Mathew D. Rose: The Remarkable World of Angela Merkel and Her Friends

By Mathew D. Rose, a freelance writer living in Berlin

Angela Merkel and David Cameron appear to be competing over whose party will be the first to self-destruct. Both seem determined to prove to the denizens of their nations that they are not fit to lead a government. Both have made the same, egregious tactical failure: Their efforts are progressing at such a rapid pace that no one has an opportunity to say enough is enough, before the next incident has gone still further than enough.

While Dodgy Dave is trying to recover from the fallout of a thoroughly botched budget, an economy that seems to be falling apart, at least half his party abandoning him to join the Brexit camp, on top of being personally caught up in the Panama Papers affair, and the losing most of his steel industry, Chancellor Merkel and her government are also giving their best to consternate the German people.

Following a major defeat in recent state elections, Ms Merkel sealed a deal with Turkey’s autocratic leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, lavishing him with six billion Euros and loads of goodies and promises, which she would prefer not to keep, such as visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in the EU. In return he is to prevent refugees, most of them fleeing the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, from reaching the EU. Having authoritarian governments, who have little interest in the niceties of democracy, as a neighbour saves needing to build walls on borders. Many Germans, rather sniffy at all these refugees who ruined their Willkommenskultur extravaganza, simply conveniently ignore this development and pretend that Germany’s open-door refugee policy is still in place.

Then came the satirists. It all began with a political programme, Extra 3, in state television that produced a critical song about Erdogan. The German ambassador in Istanbul was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry to explain how such a piece deprecating the great leader could appear in German television. The affair was apparently so embarrassing for Ms Merkel’s government that at an ensuing press conference the spokesperson of the German government tried to avoid using the word “summons” with regard to the ambassador’s dressing down, speaking first of a “invitation” then “a serious appointment”.

The Germans loved the song. They might be causing ineffable suffering for hundreds of thousands of war refugees and their leader brown-nosing what German press calls “the half dictator” Erdogan, but weren’t they plucky little democrats demonstrating their love for freedom of the media with their little Erdogan song. Even the German government was posturing, claiming its determination to defend freedom of expression.

This sort of German hypocrisy is the sort of stuff another satirist, Jan Böhmermann, thrives on. During the Greek crisis of 2015, as Germany beat Greece into financial submission, Böhmermann produced brilliant pieces lambasting German policy and the complicity of most Germans, as well as their aggressiveness toward Greek society. Now he did the same with an “abusive poem” (Schmähgedicht). Had this been about Vladimir Putin, Bohmermann would have been the darling of the nation, but its subject was Erdogan. Before he presented his poem in German state television Böhmermann explained to his audience that it violated German law and then read on.

The contents were well and truly insulting and obscene, apposite for a dictator of Erdogan’s standing. It was also highly political. Still, the poem was pulled from the television archives shortly afterwards – that is one of the perks of the state owning television channels – and Böhmermann’s next show was cancelled.

Boehmermann is no fool. He is well aware that there is a German law from the nineteenth century, which explicitly forbids insulting foreign heads of state. Such archaic and authoritarian laws are not unusual in Germany. Many statutes created by the Nazis are still existent. There is one catch however. The German government has to explicitly give permission for charges to be lodged, which puts Ms Merkel and her government under a great deal of pressure following its grand declarations concerning the freedom of the media, should Turkey ask Germany to prosecute Böhmermann. Ms Merkel made one of her increasingly typical gaffes, when she let it be publicly known that she had informed Erdogan that the poem was “intentionally insulting”, thus interfering with the due course of law. Erdogan, thus encouraged by the Chancellor, had his ambassador file a legal complaint.

Ms Merkel’s press spokesman had implied that the German government would reach a decision concerning the issue on Wednesday – that was yesterday. There has been no decision. One can only assume that some sort of solution is being sought to get around this. There may be additional billions on the way to Erdogan. He in the meantime has filed a personal lawsuit against Böhmermann.

In addition to German satirists Ms Merkel has a further problem: her finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Due to the current global trade and finance turbulences German exporters, the driving force of the economy, are starting to feel the heat. Much of the slack is however being taken up by domestic spending.

Due to low interest rates German citizens are complaining that they receive hardly any interest on their savings. For the same reason life insurance policies are providing very low returns. Both of these are having dramatic effects upon retirement plans. The European Central Bank’s policy of negative interest rates is being blamed for the development. That the ECB has gone down the questionable path of negative interest rates is the result of the strict austerity policy dictated by Mr Schäuble and Ms Merkel for Germany and the Eurozone.

