans are not happy with foreigners and their culture but the government ignored them,` says Fassbender.

Such disgruntled folk were recently seen berating the reconciling mayor of Bautzen in Eastern Germany asking him to tell `his Angela Merkel` to deal with the criminal refugees. They told him they can stand the `kebab sellers but no Negers [derogatory German word for Africans]`. This anxiety and frustration voted in the anti-refugee Alternative fuer Deutschland (AfD) party, which succeeded in getting representation in 10 of 16 regional states.

`It is scary to see such extremist political groups wielding influence,` says Katherine Wecker, a journalist in Bonn.

`Far-right politics will force conservatives like the CSU to follow suit to win back their voters.` She says, though, that Merkel made some mistakes which led to the emergence of extremist populism.

`One can`t think of anything but the refugee crisis which played against her,` shesays. `Merkel`s ally CSU and conservative supporters assume she`s leaning more towards the left.

Since the Cologne and Munich attacks, Merkel`s status as T1MFs person of the year, or Germany`s most loved Mutti [mama], has been relatively damaged, while a caricatured hijab-clad `Merkel must leave` narrative is emerging. Global and local analysts believe that she cannot make it to the third term in of fice.

The difference of opinion among Merkel`s own party members can appear similar to the ideology of the AfD.

Following the defeat in Berlin, CDU member Bettina Kudla reportedly blamed Merkel for the `Umvolkung` [Nazi term for ethnic transformation] of Germany in a tweet. According to the GermanInstituteforEconomicResearch, 20 per cent of the Germans who didn`t vote in 2013 are now AfD supporters.

Despite her apprehensions, Fassbender isn`t convinced that the Af D can replace the CDU, or that any other leader is likely to succeed Merkel. `The CDU is not just a party, it is a symbol of German unity and high Christian values,` she explains. `We have a lot of issues with Muslims but a party based on hatred can`t win the support of all.

The refugee debate, Wecker thinks, has been highly polarised and Germans view it only in black and white. `In fact there were a lot of grey areas that Merkel didn`t take into account,` she says. `In a way, the Af D`s stance has forced the state to find realistic solutions to the misuse of asylum [rules].` Even so, she believes that it is too early to predict doom for Merkel. `A recent survey shows that the CDU still has more supporters than any other party,` she offers as an example.

`Sigmar Gabriel or the other leaders are still not as popular as Merkel.` As a young professional, Wecker feels uncomfortable with the likes of the AfD shaping German politics but cannot rule out their entry into parliament as the opposition next year.

October is the month of German reunification. But Fassbender foresees the new generation in Germany being divided along many ethnic and ideological lines. With the revolutionary chant Wir sind das volk [We are the people], from October 1989, turning into frightening radical noise, it may become hard for voters to choose between the right and the far-right.

ource: Daily Dawn

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