Interview with the former chancellor
Merkel has no understanding for AfD voters
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Former Chancellor Merkel is coming out of her political retirement on German Unity Day. In her first television interview since leaving office, the CDU politician talks about East German identity and the sense of unity among migrants.
In the ZDF documentary “On the pulse with Mitri Sirin – how much unity have we achieved?” Former Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized the AfD and its voters. She said she has no understanding when people vote for the AfD. “If you make a name for yourself, so to speak, at the expense of other people, including people who look different and people with a different biography, then that's not something I understand.” She understands that people are upset about some things. But she is not prepared to accept that people therefore support ideas and ideas that, for her, have nothing to do with tolerance. “I would always argue against that and would say that in this democratic society you can also express your criticism and anger in other ways.”
The documentary with journalist Mitri Sirin, which will be broadcast on ZDF on German Unity Day, gets to the bottom of the question of why Unity Day is not a real holiday for many East Germans and people with a migration background. “I am interested in the topic as such,” emphasized Angela Merkel in her first interview after becoming chancellor, according to the press release.
Two years ago she gave one of her last speeches as Chancellor on German Unity Day. In the speech in Halle she also spoke about her experiences in the GDR. She now explained: “I probably wouldn't have made such a personal comment during my term of office if it hadn't come to the end, because I have always seen myself as the chancellor of all Germans.” However, the personal comment about East Germany showed her that “the conversation about it should be had again and again.”
Lack of freedom shapes people
Shortly after her birth, Merkel's parents moved with her from Hamburg to the GDR – so she is East German herself. The trained physicist became politically active for the first time in 1989/90. Merkel was the first female chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany and held the office from November 22, 2005 to December 8, 2021.
For Merkel, there is a difference between the GDR state and her personal life there. “Despite all the attempts to influence young people, the GDR obviously didn't manage to replace the family. We had friends, we celebrated, we went on vacation with our parents. Those were all experiences,” said the CDU politician on ZDF. “And then there are the formative experiences through the state. I mean, the presence of freedom shapes people, but the absence of freedom also shapes them.” She always talked about the fact that there was a difference “between the state of the GDR, whose overcoming we all enthusiastically celebrated, and a personal life, which in every country is more than just the state structure.”
“Our strength is diversity”
In the interview, Merkel looks back on many facets of her time as Chancellor – including the backlash she received: “There were some people who were very angry with me. That started during the time when the euro was in trouble came.” The situation then became polarized “when a lot of refugees came to us.” She describes it as “something distressing” that “the loudest person leaves the last impression.”
Merkel emphasized that she was Chancellor of all people who live permanently in Germany. “I also spoke to Turkish President Erdogan about this very often,” she told ZDF. The question was who was responsible for people of Turkish origin who lived here in the second or third generation. “And I always said: 'Look out, I'm their Chancellor.' Germany includes everyone.” Since we have had a lot of people living permanently in our country in the last few years who haven't always lived here, “It's a new task that we're taking on.”
The ex-Chancellor believes that there is always a connection between people “who have a minority biography” – in this respect, East Germans and people with a migration background are also connected. Because there is a tendency “to take the average CV for granted. I have always advocated that our strength is diversity.”