MUNICH — First Greta Thunberg, savior of the planet; now Carola Rackete, savior of human lives. Young, idealistic and energetic women enter the world stage, hated by some and worshipped by others for the same reason: their determination.
The Sea-Watch spectacle was filmworthy. The petite Rackete, with a face that always looked fatigued from her cellphone-shot videos aboard the Sea-Watch 3 rescue ship, speaks of responsibility and declares that she is only concerned with the welfare of the refugees on board. All she wants to do is bring them safely ashore to the Italian island of Lampedusa. And at the moment she does exactly that, a police boat tries to prevent the docking maneuver.
As Rackete disembarked, some cheered, others cursed her. The spectacle led to a huge spike in donations to the Sea-Watch cause, with a fundraiser by German TV host Jan Böhmermann surpassing 1 million euros alone. Supporters now recognize in Rackete a young heroine, who acts where others only talk, and takes on European and also Christian values against the Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, from the anti-migrant League party, who flaunts his contempt toward his fellow human beings.
What her critics see is a rebellious lawbreaker helping migrant smugglers. Not all of them use their best arguments: Among the League supporters at the dock, some screamed out death threats and fantasized about sex orgies on the high seas.
Rackete inspires and excites, our present moment has found in her a figure of longing and of hatred. Charismatic leaders such as Barack Obama are no longer trusted with the world's rescue; even armed revolutionaries like Che Guevara would have no star potential today.
They're considered less corrupt, less vulnerable to the influence of lobbyists.
It is now young women who conquer hearts and minds. They politely but firmly tell the rulers of Europe that they have to stick to their own promises: climate goals have to be implemented, human rights respected. Violence is not part of their formula, as Rackete immediately apologized for having scraped the police boat during the docking incident.
These heroines of the present are by no means to be confused with the type of quick-witted superheroes who have conquered the screens, they are neither Wonder Woman nor Captain Marvel. Yet they pique people's interest, all the way up to the highest echelons of power. Rackete has convinced a Roman Catholic cardinal to join her cause, while global business leaders are busy competing for Greta Thunberg's favor. These young women possess a very rare and precious quality: credibility.
Photo: Nick Jaussi / Sea-Watch
This may be due to their personalities, but such credibility means a lot in this historical moment. Young women do not sit on supervisory boards, executive committees, and are usually shut out from the highest government offices. This is part of why they are considered per se less corrupt, less vulnerable to the influence of lobbyists. And at the same time, they are no longer measured, like women of earlier generations, by the feminine modesty ideal and by the man standing next to them.
Thus, the young female idealist becomes the bearer of hope, and she is idealized. This, of course, can quickly become a burden because it demands an almost superhuman purity and clarity. With their bodies and their entire lives, they should stand up for their causes, thus relieving the public — which is far from being so consistent — for a while.
Neither Wonder Woman nor Captain Marvel.
An intercontinental flight and its carbon footprint may be all it takes for the glory of Greta Thunberg to pass. A truly radical remark by Carola Rackete on immigration policy, and the bourgeoisie class she's inspired could close their hearts and purses again.
It will not be enough to applaud the German captain and the Swedish student occupying the world stage. The new heroines should be considered humans, not saintly saviors. What's missing is a bit of heroism from the rest of us.
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