Not a single problem is solved by marginalising the Germans as right-wing

Many questions arise based on the study of the political centre commissioned by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

by Karl Müller

On 25 April the German Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung presented a new study comprising more than 300 pages. The study’s title can be translated “Lost centre. Hostile conditions. Extreme right attitudes in Germany 2018/19”.1 It presents the results of a survey of 1,890 representatively selected Germans. The study was carried out by the Institut für Interdisziplinäre Konflikt- und Gewaltforschung (Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence) at the University of Bielefeld. The Friedrich-Ebert-foundation itself is a German political foundation associated with the Social Democatic Party of  Germany (SPD).
According to the summary2 the study is intended to provide “information on the stability and instability of the democracy” in Germany. It continues: “The majority of Germans support democracy [...]. At the same time, however, one third also expresses non-liberal attitudes towards democracy [...]. Negative attitudes towards asylum seekers have even increased: Every second person interviewed agrees with negative opinions about asylum seekers. This is an increase compared to 2016, although the number of asylum seekers declined during the survey period. [...] Also conspiracy myths generally find great approval among the population. 46% believe that secret organisations influence political decisions, and every second respondent trusts their own feelings rather than the experts, almost a quarter of respondents assume that media and politics are in cahoots. [...] Ostensibly, the study makes it clear that there is a high degree of support for democracy, but is also accompanied by anti-democratic and anti-pluralist convictions. The centre is losing its solid ground and its democratic orientation”. [Emphasis by the author; translation of all quotes by Current Concerns]

Wide politics and media response to the study

The study has generated a broad yet varied response in the media and politics. The majority of private and public mainstream media have uncritically adopted the tenor of the study, but there are exceptions (e.g. the daily newspaper “Bild”). Anton Hofreiter, leader of the parliamentary group of Bündnis 90/Die Grünen in the German Bundestag, and Franziska Giffey, Federal Minister for Family Affairs and SPD politician, responded uncritically to the study, making political demands such as a “Democracy Deepening Promotion Act”, while Sigmar Gabriel, former SPD chairman, criticised the study in a lengthy article for the Berlin “Tagesspiegel”3 and questioned the findings of the study. Also, federations such as the teachers’ federation VBE did not wait for a critical analysis of the study but immediately made demands which are correct in principle but have little to do with the study.4

Questionable labelling

If the judgments in the summary formulated by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung itself were correct, one would indeed have to be concerned. Right at the beginning, one of the authors of the study, Andreas Zick, is quoted as follows: “When misanthropic prejudices, right-wing populist as well as right-wing extremist or new-right attitudes, the belief in conspiracies, mistrust and illiberal democratic attitudes, are widespread [...], the centre of the society is reduced and democracy becomes unstable. However, SPD member Sigmar Gabriel has convincingly argued that it is inadmissible to associate key findings of the study with “right-wing extremism”, “right-wing populism”, “conspiracy theory” or even “inhumanity”. And the following questions arise: Does the use of such adjectives and labelling prevent an objective discussion of the opinion of the interviewed Germans? Is it not rather the case that the results of the study, which found that 86% of respondents consider it essential that Germany be democratically governed, and 93% that dignity and equality should take precedence, are very much in line with the results, which the study defames as “right-wing populist”, “illiberal” or “conspiracy-theoretical”?

Not “right-wing populist”, “illiberal” or “conspiracy-theoretical”, but very well comprehensible

The study considers the fact that 54% of the Germans interviewed have reservations about asylum seekers to be “misanthropy”. Sigmar Gabriel writes: “That for quite a few, the “loss of trust in the ability of ‘politics’ to act” includes the loss of control in the years of mass immigration of refugees. [...] Is it really so astonishing that there is a feeling of insecurity regarding immigrants? Why are we actually afraid to say openly that ‘too many have come in too short a time’ and that integration into German society has therefore not succeeded sufficiently? And further into the article: “It is unbelievably stupid to associate someone with xenophobes just because he thinks that law and order must also apply to asylum law and that too many rejected asylum seekers remain in the country”. Like many other German media, the weekly newspaper Die Zeit has fully agreed with the tenor of the study. The photograph selected by the newspaper is interesting: an AfD (Alternative for Germany) member in a T-shirt inscribed: “Our country. Our rules”.5 Why is this considered objectionable nowadays?
Because politicians and the media repeatedly take the same stance as if they are in enforced conformity with each other, many citizens no longer see themselves represented. Is it so surprising that many of those questioned said that the “government conceals the truth from the population” (more than 30%), “The ruling parties cheat the people” (22%), there is an opinion-dictatorship in Germany (55%), that “almost a quarter of the interviewees assume that media and politics are in cahoots”, and 46% believe that there are secret organisations that influence political decisions? Is all this “right-wing populist”, “illiberal” and “conspiracy-theoretical”?

