FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

From East Germany to the Electoral College

by DAVID YEARSLEY

The American electoral system is a difficult thing to explain to Europeans with a long tradition of proportional representation. My first two-year stretch spent living in Berlin between 2003 and 2005 coincided with the endless presidential campaign that eventually concluded with George Bush’s re-election. A man in my building named Uli would often want an explanation as to what the difference between a caucus and primary was, or, more basically, why the campaigns went on for so long.

The day before that election the postman dropped off a package for us at Uli’s apartment because we weren’t home. When I stopped by that evening to pick it up, Ulrich invited me in for a glass of wine. I figured Uli wanted to talk politics I welcomed the chance to exercise it under the encouraging influence of the grape. Ulrich was raised in East Germany and he knows no English, since all he got was a dozen years of Russian required by the Soviet overseers.

Barely had the wine been poured than, Uli had gottconfronted me with the following question: “Was ist’s denn mit diesen Wahlmaennern?” which translates as, “What’s the deal with members of the Electoral College.”

I could have probably answered this question better in Swahili than German, or even English for that matter. Nonetheless, I took a big drink from my wine and gamely plunged in.

An hour-and-a-half later Ulrich remained less than fully illuminated on the subject. Aside from the thicket I was trying to hack through, there was the fact that we were well through a second bottle of south German grape juice.

By way of providing some relief for my own beleaguered mental forces, I asked Ulrich why he was so interested in the America political system. He said that the idea that someone could become leader of a democratic country with fewer votes than his opponents was a strange one to him, as was the fact that so few American’s actually voted in their own elections.

Ulrich went on to tell me about the single election he had voted on in East Germany. He had gone into a small room with a table and picked up the ballot paper on which were listed only candidates of the Socialist Party. Three observers, all employed by the secret police, were seated in the room, which had neither a booth with curtians nor a partition of any kind.  The voter was supposed to fill out the ballot at a nearby table and then deposit the ballot in the box on the observer’s table. Like all elections, this one was won by the leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker, with upwards of 95% of the vote.

In full view of the observers, Ulrich took the pencil and and cancelled out every  name on the list. Then he folded the ballot and went to the table and looked squarely at each of the observers before shoving the paper into the ballot-box.

Some months later, in 1987, two years before the Fall of the Wall, Ulrich was on a plane from Berlin to Budapest. By coincidence, the daughter of the Austrian ambassador was sitting next to him, and she told him that the flight went on to Istanbul and that there was 50/50 chance that no one would come on the plane to check for tickets or passports.

Uli stayed on the plane and no one came on to check his papers. He got off in Istanbul, where he stayed in detention for two weeks unders suspicion of being a spy. After his release he made his way to West Germany.

When Ulrich went to look up his secret police file some years after the Fall of East Germany, he found a pro forma account of his defiant non-vote.

It was getting late and time for me to go back upstairs, so I thanked Ulrich for the wine, but most of all for telling me his story. I also apologized for getting him to tell it, since I imagined he had to tell it quite often.

He shrugged and said that he hadn’t told the story in a decade.

DAVID YEARSLEY s a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His latest book is Bach’s Feet. He can be reached at  dgyearsley@gmail.com

 

 

DAVID YEARSLEY is a long-time contributor to CounterPunch and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. His recording of J. S. Bach’s organ trio sonatas is available from Musica Omnia. He can be reached at  dgyearsley@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail