Thursday 18th February 2016
VICTOR GROSSMAN is worried by the rising right, but has hope in Die Linke
“Shoot them down!” That’s one answer to the problem of refugees and immigrants entering Germany, clearer even than any Donald Trump-style wall.
It was offered by Frauke Petry, head of Alternative for Germany (AfD), the fast-growing party which now, at 12 per cent nationally, has moved up into third place. It’s outstripped the Greens at 9-11 per cent and the Left party (Die Linke) at 8-10 per cent.
Backing up Petry was her deputy Beatrix von Storch, who wrote online: “That’s the law. People coming out of Austria have no right of asylum. And those on duty at the border may use their firearms … against people who resist repeated orders to halt by trying to flee.” When a journalist asked if this applied to women and children she answered approvingly: “Ja.”
Her response shocked so many that she backtracked, claiming that her finger had slipped on the mouse; she hadn’t really meant it after all. But Storch and Petry had indeed quoted a West German law of 1961. Sarcasm went viral about the troubles of a Storch (German for stork) with a mouse, but also about the years of reproach against GDR border guards for invoking a very similar law.
Their words — though lamely retracted — were no slips of the tongue, finger or mouse, but well calculated to appeal to widespread, growing fears and hatred toward “invading foreigners,” especially “Islamists.”
For a while most of the media supported Angela Merkel’s surprising statement last summer that all refugees were welcome. But the worst of the gutter press and, a bit more cautiously, many on TV now dwell increasingly on unpleasant difficulties in integrating and housing over a million arrivals and stridently report any crimes or misdemeanours committed by men with foreign sounding names.
Episodes like the attacks on New Year’s Eve, though probably not by recent immigrants, provided a field day for those with racist sentiments — and the AfD kept growing, ever bigger, ever more dangerous.
Its Pegida soulmates in Dresden (if such people have any kind of souls) still march every Monday, though recently with diminishing numbers.
Their attempts to go European — with rallies in Warsaw, Amsterdam, Prague and Milan — almost unanimously fizzled, with only a few dozen, at most a few hundred, adherents scowling angrily at their adversaries.
This was good news. But over 10 per cent would vote for Pegida if it fields candidates. If it doesn’t, most would vote for the very similar AfD. There is a marked indirect result; in Bavaria, which sits on all entry portals from the south, its strong, separate sister party of Merkel’s CDU always pushes from further right.
Worried about losing ground to the AfD, it is making constant demands that immigration rules be toughened.
Merkel’s party, beset by its tough Bavarian siblings and facing three important state elections in March, is anxiously watching its popularity slip downward and signs of mutiny against Merkel’s hitherto unchallenged rule.
It has been bowing to the pressure and dragging its limp Social Democratic partners with it.
There were many quarrels: how many refugees should be sent back to Algeria, Afghanistan, Sudan or Syria? How quickly?
Many are unmarried men, many others are young husbands hoping to fetch wives and children they left behind. How many may do so? How many years should they wait?
How many of the several thousand unaccompanied children must wait two years before their parents can join them?
Die Linke, though also uncertain about such complex matters, stresses that the wars and poverty causing the immigration must be confronted. It opposes sending German airborne surveillance planes over Syria and demands an end to weapon sales to all governments involved. It opposes a one-sided policy blaming only [Syria] while backing Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, who stoke the misery and keep bombing Kurds and Yemenis.
Progressives, though (quite uniquely) approving of Merkel’s earlier humanitarian words, were sceptical about her deeds. When she said: “If Europe fails on the question of refugees, it won’t be the Europe we wished for,” they wondered what kind of Europe that might be.
Thinking of her strangulation of Greece and general “austerity” policy for poorer counties, poorer mostly thanks to German wealth, they were hardly euphoric.
Pressure from the AfD and its allies pushes the whole political Establishment rightwards, rather like Trump. Could we see anything here like the US’s “Bernie revolution” and its euphoria?
Some leaders and members of Die Linke fought hard on many issues despite media treatment nastier than any against Sanders (as yet). But nobody has achieved anything like his charisma.
Did a candidate appear on the horizon or, more precisely, on the stage of Berlin’s Volksbuehne theater on February 9?
Yanis Varoufakis, the motorcycling former Greek finance minister (who left the Syriza government after it capitulated to the troika) called for a new start, not just in Greece but in all of Europe.
He shared the stage with many leftists, such as Linke co-chair Katja Kipping and Podemos politician Miguel Crespo Urban.
But not all were fully convinced of his vision. Unlike some on the left, he wishes to “save” the EU. His main call is for transparency and video coverage of European Union activities along with large-scale democratisation.
In 2006 the audacious young Pirate party, with its logo flag boldly billowing, cast anchor in Berlin. Its defense of internet freedom and transparent democracy was so attractive that it soon won almost 9 per cent of the vote and 15 seats in the legislature and spread to other parts of Germany.
But as with pirate crews of yore it was soon rent by quarrels; a few sailed away while others quit political seafaring altogether.
Some, in their often daring apparel and hairdos, stayed bravely on. Most conspicuously, the head Pirate in Berlin’s legislature dug deeply and bravely into the dunghill of incompetence and corruption which has turned the new hub airport — planned to open in 2012 but now due, just maybe, in 2017 — into a national joke.
But he too, noting that the party has long stagnated at 3 per cent and can hardly remain in office after September, decided to abandon ship with 34 fellow Pirates and, most interestingly, to support the Linke. What this may mean is uncertain.
Some in the Berlin Linke hope for renewed strength from young people and want to join with the Greens in replacing the CDU in a new coalition with the SPD.
Is that a Varoufakis direction? Others recall with worried melancholy that every time Die Linke has joined a coalition in Germany it ended up weaker than before. Yes, there are some good people here, but a Bernie Sanders or two would be a big help.
On Tuesday evening, several hundred people, including many young people and refugees, demonstrated in Berlin in front of the State Office for Health and Social Affairs against the recent tightening up of the asylum procedures: here.
News reports from the start of the week were difficult to bear. The reports of racist attacks on a bus of incoming refugees in the Saxon community of Clausnitz, Germany, were repugnant. But even worse were the cynicism and hypocrisy of politicians and commentators: here.
Shots fired at refugee building in eastern Germany. First the building was flooded. Then stones were thrown at windows. Now bullet holes adorn a building planned for housing refugees in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt: here.
A leaked election manifesto has revealed that Germany’s vote-winning new anti-immigrant party has plans for draconian laws which would discriminate against handicapped children, single mothers, and the mentally ill – and oblige history teachers to end a perceived “over-emphasis” on the Nazi era in schools. The radical proposals are contained in an election manifesto produced by the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, which made sweeping gains in three state elections last weekend in a show of public opposition to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy: here.
While the success of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) in three state elections March 13 horrified many workers and young people, politicians and the media are now courting the far-right party: here.