By Victor Grossman
BERLIN: Germany, once viewed as an exaggerated model of exactitude and discipline, is currently in a muddle.
Above all, it’s the Covid mess. Seen last spring as a model of swift, effective response, Germany is now torn by controversy, with its sixteen states and dozens of politicians squabbling about when to send which kids (if any) back to school, the 1st, 5th, or 9th graders, with or without masks, with or without self-testing.
Shopkeepers and restaurant owners protest: “When can we open our doors or at least serve outdoor tables?” But if they can open in April, why can’t hotels do the same? What about the tourist trade? At Easter but mostly in the summer, huge waves of Germans surge toward the surf at the Baltic and North Seas but especially the warmer waters (and mostly hotter nightlife) along Mediterranean coasts in Spain, Turkey, the Balearic Islands.
What about theatre people and musicians, solo or in ensemble? Or the sex workers, also solo or in legal “etablissements” known as “Eros Centres”? All are clamoring for more government funds for survival.
All hopes were based on vaccines, first for old folks and medical staffs. But who next? Teachers, cops?
Secretive arrangements for vaccine purchases were in turmoil, both financially and medically. Just as Europe seemed to be under control there were unpleasant rumours about AstraZeneca shots. Then the Minister of Health announced an “All clear, (nearly) all safe.” But some of the unvaccinated masses, skeptical anyway, decided against penetration of their arm muscles.
Some people joined groups marching on weekends to claim the whole virus story was phony, aimed at curtailing freedoms, increasing world power of Bill and Melinda Gates, or compelling world vaccination. Some threw in QAnon accusations or carried rightist flags. Often rejecting legally-required distancing and masks, they occasionally got dragged away and registered by masked (often visored) police. Guesses were on as to where such groups would head politically, right, left, up, or down.
A new question arose, hitherto unthinkable: might Germany copy India, Mexico, Hungary, Slovakia, and others and resort to Russian vaccines — or even Chinese ones?!
Into this Kuddelmuddel (a nice German word hardly requiring translation) plopped some scandals, nice juicy ones, though without the erotic edges of many in the U.S., unless you include pedophilia cover-up scandals now embarrassing the Catholic Church in Cologne, their malodour defying the fabled eau-de perfumes of that city.
But these scandals, despite their party names, did not rip into the poor Church but into its close allies, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister, the Christian Social Union (CSU).
Two legislators’ hands were caught deep in the cookie jar — contracts for supplying anti-virus face masks. It seems that they were moved so deeply by early shortages that they used their business connections, cultivated despite public service in the Bundestag, to arrange very lucrative deals from friendly producers. Friendly enough for little “Thank you” gestures for the sales — 250,000 euros for Nikolas Löbel, 35, CDU, and 660,000 for Georg Nüsslein, 52, CSU.
Of course, party leaders were “totally shocked” at such nefarious doings, almost inconceivable for members of their double party which has been foremost in running Germany for all these years. They hastened to undo the damage, ejecting the two from their Bundestag seats and demanding that all their colleagues swear in writing — by the following Friday — that they were not involved in any such bribery (at least not in Covid connected business). All of them solemnly signed.
But before the ink had quite dried another CSU man, this time in the state legislature (luckily not again in the Bundestag ), was also caught. Alfred Sauter, 71, once Minister of Justice in Bavaria, was unable to account properly for the handy sum of 1,200,000 million — also for overcharged face-masks! As yet unclarified: how much went into his pockets, how much to his party, how much was not paid in taxes. All three gentlemen had to resign from their party and all posts but will hardly face greater harm than to their reputations — if that.
Scandals were not new to the Federal Republic. But this one had an almost comical side, hitting just days before two important elections, in a year to be studded with elections. Despite almost frantic assurances that only a few “bad apples” had been involved, the CDU got hit hard twice, not only due to the scandals, no doubt but also to dismay about the Covid mess and growing woes and fears of current and potentially future jobless, moneyless, maybe homeless persons when (and if) the disease has run its course. Then too, in both state elections a key role was played by personalities.
Rheinland-Pfalz (or Rhineland-Palatinate in English) is known for three things. In Mainz, its capital, Johannes Gutenberg printed his famous Bible and initiated printing in Europe. Trier was the birthplace of Karl Marx. And Martin Luther’s epochal refusal to recant, getting the Reformation going against the Catholic Church (thus already under attack way back in 1521) was at a meeting, named for the town, deliciously called the Diet of Worms.
In the March election its present-day celebrity, Malu Dreyer — she’s a Social Democrat — is so well-liked by her constituents, less for party policies than for her friendly, down-to-earth way of chatting with them, that in a race with many participants she won with almost 36%, leaving the once-proud CDU with only 27.6%, their worst result in that state’s history, and affording them five years to digest what might be called a new “diet of worms.” Malu, as she is often called, will almost certainly continue her coalition with the Greens, weak here, and the even more business-friendly Free Democrats. Since their symbol-colour is yellow, and Malu’s SPD claims red, this is called a traffic light coalition — red-yellow-green.
In neighbouring Baden-Württemberg, the leading personality — and only Green premier in Germany — is the elderly Winfried Kretschmann, 72, with bristly white hair and a croaky Swabish-accented speech. On the right edge of his once seemingly radical left, now right-tending Green party, and a close friend of the two auto giants dominating his state, Daimler-Benz and Porsche, his loud aggressivity and relative, auto-based prosperity in his state got him a 32.7% vote, his party’s best result anywhere. And here too the CDU was handed the worst result in its history (24.1%) in a state it had dominated for decades. In the past 10 years, they had been humble junior partners to Kretschmann’s Greens. After this fiasco, he might ditch them and form a three-party traffic-light coalition like Malu in his neighbour state.
Two other election items need mentioning. The good news first: the fascistic Alternative for Germany (AfD), once an expanding menace, remains a threat but a rather reduced one. Rent by factional strife, it skidded downward, missing its 10% goal in both elections with 9.7 Prozent (2016: 15.1 Prozent) in Rhineland-P. and even less — 8.3% (2016: 12.7%) — in Baden-W.
The bad news: the results for the LINKE were not surprising — but disappointing. A paltry 2.5% in Rheinland-P — even a bit less than five years ago — was hardly balanced in Baden-W by a 3.6% vote — just 0.7% more than five years ago. Both results were far from the 5% needed to gain a single seat in their state legislatures.
The national party congress two weeks earlier was unable to give more boost in southwest Germany where the LINKE has always been weakest. Aside from the rent ceiling law in Berlin and a current attempt per referendum to force big real estate blood-suckers out of that city, the party has not been able as yet to lead any popular struggles or catch many crowds’ imagination. Perhaps the new leadership will have more success.
Every country is important, but the U.S. and Germany may well be the most important. That is why the forces of sanity, the pressure on the Biden government, and on whichever forces win out in Berlin next fall are so crucially important. In Germany, the LINKE must always play a forceful role (despite some weakening around its edges). It must learn to grow and reach out in popular ways to all those who desire peace. It still has a voice!
With or without masks and vaccines, with a new government in the U.S. and one in Germany after September, two things will remain important: vigilance and action! (IPA Service)
Courtesy: People’s World