This week Mr Schäuble and politicians of Ms Merkel’s Christian Union have accused the ECB’s low interest rates not only of expropriating German savers’ money, but also of aiding the rise of the populist party Alternative for Germany (AfD), which scored dramatic successes in recent elections, while the Christian Union suffered similarly dramatic losses. Support for Ms Merkel’s party has since continued to slip.

This may simply be typical opportunistic dissimulation of a political party in crisis, but Christian Union politicians have gone a step further and are encouraging Germans to emulate their government and save even more money for retirement to compensate for current shortfalls. The question remains: If exports are stagnating or declining, the government and industry are reducing investment, while consumers stop spending, what is going to drive economic growth?

Forgotten is the fact that Germany is in the midst of a housing bubble, another element driving the economy. Many buyers have seen this as an alternative to investing in equities or keeping cash. This has only been possible thanks to record low mortgage rates. Should these suddenly start to rise again, Mr Schäuble and Ms Merkel may find themselves to blame for the next domestic crisis. Even the otherwise ultra-conservative head of the Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, has felt the need to intervene against Mr Schäubles rhetoric and defend ECB policy.

So while Mr Schäuble’s financial policy is being steered by rightwing populists and Ms Merkels domestic policy by satirists and Germany is dictating policy for the whole of the EU, one need not wonder about the current state of Europe.

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  1. divadab

    And yet somehow Germany continues to lead the EU project with the most robust economy and the highest GDP per capita. Why else would so many desperate refugees and opportunists brave leaky boats, a 1500-KM march through hostile territory, and living in donated tents in the winter to get there?

    Yes Merkel looks increasingly weak – weak and befuddled and in the grip of a contemptuous Turkish Pasha – I just shake my head at the tolerance of Germans for this misleadership – however, the reality is there is considerable slack in the German economy which Frau Merkel is apparently doing her level best to give away to foreigners, and hostile foreigners at that.

    I expect the authoritarian right to continue to make progress in the face of CDU incompetence.

    1. Mondo

      Re “the tolerance of Germans for this misleadership”; Have you looked at the alternatives for German chancellor ? What do you think would happen if German leadership in Europe (misguided as it may be in a number of aspects) were to fall apart because we have a new chancellor who won’t come close to being as acceptable to not just German voters but also other European governments ?
      I think people sort of realize that problem, and that is why Merkel still enjoys a decent level of support, especially from her own party leadership.

      1. fajensen

        What would happen? Well, we might just still be able to save the entire EU project, including the Euro!

        “German Leadership”, meaning the remaking of Europe and the flattening of European culture, towards the idea that “we” should all become more “German” in our way of life “for the greater good” – which just happens to be whatever is momentarily good for Germany – is *exactly* what is driving the EU over the edge and into the pit.

        The main problem is that in Germany leadership is “zum endsieg” – that is: Even though the leadership is a full-on crackpot or a just a mere idiot bungler, who is happily muddling along from one self-made disaster to another, the Germans will not push the idiot under the bus or even consider criticism; only in the most indirect and vague terms will the leader be admonished.

        Hierarchy Must Be Preserved at ALL Costs.

        The rest of Europe strongly disagrees with that idea. We *like* our leadership going under the bus once in a while. We disagree so much with the German Interpretation of Europe that we will rather sabotage the whole edifice, to see it fail hard, *just* to get rid of Merkel and her “Ackermänner”, rather than be dragged slowly under together by the accumulating impact of one bungle after another. Jumping from turd to turd in a lake of brown stuff is what German leadership amounts to these days. Comic, yet deadly in the long run.

        How can anyone even consider giving Erdogan the possibility of running his usual vendettas in Germany, using German courts?

        Somehow, Merkel can do this. That is crazy.

        America is trying the same thing on a global scale – this is turning out equally well for everyone.

        1. animalogic

          Me Merkel should try Australian politics: we LOVE pushing leaders under the bus. We’ve had 5 prime ministers in (I think) 6 years. It’s totally dysfunctional, but fun in a kind of malicious way….

    2. digi_owl

      I do wonder how robust it would be when there is nobody around to buy the exports.

