Yves here. I must apologize for the state of my inbox. Mathew Rose sent this post in right after the German elections, but I wasn’t expecting it and missed seeing it then. That’s unfortunate in that his piece flagged the importance of high turnout before any English-language press accounts did. But there are other insights about the election, particularly regarding Alternative für Deutschland, that are valuable.
By Mathew D. Rose, a freelance writer based in Berlin
Last weekend’s German elections contain some rather interesting developments. Just as intriguing is how these are being interpreted by German media.
The real surprise of the three German state elections on Sunday was the number of people who voted. There was an impressive surge. Under normal circumstances one would have expected the number to have been around 60 percent in the two western states (Baden-Wuerttemberg and the Rhineland Palatinate) and less than 50 percent in Saxony-Anhalt, formerly part of the German Democratic Republic. Instead voter participation leaped to round 70 percent in the first two and over 60 percent in Saxony Anhalt, an increase of almost 20 percent in comparison to its last state election.
In other words this was an election characterised not by resignation, which has been the trend in German politics for years, but of political mobilisation. This development can be written down to a single factor, the ultra-right party Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland – AfD). Strip their votes out of the results and there would have been the expected decline in the number of voters. The results of the AfD are impressive. In Saxony Anhalt they received nearly a quarter of the votes cast (second place), in Baden-Wuerttemberg 15.1 percent (third place) and in the Rhineland Palatinate 12.6 percent (third place).
Another party that did well in the elections is the AfD of the wealthy, the Liberals (FDP). Actually a party of institutionalised corruption (Pay us and we will pass any law you wish, sell you a state company or give you a public contract), it has shadowed many policies of the AfD closely, attracting those voters who do not wish to be identified with the raucous with the AfD.
For the established parties represented in the Bundestag the elections were a disaster, which three of them are trying to ignore, as they each won one of the state elections. The Greens triumphed in Baden-Wuerttemberg, while Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) lost almost a third of their votes and the Social Democrats (SPD) almost half. In the Rhineland Palatinate the SPD won. The CDU that looked to win the election, ended up losing ten percent of its voters. The Greens lost two thirds of theirs. In conservative Saxony Anhalt the CDU was first, although obtaining 10 percent fewer votes than at the last elections. The SPD lost over half of its electoral support, the Greens a quarter and the Left Party (Links) a third.
The second most salient surprise of the elections beside the voter mobilisation is the initial attempt by most of German media to interpret the election’s results as a major victory for Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. One has to understand that in an authoritarian culture like the one in Germany the leader is not questioned. On the contrary, the more glaring the problems, the more lies need to be constructed. A typical example was former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who was increasingly portrayed as a great statesman until it was revealed that he was a corrupt scumbag, something that German media still tries to forget, even actively revise.
So, how did Ms Merkel win these elections if her Christian Democratic Union party did so poorly? The story line goes so: the two leading CDU candidates, in Baden-Wuerttemberg and the Rhineland Palatinate, had distanced themselves somewhat from Ms Merkel’s refugee policy late in the campaign in the hope of stopping irate CDU voters from defecting to the AfD or FDP. CDU voters were so indignant at this affront to Ms Merkel, we are told by the hacks, that they did not vote for their own party. One does not criticise the leader. Proof is provided by the fact that the leading candidate of the Greens in Baden Wuerttemberg, who is extremely popular and a clever chap, said he supported Ms Merkel’s refugee policy (the Greens are more or less refugee friendly) and won. Furthermore, anyone voting for the Greens and SPD, as both parties claim to more or less support accepting refugees, was voting for Ms Merkel. Thus it was a landslide victory for the Chancellor, who apparently won round 80 percent of the votes, and unfortunately a defeat for her traitorous party blackguards. That the leading candidate in Saxony Anhalt had overtly distanced himself from Ms Merkel with regard to refugees very early on and won, is simply ignored. Welcome to German media.
So what do the elections mean then? First we have to look at the AfD and its shadow, the FDP. In German media the AfD is synonymous with neo-Nazis. In reality it is comparable with many other ultra-conservative parties in the EU. It too has a policy of racism, and like the others, has agitated aggressively against refugees entering their nation. There are without a doubt neo Nazis in the party, but many others as well. What is unique about the AfD is its economic policy. It is neo-liberal. It supports the EU, liberalisation of the economy as well as reducing government and taxes, especially for the rich, as does the FDP. This is unique for ultra-right populist parties in Europe – who at least do not say this openly.
This seems to be in contradiction with the people voting for the AfD. They are supposed to be the downtrodden: victims of German reunification and neo-liberalism. So why are they voting for the AfD? Firstly, this has a lot to do with anger and disappointment. It really does not matter what the party policy is, but what it stands for. If you ask supporters, they will mention refugees and the fact that the AfD is against the political establishment. That is enough, they look no further. This is nothing all that unusual in today’s democracies.
Racism plays an important role in Germany as it is socially acceptable. In the past, when the Christian Union (today Ms Merkel’s party) the Social Democrats and the FDP were losing voters, they would initiate a synthesised campaign against immigrants. A typical motto was “The boat is full”, “Germany’s culture is threatened” “Muslims wearing headscarves in schools and universities should be forbidden” (which became law in many federal states) or “Crosses should be hung in classrooms”. The AfD simply picked up on this tradition and ran with it. Racism was always here, maybe shrouded, but after two schnaps the beast is loose. Germans like to believe that following the Third Reich racism was exiled from their nation, but which society has managed that – except maybe the Germans in their odd perception of themselves?
What comes now is unclear. A political party based on hate like the AfD tends to have a short life. Parliamentary life is rather bureaucratic and routine. Fiery speeches become humdrum after a while (and they will surely be ignored by German media). Many of these parties, with little parliamentary experience tend due to disappointed expectations to eventually eviscerate themselves. That will depend on party discipline. For the FDP it is simple. They just want to get rich. The AfD will be hoping that developments, such as a failing German economy, Greece’s debts having to be financed by the German taxpayer or refugees, provide them with new opportunities to attack the German political establishment. Those parties’ only answer seems to be Ms Merkel Victrix and calling the AfD neo Nazis. As the elections proved, that may be inadequate.