How the new Cold War determines German politics

Russia and Germany have elected their national parliaments

by Karl-Jürgen Müller

Good German-Russian relations are of great importance for peace in Europe. But at present there can be no talk of prosperous co-existence. Instead, there is a kind of new Cold War.
  In September, both countries elected their national parliaments: in Russia on three days from 17–19 September and in Germany on 26 September.
  Only two questions are to be touched upon here: Do the election results reflect the will of the people? And: Is it possible to project the politics of both countries after the elections, especially regarding the German-Russian relations?

In the new Cold War, the Western states repeatedly deny the legitimacy of the political systems of the countries against which they are waging this war. In dealing with Russia, it is part of the repertoire to accuse those responsible in that country of electoral fraud, while at the same time talking about wanting to promote and support the democratic opposition and civil society in the attacked country (i.e. working on regime change) – something that is hardly an issue with allies, independent of their political system.
  It was therefore not surprising that the democratic legitimacy of the new Russian parliament was questioned in many German-language media and by officials. Even in Russia itself, people were reckoning with this even before the elections. Here is just one example: Thomas Röper, a German living in St. Petersburg, runs the German-language website Anti-Spiegel. Already on 16 September, one day before the start of the elections in Russia, this internet site wrote1 that the EU Parliament had passed a 32-page report on the same day listing numerous measures against Russia. The Anti-Spiegel writes: “Pretty much everything is to be done against Russia, short of a military attack.”

EU accusations of electoral fraud based on controversial sources

The EU report also says that the EU will not recognise the upcoming parliamentary elections if they are “recognised as fraudulent”. The Anti-Spiegel also addresses the question of who is very likely to strongly influence the EU decision on this: the Russian NGO Golos. Golos is considered a “foreign agent” in Russia, not least because of its funding coming from the EU and the US, including USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Even the Wikipedia entry on Golos states that this kind of funding has at least taken place “in the past”. The Anti-Spiegel writes that Golos conducted special training for its election observers and adds: “But the West’s aim is to present the election as rigged. So, at the training sessions Golos openly tells the election observers that the goal is to present the election as illegitimate, and they are told how they can provoke violations themselves, which Golos can then report. Significantly, some 1000 violations are flagged on Golos’ site even before the election.” The Anti-Spiegel also provides a link as proof, a video of such training at Golos. The fact that there were also election observers from other countries, for example the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), who spoke of a largely orderly election process in Russia is not mentioned in our media.
  Be that as it may, on 20 September, four days after the article in the Anti-Spiegel and one day after the elections in Russia, the public radio station Deutschlandfunk, which is broadcast throughout Germany, interviewed a representative of Golos early in the morning, who was able to explain why, in his opinion, the elections in Russia were rigged. On the same day, the radio news reported every half hour that Golos had judged the Russian elections to be rigged. And on the same day, the German government spokesman Steffen Seibert demanded “clarification” from Russia regarding the accusations that the elections were falsified.
  It is interesting, however, that although there is now loud talk of electoral fraud, the Russian election result has nevertheless not not been officially recognised. Obviously, people are (still?) afraid of dealing with Russia in the same way as with Belarus. Realpolitik plays a role here again – but the mood has been set.

Doubts about the democratic legitimacy of elections to the German Bundestag

Doubts about the democratic legitimacy of the elections to the German Bundestag have not been expressed in our media. Although major electoral fraud in the strict sense has probably not occurred and the failures of the Berlin authorities are still an exception, there are some indications for critical questions. Here are just a few:

1. Lack of equal rights for all parties and candidates
There has never been any question of equal rights for all parties and candidates in federal elections. This time too, of the 47 parties admitted to the election by the Federal Election Commissioner, almost only the seven parties that already have seats in the Bundestag were given attention in the media coverage. Due to numerous other obstacles – including the 5 % clause – only two parties have managed to enter the Bundestag as new parties since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949: Die Grünen and the Alternative für Deutschland. Here, too, however, hopes of a more public-interest-oriented shift in emphasis in actual politics have proved deceptive.

2. Our media tried to manipulate the elections
The media, including the public broadcasters, tried to manipulate the election campaign in several ways. This ranged from the very selective, hardly representative selection of supposedly average citizens for TV question rounds to party representatives which obviously followed the opinions of the editors, to the lack of neutrality of the media presenters in the political talk rounds. Even the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” ran the headline on 20 September: “Weltanschauung führt Regie [World view directing]. The election campaign shows where the heart beats politically among journalists from ARD, ZDF and Co.” An example: In an ARD programme entitled “How are you doing, Germany?”, a 16-year-old schoolgirl, who pleaded for much more digitisation in schools, and a young woman involved in Fridays for Future were supposed to speak for the concerns of German youth. Both are allowed to have their opinions – but they are hardly representative of German youth.

