Wed Jan 16th, 2008 at 10:08:44 AM EST
On the night before New Year's Eve, in the Munich subway, two teenagers beat up a pensioner so badly that he had to be hospitalized. In the following days, the media's full attention didn't miss three more cases of youth violence in subways.
Given the fact that the offenders in the first case were foreign citizens, the two most odious politicians on the German right could take a chapter from Sarkozy's book: Roland Koch and Günther Beckstein started off a bidding war of calls for stricter laws on youth crime and the deportation of foreign youth criminals.
Law and order has traditionally been a debate the right is comfortable with. The dynamic is simple: some emotionally charged crime is seized on by the right to demand higher penalties and propose some symbolic measures they know they can never fully implement, like deportations, or boot camps. The left does not respond, calls for looking at 'root causes' or adopts some of the ridiculous proposals of the right. Either way, it loses.
Not so this time. The left managed to land some quite heavy blows -- what's more, the centre-left SPD took the prime! And the issue has now escalated into a full-scale war of words complete with personal insults and calls for resignation, which has put even Chancellor Angela Merkel in a difficult position.
We (DoDo and nanne) didn't expect how far this develops, and thought it deserves a thorough coverage, with juicy bilingual column quotes (hence the length). So we wrote a diary jointly.
Who are they?...
Regular readers of Fran's Salon might be well familiar with the law-and-order-ist scarecrow and taboo-breaking exercises of Germany's federal interior minister Wolfgang Schäuble, of the Christian Democrat Union (CDU) party. But he is only an enterprising amateur relative to these two.
|Roland Koch. Image credit: partykamera / flickr.com |
Roland Koch is currently the PM of Hessen state from the CDU. He is a reckless post-yuppie, anything for power. He plays far-right tunes like no other on the center-right; he came to power in the first place thanks to starting a signature collection for a referendum against double citizenship. He survived several cases of being caught lying, be it knowledge of black accounts for his local party, or outrage at a government decision that turned out to have been staged.
Koch is a founding member of the Anden-Pakt, a power alliance within the CDU for mutual support and for the avoidance of mutual criticism in public, that was formed by (then) young CDU-ers on a plane to visit Pinochet's Chile. Many current members of the Anden-Pakt (see earlier mentions in this comment and 2005 nightmare scenario with Koch by DoDo) are PMs or faction heads in Germany's federal states. Angela Merkel could defeat them in her thrust for party leadership and chancellorship, but she is not powerful enough to publicly oppose them on policy.
|Günther Beckstein. Image credit: gea.de|
Günther Beckstein is currently the PM of Bavaria, from the CDU's Bavarian sister party, the Christian Socialist Union (CSU). Until a few months ago, he was Bavaria's long-time interior minister. He made a name as the most hard-core among his colleagues. He had a strong role in setting an important precedent, the case code-named "Mehmet": that concerned a 14-year repeated offender, who was the Munich-born but non-naturalised son of Turkish immigrant parents, who was deported to Turkey.
Bidding war between Koch and Beckstein
After a 20-year-old Turkish and a 17-year-old Greek(!) youth beat up a pensioner in the Munich subway (for asking them to stop smoking), Koch immediately jumped on the theme, to paint it as a problem with foreigners rather than youth. In an interview with mass daily Bild (the German equivalent of The Sun), he declared:
|Wir haben zu viele kriminelle junge Ausländer. Niemand darf sich hinter seinem „Migrations-Status“ verschanzen. Null Toleranz gegen Gewalt muss ganz früh beginnen und Bestandteil unserer Integrationspolitik sein. || ||We have too many criminal young foreigners. No one should be allowed to hide behind their "migration status". Zero tolerance against violence must begin very early and must be an element of our integration politics. |
Now Koch is campaigning, he is facing elections later this month. So, being the deft provocateur, he added an attack on the (SPD) federal justice minister, and responded to initial outrage in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (main conservative broadsheet) with:
|Ich führe diese Debatte schon seit vielen Jahren und nicht erst im Wahlkampf und lasse mir es auch nicht zum Tabu erklären, nur weil Wahlkampf ist. || ||I lead this debate for many years now and not just in the election campaign, and I won't let it be declared taboo, just because it's campaign time.|
Nevermind that it was anything but taboo before for the Right, and that 'years of previous debate' curiously concentrated into election campaigns in previous years...
