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Green and Oriental Berlin

by DoDo Fri Sep 10th, 2010 at 06:49:38 AM EST

Over the spring and summer, when Angela Merkel's German federal government (and the conservative and liberal parties in the coalition behind it) suffered a significant loss of public support as a result of infighting and austerity measures, opinion polls showed that voter movements benefitted the Greens above all.

Then in the past few weeks, in some polls, the Greens even passed 20%, benefiting from another controversy: Thilo Sarrazin, a board member of the Bundesbank who made waves in recent times with xenophobic and Islamophobic comments, upped the ante in a whole book claiming lack of integration on the part of Turkish or Muslim immigrants. While he was finally forced to resign yesterday (in spite of moral and public support from certain corners), the controversy hurt the party he was a member of: the Social Democrats (SPD).

Sarrazin got to political prominence thanks to the current SPD mayor of Berlin. Thus, it is somehow apt that in the latest poll for the capital Berlin (which forms one of federal Germany's 16 states, and will hold elections in a year), the Greens even became the biggest party by a clear margin, giving Renate Künast, the former federal agriculture and customer protection minister, a serious chance in her bid to become mayor.

Berlin mayor Klaus "Wowi" Wowereit is best known for being the most senior advocate of SPD alliances with the hard-left Left Party, and his dramatic coming-out ahead of first being elected mayor (see short portrait), thus it is easy to (mis)take him for a leftie. However, especially on economic matters, Wowi is a standard centrist 'pragmatist'. He became mayor in 2001 after a big scandal involving a crisis of Berlin's state bank, which left a big hole in the budget. The new mayor applied the standard austerity treatment.

As political cover for the budget cuts, on one hand, Wowereit got the PDS (the East German one out of the two predecessors of the Left Party) to sign it off. On the other hand, he took on board a bigmouth economist and cost-cutter manager (who was just booted from the higher echelons of German Railways DB after an intrigue too much) as "independent expert" to run the city's financial ministry: Thilo Sarrazin. (Beyond cost cuts, Sarrazin was an advocate of privatisation via 'popular shares', that is shares to small investors; giving some real ideological connections to the SPD's right.) After initial controversy about him asking for a top manager's pay-check, and a questionable work commitment given his record 46 secondary jobs, Sarrazin (rather than economic boom) got the credit for Berlin's improved finances, and he moved on to the Bundesbank's board in 2009.

At the same time, always the seeker of public attention as a provocateur, Sarrazin began to re-focus his verbal attacks against the poor on immigrants -- Turkish and Arab in particular. He reacted to criticism as he always did: with even more vehemence. That is, in this case, he reached to the standard Islamophobe rhetorical repertoire, combined with Social Darwinist idiocy about lack of productivity. This peaked in a book castigating immigrants from Muslim countries for a general lack of integration -- in complete denial of all sociological research into the matter, not to mention the irony with his own name (a version of Saracen).

This story reminds me of Frits Bolkestein's crusade in the Netherlands a decade earlier. That forerunner of Geerd Wilders was expressing statistics-unsupported fears about integration, immigration and birth rates; expressed paranoia about intended Islamic conquest with silly parallels to the time of Ottoman conquests; and was defended by some as taboo-breaker and a martyr of free speech.

Now, while in the Netherlands, there was arguably a lack of discussion of problems with integration (thus Bolkestein can at least be defended for kicking off a discussion, even if it didn't come to much good), that is certainly not the case in Germany -- the voices in the right-wing media to the contrary are extremely hypocritical. Not to mention ignoring the racist overtones (he wrote about the intelligence level of immigrants and about a Jewish gene). As for popular support: a poll for tabloid Bild (the German equivalent of The Sun or The New York Post) found that, would Sarrazin create a party, 18% of citizens would consider voting for it. (While most of these would switch from conservative parties, the highest ratio of potential deserters was 29% for the Left Party.)

For weeks, leading politicians from Merkel downwards suggested (even if some with forked tongue) that the Bundesbank fire Sarrazin, and when the bank agreed, he pre-empted it by resigning yesterday. As yet, he still remains an SPD member, despite suggestions from the leadership that he should leave as his views have no place in the party.

