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Posts Tagged ‘Pegida’

Shock to the System

In Germany on September 26, 2017 at 09:00

This is the impression observers must have about the German general election last Sunday. Surely, that a radical party like AfD would move into the Bundestag was expected. Yet, that this right-wing radical party would do so with almost 13% of the vote is a shock. That is more than any of the ‘established opposition parties’ like Die Linke, the Greens have achieved in the last elections for Germany’s parliament.

Many would have expected that the populist move to the right would have been halted with the success of Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential elections earlier this year. This has not been successful as AfD duly demonstrates. Their success is the failure of the big parties to listen to the common people in their constituencies. The biggest factor in the television debate was the issue of immigration. The AfD played that card well, very well. The candidates forced the issue to be discussed exclusively, leaving out more pressing issues such as Dieselgate, the state of German schools and universities to name just two out of many. Moreover, it prevented a thorough discussion of the AfD’s party programme which is nothing but a step backward. It would strip women of many rights, for example.

The result of the election is the latest development of disenchantment of the people. And that is the main reason why the East of Germany has cast their vote the way they have: almost a quarter voted for AfD. It is too simple however, to blame it on East Germans voting in protest. But that is the reality. They feel disenchanted, left behind.

The minister for integration in Saxony, Petra Köpping has toured the federal state tirelessly over the last months and has heard that most people feel bitter about the treatment they have received from politicians after 1990. This feeling of being overruled, overheard and ignored has for a long time been subdued or repressed. However, the arrival of migrants in the summer of 2015 has changed all that. It is here that the AfD have found their topic and with it access to the people.

The democratic revolution of 1989 is now almost 30 years in the past but still there is a sense of being citizens of secondary importance among many East Germans. A lot has to do with the fact that their lives have turned upside down within a matter of weeks. No security network was in place to help soften the hard landing. Many have not come to terms with the new situation. Additionally, economic insecurity adds fuel to the fire and nourishes that feeling of being not important enough.

Köpping however has come to the conclusion that it is far more important that the local people have to be content before they are okay with people from different countries and cultures. This is what she is trying to do now: listening to the many, predominantly male population of Saxony and trying to offer help and optimism. It is a hard job, she admits and it is only a small contribution she can make but it is a start.

The lives and achievements of those living in East Germany need to be accepted and more importantly respected. This is not an easy task. And big politics has failed to listen and to react. Merkel’s mantra ‘Yes we can’ has backfired spectacularly. Of course, it is no problem for people to engage and help others in need. And this many did, in East and West Germany. Their efforts however, have never been acknowledged publicly. Instead it looked more and more as though helping people fleeing from Syria and other countries in the Middle East was a mistake. It was one of the key arguments of the right-wing actors such as Pegida and AfD. The latter argued that immigrants are taking the jobs from the locals and are a threat to the fabric of society. That is nonsense. It was not the first time that people engaged and had to recognition of their efforts. After all, they shed their communist past and adapted to new reality of capitalism with all its downsides. Of these there were a lot, mostly unemployment, and lately insecure jobs on barely minimum wages. At the same time people have seen that millions if not billions have been made available to bail out banks and car manufacturers in the wake of the crises from 2007 onwards. Back then it was declared to be without alternative to dispel any doubts. As a result there were cuts to social welfare and cultural programs. It is a dangerous void that opened up and that needed filling.

East Germans again adapted but so had West Germans when the Hartz IV regulations were put in force in 2002. These demanded that benefits would be cut if people without a job did not accept offers from the job agency. Moreover, it created an employment sector that allowed companies to hire employees for €450/month. This excludes social security or any insurance against accidents or unemployment. It created a low wage market but was feted as the German economic miracle of the 21 century. It affected the East more than the West.

Into this climate the ‘refugee crisis’ happened and caused more insecurity or at least it was what the mainstream press made of it. A lot of this reverberated and was amplified in media outlets that are on the right wing of the political spectrum.

Therefore, to blame the East for a lack of democratic understanding and of democratic values is too easy an argument yet it is what most people will say about the election of 2017. People have been patient for a long time and have swallowed a lot, especially after 1990 in the East of Germany. The result of this election is an indirect consequence of the unification and all its false promises. Most notably by ex-chancellor Helmut Kohl who has promised ‘blossoming landscapes’ for the East. Blossoming they are but not with industry but weeds.

In order for the people of Saxony and the other federal states in Germany’s east to feel better and integrated it is imperative that their stories are heard and their biographies accepted as they are. For now they feel they are second class citizens being left out deliberately.

Image Credits

Letters Shock Disillusion Disillusionment Words via MaxPixels under Creative Commons Zero CC0

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