Oct 042014
 

The rise of Germany’s new far right party AfD has been nothing but meteoric. Founded only months before the 2013 General Election, the party came tantalisingly close to the electoral threshold, delivering the strongest performance of any new party since the 1950s. Eight months later, they made it easily into the European parliament (outperforming the Liberals (FDP)), and this summer, they won representation in three East German state parliaments, further startling the establishment.
The biggest problem for any far-right party in Germany is respectability: Any (open) display of extremist language or symbols, any link to the Nazi past will make a party unelectable for the vast majority of the population and may even lead to prosecution under Germany’s anti-Nazi laws.
In the mid-to-late 1960s, the NPD managed to retain a degree of decorum for some years before jumping the shark in the 1970s. Similarly, the Republicans started out as a CSU breakaway but quickly morphed into yet another extremist group in the eyes of the public. Later attempts of the new leadership to return to a more moderate position came too late to remedy the situation. More interesting was Judge Schill’s attempt to create a modern right-wing populist party in the early 2000s, but they never did well outside Hamburg and quickly collapsed due to Schill’s erratic behaviour.
The AfD leadership, on the other hand, has so far managed to keep well-known extremists out of the party (or at least out of the limelight). But recently, the party’s image has suffered two significant blows. A couple of weeks ago, the AfD in Brandenburg was forced to expel a newly minted state MP who had posted an antisemitic cartoon on Facebook, alongside a link to an extremist propaganda site. This week, it transpired that a party leader in the Eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern  has been charged with inciting racial hatred over (anonymous) posts on the interwebs.
Whether this is actually true remains to be seen. Either way, both events in isolation will not hurt the party, which is doing very well in the polls. But they will help to strengthen the cordon sanitaire that Merkel has created between her own Christian Democrats and the AfD, and resonate with the extremism frame that the left is deploying against them.

May 242014
 

Those old enough to remember that Bill Murray had a career before Lost in Translation (or to remember Bill Murray) will instantly recognise this scene: Punxsutawney Phil is predicting six more electoral cycles of political misery for Germany’s Liberal Democrats. Granted that the animal is a bit on the small side, but first, This is not America, and second, the choice of rodent is rather apt: Aren’t we all guinea pigs when it comes to policy making?

rodent e1400933785803 222x300 The Weirdest Campaign Poster Yet (Groundhog Day Edition)

Punxsutawney Phil predicting six more cycles of electoral Misery

The hopeful candidate molesting the furry bugger promises  that he will listen, not ignore (whom?). He might change his mind once the beast sinks its front teeth into that yummy finger.

May 222014
 

The Pirates are running a rather cheap electoral campaign: No faces (models or not) but only drawings in their trademark orange/blue tones. Their stinginess even extends to the meaning of their slogans. I was a bit thrown off by “Borders are so 80″, then discovered the small “er”, so borders are so 1980s, apparently. Well, yes, I get the implication for Europe. But why is there a “Herzschlag” (heartbeat? or heart attack???) between fear and courage, and why would that make me vote for the Pirates? I have a feeling that Literal Campaign Video Clips might become a thing very soon.

pirates 300x216 Pretty Perplexing Pirates Posters

Pirates Posters: Say what?

 

May 212014
 

The local Liberal Democrats never fail to amaze me. Just when I thought it could not get any better, I found another gem for my ever growing collection.

losing grip 225x300 More Silly Election Posters

Local Campaigns: The Hour of Amateurs

“Höhenflug” is the act of (figuratively) ascending to some higher plane (not an imminent danger here) but losing touch in the process. “Bodenhaftung” is literally grip (get one, please!) or traction, so best illustrated by sitting on a tractor. What better way to show that you are down to earth (pun intended) and in no way out of touch than riding this nifty little machine in your best dark suit, as any local farmer would? Bonus points for gratuitous use of “frischer Wind” (a breath of fresh air), quite possibly the most overused phrase in German politics and code for not being incumbent.

May 172014
 

There may be a European election on, but around here, the big one is the local elections. In the plural: On my last count, I will have to vote for town mayor, town council, municipal mayor, municipal council, district council and perhaps even leader of the district council, though I’m not 100 per cent sure re the last one.

