TIME magazine has chosen the 2015 Person of the Year: this time it is German Chancellor and Leader of the Christian Democratic Union Angela Merkel.
She is the fourth woman to be named the title since its beginning in 1927, and the first woman to be awarded the title in the last 29 years, since Sherron Watkins from Enron, Cynthia Cooper of Worldcom and Coleen Rowley of the Federal Bureau of Investigation were awarded. The prestigious title was given to her for leading Europe through Greek bankruptcy, her support of aid to refugees, and, finally, her outstanding role in the matter of the Paris’ terrorist acts. The magazine’s edition called Merkel “the chancellor of the free world.”
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Islamic State leader, was named runner-up. Third place went to the American presidential hopeful (or not really) Donald Trump.
Politics of Baby Steps
The most influential leader of Europe is a refugee from a time and place where no one could have even imagine her in power: at the time of Angela Merkel’s childhood, the German Democratic Republic was neither democratic nor republic at all.
In autumn 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it became clear that the GDR was going through the complex process of forming new democratic parties. On this background of radical alteration, Merkel was involved in the democracy movement and joined the new fast-growing party Democratic Awakening. But that still was the time when East Germans were perceived with hostility in the western German society. And an “Ossi” Angela Merkel, a divorced woman and a Protestant in the Catholic party, looked like an alien on a foreign planet.
Despite the fact that today it is not a surprise that the German Chancellor has been awarded the prestigious title, at the beginning of her political career she seemed uncharismatic, non-distinctive, and unremarkable. However, her imperious manner of ruling and a scientist’s devotion to data could not be hidden: many called her Merkelvellian for her skill to overrun anyone who wanted to challenge her. Merkel succeeded in it then and continues to do it to the present day. She is a proud adherent of what the former leader of the German Social Democratic Party Willy Brandt once called “the politics of baby steps” or, in simple words, “leading from behind”.
Then, 2015 came. It was one of the most tumultuous years in the recent history of Europe, and it has brought a lot of doubts and challenges: the migrant and refugee crisis in the Middle East, Russian invasion of Ukraine, Europe’s serial debt crises, a new phase of a terrorist threat. There were a few times when the world had a chance to doubt whether the European Union could continue to exist. Because of the migrant crisis, the principle of open borders was strongly criticized and at some point even under the threat of destruction. The mass shooting in France caused tight relations within the EU inclining each country to close the doors and shield from the troubles.
That is where she showed herself in her best: each time Angela Merkel forcefully stepped in. The editor of TIME Nancy Gibbs wrote that the Chancellor is “asking more of her country than most politicians would dare” and “standing against tyranny.” While most of the world engages in a furious debate about the line between safety and freedom, Merkel is asking a great deal of the Germans, as well as of the rest of us. She chose the way of viewing refugees as victims to be rescued rather than as invaders to be repelled, added Gibbs. Trump called her “insane” and referred to the refugees as “one of the great Trojan horses.” Her allies warned her of a popular rebellion, and rivals—of a cultural and economic suicide. But Merkel continues to believe that the right path for mankind is building bridges instead of walls, and that a war can be won off the battlefields just as easily as it can be done on the fighting front.
There were a number of persons who also were in the run for the title of the TIME Person of the Year. Vladimir Putin, Black Lives Matter activists, Hassan Rouhani, and Travis Kalanick were among them. The first title was awarded in 1927 to Charles Lindbergh, the first person to fly a plane solo across the Atlantic. Other previous winners include Queen Elizabeth II, Mahatma Gandhi, and Adolf Hitler. The Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who was nominated this year, was awarded in 2007.