Some nazis won elections yesterday, and nobody in Germany is quite sure what to do about it. Should one adopt a tone of moral outrage? Or would it be better to make reassuring noises? (‘Germany is not moving towards extemism. This was merely a protest vote’. Repeat till you feel better.)
In the elections to the Landtage (state parliaments) of Brandenburg and Saxony, two eastern German states, the established parties took a bad beating1. The SPD in Brandenburg and the conservative CDU in Saxony remain the largest single parties in the parliaments of their respective L?nder, but saw an exodus of voters. The Saxon CDU was particularly hard-hit, losing 20 seats and their absolute majority.
Looking distinctly happy, by contrast, was the PDS, the successor party to the gang that ran East Germany in the old days. They’re now the second-largest party in both states, and in Brandenburg have only four seats fewer than the SPD.
But of course it’s the nazis who get the headlines. The NPD (‘National Democrats’) took 9.2% of the vote in Saxony, easily leaping the 5% hurdle that the Greens and Free Democrats barely managed to get past. In all, the NPD got only 0.5% less of the vote than did the SPD. In Brandenburg the browns’ success wasn’t quite so dramatic; the DVU (‘German People’s Union’), one of the NPD’s rival outfits, reentered the Landtag with 6.1%.
How could this happen? Well, if you’ve been following reports out of Germany at all, you’ll have heard that many Germans are scared and angered that the government, through the so-called Hartz IV reforms, is going to make it less attractive to be unemployed. The unemployed are not amused. On Friday Chancellor Schr?der called them ‘parasites’.2 On Sunday the parasites struck back. In Saxony, 18% of the jobless voted nazi (as compared with 13% of blue-collar workers and 6% of white-collar workers and civil servants).
So what is to be done? The very first thing, I should think, is for Wessis to carefully avoid congratulating themselves for being different to those awful nazi-electing Ossis. The prosperous burghers of Baden-W?rttemberg, for example, have put nazis in their state parliament more than once.
Guido Westerwelle, chief of the Free Democrats, put on his earnest frown and said the mainstream parties should deal with the extremists of both right and left in a constructive, rational manner. He’s wrong, I think, at least with regard to the nazis.3
So long as today’s nazi parties are careful not to cross the line that would allow them to be banned, those voters who wish to vote for them must be allowed to do so. That’s all they should be allowed, though. As after every election, spokespeople from all the parties were in the television studios last night for a round of questions. When an NPD man started to speak in Dresden, the representatives of all the other parties left the room. And they did the same thing when the DVU’s top candidate began to speak in Potsdam. Here, I think is the proper response to the presence of nazis in a democracy’s parliament. Let no one speak to them; let no one acknowledge them. Somebody will have to register their votes or abstentions, I suppose, but nobody need otherwise interact with them. Democrats of every stripe should make it plain to nazi voters that they have effectively spoilt their ballots.
1This and all other links in this post are in German, I’m afraid.
2 Well, he didn’t actually, though you’d never know that from the Bild-Zeitung. But he did complain that many Germans — east and west alike, and well into the middle classes — think themselves entitled to whatever they can get out of the state.
3The PDS are distasteful, irresponsible populists. And they’re hypocrites to boot; they are making great political hay out of the anti-Hartz protests, but in Berlin, where they sit in a coalition government, they are themselves helping to make swingeing cuts. But one must concede that they are not what they once were. I wish that nobody would vote for them, but I don’t think anybody would seriously suggest they be banned as ‘enemies of the constitutional order’. That’s exactly what the government have tried to do with the NPD. Alas, home secretary Otto Schily and his crew weren’t terribly careful themselves about constitutional niceties in their attempt, and the courts rejected the petition that the party be banned. I hope they’ll try again and get it right. There’s something invidious about ordering Germany’s nazi grouplets along a spectrum of evil, but the NPD are, in fact, the worst of the lot; the DVU and the Republicans at least made a half-hearted effort at bourgeois respectability.