The results of last weekend’s elections in the German state of Hesse have been getting quite a run in mainstream media. The sharp losses suffered by both parties in the Grand Coalition, the Socialists (SPD) and Merkel’s center-right CDU, finally delivered the decisive push that spells the end the reign of the iron lady in Berlin. Not immediately, but in the very foreseeable future, depending on who is elected to replace her at the head of her party in December.
Otherwise commentators have called attention to the beneficiaries of the waning strength at the center: the Greens on the Left, and more particularly the Alternativ fuer Deutschland (AfD) on the Right. While the Greens are a long known quantity in German politics by their participation in the coalitions governing several Laender, the AfD is a relative newcomer and analysts noted with anxiety that the latest election returns now put AfD deputies in all of the German federal states, making it finally a nationwide party and eventual claimant to ministerial portfolios following the next German elections which might come already in 2019.
What we hear about the AfD in mainstream media tends to be condescending, at best, scornful more commonly. The party’s rise is attributed to one issue: its anti-immigration policy. It is dismissed as xenophobic and nationalistic. Its members are assumed to be “deplorables,” if we may borrow Hillary Clinton’s pungent characterization of their assumed moral equivalents in the USA.
Mainstream occasionally reminds us that the homeland of the AfD is the territory of the former GDR. And it is taken as axiomatic that xenophobia and nationalism would have festered there because of the region’s Communist past, so unlike the open and sophisticated society of West Germany.
In the essay which I present here, I will demonstrate that the AfD’s present and likely future successes in German politics come from realities of life in East Germany that are quite unsuspected by global audiences, namely a long-borne resentment at their colonization by their Western compatriots following the annexation of the GDR, by their second class citizen status 28 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. For this association between the sufferings of Ossies at the hands of West German elites and their newfound political voice in what is called the “extreme right” I owe a debt of gratitude to Russian television, and to be specific, to two editions of the flagship Sunday news roundup of channel Rossiya-1 hosted by Dimitri Kiselyov, Vesti Nedeli, on 7 and 14 October.
See https://youtu.be/Sqr_AQi0eHg, at 1h20min to 1 h 28 min and
https://youtu.be/yWWON9Z6DOw from 0:54 to 1h13 min
The point made by Kiselyov and his correspondents in the field is that following its“annexation” in 1990, the new bosses in the West purged East Germany of all its leaders, not merely the cadres of the Communist Party that governed the country or the Stasi secret police that spied on the citizenry and reported to Moscow, but all the professionals including the university professors, sporting administrators, army officer corps. The lustration process put them out on the street, and also deprived their children of opportunities in education and careers bearing as they did the marks of offspring of “enemies of the people.”
The East German elites were replaced at the top of local society by carpetbaggers from the West, very often second or third rate opportunists. At the same time, the most qualified Ossies moved out, often abroad, to pursue employment opportunities in the UK or the United States.
In parallel, East Germany underwent deindustrialization. With very few exceptions such as the Karl Zeiss enterprise in Jena, East German factories were shuttered and no new manufacturers of scale appeared. East Germany became little more than an incremental consumer market for the West. Consequently its economic indices remain at just 73% of Western levels, and this is set to decline to just 66% by 2045.
All of this is very valuable to bear in mind when we consider the radicalization of East Germany and its rejection of the main parties from the West, as expressed today in strong and growing support for the Alternativ fuer Deutschland. According to Kiselyov, latest polls indicate 27% of voters in the East now back the AfD. This is unquestionably the highest level of backing anywhere in Germany today.
Meanwhile, the Ossie origins of the AfD contribute greatly to the rest of its party platform outside of opposition to immigrants. We hear much less about this in mainstream media except when they speculate on the chances of its entering into a coalition with the main traditional parties of Germany and try to match up policies. We find here not merely Euro-skepticism, but opposition to NATO, plus calls for ending sanctions on Russia. These last points we normally associate with the Left of the political spectrum, but they are in keeping with the predisposition of a large part of the population in what was the GDR to trade with and have normal relations with Russia as they did in the distant past. In this context, the Ossie who is the federal Chancellor is at odds with the population from which she came.
I have called these policies, and especially the opposition to NATO, typically Leftist because they were precisely that in the German past. The Entspannungspolitik, or Ostpolitik of Willy Brandt was a case in point. However, power sharing in the Grand Coalition with the CDU has pulled the party from its moorings in exchange for the spoils of power. When several of the former assistants to Brandt and his advisor on the East, Egon Bahr, tried to relaunch Détente a couple of years ago, it found almost no support, as I saw from inside attending what was supposed to be the launch. The SPD was firmly in the hands of the Martin Schulz wing and like-minded Atlanticists, globalists. So it is today.
To be sure, to the Left of the SPD we find Die Linke, where the brilliant Bundestag deputy Sahra Wagenknecht regularly weighs in against NATO, against the sanctions on Russia, etc. However, Wagenknecht is enmeshed in a party riven by internal disputes – over pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian factions, over personalities – to the point where it is politically ineffective and has been unable to profit from the weakness of the centrist parties.
Also to the Left of center we find the Greens. However, on international affairs, the German Greens are among the fiercest Cold Warriors on the Continent.
And so those who are condemned by today’s governing elites in Germany as the dregs of society, as fascist leaning, and so forth, namely the AfD, are by default Germany’s otherwise missing antiwar movement.
It bears mention that the antiwar sentiments of Germans led in the 1980s to large scale demonstrations against the installation in Germany, in Europe of nuclear armed US Pershing missiles meant to counter Russia’s SS20 intermediate range missiles of that era. There was heft and determination, and their actions keeping the threats of these weapons in the news surely contributed to the conclusion in 1987 of the Treaty that is now under threat of revocation by Trump in the coming month.
I had been despondent contemplating the disarray of the Left and absence of any kind of antiwar movement which might challenge some coming reintroduction of US nuclear tipped intermediate range missiles into the European heartland in the near future.
However, the vitality of the AfD suggests that it could well make political grist from any such US plans just as it has prospered from the calamity of open borders to immigration that Angela Merkel so foolishly caused. If so, our political compass will be spun around entirely.
Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015.