Germany has elections – and problems – too

BERLIN – It’s not only the U.S. election campaign that is full of contradictions, often connected with its two dominant parties. Germany, with three state elections on March 13 and more coming in the fall, has problems too, even with its system of many parties.

Greens, LINKE, Social Democrats, Christian Democrats

Take southwestern Baden-Wurttemberg (capital Stuttgart), with relative prosperity largely due to Daimler-Benz and its Mercedes, untouched as yet by emission scandals. The bristly-haired minister-president with his gruff, local dialect is almost too popular! As the first and only Green Party leader to head a state, Winfried Kretschmann, 67, has shared power until now with the Social Democrats as junior partners. But while his party expects a record vote of 32 percent, the poor Social Democrats have sunk in the polls to a measly 13 percent. With such a one-sided loss, the two may well fail to form a majority, and despite six parties jostling for seats there could be few new options. Would Kretschmann and his Greens stoop to join with the Christian Democrats, soul-mates of U.S. Republicans? Some Greens in other states have done so, swallowing pride and their original claims of being a left-wing party.

But with a week left to go, things can happen. One leading Green on the national scene, Volker Beck from Cologne, age 55, the first in the Bundestag who “came out” and always a fighter for gay rights (such as marriage equality, not yet achieved), was caught by the police in Berlin near midnight with 0.6 grams of forbidden crystal meth, probably after leaving a dealer’s apartment. A scandal! He has stepped down as party spokesperson on domestic and religious law and chair of the German-Israeli group, but not from his parliamentary seat. Some think this might cost his party points in the elections.

In nearby Rhineland-Palatinate (capital Mainz), two women face off in a neck-and-neck race for their party to win and make them minister-president. Such a woman vs. woman race is a first. What is truly odd is that the Christian Democrat has been knifing Angela Merkel, the national head of her own party, while the Social Democrat has been more defensive of her – though Merkel is getting murkier every day on the nationally over-riding refugee question.

Indeed, most leading politicians are in retreat on the “All are welcome” stand, demanding ever higher barriers for all nationalities except maybe Syrians or Iraqis, chipping away at the right to fetch families, tightening requirements for staying in Germany. And the “Christian” candidate here is one of the toughest and nastiest. Merkel, stone-walled by most European allies, has turned to bribing her former foe, Turkish dictator Erdogan, to have him halt the dangerous voyages across hazardous Aegean waters. Yet somehow her nose-dive in the popularity polls here, urged on by a cabal in her own party, seems to have ended; Mama Angela’s grip on the German helm seems as tight as ever.

In the third election on Mar. 13, in Saxony-Anhalt (capital Magdeburg), her party is holding its leading position. But this being East Germany, the party palette has different colors. The LINKE (Left), polling only four percent in the two states mentioned above and struggling to squeak over the 5 percent hurdle and gain a few legislature seats, holds second place here with 21 percent, well ahead of the sad-sack Social Democrats. Indeed, the LINKE leader once hoped to win first place – and the top job in the state. That is hardly likely now; Christian and Social Democrats will probably have to continue their very unequal, very chilly coalition.

AfD attacks on immigrants

But a new factor has emerged, even more worrisome than elsewhere. The Alternative for Germany (AfD), like Trump, Cruz and Rubio rolled into one with its attacks on immigrants, here mainly Muslims, appeals to the meanest, narrowest instincts. While the AfD in the two western states moved up to 13 percent and 9 percent, it soared in Saxony-Anhalt to third place in the polls, with 19 percent. With a few points it might even push ahead of a rather less dynamic LINKE. AfD uses that ancient trick, so devastating in the past in Germany and the U.S., of getting people to blame “those others,” poorer than themselves, for one’s problems and fears – thus helping the true culprits, smugly perched atop their growing hoards of Euros, dollars, pounds or other currencies and angling for ever more.

Saxony-Anhalt should not be confused with just plain Saxony, though both are in eastern Germany (while Lower Saxony is West German). Plain Saxony is worst of all in the hatred scale. It was there that a fascist mob besieged a bus-load of immigrants last week, mostly women and children. When the police finally ambled in, their first “assistance” was to drag a 14-year-old refugee to “safety” with a painful headlock, an indication as to which side many cops are on. The police chief later praised them and blamed the panicked refugees. The next day in Bautzen (the beautiful medieval city where I once lived, also in Saxony), a former hotel, almost ready to house immigrants, was set on fire while a drunken, rowdy crowd laughed and pelted the firemen. The cops, late and understaffed as usual, reluctantly arrested two of the most violent spectators. Stanislaw Tillich, 56, the minister-president of Saxony (since 1990 always Christian Democrat), deplored the incidents in the same meaningless, useless tones used after all the many recent incidents of a similar nature.

NPD is more visibly a gang of storm trooper thugs

In the midst of this triple election campaign the Supreme Court of Germany finally got around to a trial of the National Democratic Party, the NPD. Unlike the AfD, which maintains a respectable exterior while selling its poison, the NPD is more visibly a gang of storm trooper thugs, with a sprinkling of young, raw-looking kids. Those fat shaven napes, their flags, banners and loud demands are enough to make any decent person shudder. An earlier attempt to outlaw it in 2003 failed when the Supreme Court found so many of its leaders to be undercover government spies, often penning the worst statements and joining the fray, that it could not find against the party’s legality.

Now, after years of pressure, the NPD is again on trial, this time with government spies no longer in key leadership jobs. After three days in court, examining their fascist views and the fiery effects these may be having, the Supreme Court withdrew to arrive at a decision, perhaps in three months. If outlawed the NPD would lose substantial subsidies, paid by the government to all political parties on the basis of their voting results, as well as TV and radio time in elections, and its marches would no longer be considered legitimate party activities.

But win or lose (and views differ on possible benefits), the matter has lost some importance. If the NPD is indeed outlawed, its neo-Nazis, shouting the same slogans, will then more fully support the AfD, only outwardly more mannerly, which will soon acquire seats and a voice in three more states after March 13th (currently it’s in 5 of 16). After general elections in 2017 the AfD will gain the almost certain satisfaction of reaching a goal the NPD never achieved, speaking on TV from the floor of the Bundestag, possibly as third largest caucus. The rapid growth of this young sibling of older neo-Nazi groups confirms the truth of Bertolt Brecht’s warning: “Fertile still are the loins from whence that crept”.

Photo: In Freital near Dresden, Germany, immigrant children of refugees hold up signs that say “thank you Germany for letting us be here.”  |  AP


CONTRIBUTOR

Victor Grossman
Victor Grossman

Victor Grossman is a journalist from the U.S. now living in Berlin. He fled the U.S. in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities at Harvard and in Buffalo, New York. He landed in the former German Democratic Republic (Socialist East Germany), studied journalism, founded a Paul Robeson Archive and became a freelance journalist and author. One of his books is available in English: “Crossing the River. A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany” (2003, University of Massachusetts Press).

 

Comments

comments