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Understanding Germany’s Short-lived “Culture of Welcome”

Images of Refugees in Three Leading German Quality Newspapers

Maximilian Conrad and Hugrún Aðalsteinsdóttir

Keywords: “culture of welcome”; frame analysis; historical memory; quality newspapers; refugee crisis; Vergangenheitsbewältigung

The German government’s response to the refugee crisis in the late summer and autumn of 2015 has puzzled observers. Despite initially positive reactions to Angela Merkel’s policy, her position has weakened domestically, contributing to the sudden rise of the Alternative for Germany, but also alienated a number of Germany’s European partners. While the German government’s approach may be difficult to explain from a purely rationalist perspective, this article highlights the role of ideational factors, in particular Germany’s self-understanding as an international actor and a sense of moral obligation drawn from the continued relevance of Germany’s twentieth-century history. We demonstrate that the long shadow of the crimes committed under National Socialism played a key role in shaping German public discourse on the refugee crisis—underlined by a frame analysis of the images of refugees in three leading German daily newspapers between August 2015 and March 2016. Although the inflow of refugees was also framed as a challenge and a potential security risk, the material emphasizes Germany’s moral obligation to provide shelter to those fleeing from war and persecution.

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