TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Germany’s Long Road Toward a “Normal” Democracy

No doubt, there are successful moderate right-wing conservative parties all over Europe. Their names may be different, but they have one thing in common: they grow stronger while forcing government to alter policies and solve problems caused by illegal immigration and tendencies toward more centralization within the European Union. Therefore, it becomes more and more difficult to eliminate public debate about those and other topics.

However, there is one big exception: Germany. A party comparable to the Austrian Freedom Party still doesn’t exist there. The five “big players” that are represented in the Bundestag (the national parliament) and in the Landtag (the federal state parliaments) are either left-wing or at the center. One example is the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which is part of the current government coalition together with the Free Democratic Party (FDP). One may assume that only a small minority of the electorate sympathizes with the agenda of staunchly conservative groups. But surveys conducted last year strongly refute this assumption. Nearly 20 percent of those who had been interviewed said they could imagine voting for a new right-wing party, provided their leader had enough prominence and popularity. One of the names often referred to in this context is Thilo Sarrazin, former senator of finance for the State of Berlin. Last year, he published a book titled Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany does away with itself), which became one of the most popular books on politics after the World War II. The author harshly criticized Germany’s postwar immigration policies, and many of his supporters hoped he would put his ideas into practice by establishing a new party. But he refused to take this step forward, like other well-known people on whom such hopes were placed as well.

Many of those who would be willing to vote for a new Sarrazin-party used to support the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Now they feel that their strong conservative views are hardly represented within the party, especially amongst the current leadership. They criticize the chairman of the CDU and Chancellor Angela Merkel for their rather liberal agenda. Therefore, a group was set up last year that has been collecting signatures to protest a so-called “Linkstrend” (a swing towards a liberal agenda), while tens of thousands have already left the CDU within the last 10 years for the same reason. However, most of those who have left are only grassroots (ordinary) members. They have little hope for a conservative “turnaround” and continue to wait for a new political option.

One may assume that only a small minority of the electorate sympathizes with the agenda of staunchly conservative groups. But surveys conducted last year strongly refute this assumption.

Despite the difficult conditions surrounding right-wing groups in Germany, some local grassroots movements have gained seats in several city councils. One of them is Pro NRW, which focuses primarily on the problem of the creeping Islamization. They often mobilize and publicly protest plans for building new mosques. The Anti-Islam-activists, however, face fierce opposition from the media, as well as the all other political parties. They are accused of playing on the fears of people. Liberal conservatives criticize their “socialist” agenda, such as the demand for minimum wage to be at least 10 euros, the abolition of tuition, and their sympathy for the welfare state, as a writer at the blog Politically Incorrect (PI) puts it. Further, he believes that their taking up of former members of the extreme right-wing National Party of Democrats (NPD) makes it very difficult for conservatives to support them, even if they may share some of their views.

Another party, called “Die Freiheit” (The Freedom), was founded in October 2010 by René Stadtkewitz, a former member of the CDU-group of the state parliament of Berlin. They aim to gain parliamentary seats during next state election scheduled for September this year. Stadtewitz and his crew maintain friendly relations with the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who spoke last year at a well-attended gathering in Berlin, organized by Stadtkewitz and PI. Part of their campaign is directed at the danger of radical Islam, as well as introducing the Swiss model of direct citizen democracy to Germany. Their ideology can be best described as liberal-conservative. One characteristic of the “Freiheit” is their strong support of Israel. Unlike Pro NRW, Stadtkewitz and his team will do anything to keep former NPD members out of their party. He told the conservative weekly newspaper Junge Freiheit: “If Pro-party incorporates former officials of the NPD, they are not very credible for us.” Supporters of Pro NRW, on the other hand, blame him for his unwillingness to cooperate with them. In their blog at freiheitlich.org, Stadtkewitz’s party is dubbed a political “sect” that has no chance to succeed and will soon disappear.

The question of whether this is really going to happen is hard to answer. A breakthrough is currently unlikely for both parties. There is a small advantage, indeed, for Stadtkewitz, due to the media’s more positive response to him and his party. The Berlin politician is not considered part of the extreme right, although he deals with the accusation of being a “right wing populist.”

Besides the two groups mentioned, there are several local grassroots movements and small parties with similar political agendas. One of them is called, “Bürger in Wut” (Enraged Citizen). The group is primarily active in the Hanseatic city of Bremen and led by the former police officer Jan Timke. The group, however, was not able to pass the five-percent election threshold, however, it gained one seats in the local parliament, due to it’s success in Bremerhaven that is part of the city-state of Bremen.

Most political analysts are rather skeptical about all the current formations. To overcome the hurdles, not only the five-percent threshold, but also the stigmatization of a right-wing political approach, is extremely difficult in today’s Germany. One of the crucial points has to do with the history of the Nazism, which continues to have an effect that should not be underestimated. Consequently, tens of thousands have no party to join that represents their views and ideas. But there is a growing dissatisfaction among many citizens, and the established parties are losing more and more credibility. Maybe that’s the only chance for establishing a new political power on the right. Time will tell.

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