Monday, September 20, 2004

Extremists gain in eastern Germany

Exit polls indicate that the predicted has happened in Brandenburg and Saxony, two eastern states in Germany that voted yesterday. Extremists both on the right and the left have gained ground and the main stream parties have suffered.

Though the SPD lost about six percentage points in Brandenburg it managed to retain its majority at 32.6 per cent, if the exit polls are accurate (not to be relied on these days). The CDU seems to have achieved 19.3 per cent and lost its second position to the born-again socialists, formerly communists, the PDS, who are predicted to get 28.3 per cent. According to Deutsche Welle, despite coming second but in true communist fashion, “Dagmar Enkelmann, the ex-communist candidate for governor, immediately staked her party's claim to taking over the state government”.

The right-wing German People’s Union (DVU) will probably top the five per cent mark and remain in the state parliament.

In Saxony, support for the SPD appears to have dropped to 10 per cent, while the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party (NPD) may well have gained 9 per cent, thus entering the state assembly for the first time since 1968. The CDU may well lose its absolute majority in Saxony and will have to look for a partner, which will not be easy, since it is unlikely to want to work either with neo-fascists or with former communists.

There are many reasons for the rise of extremist parties at both ends of the spectrum. The promised economic and welfare reforms are likely to hit the eastern länder harder, as unemployment there is much higher. In fact, the economic situation continues to be difficult, with lower wages, higher unemployment, a generally more depressed situation than in the west. Nor do the ossies receive much sympathy from the wessies, who blame them for the country’s general malaise.

There is, however, another reason, rarely taken into consideration in the British media for this political development. Or, to be precise, two interconnected reasons. The more obvious one is that the communist parties of Eastern Europe were not treated in the same way as the fascist and nazi parties after the war. There was no lustration of officials, very few trials and inadequate investigation. In fact the Stasi files were opened to a greater extent than some other secret police ones but the information was still insufficient.

Of course, the communists had not exactly lost a war, or not a real war, anyway. There was also the problem that the system having survived for a long time and based to a greater extent than the fascist ones had been on collective responsibility, too many people could have been shown to have been actively involved in the spying and repressions. It was felt better not to open too many boxes. The same went for the West. There are too many sympathizers, people who went to the communist countries and came back with wondrous tales, agents of influence or useful idiots in high places. Best leave the whole thing alone, was the accepted way of thinking.

Now, of course, we are all paying the price as the communists recover ground as soon as there are economic difficulties. What will happen in the new member states, when the effects of the wondrous EU begin to show themselves?

This much many people know, though not that many say. But there is another aspect to twentieth century history east of the Oder. East Germany, astonishingly enough, never went through a de-nazification process. Its rulers, from Walter Ulbricht onwards have always proclaimed that by becoming the German Democratic Republic, that is a Soviet colony, the country had sloughed off the uncomfortable past and was not responsible for any of the horrors of the thirties and the war. Not us, guv.

Of course, people were accused, tried and executed or imprisoned for supposed fascist or nazi tendencies but these trials had little to do with reality. They just happened as part of the power struggle in the communist party or the establishment of absolute control.

The result of this curious omission is that the Germans of the eastern states do not have the profound terror of appearing to be neo-nazis of those from the west. It had never been installed into them. They see themselves as the victims of history, which to some extent they are. But neither right-wing nor left-wing extremism are beyond the pale, as they would be in the western states.

At this stage we cannot tell what effect that will have on Germany and the rest of the European Union.

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