:: :: :: :: ::

The Greens benefit from the developments of the last few months more or less by default; by being the sole party not affected by major scandals. It's true that Merkel's recent championing of the extension of nuclear plant running times gave them a popular pet theme to get themselves noticed with, but with opposition coming even from the government's own environment ministry, that's probably not a strong factor.

As for the Greens in Berlin: them being popular with both the artsy scene and the immigrant population, the Greens had a strong base in Kreuzberg quarter (so much so that prominent party left-wing member Hans Ströbele has a safe seat as directly elected member of the federal parliament). With the CDU, SPD, and the Left Party that is strong in East Berlin, that makes Berlin a unique political landscape with four big parties.

In polls taken over the summer, the Greens already equalled the SPD on top of the polls. Here is the latest which I mentioned above the fold:

  1. Greens: 28%
  2. SPD: 24%
  3. CDU: 22%
  4. Left Party: 16%
  5. FDP: 4% (fails the 5% limit)

If only nanne would have time to be around for on-the-ground comments...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Sep 10th, 2010 at 06:50:39 AM EST
Erklärung is the German word for "explanation". Aufklärung is the German word for "enlightenment". Verklärung, lit. "dislightement", is a widely used term without direct English equivalent, meaning a distorted (usually too kind) presentation of a subject. And that's the word I would use for the voices in the German media presenting Sarrazin as a martyr of free speech, or his Eugenics 3.0 as serious contribution on the issue of immigration and integration.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Sep 10th, 2010 at 07:08:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Verklärung -->(English) as: muddied?, obscured?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Sep 10th, 2010 at 09:02:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
yes, but it could also mean being nostalgic or another word that comes up - transfiguration, though my guess is the last one has more of a religious meaning.
by Fran on Fri Sep 10th, 2010 at 09:15:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Or transcendence, a more apprehendable  version of transfiguation. (Jesus might be transfigured. Mere mortals best hope for transcendence.)

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Sep 10th, 2010 at 09:59:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You folks across the pond have a functional Green Party. Here in the Colonies we have Sarah Palin. I think that says it all.
by US Blues on Fri Sep 10th, 2010 at 09:04:44 AM EST
European Tribune - Green and Oriental Berlin
As for popular support: a poll for tabloid Bild (the German equivalent of The Sun or The New York Post) found that, would Sarrazin create a party, 18% of citizens would consider voting for it.

Or to put in another way: even asked in the most (to Sarrazin) favourable way, 82% would not even consider voting for that guy. Polls rarely measure opinion, they are mostly an instrument to influence opinion. That is why people pay for them to be made.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri Sep 10th, 2010 at 02:26:12 PM EST
Indeed, and that's just what one expects from the Bild. But, there was this other poll:

Sarrazin Hurts SPD Support as Greens Rise to a Record 21% in Forsa Poll - Bloomberg

Sixty-one percent of those questioned said they agree in part with what he said and 9 percent said they fully agree. Twenty-two percent said his views are unacceptable and 8 percent said they "don't know."

...Fifty percent of voters said it would be wrong to fire Sarrazin for his comments, while 34 percent said it would be right, the Forsa poll showed...

Though this is less surprising with people hearing media pundits like this one:

Sarrazin's Truths: Political Correctness Is Silencing an Important Debate - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

German central banker Thilo Sarrazin is being pilloried over his polemic chastising of Muslims, but there are a few things his critics clearly fail to understand. You can't cast away what the man embodies: The anger of a German people who are tired of being cursed at when they offer to help foreigners to integrate.

The suggestion that Turkish and Arab immigrants have below-average intelligence, or talk about a Jewish gene is an offer of help, yeah right. And difficulties with integration are all the immigrants' fault, the decades of blockade against the reforming of citizenship law and the "guest worker" fantasy has nothing to do with it, yeah right. (And SPIEGEL publishes such drivel as op-ed after taking apart Sarrazin's claims in an editorial-level article.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Sep 10th, 2010 at 03:11:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. Sarrazin's attempt at "good ideas" is lost in the ridiculous frame he set for himself.

  2. Compared to other societies, Germany is not doing badly with integration. Especially when compared to other nation's effort, such as Arizona. But those things are never discussed.

  3. Germany's real problem is with the Kleptons that have taken over the Bundesbank, so carefully that no one's noticed.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Fri Sep 10th, 2010 at 03:34:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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