Riding the wave of his own scandal, Koch presented his proposals for stricter laws on 2 January: a 'warning shot arrest', preventive detention applied for adolescents, no transition time for 18-21 year olds, longer prison terms, driving ban, and easier deportation of foreign-citizen violent youth criminals. He said a week later that this should apply to EU citizens, too.
So what was happening in Bavaria in the meantime? First, in tow of a milder version of the usual list of right-wing get-tough demands, something surprisingly sensible came from Bavarian justice minister Beate Merk, according to magazine Focus:
|Nach dem U-Bahn-Überfall „kristallisiert“ sich für Bayerns Justizministerin Beate Merk heraus, dass bestimmte jugendliche Gewalttäter, insbesondere jene „mit Migrationshintergrund“, mit den „Mitteln des Jugendstrafrechts“ nicht in den Griff zu bekommen sind. Ihre Forderungen: weniger Hürden für eine nachträgliche Sicherungsverwahrung auch für diese Tätergruppe, mehr Arreste, höherer Strafrahmen im Jugendstrafrecht und regelmäßige Anwendung des allgemeinen Strafrechts auch bei Tätern im Alter zwischen 18 und 20 Jahren. Eine Ausweisung der Verhafteten befürwortet dieMinisterin nicht. „So leicht sollen die Täter nicht davonkommen.“ Erst müssten diese ihre zu erwartende mehrjährige Haftstrafe absitzen. || ||After the subway attack, for Bavaria's justice minister Beate Merk, it "crystallises" out that some violent youth offenders, especially those "with a migration background", can't be dealt with when using "the means of youth criminal law". Her demands: reduced hurdles for after-the-fact preventive detention also for this subset of offenders, more arrests, higher penalty framework in youth criminal law and regular application of general criminal law also for offenders of ages 18 to 20. The minister doesn't endorse a deportation of the arrested [in the subway case]. "They shouldn't get away with it that easily." They must first sit down their to be expected multi-year sentences.|
Beckstein himself, however, switched to a tougher line: he has been none too happy about Roland Koch's public posturing with his issue, as Spiegel documents:
|Aber der CDU hinterherhinken, das will Bayerns Ministerpräsident nun auch nicht. "Die Innere Sicherheit ist unser Spezialthema", sagt Beckstein. Das wisse "jeder in Deutschland". Mit ihren Forderungen nach Verschärfung des Jugendstrafrechts und entschiedenerer Abschiebepraxis habe die große Unionsschwester nun wirklich "nichts ganz Neues" aufgeboten, denn die CSU diskutiere all das "schon lange". [...]
Ausgerechnet in der Heimat christsozialer Kraftmeierei muss sich ausgerechnet der einstige "Mister Sicherheit" Beckstein gegen den Vorwurf politischer Harmlosigkeit wehren.
| ||But dragging behind the CDU is something Bavaria's Minister-President does not want to do. "Inner security is our specialty", Beckstein says. "Everyone in Germany" would know that. With its demands for tougher youth crime laws and a more decisive deportation practice, the big partner in the [CDU/CSU] Union would really have offered "nothing really new", as the CSU has "long" discussed these things.
In the Heimat [homeland] of Christian-Social muscle-man politics, of all places, the once 'Mister Security', Beckstein, of all people, has to defend himself from the charge of political harmlessness.
Not much impressed with Beckstein's charges, Koch has decided to press on and demand the application of criminal law for under-14 year-olds!
|"[W]ir müssen zur Kenntnis nehmen, dass es eine sehr aggressive Kriminalität einer sehr kleinen Gruppe von Menschen unter 14 Jahren gibt. Oft werden diese Jugendlichen auch noch von Erwachsenen benutzt, die genau auf die Strafunmündigkeit der Täter setzen."
