Oct 042021
 

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the ur-podcast must have been two blokes in the pub going on about politics for hours. Thankfully, the format has evolved somewhat. So if you are interested in German Politics, why not listen to Cas Mudde and me discussing the 2021 elections in just over 30 minutes?

I was much younger in this photo. He probably found it in a museum.

Sep 252021
 
In less than 43 hours, polling stations in Germany will close. The idea that the CDU/CSU is building momentum and could catch up with the SPD has been a conservative talking point for the last week or so. And right on cue, Allensbach has published a poll today that sees the SPD’s lead reduced to a single percentage point.

Over on twitter, people have been quite disparaging, pointing out that Allensbach has been perceived as close to the Christian Democrats for decades, uses methods that are now seen as outmoded, and considerably overestimated support for the CDU/CSU in 2017. While I tend to agree, I thought I might as well pass the time by having a look at how well the major pollsters did in 2017 using, you know, actual data.

For multi-party elections, the sum of squared differences between a pre-election poll and the final vote shares is a crude but intuitively plausible measure of accuracy. Thankfully, the good folks over at wahlrecht.de collect headline findings from the major houses going back all the way to the late 1990s. So I plugged the last surveys published immediately before the 2017 election into this shiny table and calculated the differences.

CDU/CSUSPDGreensFDPLeftAfDOthersSum of squared differences
BTW 201732.920.58.910.79.212.64
Insa342189111348.56
Kantar/Emnid3522891011514.56
FGW3621.58108.511515.96
Allensbach3622810.59.510419.56
Forsa362279.59.511520.56
Infratest37207.59.5912521.86
GMS372289910530.56
YouGov3623791010530.76

The numbers are not quite what I expected. Kantar/Emnid and FGW, who have been in the business for ages, are placed second and third with very similar deviations from the result. Fellow household names Allensbach, Forsa, and Infratest form a second, slightly worse performing but very homogeneous cluster. GMS and YouGov, on the other hand, were most (and similarly) off.

The best performer, and this is the surprising part, was INSA, who are, let’s say, are slightly less respected for both political and methodological reasons. According to wahlrecht.de, their final poll in 2017 was published on September 22, just two days before the election, with the data being collected on September 21/22. So it could be that they were simply interviewing closer to the event than the others and picked up some last minute swing away from the Christian Democrats. Or perhaps they were just lucky.

Coming back to Allensbach, the table shows that everyone overestimated the CDU/CSU (herding, anyone?), and that Allensbach was by no means an outlier. So if past (squared) performance can serve as a guide for the present, there is no particular reason to rubbish this latest Allensbach poll.

Sep 172021
 

Everyone who cares about German elections is very excited by now, because it’s just over a week until election day. And I realise that I have not blogged about this election at all. One reason is that I have not set up a poll aggregator this time round. There are enough better-run sites doing this now, and so I have taken all my polling enthusiasm straight to twitter. The other reason is that there is still a pandemic, and that there are so many other things to do.

But right on the campaign’s homestretch, I have discovered a whole (rather long and reasonably affluent) street covered in MLDP posters. “What, in the name of all that is unholy, is the MLDP?” I hear you cry.

The MLDP, or Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany, is the ultimate splinter party. It came into being in 1982 as the successor of the Communist Worker Association (KABD), itself the result of the 1972 merger of the KAB/ML and the KPD/ML-Revolutionary Path. The latter had been a breakaway from the KPD/ML, which in turn was a tiny Maoist party that moved on to the Albanian brand of communism. Somewhere along the way, some players had been expelled from the old Communist party (the KPD), which by then must have been illegal for a decade or so. Are you still with me?

MLDP Poster International Solidarity

Wait, what? I know that guy!

The MLDP, however, is still enamoured to Maoism and rejects the post-1950s Soviet Union as revisionist. According to the annual reports of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the MLDP is a left-wing extremist organisation. It is also surprisingly wealthy (thanks to some large donations), and sometimes successful in local politics in unexpected places (Swabian towns? Come on!), where it works with local groups to form lists with less offending names.