3. There is no ruling chancellor in Germany’s constitution
What was particularly noticeable this time compared to many previous elections was the strong concentration of the election campaign conducted by the media on the three candidates for chancellor, Annalena Baerbock (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), Armin Laschet (CDU) and Olaf Scholz (SPD). As if the chancellor were to be elected in the federal elections. Hardly once was it mentioned that Germany, according to its constitution, is supposed to be a parliamentary democracy and not a chancellorship. The strong focus on the candidates for chancellor does not fit the German constitutional order.

4. Party state instead of popular sovereignty
Article 20, paragraph 2 of the Basic Law states: “All state authority is derived from the people. It shall be exercised by the people through elections and other votes and through specific legislative, executive and judicial bodies.” Article 21 states: “Political parties shall participate in the formation of the political will of the people.” Since its foundation, the Federal Republic of Germany has abandoned the central position of the people in political life and the serving function of the parties and has developed into a party state. The academic criticism of this, for example by Karl Albrecht Schachtschneider or Hans-Herbert von Arnim, is well founded. Although less than 5 % of citizens are members of a party, today the parties dominate all state organs. In fact, state power in the Federal Republic of Germany has never emanated from the people. And the constitutionally required possibility of voting is still denied to citizens at the national level. Even the Green Party, which claims to be citizen-friendly, has dropped the demand for referendums from its programme.

5. No solid political formation of will
It is questionable whether the election campaign was or can and should be a contribution to a solid “formation of the political will of the people”. An indication of the justification of this criticism is the strong shifts in approval among the various parties, which poll results in the election year made clear. Every fortnight, the Infratest Dimap Institute asked potential voters who they would vote for if there were federal elections on the forthcoming Sunday.2 For CDU/CSU, the results fluctuated between 35 % (on 7 January 2021) and 20 % (on 2 September 2021) – the actual election result was 24.1 %. This was a huge drop in approval and then also in votes and can hardly be explained by changes in the actual policies of the Union parties. The same applies to Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, which peaked on 6 May with 26 % of potential voters, but had subsequently dropped to only 15 % by 16 September – election result: 14.8 %. The SPD stood at only 14 % on 6 May and rose to 26 % by 16 September – election result: 25.7 %. These figures, too, cannot be explained by changes in the actual political performance to date or that which can be expected from these two parties in the future. Other considerations (factors) must have played a much greater role.
  In addition, the area of foreign policy, which is important for every country, and thus also the questions of war and peace, was almost completely excluded from the election campaign conveyed by the media – if one disregards the rigid commitment of Baerbock, Laschet and Scholz to NATO. Even the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” headlined in a commentary on 13 September: “Topics of the second trual: Foreign policy? Wrong!” This was also true for the clash of the three candidates for chancellor in the first and third television trual. It is very likely that all three candidates are more or less forced in line (aligned) in this policy area. The possible, even critical questions of the voters were thus left out.

The “Self-Righteous” will get an even tighter grip on Germany

What policies can be expected after the two parliamentary elections? No definite statements can be made about this now. While the elections in Russia did not indicate any fundamental changes, they did give indications of more dissatisfaction with the ruling president’s party than in the last elections. This will have more to do with domestic politics than with foreign policy. What is to be wished for Russia is a policy that – oriented towards firm values – enables the country to make further progress for the people living there and, in doing so, to overcome step by step the heavy burdens from the times of the Soviet Union and the nineties of the last century. It is to be hoped that the new Cold War imposed on Russia will not absorb too many forces and resources and that even the unfortunately unavoidable security efforts will always keep the values at stake in mind.
  There can be no certain forecasts for German politics either. The formation of a government has only just begun. What is certain, however, is that Bündnis 90/Die Grünen will again co-govern at the federal level in Germany. Domestically, therefore, the “left liberal” agenda of the “Self-Righteous”3 described by Sahra Wagenknecht will dominate even more than it already has. Green climate policy will demand a lot from the citizens. The “left liberal” dictate of opinion will become more powerful. The political freedoms of citzens will come under even more pressure. Political positions that are oriented towards traditional values – which is also very important to Russian politics – will be discriminated against even more than before. In terms of foreign policy, the leading politicians of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen are all set for the new Cold War – which does not bode well for German-Russian relations.

What remains for citizens to do?

The “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” wrote on 25 September: ”The idea of the people as the ‘sovereign’ who decides on politics, as it exists in Switzerland, is alien to the Germans. Here, the culture of subservience is popular, the idea that it is better for the government to take over and regulate business anyway.” Such polemics cannot be the last word.
  What remains for the citizens to do? What all German governments’ bodies doings must not be left to the parties and influential lobbyists alone in the long run. The state’s importance for the common good is too great to be ignored. There is probably no other way than to help even more than before to lay further foundations for a direct democratic and peace-promoting political culture in Germany with many small and prudent steps. This is also still possible in Germany.  •

1 of 16 September 2021
2 of 16 September 2021
3 Wagenknecht, Sahra. Die Selbstgerechten. Mein Gegenprogramm für Gemeinsinn und Zusammenhalt. (The Self-Righteous. My alternative approach – towards sense of community and solidarity) Campus-Verlag Frankfurt am Main 2021; cf. the book review Current Concerns No. 17 of 7 August 2021

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