What about the Deep State?

It was explicitly left-wing authors who edited – in German language - two extensive volumes about the Deep State: a now empirically investigated theory that the politicians, who are elected every few years, are not free to make important political decisions because of pressure from long-term oriented forces in the background (like the military-industrial complex which even the former US President Eisenhower had warned against) which exert their influence.6
Who today is so naive as to believe that our parliamentarians, adhere to the German Constitution completely free from foreign influence? It stipulates in Article 38: “Members of the German “Bundestag” [...] shall be representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders or instructions, and responsible only to their conscience.” On 29 April even the semi-official Deutschlandfunk reported: “A report published in Berlin [...] on the five-year term of office of the leaving President of the EU Commission Juncker stated that the Commission and the European Parliament now indeed had the highest lobby transparency in Europe. However, corporations could still literally hijack laws and political processes. The reason was that the nation states repeatedly asserted the interests of their domestic industries through the European Council. For example, the German government was watering down or delaying effective emission tests and improved rules in the fight against tax avoidance and evasion.”

Sigmar Gabriel: A reason to praise the Germans

The study itself has to admit that right-wing extremist ideas are of negligible importance in Germany – both in the West and in the East, and have continued to decline markedly7 in recent years, while in the East – in contrast to the propaganda against East Germany – they are just as absent as in West Germany. What is the point of constructing a “right-wing populist”, “illiberal” and “conspiracy-theoretical” danger, although this construct has nothing to do with law and order, the German Constitution and a fortified democracy? On the contrary! Who should this serve?
It is an open question what will the citizens of Germany turn to if politics continues as before? It is no secret that we Germans, too, are not without prejudices and unacceptable generalisations. But this cannot be remedied by confronting Germans with prejudices such as those in the new study by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Wouldn’t it be better to adopt an attitude towards Germans like Sigmar Gabriel? He wrote about the study: “This debate cements the ‘you’ and the ‘us’ instead of overcoming exactly that. In case of doubt, the nature of the debate has a polarising effect and does not promote ‘democracy’ in particular”. Already at the beginning of his article he had written that the study actually offered “extraordinarily positive findings”, which could be a reason to “praise the Germans [...]”.    •

1     https://ec.europa.eu/migrant-integration/librarydoc/verlorene-mitte-feindselige-zustande-rechtsextreme-einstellungen-in-deutschland-2018/19?lang=en
2    https://www.fes.de/index.php?eID=dumpFile&t=f&f=39654&token=236577bc09c9b857c26e1ae1599fb1578551f9e6   (retrieved on 25 April 2019)
3    https://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/von-wegen-verlorene-mitte-eine-studie-und-ihre-bewusste-fehlinterpretation/24263736.html 
4    VBE (German Association for Education and Training) chairman Udo Beckmann demanded: „The increasing brutalisation of manners in our society and anti-democratic and antipluralistic tendencies must be countered already at school by a more intensive education in values and democracy“. (https://www.vbe.de/presse/pressedienste-2019/es-braucht-mehr-werte-und-demokratieerziehung-an-schule/?L=0)
5    https://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2019-04/rechtspopulismus-friedrich-ebert-stiftung-fremdenfeindlichkeit-extremismus?utm_medium=sm 
6     Mies, Ullrich; Wernicke, Jens (eds.). Fassadendemokratie und Tiefer Staat. Auf dem Weg in ein autoritäres Zeitalter. (Facade Democracy and Deep State. On the way to an authoritarian age.), Wien 2017; Mies, Ullrich (ed.). Der Tiefe Staat schlägt zu. Wie die westliche Welt Krisen erzeugt und Kriege vorbereitet. (The Deep State is striking. How the Western world creates crises and prepares wars.), Wien 2019
7     Even here, criteria are applied that have nothing to do with the concept of unconstitutionality as defined by the German Constitution. According to the study, right-wing extremist attitudes include what is known as national chauvinism. This should be substantiated by the consent to the statement: “The primary goal of German politics should be to give Germany the power and prestige it deserves”. (Translation Current Concerns)