      The domestic economy is after all in shambles, thanks to stagnant wages for perhaps a generation at this point.

  2. Ignacio

    Ha,ha,ha! I love the sarcastic tone and content. At least, something to laugh about hen we all should be crying.

  3. Keith

    The state of Western politicians is dire.

    I should imagine their only useful characteristic is that they are easily corruptible with promises of money and/or power.

    1. James Levy

      Absolutely. Capable leaders would be forced to act autonomously and include interests beyond the neoliberal bounds of propriety. One of LBJ’s advisors said that he used to plead with the big money men: “Don’t you understand that the welfare state is in your interest?”. They were skeptical to hostile when the US economy was booming. The minute it slowed down in the 1970s they began a full-bore counterrevolution designed to roll back the New Deal and Great Society. They’ve pretty much eviscerated the gains of Nixon and LBJ, and are gunning for FDR right now. In Europe it’s the post-1945 compromise that’s under assault, and elites are winning there, too. Any politician who sees how untenable and dangerous this is has been frozen out. The Germans have a term for it: Kadavergehorsam–cadaver obedience. That’s what scares them about Trump–not his policies, which will be pro-business tax-cutting bullshit like all the rest, but the fact that his money and personality makes him less than deferential and obedient to their every whim.

  4. susan the other

    I was wondering about Boehmermann. Erdogan would be smarter to just ignore it. If anybody has a copy of that poem, please post it.

  5. Madmamie

    Yes, please somebody, post a copy of that poem with a translation.

    As for Mondo’s comment: There are viable alternatives to Merkle and her party but none that would be acceptable to Brussels or Luxemburg. The only member that still retains enough autonomy to change course (and thus help the entire EU change course) is the UK.

  6. Mathew D. Rose

    Mathew here. This is a copy of the poem and a literal translation by me:

    Boehmermann’s Poem

    “Sackdoof, feige und verklemmt,
    ist Erdogan der Präsident.

    Sein Gelöt stinkt schlimm nach Döner,
    selbst ein Schweinepfurz riecht schöner.

    Er ist der Mann der Mädchen schlägt,
    und dabei Gummimasken trägt.

    Am liebsten mag er Ziegen ficken,
    und Minderheiten unterdrücken,

    Kurden treten, Christen hauen,
    und dabei Kinderpornos schauen.

    Und selbst Abends heißt statt schlafen,
    Fellatio mit hundert Schafen.

    Ja, Erdogan ist voll und ganz,
    ein Präsident mit kleinem Schwanz.

    Jeden Türken hört man flöten,
    die dumme Sau hat Schrumpelklöten,

    Von Ankara bis Istanbul,
    weiß jeder, dieser Mann ist schwul,

    Pervers, verlaust und zoophil
    Recep Fritzl Priklopil.

    Sein Kopf so leer, wie seine Eier,
    der Star auf jeder Gangbang-Feier.

    Moronic, cowardly and inhibited
    Erdogan is president.

    His you know what stinks like Doner,
    even a pig’s fart smells better.

    He’s the man who beats girls,
    while he wears a mask of rubber.

    He prefers to fuck goats,
    and oppress minorities,

    Kick Kurds, beat up Christians,
    while watching child pornography.

    And evenings instead of sleeping,
    instead fellatio with a hundred sheep.

    Yes, Erdogan is without a doubt,
    a president with a small cock.

    One hears all the Turks whistling,
    the stupid sod has shrivelled testicles,

    From Ankara to Istanbul,
    everyone knows this man is gay,

    Perverted, verminous and zoophile,
    Recep Fritzl Priklopil.

    His head is empty, as are his balls,
    the star at every gang bang party.

  7. clinical wasteman

    (Apologies if this is a semi-duplicate post: I think I dyspraxically auto-deleted the last version.)

    No transcript of the poem anywhere on the first few pages of a Duckduckgo search (& no time to check links for clips). Are even Springer media bosses that scared of Erdogan?

