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.

Mar 262014
 

For people of a certain age, it is somewhat hard to believe that Alanis Morissette’s fourth single was released a mere 18 years ago. Moreover, it is a truth universally acknowledged that this single has single-handedly clouded the idea of irony. There is a point, and I will get to it eventually.

What’s the Matter with German Public Broadcasting?

After the war, the BBC provided the template for the re-organisation of broadcasting in Germany. Broadcasters became public bodies, funded by a licence system and not under the (direct) control of the government of the day. They were to be controlled by an elaborate system of boards on which stake holders such as the churches, the unions, and the political parties had representatives. Moreover, in a bid to create further checks and balances, they were set up at the state level. To the present day Germany’s first national TV channel is produced and aired by the federation of these broadcasters.

But back in the mist of time, the Adenauer government wanted a second national TV channel, preferably with a conservative bent. Following an epic political and legal struggle, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) was created in the early 1960s through a “Staatsvertrag”, a quasi-constitutional, legally binding and enforceable agreement between the (then) eleven federal states. Again, insulating the corporation from direct government control was supposed to be a guiding principle.

verhandlung uber das bundeswahlrecht vor dem bundesverfassungsgericht Federal Constitutional Court Tells the State(s) to Leave Public Broadcaster Alone (Alanis Morissette Edition)

What Did the Court Say?

50 years on, the old battles were fought once more. In 2009, the Director General (with support from the SPD) wanted to extend the contract of the broadcaster’s chief political editor, Nikolaus Brender. The CDU opposed the appointment and organised a majority to vote against Brender by leaning on the nominally non-partisan members of the board. Kurt Beck (SPD), then minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate, went to the Federal Constitutional Court in a bid to have the agreement declared unconstitutional.

Isn’t It Ironic? No.

Yesterday, the court ruled (entirely in line with everything the have said over the last five decades or so) that parts of the agreement are indeed unconstitutional, because there are too many representatives of the state on the boards: According to the court’s count, about 44 per cent of the members fall into that category. In an not uncommon display of judicial inspiration, they decided that 44 per cent was certainly too much, whereas one third would be ok, and that the federal states will have to modify the agreement accordingly. That leaves the tiny problem that almost anyone representing one of the societal groups (churches, unions, associations of employers) is at least close to a political party and at any rate part of Germany’s corporatist system of interest mediation.1

And moreover, there is the AM moment: Yesterday’s ruling was brought about by two state governments. Kurt Beck, the original plaintiff, was very happy yesterday. He may have retired as minister president, but he still hangs on as chair of the board. That is not ironic in the conventional sense of saying the opposite of what you mean, but … here is a gratuitous bonus video.

Footnotes:

1

To be fair, one judge made the exact same observation in his dissenting opinion.