Enemy images outside … and also inside the country

Germany before the federal elections

by Karl-Jürgen Müller

The results of the state elections of 6 June in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt – the last state elections before the federal elections at the end of September 2021 – and the public debates before and after these elections once again shed light on the state of political culture in Germany: The issues really at stake are to be hidden behind questions of good or evil. A clarification of terms and political contexts can help not to fall for superficial phenomena.

Before and after the state elections, one topic was dominating the media commentaries and analyses: the AfD (Alternative for Germany). Before the state elections, the spectre of the AfD becoming the strongest faction in the new state parliament was invoked. After the elections, nearly everyone agrees on one thing: the spectre has been banished for the time being. The CDU – which in this state is considered more “conservative” than the federal CDU – won almost 37% of the votes (it even managed to increase its share), which was significantly more than the AfD, which still won more than 20% of the voters and will be the second strongest parliamentary group in the new state parliament, but also suffered slight losses. Die Linke, SPD and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen fell short of their expectations, the latter two parties with less than 10%. The FDP achieved a little more than 5% and re-entered the parliament after 10 years.

The spectre of the threat from the extreme right-wing

The spectre of the threat from the extreme right-wing has a long history in Germany and, after 1990, has gradually replaced the spectre of the threat from the extreme left-wing as the main threat from the official side. Particularly in Western Germany, many believe they can recognise this spectre in the flesh. The most recent example of this are the statements made by Marco Wanderwitz, a CDU politician and the German government’s representative to the East, in the “FAZ Podcast for Germany” on 28 May, according to which there was a stronger tendency to vote for right-wing extremist parties in East Germany than in the West: “We’re dealing with people who have partly been socialised by a dictatorship in such a way that they haven’t yet arrived in democracy even 30 years later.”
  Some people in Eastern Germany, he said “just haven’t properly grasped democracy yet”.

Clarifying the terms

Too rarely, there are factual reaction to such statements in Germany. In other words, there is a lack of clarification of what terms like “radical right-wing”, “non-democratic” etc. mean. Unfortunately, even the Federal Office and the State Offices for the Protection of the Constitution, from which clear statements on these questions should be expected, unfortunately do not always help today. The “definitions” of these state offices have meanwhile adapted quite well to the zeitgeist.
  The author of these lines grew up in Germany at a time when the term “radical right-wing” was always associated with the ideology and rule of the NSDAP. Characteristics of National Socialist ideology and rule were a leader principle rejecting democracy; an inhuman racial doctrine with the delusion that there were inferior and superior “races” and that the inferior ones were to be destroyed; an aggressive foreign policy based on war and conquest (in the East, especially in the Soviet Union).

Experiences from the Weimar Republic

During the years of the Weimar Republic, Germany had made the painful experience that since the summer of 1932 – i.e., still in the times of the Republic – the NSDAP (together with the communist KPD) had won a majority of deputies in the Reichstag, the parliament of the Republic, and that proper parliamentary work was no longer possible. The National Socialists had openly declared that they wanted to win seats in parliament in order to destroy it. Finally, and under pressure from influential forces at home and abroad, Hindenburg, the President of the Reich – also no friend of democracy, but not a National Socialist – appointed Adolf Hitler as Chancellor on 30 January 1933 – in accordance with the rules of the constitution.

After 1945: defensive democracy

Such a turn was to be made impossible in Germany after the Second World War. The [East German] German Democratic Republic declared a communist-defined Anti-Fascism as a constitutional principle. The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany not only declared the liberal, constitutional and democratic foundations of the state to be unchangeable, but also declared the new state to be a “defensive democracy” where individuals can forfeit basic rights in the most extreme case (if these are “abused to combat the free democratic basic order”, Article 18) and in which parties can, if necessary, be banned as unconstitutional if they (“by reason of their aims or the behaviour of their adherents, seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany”, Article 21). It was probably already known at that time that the term “enemy of the constitution” or “unconstitutional” could be abused in political competition. Hence, only the Federal Constitutional Court has the power to determine the unconstitutionality of a party and thus to ban it. The court has only done this twice, in the 1950s, namely towards the Socialist Reich Party (SRP), which was classified as extreme right-wing, and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), which was classified as extreme left-wing, the latter also in connection with the Cold War.

AfD and other targets

Whether the AfD in its current constellation is “extreme right-wing”, “radical right-wing”, “anti-constitutional” or “unconstitutional” is a matter of debate. But that is not really the point because, in present-day Germany, all these terms are used primarily in political competition – and they are aimed not only towards a party, but also towards a certain way of thinking and acting. Above all, to discourage opposition. For example: Opposition to a family policy that is determined by gender ideology; opposition to a migration policy that pleads for “open borders” and against “Deutsch-Land”; opposition to a supranationalism that wants to break with the principle of democratically legitimised state sovereignty; opposition to a globalisation that primarily serves the financial industry; opposition to a “Westernisation” whose bitter fruit is arrogance and aggressiveness towards other cultures, peoples and states.

Why is the East annoying?

The fact that abuse of terms is mainly used against people in the east of the country is violating German unity, polarising, and ultimately harming the whole country. Perhaps the East Germans are to be disciplined: because the zeitgeist is examined more critically there; because the idea of direct democracy (“We are the people”, but honestly meant) is more alive among them than in the West of the country; because the critical distance to the authorities and to the top-down politics prevailing in Germany is greater than in the West of the country; because political paternalism is perceived less agreeably than in the West of the country. These East German virtues have absolutely nothing to do with “radical right-wing”; that is what makes this political lie so particularly inappropriate.  •

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