For the last couple of federal elections, it has formed an alliance (the internationalist list they put on the posters) with like-minded foreign organisations that have a presence in Germany. In 2017, they won just under 30,000 of the PR votes, equivalent to 0.1 per cent. Historically, that was an excellent result: they used to get about 0.01 per cent of the vote. According to the Office, the MLDP has 2,800 members, and one must really wonder what motivates them. Various colleagues have pointed out that the party looks and operates like a (political) sect.

MLDP Poster Environment Pensions

Save the environment by working less. Or something along those lines.

However tenuous, there is a bit of personal connection, too. Back in 1982, when the FDP changed sides, removed my hero Helmut Schmidt, and made Kohl Chancellor, I was outraged (and all of 13 years old). When Kohl manufactured a lost vote of confidence that winter so that he could get the 1983 election, I was earnestly listening to experts who claimed that this move was slick, but unconstitutional. The President and then the Constitutional Court disagreed. When Kohl then ran again in 1987 I would have loved to vote against him, but I was three weeks too young.

So my first chance to express my general dissatisfaction came with the 1989 European Election. Also, I was doing national service. That meant that I had a lot of spare time that I used for reading campaign materials, watch the party broadcasts, and think about how to best invest my shiny new vote. Everyone I talked to thought that the EP was as second order as it gets, and that one could and should freely experiment. So for a time, I toyed with the idea of sticking it to the man by voting for something seriously, hardcore left, like, you know, these MLDP chaps. This wonderful clip finally helped me make up my mind.

 
Europawahl 1989 - Wahlwerbespot MLPD

Watch this video on YouTube.
Jun 242021
 
A guide to Alternative for Germany's donation scandals 1

Update June 24, 2021

German prosecutors have asked the European Parliament to lift Meuthen’s immunity. In other words, the co-leader of the self-styled law-and-order party has become the object of a criminal investigation.

Update April 19, 2019

The prosecutor for Berlin is investigating the AfD’s treasurer over support the party received from the association-for-whatnot (see #6 below). Printing and distributing newspapers that are essentially campaign material amounts to making a donation, the prosecutor thinks – a donation that the party failed to declare in two consecutive years. The services donated were worth a “low six-digit figure”.

Update April 16, 2019

The Bundestag’s central administration, which is charge of state funding for parties, has ordered the AfD to pay a fine of €402,900, i.e. three times the value of the services received by Meuthen (see point #3 below) and Reil (point #5). It is likely that the party will also be fined over the donations to Weidel. The AfD had set aside a million Euros to cover for fines.

What is the matter with Alternative for Germany’s finances?

Just in time for the upcoming European elections, new details on Alternative for Germany’s donation scandals emerge. Yes, scandals is in the plural, and the wailing sound in the background is the of “fake news!” from the party’s faithful. So what is the matter?

The AfD loves to talk about the “Altparteien” (the old parties, i.e. the establishment, the spent forces etc.). This is in itself a nice show of political mimicry: “Altparteien” is what the Greens used to call the trinity of Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, and Liberals, when they rose as a radical alternative to politics as usual in the 1990s.

Money and the AfD

Follow the money

In the 1980s and 1990s, the latter two parties executed bypassing rules on party financing to near-perfection. As a reaction to this, rules for transparency have been somewhat tightened, and more importantly, enforcement has become a bit stricter.

Now the “Alternative” has taken a whole bunch of leaves from the old parties’ playbook. For your edification and because I’m losing track, here is a list of the top-seven financial scandals in which the party is currently involved.

