Sweden wasn’t the only Baltic area with an election yesterday. The voters of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, in Germany’s northeastern corner, dealt a heavy blow to the ruling Social Democrat-postcommunist (SPD-Left) coalition. The SPD dropped 10 percent, but still received the largest share of votes, topping the Christian Democrats (CDU) 30.2 percent to 28.8 percent. The postcommunist (or possibly post-postcommunist, depending on how you look at these things) party, now known as the Left, rose marginally from 16.4 percent to 16.8 percent. The SPD can either attempt to continue the current coalition, which would then have a one-seat majority, or it can try to forge a grand coalition with the CDU, with all of the pluses and minuses currently on display at the national level.
But relatively mundane state politics are not what today’s headlines are about.
Certainly not, for a far-right party has gained representation in a German parliament, leaving the white beaches metaphorically light brown. The NPD’s five seats make Mecklenburg-Vorpommern the third state with extreme right members of the legislature; Saxony (NPD) and Brandenburg (DVU) are the other two. The party won 15 percent of the proportional-representation votes in a constituency on the Polish border, and it cleared the 5-percent hurdle in all but a handful of urban districts. So it’s fair to say the NPD has broad but generally shallow support across Germany’s least densely populated state.
On the whole, though, I’d be cautiously optimistic. First, in a state with 18 percent unemployment, the extremist vote was below 10 percent. One of the long-term worries about German democracy was that it would not hold up through hard economic times. While having neo-Nazis in the state legislature is nothing to be proud of, many astute observers long thought it would be much worse. Second, the NPD is the only party promising hard-core opposition. With the state facing such difficulties, the fact that so few people are signing on for a program of “a plague on all you politicians’ houses” is a sign of a responsible electorate. Third, the far right has ebbed and flowed throughout the postwar period, and it’s never gotten anywhere close to a share of power at the national level, nor at any state level that I can recall. Fourth, the far right tends to fractiousness, as the disintegration of the NPD parliamentary party in Saxony in late 2005 most recently showed.
One in 14 voters in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is willing to cast a ballot for right-wing whackjobs. That, for better or for worse, is probably not too far from the European norm.