Angela Merkel grew up in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, during a time when movement was restricted and heavy surveillance monitored daily life.
From an early age, she must have recognized the arbitrary divisions that are imposed upon people, the “us vs. them” groups that oftentimes organize social life. She also got a sense of the corrosive effect that these divisions can have, how they can lead to bigotries and violence, according to a profile in Time Magazine.
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Decades later, Merkel is now the leader of the wealthiest and most powerful country in the European Union and her worldview is, in many ways, an inversion of the old East Germany’s prevailing ideology. Merkel believes in openness, collaboration, multilateral agreements. She’s often described as a bulwark against the nationalist, inward-facing tendencies that threaten to undermine regional stability.
As countries throughout Europe face an unprecedented refugee and migrant crisis, many leaders are taking a harsh stance, closing their borders, and refusing to admit those in need.
Not Merkel, though. Germany has accepted far more refugees than other EU countries over the past few years and Merkel has consistently advocated for a more generous approach to the crisis.
Germany has been open-minded and diplomatic in other ways during Merkel’s time in power. The country has become a leader in renewable energy, exerts a cooling effect on tensions in the region, and promotes foreign aid.
For Angela Merkel’s birthday, here are 11 quotes that exemplify her Global Citizen worldview.
On Human Rights
1/ “The heart and soul of Europe is tolerance. It has taken us centuries to understand this. We have persecuted and annihilated one another. We have laid our own country to waste … The worst period of hatred, devastation, and destruction happened not even a generation ago. It was done in the name of my people.”
2/ “There is one red line that we should not cross. It is a commitment to human rights, the respect of the dignity of the human being. There should be no compromises.”
3/ "As far as an upper limit [on refugees] is concerned, my position is clear: I will not accept it."
4/ “In many regions war and terror prevail. States disintegrate. For many years we have read about this. We have heard about it. We have seen it on TV. But we had not yet sufficiently understood that what happens in Aleppo and Mosul can affect Essen or Stuttgart. We have to face that now.”
5/ “A rejection of the humanitarian stance we took could have led to even worse consequences.”
6/ “Fear has never been a good adviser, neither in our personal lives nor in our society. Cultures and societies that are shaped by fear, will without doubt not get a grip on the future.”
7/ "As the G20, we cannot ignore the challenge that climate change poses to all of us in the world.”
8/ "My aim is for the G20 to send a clear signal for free markets and against isolation, and a clear commitment to the multilateral trading system.”
9/ “No one knew how the Cold War would end at the time, but it did end. This is within our living experience … I’m surprised at how fainthearted we sometimes are, and how quickly we lose courage.”
10/ “In East Germany, we always ran into boundaries before we were able to discover our own personal boundaries.”
11/ “I am regarded as a permanent delayer sometimes, but I think it is essential and extremely important to take people along and really listen to them in political talks.”