7 8 financial scandals in which Alternative for Germany is currently involved

  1. Alice Weidel, the co-leader of the AfD’s parliamentary group in the Bundestag, is under investigation for receiving 150,000 Euros in 18 neat tranches from a company in Switzerland, which would be illegal under German law. Extraordinarily, the company claims that they merely provided a facade for illegal cash flows originating in Germany. As you do. Both Swiss and German authorities are on the case.
  2. Under a similar scheme, the AfD state party in North Rhine-Westphalia has received about 50,000 Euros from a dubious Dutch foundation. The party claims that they have returned the money later but failed to inform the authorities within the prescribed time-frame.
  3. There is another Swiss connection, involving co-leader and Spitzenkandidat for the EP election Jörg Meuthen. Back in 2016, “Goal”, a Swiss agency, has provided advertisements, flyers, design, and whatnot worth a cool 90,000 Euros. Meuthen claims that he only gave permission to use his likeness and was in no way part of the advertising campaign, which was paid for by 10 benefactors. In other words: no collusion.
  4. Last year, Meuthen finally presented a list of the alleged benefactors. This week, at least two of these have now come out claiming that they did not give any money but rather accepted a 1,000 Euro bribe for their name to appear on the official record.
  5. The AfD’s number two for the EP election, Guido Reil, also benefitted from services provided by “Goal” worth 50,000 Euros. The prosecution service has opened an investigation this week. Bummer.
  6. Then there is the long-running story of an obscure “association for the rule of law and the protection of civil liberties”, which has spent big time on advertising for the “Alternative” but claims to be independent of the party. If co-ordination between the organisation can be proven, the AfD would be fined heavily. It goes without saying that the association is also connected to “Goal”.
  7. Finally, it has emerged that Alexander Gauland is being investigated over his tax returns. While there is no Swiss connection and while this is primarily a private, not a party matter, it nicely caps of the list.
  8. Update: On March 28 2019, it emerged that Weidel seems to have received money from the same group of straw donors.

It is not easy running a law & order party. Especially the “law” part seems to be very tricky. Stay tuned.

May 292021
 

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that our devices are spying on us. I’m old enough to remember the bout of German Angst over the 1984(!) census, and the moral panic about bringing computers into our homes. A mere three decades down the line, my phone is constantly tracking my movements, pulse, and exact position. It knows what I read, with whom I interact, what I listen to, what I order, and where I’d rather be – all in a bid to serve me targeted ads. Amazon, Facebook, Google as well as many other players have models of me, which they update in realtime. Cue Cambridge Analytica and all that jazz.

I tricked the algo, and now I need a new hip 2

So it fills me with great joy to see the algorithms cock up every once in a while. It began in 2019, when some machine decided to personalise the commercials which interrupt the podcasts that I’m listening to. Generic messages about products and services that I’m not interested in were replaced by ever more frantic appeals to “get ready for Brexit” (that was before the buffoon got Brexit done™, obviously). The mildly funny thing is that HMG and their algos could not decide whether I was a bloody European living in the UK, whom they should grudgingly urge to apply for settled status, or a brave expat about to get stuck with the huns.

Once the UK left for good and the pandemic kicked in, the podcast ads subsided. But then, over the last six months or so, the algorithms came up with a new image of me. They were now sure that I was a Brit trapped on the continent and began sending promoted content to my twitter feed. Stuff like this video (sorry, I only got a still)

I tricked the algo, and now I need a new hip 3
That guy is living the dream

Going by its content, it would seem that I’m a senior British person hellbent on getting the Krankenkasse to sponsor his hip replacement. Compared to this work of art, the following post was utterly generic and so boring that I did not click a single time.

I tricked the algo, and now I need a new hip 4

I liked hip man much better, and he kept reappearing in my feed, first only on twitter, then also on Facebook. But the novelty wore off, and I stopped clicking. And so, after a hiatus, the powers that be modified their model of me and decided that I was more interested in driving than in walking and needed to get my licence exchanged.

I tricked the algo, and now I need a new hip 5
I’m slightly younger now

Being already in possession of a German driving licence, I did not react. Which is why the machines that watch over us changed tack again. Today, my alter ego became younger, female, and moved to somewhat edgier surroundings.

I tricked the algo, and now I need a new hip 6
So this one appeared in my Facebook feed

And the volume went up. A few minutes later, the same add popped up again on a different device

I tricked the algo, and now I need a new hip 7

It is kind of heartwarming that the same government that is turning the UK into a hostile environment for my fellow Europeans is caring so much about my wellbeing over here. Also, they keep watching me, and advertising on social is dirt cheap. That’s why I’m already looking forward to what will come next.

Mar 202021
 
Oh joy, oh fun: looks like the AfD is going to kick off the national campaign with another leadership battle. Will probably come to naught, but might be entertaining nonetheless
Mar 042021
 

What just happened

Yesterday, it was leaked that Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (the domestic intelligence agency) “suspects” the AfD might be a right-wing extremist organisation that aims to undermine democracy in Germany . Forming this suspicion is an internal process (the agency is under a gagging order and has not commented on the reports) has technical-legally consequences: the office may now infiltrate the AfD, or tap their computers and telephones.

