Tuesday, 19 October 2021

TV review: The Life and Times of Angela Merkel, France 5 (4 Corners)

A particularly timely program because Merkel had just stepped aside. Though Merkel would no doubt have approved of smooth elections in Germany this year to find a new government – a coalition required again to form it – at the time of writing it looked like her party had lost the contest.

Because she spent a good deal of her time in power changing her mind about things this result cannot have surprised Merkel, but she’d have had hope for the future. The thing that struck me most about the show is how her father had moved from the West to the East in order to live in the German Democratic Republic. A staunch Protestant, he can’t have but been happy that his daughter, when she decided to become involved in politics following the fall of the Berlin Wall, chose a party with “Christian” in its name.

This was before she took on a role with the Christian Democratic Union of Germany. A committed woman (some might say that she was stubborn) of solid principles, an abiding faith allowed Merkel to weather storms that blew when her sometimes-controversial decisions caused an uproar. They also helped to calm fears when she switched position, as she did when, instead of following a path of austerity as happened in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, in the wake of Covid-19 she favoured the step of flushing the economy with cash in order to relieve hardship. I like how Merkel learned from the past, though she might’ve been chary of calling them “mistakes”. I also like how, coming from modest roots, she fell on the conservative side of politics. In her case – unlike with Margaret Thatcher – the situation she found herself in as a young woman was coloured by the political settlement that obtained during her upbringing and it cannot have been so hard, growing up in a country where central planning had so signally failed, for Merkel to see merit in individual endeavour.

The program is made up of sections of straight narrative and interviews with people from Merkel’s past and European leaders who are no longer in office. I was surprised to see Tony Blair speaking French perfectly (though with an accent) and it was nice to see some participants speaking French instead of their native German. Another thing the program did for me was to underline certain qualities about Germany that belong to no other nation. This involves a certain rationalism and a need for strong community. It’s striking how a somewhat mercurial but essentially consistent actor like Merkel could prosper in a land where pragmatism trumps popularism.

1 comment:

AnnGee said...

Five star review, Matthew, as you depicted Angela as a quiet achiever, who very much admired her pastor father. It is such a shame that it is still very difficult for female politicians in Australia, (and many other countries) particularly as misogyny is still rife.