September 2010, Week 3


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Tue, 21 Sep 2010 21:34:00 -0400
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By Victor Grossman, Berlin Bulletin:  No. 12, 2010

Submitted to portside by the author

Angela Merkel always seems to smile when she faces a camera.
Only once in a while does an unnoticed camera show her
looking tired, if not worn and slightly haggard.

Things are not all going her way. More and more people are
moving in Germany, mostly in the wrong direction, at least
for Merkel. In Berlin last weekend over 100,000 people
demonstrated around the entire central area against her
government?s deal with RWE, E.on and two other atomic energy
giants. In a meeting with industry leaders she had smiled
sweetly while agreeing completely to keep the 17 atomic power
plants operating for an additional 12 to 15 years, meaning
until 2040 at the earliest, while the extra taxes earlier
demanded of them, proposed  as a balance against harsh cuts
in support for the jobless, poorer parents and senior
citizens, would now be reduced to a minimum. Angela had not
only caved in completely, she had totally ignored and
embarrassed the young Ecology Minister, Norbert Ruettgen,
from her own party, who had promised there would be no such
far-reaching deals. He had lost out to Economics Minister
Rainer Bruederle from the coalition partner, the Free
Democrats, who cared less about public opinion. His party has
lost so much sympathy through its utter disregard for all but
the wealthy that current polls give it hardly even the 5
percent needed to enter the next Bundestag. But that election
is not due until 2013. Although there have been many flukes
and mishaps in older atomic plants in recent years, mostly
unreported as long as possible, and the mine where
radioactive remains are stored is far from secure, most media
dwelled instead on possible job losses if the atomic plants
are shut down sooner. The name Chernobyl was carefully
avoided. But not in the huge demonstrations on September

There were two smaller gatherings in Berlin that day. 200
Neo-Nazis from the NPD party (National Democratic Party of
Germany) held a rally, far from downtown, with music and
anti-foreigner tirades. They were outnumbered as usual by 500
antifascists but protected by police.  Also outnumbered by
800 opponents was a march of very religious anti-abortionist
ladies. Somehow many of their white crosses landed in the
Spree River in downtown Berlin, but luckily there was no
violence. Abortion is possible in Germany, though with a
number of conditions and costs borrowed from the laws of West
Germany (abortion was legal and free in Eastern Germany).

Far from Berlin, in the southwestern city of Stuttgart, angry
demonstrations have been going on for months every Monday and
every weekend in a very different matter.  The city, the
state of Baden-Wurttemberg and the nationally-owned,
independently run railroad system had decided to tear down
Stuttgart?s central station, one of the few central buildings
to survive the war, and replace it with a subterranean
station adapted to high-speed connections with other parts of
Germany and Europe.  But a large number of Stuttgart people
decided they liked their old station. They didn?t want it to
disappear while 250 acres where it had been would be largely
filled with modern office buildings. 300 handsome old beeches
and other trees, some over 200 years old, would have go. The
cost, officially 7 billion euros, would in the end probably
top 10-18 billion. How many other more needed projects could
be paid for with such a sum! The demonstrations grew larger:
15,000, 25.000, possibly up to 70,000, week for week. People
climbed the trees and the cranes, refusing to give in even
after one station wing was demolished. Preachers preached,
some prayed or sang We Shall Overcome. Others blew whistles
or even vuvuzegas. A local artist became moral leader by
common agreement. At first the Christian Democratic mayor and
the state government, a coalition of Christian Democrats and
Free Democrats, refused even to meet the protesters, but as
the weeks wore on and the demonstrations did not decrease
they began to weaken, though sticking to impossible
conditions. The matter is still undecided. The Social
Democrats, who originally supported the plans, have been
trying to extricate themselves from them. Like the others
they are thinking of the state elections on March 4. The
tree-saving Greens are in the strongest political position.

Very many Germans, like Americans, are enraged about banks
which were bailed out with taxpayers? money and, also like in
the USA, are shamelessly reverting to former methods, even
big bonuses. This does not make the government more popular.
Nor do its plans to raise appreciably the amount people must
pay for medical coverage. The slick Minister of Health, with
a smile worthy of his boss, Merkel, camouflages his plans
under many fancy words. But they all add up to higher
payments for working people, and less for the wealthy.

Both the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens are profiting
from all this. The SPD is slowly regaining the ground it lost
so disastrously in last year?s elections while the Greens
have climbed into a position where they might be the No. 1
party in the city-state of  Berlin and head a coalition
government there after elections next year.

With the help of the media, now occasionally more critical of
the government, the past record of the SPD and Greens is
forgotten. It was they, when they ran the government, who
initiated many cuts in living standards, who raised the
pension age to 67, cut help for the jobless, increased sales
taxes for average consumers but cut taxes for the wealthy and
the corporations. Even their time limits for atomic energy
power plants, now to be dropped, were a weak compromise. It
was while Social Democrats and Greens were in charge that
construction of many such plants began.

This should be a time for the LEFT party to grow rapidly; it
is the only Bundestag party with a clean record on economic
issues, on military spending, foreign adventures in
Afghanistan as well as atomic power. Sadly, it has been
occupied in recent months with internal worries. Its presence
in the demonstrations on atomic power and the Stuttgart
railroad station was hardly visible, while the media does
what it can to down-play its spokespersons. It has been
debating questions like the need to change the social system,
the pros and cons of joining government coalitions and
participation in future UN military actions. These are
important, no doubt, but hardly the issues able to bring lots
of people out in the streets again, like those in France or
Greece. Those who support the LEFT can only hope it will get
its act together and start fighting on issues urgent to
people here and now.

The importance of such struggles is underlined by the menace
of a possible new party on the right, appealing to
nationalism, feelings against immigrants, muslimophobia. This
danger is growing everywhere, from Tea Party shouters in
Nevada or Delaware to some boroughs of Berlin and to cities
in Holland, England and now Sweden, where such a new party
has had marked success. Recent discussions in Germany
fostered by most media in connection with the banker Thilo
Sarrazin and his anti-Turkish, anti-Arab racism, also
statements by the head of an organization claiming to
represent Germans thrown out of Poland and other eastern
countries after World War Two, have found a frightening
resonance, even among some top men in the SPD (the party
Sarrazin still belongs to, despite plans to throw him out).
An estimated ten to twenty percent might be reached by such
demagogues, it is estimated. The dangers are great, but
democratic-minded Germans have shown a willingness to fight
back. The right issues and the right paths must urgently be
scouted out.

21 September 2010


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