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.
Maximilian Conrad is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Iceland in Reykjavík. His research focuses on questions connected to participatory and deliberative aspects of European Union governance, for instance regarding the role of the European Citizens’ Initiative (eci). He is the author of the monograph Europeans and the Public Sphere: Communication without Community? (Stuttgart, 2014) and co-editor of the volume Bridging the Gap? Opportunities and Constraints of the European Citizens’ Initiative (Baden Baden, 2016).
HugrÚn AÐalsteinsdÓttir holds an MA in International Politics and a BA in German Studies, both from the University of Iceland, where she has also worked as a research assistant. Her main research interests are in the fields of German and international politics.