Posted on  UTC 2024-06-13 02:01

Suddenly, the political Mogadon that is German politics has become quite interesting. We have to curb our excitement a bit, though, since we are only talking about the results of the recent elections to the European Parliament.

Just like all the other citizens of the EU, the Germans couldn't really care less about the doings of the EU parliament, so great is the distance between it and the normal citizen. Its elections are taken as a kind of opinion poll in which the voters can express their wishes without the danger of it affecting anything important.

Well, strange things happened this time around.

In France, the triumph of Marine Le Pen's party, Rassemblement National, National Rally, and the defeat of Macron's party, the chameleon En Marche (2016), La République En Marche (2017), Renaissance (2022), was so great that the President, outraged by such lèse-majesté, stamped his foot, dissolved Parliament and called some proper French parliamentary elections.

But it is in Germany that the most peculiar situation has arisen from these elections. In effect Germany has now split in political sentiment back into the two Germanys we knew from the second half of the last century: West Germany (BRD) and East Germany (DDR).

The former West Germany is still clinging to the mixed pickle coalitions of four principal parties CDU/CSU (rightish), SPD (leftish), FDP (depends) and the latecomer Greens (crackers) that have created the sluggish political stasis that this website has charactised as 'nothing ever changes'.

West Germans appear to have been living in a political dream world, in which it was only necessary to put the traditional parties together in some combination and all would be well. The exact combination did not seem to matter.

As an example of this we could recall the chancellorship of Helmut Schmidt (SPD) (1918-2015), who got Germany through a difficult period (Chancellor 1974-1982) and gained great respect internationally. Right-wingers would often say of him that he was 'the right man in the wrong party'.

This system worked for two or three decades after the war, then became less and less effective, culminating in the latest Ampelkoalition, 'traffic-light coalition': the red SPD, the yellow FDP and the green Greens, which is manifestly incapable of running anything. The black CDU/CSU would expect to be there, but couldn't bring itself to accept the support of the fledgling AfD.

After German reunification was completed in 1991, most West Germans assumed that the former East Germany would melt with gratitude at being released from the despotic grip of its Communist government. The widespread assumption was that by some process of political and cultural osmosis the former DDR would become a mini-me of West Germany.

We can't blame the East Germans for expecting something better after their horrible communist regime finally collapsed. Anyone who had lived through that nearly fifty year long tunnel would understandably exit into the light of reunification with the belief that Western-style prosperity was just around the corner. Within a short time they would be just like the insufferably smug but so much wealthier West Germans.

But it hasn't happened like that. Since the reunification, the once so admired infrastructure of West Germany – roads and railways in particular – has fallen to bits. The present ruinous state of rail transport is symbolic of the general decline. Nearly all the 'grands projets' in Germany have turned out to be expensive embarrassments, misconceived, over budget and overdue (if they are finally delivered). In short, the mighty West Germany lost its way.

The new unified German state pumped money into the new capital, Berlin, much of which missed its mark. The former East Germany got some subsidies – a park here, a new town hall there, some civic enhancments, renovation of historic buildings, the odd road and so on – but the industrial base never took off in the way it had done in the West after the Second World War.

The well-fed managers of the great German companies and that pillar of the West German economy, the small to medium sized businesses, never felt the need to venture into the new Germany in the East. Why would anyone, settled for years in some amenable part of the West, want to take their company into that backwater? The rich consumers, the trained staff, the business and financial synergy were all in the West – and stayed there.

The West's promise of prosperity to the East was never fulfilled. Many people in what was East Germany now feel abandoned, perhaps even cheated by their compatriots in the West, whose feeling of easy cultural and economic superiority was a permanent irritant.

The newly liberated Ossies appeared in the West of the 1990s like time travellers from the fifties, with fifties clothes, fifties teeth and fifties complexions. It's only human to want to feel some pride in one's native country, at least about something, but the Ossies couldn't even manage that, as they emerged from the wreckage of that awful regime. All they got from their new overlords was cold charity and dispiriting pity.

The West Germans seem to have just assumed that their cousins in the East would just adopt the political parties of the West, as they adopted its clothing and its well-stocked supermarkets. Well, at first they did, but it did them no good politically, since they were always a minority in parties that really didn't care about them – parties the bases, organizations and voters of which were historically, temperamentally and culturally rooted in the West.

