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PORTSIDE  September 2011, Week 3

PORTSIDE September 2011, Week 3

Subject:

The Jolly Roger Flies in the Berlin Elections

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

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Date:

Wed, 21 Sep 2011 22:24:57 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (224 lines)

Berlin Bulletin No. 32 
September 19 2011

The Jolly Roger Flies in the Berlin Elections

By Victor Grossman

Berlin

Berlin voted on Sunday. Mayor Klaus Wowereit, a Social
Democrat, retains his office but his government needs
reshuffling. The only real surprise was a hefty 9 per
cent vote for an unusual new party, the Pirates, whose
fifteen delegates in the new city parliament will be
their first anywhere in Germany.

With Pirates in parliament (though not in power), will
anyone be walking the plank? The floundering big-biz
party, the Free Democrats (FDP), which still holds the
Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister spots in the
federal government as junior partners to Angela
Merkel's Christian Democrats, suffered its fifth defeat
in as many state elections this year. With under 2
percent on Sunday, and no more deputy seats in Berlin's
parliament, it is now gasping for air. Last-minute
attempts to build on anti-Greek sentiment, opposing
financial support for that sagging euro-comrade, didn't
help it one bit. Most Berliners, if they thought about
the party at all, said "Good riddance!"

But ach and alas, the Left party - die Linke - also
plunged into icier political waters. Its 11.5 percent,
lower even than its disappointing 13.4 in 2006, meant
that its 19 seats in the city-state parliament (down
from 23) could no longer give Mayor Wowereit the
required majority of 76 seats. After ten years of
joint, though junior rule, it will now be part of the
opposition.

The Social Democrats lost almost as many percentage
points as the Left but were still strongest kids on the
block. Debonair, popular Wowereit - who joyfully
accepted the cheers of party members, standing next to
his life partner - must now choose between an uneasy
partnership with the Greens, with a majority of only
one seat, or with the Christian Democrats. The latter
would grant a numerically more stable majority but
would require more than a few steps to the right, not
his ideal.

Earlier this year the Greens and their loud, energetic
leader Renate Kuenast hoped to win first place and the
mayor's job, but she proved too loud and too energetic
for Berliners. The result, 18 percent, was the best the
Greens had ever achieved in Berlin but far less than
they hoped for, while the Christians stayed ahead,
moving forward two points to hold on to second place.

Who then are these new Pirates? They don't resemble
Long John Silver or Blackbeard in the least. Indeed,
some male candidates seem hardly old enough to have any
beard at all. For they are, above all, a party of and
for young voters. Until recently they were more a joke
than anything else. But - with 9 percent at their very
first try - who is still laughing?

What do they stand for? That is not easy to determine.
They started out by demanding full freedom in Internet,
opposing any charges or regulation from above, and this
alone won support within the electronic generation. But
it wasn't enough for a party program. They added a
demand which is always attractive on the political
scene: Transparency. Everything should be above board.
They have since spoken, if a bit vaguely, of things
like dropping requirements for driving licenses, of
classes on drugs in the schools, and of a basic livable
income for everyone, whether or not he or she had a
job. Such demands resounded successfully in young ears,
with many who would not have voted at all otherwise and
many who would have voted for other parties. Thus,
Pirate cutlasses chopped off votes from what were
considered Establishment parties, the Social Democrats,
even the poor Left (whose share in the government made
them "establishment") but most of all from the Greens,
whose compromising positions on so many issues robbed
them of much earlier youthful, rebellious glamour.
Whether the 15 Pirate delegates, all political newbies,
will gain experience and make any political dents
remains to be seen; as yet the pundits are unsure about
pinning them down as leftish, centrist, or whatever.
They could become allies of the Left, with whom they
actually share many ideas. Now they represent largely a
protest vote. The next five years will tell whether
that means anything or is a flash in the pan.

And the Left? Christian Democrats and Greens crowed
gleefully at its losses, which meant an end to ten
years of a so-called "Red-Red" government coalition in
Berlin. Why have they been dipping, unevenly but
clearly in both West Berlin (4.5 percent) and East
Berlin (22.6)?

One reason is clear. An overwhelmingly hostile media
linked every failing in running Berlin, every painful
budget cut, to the Left. The three Left cabinet
ministers (called senators) were largely responsible
for key improvements in the school system, for getting
free kindergarten care, sharply reduced tickets for the
jobless in public transportation and for cultural and
sports events, for hindering the forced moving of the
jobless from their homes because of higher rents. They
had fought and sometimes won more jobs and higher pay
for city employees and prevented the privatization of
city banks. But all this was distorted, ignored, or
credited to Wowereit.

In addition, all such efforts had confused their basic
position as a party of opposition to the ruling system,
of rebelliousness, street demonstrations and the
sometimes outrageous actions which shock some but win
the hearts of others, especially young people. Indeed,
the ranks of the Left, especially in East Berlin, were
still to a great degree the faithful from former GDR
years, before that state disappeared in 1990, and their
ranks were dwindling. Many young voters chose to follow
Jolly Roger flags somehow representing resistance.

It was clear to all in the Left party that attention to
young people's problems and culture had been woefully
neglected. Some also noticed a similar weakness in
regard to immigrant groups, now increasingly with
voting rights, especially Berlin's large Turkish
population.

There were other reasons. The Left had been torn by
inner quarrels between its two wings. A fleeting use of
the word "Communism" as a distant goal by co-
chairperson Gesine Loetzsch in January was pounced on
by the media, also a greeting to Fidel Castro on his
85th birthday and a decision by three local leaders of
the Left in northern Schwerin to abstain from publicly
regretting the building of the Berlin Wall fifty years
earlier. All this (and more) was grist for unfriendly
mills, from left center to far right.

The question demanding urgent answers was whether the
Left was too radical, as its "reformer" wing implied,
thus barring itself from the main, acceptable political
ring, or was it on the contrary not militant enough, as
the other, more "leftist" wing maintained. But after
seeing the disappointing vote Gregor Gysi, party guru
and chair of its Bundestag caucus, said: "We have been
spending ninety percent of our time with inner disputes
and ten percent with national problems. This must be
turned around completely!" After key planks of the
national program were poached by the other parties,
basic demands needed to be found and fought for. The
Left's national conference on its basic program next
month in Erfurt could lead to just that - or to worse
wrangling than ever. It will almost certainly feature
crucial decisions.

A postscript: While a "Red-Red" coalition of Social
Democrats and the Left in the state of Brandenburg
around Berlin continues in office relatively
successfully, the newly re-elected Social Democratic
governor in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania north of Berlin
(it's called "Meck-Pom") must now decide between a
coalition with the Christian Democrats, as currently
exists, or a reversal to one with the Left, which is
also possible. The Berlin vote could impel him to
choose the former solution.

A second postscript: The neo-Nazi National Democratic
Party (NPD) and a new "pro-Deutschland" party based on
hatred of Muslims posted election placards all around
Berlin caricaturing Africans and Muslims in a
frighteningly racist way. One poster showed the NPD
leader grinning on a motorcycle under the slogan: "Give
gas!" - a hardly ambiguous appeal for genocide.
Attempts to ban it were turned down in court. Neither
party got enough votes to enter the city parliament.
How many seats they won in borough councils is not yet
known.

++++

Results:

Social Democrats (SPD)          28.3 %       47 seats 
comp/w 06: - 2.5

Christian Democrats (CDU)     23.4         39
+ 2.1

Greens                                   17.6         29                                          
+ 4.5

Left                                       11.7         19                                         
- 1.7

Pirates                                    8.9         15                                       

Free Democrats (FDP)             1.8          0                                         
- 5.8

___________________________________________

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