Obama Evokes Nostalgia in Germany, however Message Focuses on Future Struggles

BERLIN — The person whom Chancellor Angela Merkel calls “expensive Barack” was again in Berlin on Saturday, his lanky determine and simple smile a reminder for Germans of a unique period that ended not so way back.

However former President Barack Obama had not come to discuss the previous. He got here to talk to the longer term: some 300 younger leaders from throughout Europe, who had gathered for a city hall-style assembly within the German capital.

It didn’t take lengthy for Mr. Obama to the touch on one in all his fundamental issues — and the rationale he had come to what he known as “the guts of Europe.”

Europe, Mr. Obama advised, is without doubt one of the fundamental battlefields between liberal democracy and far-right populism.

“Nationalism, significantly on the far proper, is re-emerging,” he informed a packed auditorium. “We all know the place that leads. Europe is aware of higher than anybody the place that leads.”

“It results in battle, bloodshed and disaster,” he mentioned.

Mr. Obama didn’t point out his successor’s title. However the distinction with President Trump, subject by subject, was plain.

“I consider that local weather change is an existential problem for all of humanity,” Mr. Obama mentioned. “I consider that creating tolerance and respect in our nations is important,” he added. “I consider deeply in gender equality.”

In a two-hour alternate along with his younger viewers, Mr. Obama steadily returned to the difficulty of racism and immigration.

“Immigration points are driving a variety of the political turmoil right here in Europe and in my very own nation,” Mr. Obama mentioned.

However he additionally urged his viewers to view these unsettled by the newcomers with empathy. “We are able to’t label everybody who’s disturbed by migration as racist,” he mentioned.

Mr. Obama has lengthy been standard in Germany. Even earlier than he was elected, in July 2008, 200,000 Berliners flocked to see him communicate on the Victory Column within the coronary heart of town. For a lot of, the love has not abated.

“Our President,” gushed a front-page headline within the liberal newspaper Tagesspiegel, earlier than itemizing the insurance policies that had made Germans really feel relaxed with Mr. Obama: His assist for multilateral establishments and his willingness to battle local weather change and cope with Iran on freezing its nuclear program.

“Obama felt like a president for the Germans, as if he was made for them,” Tagesspiegel wrote. “The sensation has stayed. The distinction with Donald Trump has even strengthened it.”

In Germany, Mr. Trump’s presidency is more and more seen as a problem to America’s dedication to Europe and the values that underpin the Western alliance.

3 times extra Germans belief President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and President Xi Jinping of China to “do the best factor” than Mr. Trump, in response to a survey by the Pew Analysis Heart launched final September.

Ms. Merkel, Germany’s first feminine chancellor, and Mr. Obama, America’s first black president, at all times had a particular connection, their aides mentioned. Outsiders in their very own nations, in addition they typically agreed on key political points.

Mr. Trump and Ms. Merkel in contrast, conflict each in fashion and on substance.

The assembly in Berlin comes after related occasions in South Africa and smaller gatherings in locations together with Brazil and Indonesia hosted by the Obama Basis and is central to Mr. Obama’s post-White Home effort to “companion with the subsequent technology” to unravel the large issues of the day.

“It was a name to motion for the subsequent technology of European leaders and an effort to deliver them collectively at a time when Europe’s social cloth is tearing aside,” mentioned Julianne Smith, a former adviser within the Obama administration who’s now a senior fellow on the Bosch Academy in Berlin.

The inspiration’s strategy differs from that of teams just like the Clinton Basis or the Invoice and Melinda Gates Basis, which search to handle particular points. Some see in Mr. Obama’s strategy a return to his roots as a neighborhood organizer — and that is also how lots of the younger activists, who gave him a standing ovation in Berlin on Saturday, described the ex-president.

“He was right here as a former activist, he’s a bringer of hope,” mentioned Leonie Eland, a journalist from Germany who was among the many 300 younger leaders within the room. “He represents the opposite America, the progressive America and in a approach the American dream.”

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