"[Es gibt] zwei Antworten. Erstens: striktere Entziehung des Sorgerechts durch die Jugendbehörden. Zweitens: In Ausnahmefällen könnten Elemente des Jugendstrafrechts für diese Zielgruppe eingesetzt werden."
| ||"We have to recognise that a very aggressive criminality has taken hold among a very small group of humans under 14 years of age. Often, these youths are, furthermore, used by adults, who deliberately exploit the nonage status of these delinquents."
"There are two answers. First: Being more strict about letting youth officials divest legal custody. Second: in exceptional cases, elements of the youth crime code could be used for this target group."
Koch, of course, was again talking about foreigners, though this time he shied away from explicitly stating so. Anyway, this was one wacky Koch proposal too far, and even Beckstein, in the course of formulating more repressive laws, could not follow:
|" Jetzt haben Beckstein und sein Kabinett ein umfassendes Paket zur Bekämpfung der Jugendgewalt geschnürt, und der Ministerpräsident betonte abermals, Bayern sei deutscher "Marktführer" bei der Inneren Sicherheit. Zugleich rief er zur Mäßigung auf, das Thema müsse in "vernünftiger Weise" diskutiert werden. Auch Kochs Vorschlag, das Jugendstrafrecht bei Kindern anzuwenden, folgt er nicht. || ||Now Beckstein and his Cabinet have tied together a comprehensive package to combat youth crime, and the prime minister laid focus once again on Bavaria being the German "market leader" in inner security. At the same time he called for moderation and said the theme had to be discussed in a "reasonable way". He does not follow Koch's proposal to use youth crime laws for children, either.|
Koch went too far, embarrassed even his fellow reactionary CDU Members, and had to backtrack.
|Der hessische Ministerpräsident Roland Koch hat seine Forderungen, das Jugendstrafrecht in Einzelfällen auch auf Täter unter 14 Jahren anzuwenden, relativiert. «Aus meiner Sicht kann man da sehr pragmatisch diskutieren, und da gibt es keine verbindliche Festlegung von mir», sagte Koch am Montag in Berlin. || ||The Hessian Prime Minister Roland Koch has relativised his demands to use youth crime laws for delinquents younger than 14 years in some cases. "From my perspective, we can have a very pragmatic discussion, and there are no binding commitments from my side", Koch stated in Berlin on Monday.|
The hits on Koch's credibility
Koch initially earned the usual outrage from all quarters on the left with general complaints. As an example, foreign minister and deputy chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) accused him of "brutalstmögliche Populismus" ('populism as brutal as it can be'), a reference to Koch's famous false promise to kick off an "investigation as brutal as it can be" in his party's corruption case. The Central Council of Jews in Germany, which is treated as moral institution in Germany, also attacked Koch for campaigning with bare differences to the semi-neo-Nazi party NPD.
The latter led to Koch receiving applause and protests of stealing arguments from another quarter... Udo Voigt, the leader of NPD, opined:
|Wenn etablierte Politiker NPD-Argumente übernehmen, dann wird das auch dazu führen, daß immer mehr Bürger Vertrauen in die Politik der NPD gewinnen und folglich auch NPD wählen. Sollte Herr Koch auch nach den Wahlen zu seinen Äußerungen stehen, dann wird die hessische CDU ein möglicher Koalitionspartner für die NPD. Herr Koch, bleiben Sie hart und fair. Setzen Sie Ihre Forderungen auch endlich um. Mit der Unterstützung der NPD können Sie in diesem Fall rechnen! || ||If established politicians take over the NPD's arguments, that will lead to ever more citizens gaining trust in the politics of the NPD, and consequently will vote for the NPD. In case Mr. Koch stands by his words after the elections, too, then the Hessen CDU will become a potential coalition partner for the NPD. Mr. Koch, remain hard and fair. Implement your demands at last. In that case, you can count on the support of the NPD!|
But Koch mouthed off without taking something into account: his own record. And especially his local SPD opposition was quick to point out two things: (1) during his PM-ship, he cut the Hessen police force by 1,000, (2) with on average almost four months from event to verdict for youth crime cases, Hessen lags far behind most other German states. This played big even in the implicitely pro-Right private television.