    But I must disagree, Madmamie, about UK ‘autonomy’, although I can see why it might look that way from any distance and I completely agree about the wretchedness of all current EU institutions and treaties.
    That ‘autonomy’ would amount to the dictatorship of landed proprietors in Southern England (living there, that is, while still owning much of the North and Wales and almost all of Scotland), to be “softly” enforced by the subset of their victims who are also their cheerleaders, i.e. the part of the wreckage of the working class that mistakes National Identity (-Politics) for class interest. In other words disaster for everyone else, especially, once Scotland wisely flees, for the multinational, mostly poor near-majority who make the real social life of London the proprietors’ nightmare but make it liveable for one another. Anyone who wants to throw us assetless urban vermin under the famous bus in the name of national priority is welcome to say so, but only if you’re also willing to propose the same for the populations of NYC, LA etc. There’s nothing good to be said about the EU as agency of competitive discipline and financial looting: its sole virtue, in the UK at least, is the cross-institutional gridlock that keeps the Anglo-elite from legislating more than they already do, i.e. “getting done” the hideous things they have in mind.

    1. clinical wasteman

      Ok, found it, but it probably wasn’t worth the effort except in that it may be interesting that only an Italian server (“justpaste [.it] [/svdv]”) was hosting this transcript of the doggerel (not clear if it’s the whole thing), plus the studio chatter surrounding it — ‘don’t clap, audience, you’d be breaking the law’, but they do so loudly anyway — Sounds like a Bismarck law they’re breaking, which might have been an interesting comparative angle on Erdogan, but our satirist doesn’t go there.
      I had intended to say please don’t use Googoyle “Translate” but in this case it would hardly make any difference. To paraphrase what doesn’t merit translation, Erdogan stinks like a kebab and has a small sex organ, which he uses prolifically with goats when he’s not too busy watching child pornography. You get the idea. All crassness no doubt (successfully) calculated, but it’s a shame to see a prime time TV slot reserved for once for “obscene” political bile and then used in such a belaboured, unimaginative way. Transcript below.

      B . : Das … Okay. Das Gedicht heißt „Schmähkritik“:

      „Sackdoof, feige und verklemmt,
      ist Erdoğan der Präsident.

      Sein Gelöt stinkt schlimm nach Döner,
      selbst ein Schweinefurz riecht schöner.

      Er ist der Mann, der Mädchen schlägt
      und dabei Gummimasken trägt.

      Am liebsten mag er Ziegen ficken
      und Minderheiten unterdrücken …“

      Das ist …, das wär jetzt quasi eine Sache die [verneinend den Kopf
      schüttelnd] …

      K . : Nein [ebenfalls verneinend den Kopf schüttelnd].

      B . : „Kurden treten, Christen hauen,
      und dabei Kinderpornos schauen.

      Und selbst abends heisst’s statt schlafen,
      Fellatio mit hundert Schafen.

      Ja, Erdoğan ist voll und ganz
      ein Präsident mit kleinem Schwanz.

      Jeden, jeden …“

      Wie gesagt, das ist eine Sache, da muss man …

      K . : Das darf man nicht machen!

      B . : Das darf man nicht machen!

      K . : – Ja, nicht Präsident sagen!

      B . : „Jeden Türken hört man flöten,
      die dumme Sau hat Schrumpelklöten.

      Von Ankara bis Istanbul
      weiss jeder dieser Mann ist schwul,
      pervers, verlaust und zoophil:
      Recep Fritzl Priklopil.

      Sein Kopf so leer, wie seine Eier,
      der Star auf jeder Gang-Bang-Feier.

      Bis der Schwanz beim Pinkeln brennt,
      das ist Recep Erdoğan, der türkische Präsident.“

      Und das darf man, also das dürfte man jetzt im deutschen …

      K . : Das darf man nicht! Unter aller Kajüte!

      B . : Ganz kurz, hey! Hey, hey! [streng rufend gegen den Applaus des
      Studiopublikums gerichtet]

      K . : Nicht klatschen!

  8. clinical wasteman

    Just found and posted a transcript (only available on an Italian server called “justpaste”), but it’s
    a) hardly worth reading — just a bunch of comments about the Erdogan’s kebab-like personal odour, the size of his sex organ and his use of it with goats, and
    b) for the same reasons, likely to set off all kinds of automatic ‘unsuitable content’ triggers, even in German.
    Point (b) is NOT a complaint about moderation! Posting was attempted because a couple of people requested it, but I agree with the bot that the poem is not worth publishing (and definitely not worth translating: find it and apply to single words an online dictionary like — not Googoyle “translate” — and you’ll get the idea), not because it’s “obscene” but because it’s pitiful.

  9. vidimi

    so merkel has given her go ahead for the prosecution. the trap – of her own making, no less – is springing on her and it’s delicious to watch.

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