Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Hello Lenin! - One in five Germans want Berlin Wall back

In a stark reminder of how good the "bad old days" actually were (or, more to the point, how bad things are today, now that all of Germany is safely ensconced in the hands of the "Free" Market), a poll conducted by polling company Emnid to mark 17 years since the Anschluss (ahem, sorry, "reunification") that brought the formerly 'socialist' East into the fold of German Capitalism found that 19% of Germans thought the country was better off when it was divided into two countries.

Taking a leaf straight out of the self-righteous patronising attitude toward the feeling that maybe things could have been done better almost two decades ago known as "Ost-algia", the media dismisses this. Along with the 21% of "Ossies" who want the Wall (erected on my uncle's - and Fidel's - birthday, by the way) back they are described as being merely
"nostalgic about the concrete, barbed wire and armed guards that separated them from the west."

Surely, now that history has ended, and Capitalism has saved us all, there should be no support for "failed socialist experiments". (The same words were used by former Australian Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fisher to describe aboriginal land rights, we should add).

However, the poll couldn't hide some of the very real problems that still exist in Germany since "reunification". An overwhelming three-quarters of "Ossies" said they still felt like 2nd-class citizens, a whole 17 years after the 'Great Day' of unification on October 3, 1990. And revealingly, the same proportion of "Wessies" didn't believe their eastern cousins knew what they were talking about.

The figures speak for themselves, however. Unemployment is 15% in the East, twice that in the West, salaries are lower by 25-30%, and most of the "aid" money put into rapidly developing the East to bring it up to par with the richer West was in the form of boomerangs.

The promise of "instant capitalist well-being" never arrived. Instead, East Germany is left a rusting, polluted, impoverished and neglected second to the production and finance centres of the West.

The dissatisfaction with the dithering, pro-business "Neue Mitte" approach of Schroeder and the SPD, and cuts to social welfare and infrastructure, became a time-bomb, and a collection of unique circumstances have given us a special new situation in Germany.

The graph to the right, from Die Zeit, shows that German voting and political tendencies are shifting leftwards. Already we have seen the results of this in the last general election, where the new left party, Die Linke, roared into the political landscape, outscoring the Greens.

Since then, however, Die Linke, which has traditionally polled very well in the East due to the factors alluded to above and to the fact that its main base is still that of the newly re-reformed Party of Democratic Socialism/ Linkspartei (the descendant of the SED, the old ruling party of East Germany), has begun to score victories in the West as well.

At the same time, the decline of the Greens caught up with the membership on September 15 and 16.

At special party congress in the central German city of Göttingen, a majority of 800 delegates rejected the party leadership's position by voting against its motion to unconditionally approve the planned extension of the German Army's mandate in Afghanistan.

The congress, specially called to deal with the issue of Afghanistan, is something of a wake-up call to the Greens (who have picked up the nickname of "Olive Greens" for their support for German troops in Afghanistan) after the rise of an openly left-wing party has pushed them to the sidelines.

The opportunist politics of the Greens leadership (and especially the "pragmatism" of Joschka Fischer), in combination with their lack of coherent class analysis when faced with the opportunity to share power, have meant that they have been eclipsed, and may be staring down the barrel of a long, slow death. There is even some talk of a split in the Greens, although this may have been prevented for the moment with the Afghanistan decision.

Die Linke, by contrast, refused from the outset to enter into a ruling coalition, even a "red-red" coalition with the SPD. Things are far from clear from the left, however, as the PDS/ Linkspartei has been in coalition with the SPD at lower levels of government for some time, causing some friction within the new party.

What is clear, however, is that Germany has entered into an exciting and volatile new period of politics, with a new, left-wing, party at the eye of the storm.

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