Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, probably had a perfectly ghastly birthday yesterday, July 17. It wasn’t going to all that great anyway turning 61 at a time that a lot of angry Greeks and other outraged finger-pointers everywhere are vilifying Ms Merkel as a cross between Cruella de Vil and Attila the Hun.
As The Washington Post put it, Germany’s handling of the Greece bailout has restored the stereotype of the “ugly German”.
So there was the whole Greece mess and then there was the July 16 video. What sort of a birthday was to be had when there was a new viral video of Ms Merkel reducing a Palestinian schoolgirl to tears? It’s not that she did or said anything that wasn’t accurate – all that the German chancellor did was tell it like it is, spelling out the truth about government policy, war and want. Ms Merkel said that Germany had to focus on refugees from Syria right now, not those from Lebanon, where there was no longer a civil war. She rushed across to the crying teenager in a maternal way and tried to comfort her as best she could. But few cheered the birthday girl. “Heartless,” said that fount of compassion, ‘The Daily Mail’.
How did this come to pass?
It appears to have been an organised interaction between the German chancellor and some three-dozen students in the city of Rostock. The schoolgirl, Reem, told Ms Merkel that her parents came to Germany from a refugee camp in Lebanon and were still waiting for a decision on their asylum application four years later. “I don’t know how my future looks as long as I don’t really know if I can stay,” she said in fluent German.
Ms Merkel agreed that Palestinians faced difficult conditions in Lebanon but pointed out that at least the country no longer had a civil war. Germany had to focus on refugees from Syria now, she said, a country where there is an ongoing war. She cited her government’s decision to speed up processing of asylum seekers and said, “Some will also have to go back”. The girl started to cry and Ms Merkel, to her credit paused, said “oh God” and moved to comfort her. (Read Bloomberg’s account here).
I’m not sure what more she could’ve done. Or what she could’ve said that wouldn’t have been mendacious or calculating or outright lies. But one thing is plain – either her media handlers should be more careful about who the chancellor talks to and what about, or they should have continuous good news available to hand out to everyone, everywhere.
Or else Ms Merkel should offer candy floss platitudes – like most politicians.