So, a German government agency may be infiltrating a largish opposition party. You may have questions that would warrant a lengthy blog post. But there are many other things to do. The easy way out is to copy and paste some of the questions I was asked yesterday by journalists along with the answers I gave them.

Almost an interview

How do you describe the Alternative for Germany party? How many factions exist inside the party?

Two main camps exist within the party: one group is very much akin to other European radical right-win populist parties. They are staunchly anti-immigrant and have a narrow, illiberal concept of democracy. The other, even more radical camp maintains ties to extremist (i.e. openly anti-democractic) actors and organisations and used to operate under the name of the “wing”. There used to be a third group that was economically liberal and softly eurosceptic, but most of them have left the party over the last years.

Why did the security services decide to put the entire AfD under surveillance at this moment and not before? There has been a radicalisation in AfD in the last months?

There was a de facto split of the party back in 2015, when about ten per cent of the more moderate members left the AfD. Subsequently, the party became more and more radical. The security services began to investigate sub-organisations (its youth organisation and the “wing”) in 2019. They made it clear that they might eventually put the whole party under surveillance as a result of their findings.

This is a year of federal and state elections. Can the decision be seen as politically motivated?

The services are in an unenviable position. On the one hand, the closer we get to the election in September, the greater the danger that this move is seen as political interference. On the other hand, they have to make absolutely sure that they have enough preliminary evidence to put the AfD under surveillance, because the party will fight this decision in the courts.

How do you assess this decision?Placing the entire party under surveillance is a sensitive decision. Do you think it is justified and what effect it might have on politics in Germany?

The decision is momentous: the Office can now (but are not required to) employ a whole range of clandestine measures to collect further information on right-wing extremists within the AfD. In my view, this is, however, justified. Journalists and scientists have uncovered a whole host of links between the AfD and openly extremist actors. The authorities would be derelict in their duties if they did not take a closer look. Moreover, this enhanced surveillance is subject to judicial review, and the AfD has already announced that they would go to court. It is also important to note that treating the party as “suspicious” is an important but intermediate step: the Office will review the information that it garners and may or may not officially classify the party as extremist in their annual reports.

What political consequences can surveillance have for the party?

Putting the AfD under surveillance may induce some members (especially those employed in the public sector, i.e. teachers and members of the police) to leave the party.

Issues of privacy and political freedom aside, knowing that the party as a whole is of interest to the secret service will further stigmatise the AfD in the eyes of large segments of the public. Whether this has political consequences is a matter of debate, because a vast majority (about 80 per cent, according to a Politbarometer poll from November 2019) is already convinced that the AfD is an extremist party that they would never vote for. It is important to note that the AfD has lost some electoral support since 2016 (see the graph below). This is partly as a consequence of increasing awareness of their radicalisation.

Graph showing electoral support for the AfD by region (east vs west) and level
Source: official results; Politbarometer & Deutschlandtrend polls

Source: official results; Politbarometer & Deutschlandtrend polls. This graph is taken from a working paper on the electoral breakthrough of the AfD and the east-west cleavage in German politics

This decision could lead to a legal disbanding of the party?

Even if the party would be classified as extremist eventually, this would not necessarily lead to a ban. German parties enjoy a very high degree of legal protection and can only be banned by a super majority in the supreme court. Even the NPD, a much clearer case of a right-wing extremist party, survived two attempts to ban them.

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Jan 242021
 
Ein moralisches Komplettversagen – Über die Rezeption von Leni Riefenstahl by von Christina Dongowski (54books.de)

von Christina Dongowski
 
In den deutschsprachigen Feuilletons wird alle paar Jahre neu verhandelt, wie inakzeptabel es ist, sich mehr oder weniger affirmativ zu Nazi-Ästhetik, ihren Vertreter:innen und ihrem xten Aufguss zu verhalten. 2020 waren es die Juden-Witzchen von Lisa Eckart, ein im Retro…