Angela Merkel’s Nazi problem first cropped up in Greece in 2011 when an austerity protest featured a banner depicting the German chancellor wearing an S.S. uniform. Ever since, the theme has exploded across the eurozone, where populist anger at the economic order seemingly imposed from Berlin is fierce. But the chancellor’s troubles took a slightly different form this week when Golden Dawn, the far-right Greek political party that has seen its poll numbers rise alongside resentment of the E.U., played the anthem at a charity event local authorities had tried to prevent from happening in the first place.
As Merkel looks ahead to her own re-election in September, the scope of the Nazi imagery that continues to percolate in the neighborhood, when coupled with fierce domestic resentment of her role in permitting U.S. spying, has the potential to make for an emotionally resonant political brew her enemies on the left can serve up at will. The question is whether such tactics, and any loss of votes to Germany’s nascent right-of-center euroskeptic party, can overcome the incredible popularity of a leader who has, after all, largely protected her people from the pain of the global financial crisis.
So far, Merkel’s numbers have held up strong, and the AfD (Alternative for Germany) party that is making her role in propping up the neighborhood’s weak economies the centerpiece of its campaign has not generated a ton of traction. But you get the sense that this a more volatile dynamic than it might appear from outside, if only in that the German right’s unity is less-than-certain, and there have been some powerful topics broached in a political culture still largely defined by post-World War II reactionary pacifism.
The question we still don’t know the answer to is whether the chancellor, as astute a pol as any on the planet, has finally tripped a wire, or at least brought herself back down to earth, where the much more modest figures offered by the opposition can engage on a level playing field. She’s still the favorite, though only quite narrowly, according to the latest poll. But there’s a tangible series of events now, along with the messy painful collective memories in place, to make the next months a hell of a ride.