Old German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck once said – or so goes the legend: “If the world ever perishes I’d want to be in Mecklenburg where everything happens fifty years late.” The alarm bells are now loudly ringing, warning that this once feudally most backward part of Germany between Berlin and the Baltic Sea may prove something like the opposite!
The elections on Sunday (Sept. 4) were an unmitigated disaster! The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), running for the first time, rang up an amazing 21.9 % of the vote, putting it in second place behind the Social Democrats and beating out Angela Merkel in her own home state! Despite attempts at respectability, the AfD is far, far to the right. Not only does it oppose same-gender marriages, abortions and most hard-won rights for women (though two of its prominent leaders are women), it demands a cruel tightening of penal law, even for children, and wants to start up military conscription again.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party is very much for strengthening the Bundeswehr (armed forces); Ursula von Leyen, her ambitious Minister of Defense, is demanding ever more weapons with ever more advanced technology, and is ever more belligerent generally in words and tactics. She has been held back just a tad by some Social Democrats like Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who at times sounds almost sensibly pacific– and is no doubt very much worried about party losses in national polls. But the AfD, till now always ostracized by the others and with no immediate hopes of getting into any coalitions anywhere, says loudly what others may whisper: it demands that “the Bundeswehr make a basic training possible more oriented toward war and foreign deployment … whenever German security interests are involved”. It, too, demand’s more financing for the German weapons industry. The only noticeable difference from today’s government policy of expansion is that the AfD speaks more belligerently and, recalling old-time nationalism, wants to weaken the close military ties with the USA. Germany must again lead the pack, economically and militarily, at least on this side of the Atlantic.
These issues are important on a national level for the 2017 elections, with Merkel already weakening under constant attacks from former allies. The main attacks on her are based on an issue which she stated so forcefully one year ago and which people in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania (“Meck-Pom”) have also found important. The main AfD talking-point is its opposition to refugees arriving from the war zones or Africa. Although it has become more careful in choosing words and no longer demands the shooting of immigrants who try to cross the border illegally, even women and children, its main attraction is still its hatred of all refugees, and especially Muslims. Actually, the state of “Meck-Pom”, like similarly hate-ridden areas of Saxony, has one of the smallest number of immigrants and few real difficulties. But the AfD agitators, assisted by the media, have succeeded in arousing usual fears of the “Others”. This development is especially dangerous because all leading parties but the LINKE (Left) have retreated in one way or another from that dramatic call by Merkel: “We can cope with this”. Some still admire her words, but many don’t; for the first time her popularity has sunk below the half-way level. She and her party were hit hard by the bitter defeat in Meck-Pom, getting only 19%, with the AfD at nearly 22 %. And it is her own district and home territory.
Will the AfD continue its seemingly unstoppable upward rise? In Berlin’s elections in two weeks it will get another good chance, and although it cannot get close to its Mecklenburg numbers, it will almost certainly get all too many seats in the Berlin legislature and in all twelve borough councils, thus winning many beachheads for future expansion.
One aspect of this frightening advance worries and saddens me especially. Many of those voting for the AfD, in a very big turnout, were people who did not vote in past elections. They were less interested in an AfD program hyped to them in new, glowing flavors than in registering their disappointment and anger at the old parties, which seemed to be doing nothing to overcome abounding stagnation, lack of decent, steady jobs, and a secure future for themselves and their progeny. This is where the LINKE should be offering answers, fighting answers, paired with street actions, sit-downs and visible people-based moves for achievable improvement, together with a convincing perspective for a better society. It is such methods, I believe, which brought huge gains and near success to the remarkable campaign of Bernie Sanders in the USA and the enthusiasm similarly aroused by Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. They called, with both facts and emotion, for resistance to the One Percent on top, who are getting ever more obscenely wealthy while poisoning the world with over-priced, dubious pharmacy goods, weed-killers, phonied emission tricks and above all weapons for more and more wars and more and more refugees, from which they were the main profiteers.
The LINKE, so far as I know, has worked for local improvements whenever it had seats on a local or state council, but refrained from either calls to action or calls for a future, better society. It should have challenged all other major parties on this, because they all have betrayed their constituents and their promises. The gap they left open, which the LINKE should have filled, was stuffed instead by the loud-mouth, aggressive AfD, while it focused instead on joining up in more state coalition governments and, as a main aim, getting cabinet posts at the federal level in a Social Democratic-Green-LINKE coalition. On the Berlin state level, after the coming elections on September 18th, this combination seems quite attainable. But aiming at such goals means hurting no potential partner’s feelings, refraining from militancy, offering compromises, and thus losing any real reason for angry citizens to vote for it. They see it being diluting into a slightly more leftish but much weaker version of the Social Democrats. So why vote for it? And aside from Thuringia, where the rules may be different, every time the LINKE joined up in a state coalition it lost many voters and ended up far weaker than before. Will it make this same mistake after the Berlin election? Will it try for this same solution on the federal scale? And if so, what then?
Election Results: (In parentheses what they got 5 years ago)
SPD – 30.5 (35.6),
AfD – 20.8 (0.0),
CDU – 19.0 (23.0)
LINKE 13.2 – (18.4)
And, with no seats, since under 5 %
Greens – 4.8 (8.7)
Free Dems 3.0 (2.8)
NPD 3.0 (6.0)