“If you define ‘crisis’ as a ‘turning point,’ then post-war Europe appears to have arrived at such a point.”

An Interview with Ines Pohl

Portrait of Ines Pohl

Ines Pohl; CC BY-NC 2.0 Deutsche Welle

The European Union currently faces a tensile test: Great Britain’s vote to exit, the rise of rightwing populist movements, the lack of a solution to the flow of refugees, fear of terror attacks, and economic decline. Reference is often made, in the political debate about how to respond to these issues going forward, to history.

At our event, “Times of Crisis” on 7 September 2016, we would hence like to discuss the significance of the past for current European politics, particularly considering today’s problems, together with international guests from Great Britain, France, and Poland, as well as Germany. The panel will consist of Dan Diner, Dietmar Herz, Étienne François, Hans Kundnani, and Adam Michnik. The moderator will be Ines Pohl, of whom we asked four questions that extend our view to include the USA.

Nevin Ekinci: Ms. Pohl, you have been in Washington since the end of 2015 as the correspondent for Deutsche Welle. How do you perceive the debates about the current European “crisis,” from a distance? Would you even use the term “times of crisis?”

Ines Pohl: Europe appears – again – to be developing into a continent of great insecurities. Putative certainties, political as well as economic alliances, these are being at least called into question if not in some cases abandoned. The struggle for a cooperative Europe is being discarded. Threatening forms of nationalism have in many places taken over the parameters of the discourse. If you define ‘crisis’ as a ‘turning point,’ then post-war Europe appears to have arrived at such a point.

In the USA we’re seeing a disturbing election campaign where migrants and refugees are a frequent topic. Do historical references play a similar role there as here, particularly with respect to the movement of refugees in the context of World War II?

In his campaign Donald Trump is playing with, above all, the fear accompanying changes due to globalization. He talks about an America that hasn’t existed since the 1970s, at the latest, and that isn’t coming back either. A country of unlimited growth and everlasting ascendancy. Since he doesn’t have actual policies for his promise of salvation, he needs culprits that he can blame for the real problems in the country. So he uses immigrants, primarily from Latin America.

How viable do you think such historical references are?

When Donald Trump speaks about turning America back into what it once was, it’s not at all viable. His statements, about progressively withdrawing from military commitments to allies and concentrating predominantly on straight national defense, show a huge political naiveté and inexperience.

From your perspective, what is a viable political analysis of the current situation, which could serve as a foundation for a discussion about how we handle refugees and migrants on this huge scale?

To understand the present day and to develop solutions for the future, you have to know your past. The less people have engaged with their own history and the history of other countries, the easier it is to inveigle them into supporting populist pseudo-solutions.

Our rich Western societies are facing the large task of organizing a process – through politics, the economy, and civil society – whereby more people gain access to the privileges of the first world. And what that means, in the final analysis, is rethinking the way we understand prosperity and security. History can teach us here that escaping into nationalism, into borders and exclusion, has never really led to long-term solutions and a relative peace.

Many thanks for the interview!

Ines Pohl was editor in chief of the taz (a daily newspaper based in Berlin) from 2009 to 2015. In the fall of 2015 she became Washington correspondent for Deutsche Welle, reporting on the American presidential election. At the start of next year she will return to Berlin as editor in chief at Deutsche Welle.

The interview was conducted by Nevin Ekinci (Academy programs on migration and diversity), who is excited to hear the different European perspectives at the panel discussion.

Further information on the panel discussion “Times of Crises” on 7 September 2016 in our event calender.

Leave a comment