Important as they may be, local elections are the domain of the amateurs, as the old saying goes amongst German Political Scientist.1 To make things slightly worse, councillors are elected under an open list system (with not threshold), so there are some incentives to cultivate a personal vote, and quite some margin for error. So far, I have spotted few real howlers but then the Liberal Democrats (FDP), wiped out in the last Bundestag election and poised to do badly in the EP2014, decided to go for this year’s Bad Pun Award.

fdp 211x300 The Local Liberal Democrats Illustrate Some German Idioms for Us

Another Campaign Poster from Hell

So the guy on the poster is literally fishing (or at least holding a rod while wearing a suit) in clear water (im Klaren, which, if you push it, could be read as a pun-within-the-pun on alcohol), as opposed to fishing in murky waters (im Trüben fishen). The latter used to mean “cheating” but has also acquired connotations of being lost. Say what?

But there is more. The candidate is also “ortsnah” (local, in a technical sense that never, ever applies to persons), as opposed to “weltfremd” (unworldly, stuck inside an ivory tower). One might argue that, on some level loosely attached to logic “ortsnah” and “weltfremd” are not exactly opposites but rather awkwardly related concepts. But quite possibly someone sensed a tension between “ort” (the local place) and “welt” (world) and decided that nothing says “local guy” quite like a misguided rhetorical flourish. With PR guys like this, who needs political enemies?

Footnotes:

1

I’ve made that one up.

Apr 072014
 

You could not possibly make this up. Amidst a legal-constitutional battle over the NPD’s survival, the General Secretary (top executive manager) of Germany’s oldest right-wing extremist party NPD resigns over what is by now affectionately known as the Saarbrücken Penis Cake Affair. The story (as ridiculous as it gets) also involves Miss Nationalist Santa, and a lot of backstabbing hidden behind the moral outrage. Publikative has the full story and the original reporting (in German), whereas Spiegel Online (also in German and apparently a bit lax on the reporting part) has the pictures (if you absolutely have to see them).

Mar 312014
 

Party system change, illustrated. Germany’s FDP was represented in the federal parliament from 1949 until 2013. During this time, they were part of various government coalitions for more than four decades. In 2009, they managed to attract more than 14 per cent of the vote, their best national result ever. Many voters did not like them, but they served a purpose.

 German Liberal Democrats (FDP) Officially off the Public Opinion Radar

Today, FGW’s monthly newsletter reported public opinion on Russia, broke down by party leaning of the respondents. They could not provide information on FDP supporters, because they did not have enough cases for that.

Mar 282014
 

It’s been a boring three months without any offbeat news on the right-wing extremist NPD, but here is hope. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), still one of Germany’s most respected broadsheets runs the story of the porn-star-and-escort-turned-nationalist-activist Ina Groll (“Kitty Blair”), who apparently is not longer welcome in the NPD (of which she allegedly never was a member). Groll single-handedly (if in doubt: each and every pun on this page is intended) tried to give nationalism a more – shall we say racy ? – image by distributing leaflets wearing a Santa costume that was supposed to be sexy (down that road, madness lies). The party themselves have tried to play that game in the past, with debatable results.

By and large, the FAZ article is a pastiche of older stories from the blogosphere, the social media, and the left-wing press, but the framing is slightly different: FAZ explicitly links the backlash against Groll/Blair within the NPD and the wider right-wing extremist public to the fact that some of her co-stars were black men.

blutschutzgesetz v 15 9 1935 rgbl i 1146gesamt NPD: No Interracial Sex Please, Were German. Very much so
Foter / Public domain

Rassenschande” (bringing disgrace to the Aryan race by having sexual relationships with non-Aryans) was a crime in Nazi Germany and could carry the death penalty. But the quote in the article that mentions right-wingers crying “Rassenvermischung” (mixing races) is not referenced by a link. It is summarily ascribed to an obscure east German right-wing website. Googling that quote, you will find a dozen hits for the exact phrase. Chances are that FAZ copied it verbatim from a blog or an agency report. The right-wing website itself, on the other hand, does indeed brazenly refer to “Rassenschande” further down the page, which is presumably punishable under anti-hate-speech legislation.

I’m not sure what I find more stunning/revealing/whatever: The way the Extreme Right handles their public relations, or the quality of investigative journalism in one of our leading newspapers.