Koch was forced to admit these with bluster, and try some less effective excuses (like blaming it on the federal state -- but that would blame Merkel).
Now all this is happening as part of the campaign for the 27 January elections in Hessen. Recent polls (check Hessen state polls here) suggested major losses for Koch's Hessen CDU, and even though it was predicted to remain largest party, the Left Party's showing (whether it manages to pass 5%) is expected to decide whether he will have a majority even with his potential coalition partner (the [neo]liberal FDP; with the SPD, Greens and the Left Party being the impossible coalition partners).
Now while Koch and Beckstein led the rhetorical campaign, the entire CDU lined up in support of more strict youth criminal laws at a meeting. The SPD kept against.
But the conflict really escalated further with the entry of a true heavyweight: ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder. At a local election event in Hamburg (which is also one of the federal states, and has elections on 24 February, with polls showing the CDU set to lose to SPD+Greens), he attacked Koch -- and Merkel. According to SPIEGEL:
|Die Debatte über Jugendgewalt und junge kriminelle Ausländer wird immer schärfer. Jetzt hat sich Altkanzler Gerhard Schröder in den Streit zwischen Union und SPD eingeschaltet und Roland Koch ungewöhnlich scharf attackiert. "Dieser merkwürdige Mensch sollte wirklich vor der eigenen Tür kehren", sagte Schröder über den hessischen Ministerpräsidenten, der sich seit Tagen für eine Verschärfung des Jugendstrafrechts ausspricht und um seine Wiederwahl am 27. Januar kämpft. || ||The debate over youth violence and young criminal foreigners is growing ever more terse. Now former Chancellor Schröder has joined in the battle between the CDU and the SPD, launcing an unusually sharp attack on Roland Koch: "This curious person should really be sweeping in front of his own front door", Schröder stated about the Hessian Prime Minister who for days has been calling for tougher youth crime laws and is fighting for his re-election on January 27th.|
|Schröder verwies am Rande der SPD-Klausur in Hannover darauf, dass Straftaten mit rechtsextremistischem Hintergrund im vergangen Jahr um zehn Prozent zugenommen hätten. "Ich habe Herrn Koch und Frau Merkel noch nie darüber reden gehört", rief er aus. Das lege den Verdacht nahe, dass es den beiden "nur um das Schüren von Ängsten" gehe. Das Mindeste, was man ihnen laut Schröder sagen sollte: "Wer so agiert, sollte aufhören, über Integration zu reden." || ||At the SPD meeting in Hannover, Schröder referred to the fact that criminal acts with a right-wing extremist background would[sic!] have increased 10% in the past year. "I have never heard Mr. Koch and Ms. Merkel speak about that", he proclaimed. This would give rise to the suspicion that these two were "only concerned with stoking fear". The least one should say to them, according to Schröder: "Those who act in this way should stop talking about integration."|
Schöder obviously has not lost his political instincts, as he deftly moves the issue from the criminality of a few, partially foreign, youths, to Koch and Merkel's politics of fear and their apparent indifference towards right-wing violence. That charge is one that sticks, as Merkel's goverment is doing far too little about the rise of the German far-right, see this diary by nanne about that rise.
