Leitkulturkampf

In comments to an earlier post on neonazi electoral gains in eastern Germany, I noted that Germany’s mainstream right wing Union parties normally respond to this sort of thing with a rightward lurch of their own. And indeed, they are right on schedule.
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But they’re kind to dogs and children, I hear

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.
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The Lafontaine Factor.

In a state election (Landtagswahl) in the Saarland that was widely considered another benchmark for the approval of the German federal government’s reform efforts, particularly of the labour market deregulation programme known as “Hartz IV” – these elections are, often to a significant extent, second order national contests – the Social Democrats have been dealt the predicted crushing defeat, gaining likely just under 30% of the vote, losing about 15% compared to their 1999 result, according to early, but usually very reliable exit poll data from Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, broadcast by ZDF television (German labelled graphics here).

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