The recent EU elections have made manifest, almost with a bang, the discontent with their situation that has been fermenting in the minds of the Ossies for more than a decade. In the meantime they have got their own parties, the AfD and the BSW, which at these elections between them obliterated the parties of the traditional ruling coalition of CDU/CSU, SPD, Liberals and Greens.

The AfD, the Alternative für Deutschland, has built up a substantial following in the former DDR provinces, but has been smothered by the traditional parties in the West. AfD supporters in the West are regarded as political deviants, who are always in danger of the Antifa mob catching up with them.

The AfD's enemies in the predominantly left-leaning media, both in Germany and abroad, habitually prefix the party's name with the adjectives 'far-right', 'hard-right' or even 'extreme-right'. But calmly considered, the AfD's manifesto today could easily be that of one of the great centre-right parties of the 1990s, the CDU, the CSU and the FDP. The new 'lurch to the right' in Germany (and in other parts of Europe) to which the commentariat likes to allude is really just a retreat to the centre, correcting decades of leftwards drift.

The AfD's popularity and electoral success in the East have grown steadily in recent years. They have done a good job of keeping the serious nutjobs out of their party, but it only needs one careless or ambiguous remark to set their opponents and the media off on the Nazi-theme. The traditional parties have shunned the AfD, refused to cooperate with it in parliament, ruled out any coalition and even got the Verfassungsschutz, the German equivalent of MI5 in Britain, to list the party as 'under observation'.

Many commentators, shocked by this rough-diamond 'populism' in the East, interpret its existence as a sign of a backward, knuckle-dragging political culture that was insufficiently smothered by the Western sophisticates after the reunification. Most of the 'credentialled' opiners you will read in the German-speaking media or in the foreign media are happy to propagate the opposition's smears about the AfD – its xenophobia, its authoritarian disposition, its Blut und Boden proto-Nazi roots – none of which has any foundation in reality. It is indeed a rough trade, politics.

One politician (Hendrik Wüst CDU, governor in the West German state of North Rhine-Westphalia) has recently called for a 'Reunification 2.0', a reset in which political evangelists would be sent into the Eastern wilderness to straighten out their thinking, in much the same way that the Jesuits were despatched to China to straighten out the Confucians. The government would also organize 'exchanges' which would inoculate the defective culture of the Ossies with sensible Western ideas.

The fact that such a thought is even uttered shows the innate arrogance of the West German political mindset: how can the West make the East more in its own image? The East looks at the failing image of the West and thinks: that is not an image to which we want to aspire.

The 'hard-right' AfD is not the only political breakthrough thrown up by the EU elections, the other is the Bündis Sahra Wagenknecht (BSW), a party based on the personality cult that its leader, Sahra Wagenknecht, has built up over the years. It was formed less than six months ago and in a vertical takeoff achieved third place in the East with 13 percent of the vote.

Wagenknecht is a Marxist to the core. I reported on some of her nonsense some years ago. It is a sign of today's dysfunctional politics that some – some – of her positions such as the restriction on immigration and the end of the blood-soaked war in Ukraine sound really quite appealing. So appealing that we are tempted to forget the deep red, totalitarian communist parts on offer; so appealing that a right-wing commentator has just suggested that the way forward in the East would be a coalition between the AfD and the BSW. His reasoning is that individually, the AfD or the BSW would find itself corrupted in any coalition that could be formed with the traditional Western parties, even if – a big if – the old guard could bring themselves to hold their noses and negotiate with the upstarts.

In the EU elections, in each of the three federal Länder of Thuringia, Saxony and Brandenburg, the AfD and the BSW taken together have won more votes than the ruling coalition. Nor is this some electoral blip: these three Länder will be electing new parliaments in the autumn and there is thus every reason to expect that the EU election wipeout will continue into the 'real', German regional elections then.

In which case, quite suddenly, the traditional West parties will be thrown out and the AfD and the BSW will together have the opportunity for a ruling coalition. The so-called 'firewall' with which the traditional parties, particularly the CDU, have encircled themselves to avoid all dealings with the newcomers will then become no longer tenable. Not only that, but we'll have the two Germanys back again.

Personally, the thought of a coalition between the AfD and the BSW boggles the mind – the culinary equivalent would be pouring custard over tandoori chicken. But it is arguable that there would be more points of agreement between these two on substantive issues than there are between the members of the current 'traffic-light coalition'. But most importantly to the Ossies, it may be tandoori and custard, but at least its their tandoori and custard and not the incompetent, triangulated coalitions that washed over from the West.

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