Schröder even upped the ante a day later, in an interview with Bild:
|„Junge deutsche Rechtsradikale verüben im Schnitt jeden Tag drei Gewalttaten – meist gegenüber Menschen mit anderer Hautfarbe. Dazu ist von Herrn Koch und Frau Merkel nichts zu hören.“ || ||"Young German far-righters commit on average three violent acts each day -- mostly against people with a different skin colour. We don't hear anything with regards to that from Mr. Koch and Ms. Merkel."|
|Schröders Vorwurf an die Kanzlerin und den Hessen-Ministerpräsident: „Offenkundig sind beide auf dem rechten Auge blind. Hier wird mit Einseitigkeiten Wahlkampf betrieben. Das ist eine Wahlkampfhetze, für die Herr Koch bekannt ist.“ || ||Schröder's accusation towards the chancellor and the Hessen PM: "It appears that both of them are blind on the right eye. Here election campaign is made with one-sided things. This is a sedition campaign, for which Mr. Koch is well known."|
CDU spokesmen reacted with outrage and dismissal: they called Schröder one without style, suggested that he lost all contact with reality due to being surrounded with bodyguards and travelling in luxury cars. And anyway, he should just shut up.
After the attacks on Schröder, the attacks on Koch & co escalated from the SPD. Federal SPD faction leader (and former defense minister) Peter Struck had some quote edgy words to say in a radio interview with Deutschlandfunk:
|Struck: ...Ich frage mich, ob Herr Koch zum Beispiel das Thema auch so hochgezogen hätte, wenn es zwei deutsche Jugendliche gewesen wären, die diesen Rentner da malträtiert haben. || ||Struck: ...I ask myself, would Mr. Koch have pulled this theme so high, had the two criminals who mistreated this pensioner been Germans.|
|Struck: Ich glaube, dass Roland Koch ja eigentlich von Herzen froh war, dass dieser schreckliche Vorfall in München in der U-Bahn passiert ist. || ||Struck: I believe that in his heart, Roland Koch has actually rejoiced that this terrible incident happened in Munich in the subway.|
|Heinemann: Das ist eine böse Unterstellung! || ||[Interviewer] Heinemann: That's a mean suggestion!|
|Struck: Ja, das weiß ich. Aber trotzdem: Ich meine, er arbeitet auch nur mit Unterstellungen. || ||Struck: Yes, I know that. And still: I think he too only employs suggestions.|
The CDU worked itself up into a collective rage. They demanded an apology from Struck. But he responded with further escalation:
The insult at the end, citing Goethe, was:
|Die [CDU] kann mich mal [am Arsch lecken] || ||[The CDU] can do me a favour [and lick my ass]|
What one should bear in mind: (1) this is about the worst insult without explicit words in German (the Hessen Left Party leader Willy van Ooyen could barely keep up by calling Koch a trigger-happy violent offender), (2) Struck is about the blandest leading politician in the SPD, so this coming from him almost suggests a provocation pre-planned by the entire SPD leadership.
In response, Struck's successor as defense minister, Franz-Josef Jung (CDU/Anden-Pakt, former Koch intimus) called Struck unfit for office. But the SPD leadership, including chairman Kurt Beck, firmly stood by Struck. Which finally forced chancellor Angela Merkel to weigh in:
|Ich fordere den SPD-Vorsitzenden auf, hier Vernunft einkehren zu lassen und nicht die Absicherung von wirklich abenteuerlichen Sprüchen zu betreiben. || ||I call upon the chairman of the SPD to let sanity prevail, and not pursue the safeguarding of truly adventurous adages.|
Note Merkel's special situation: she may not have much time for Koch and his right-populism herself, but with her party firmly supporting that line, she can't appear to oppose it. What's more, one can safely assume that the Anden-Pakt consciously intends to push her over the brink on this issue (read 2005 analyis/prediction re Merkel vs Anden-Pakt by DoDo). In an earlier press conference, she was already forced to parrot Koch:
|"Es kann in Wahlkämpfen keine Tabuthemen geben" – deshalb habe Roland Koch das Thema aufgebracht. || ||"Thre can be no taboo themes in an election campaign" -- that's why Roland Koch brought up this theme.|
* * *
What will all this lead to? We don't know yet. Polls show that a majority don't think current laws suffice, but would prefer prevention to stricter punishments, yet wide majorities are for the proposals on deportation of violent foreign youth and for 'warning arrests' (but not for boot camps).