Sep 212019
 

The ‘Institut für Staatspolitik’ is a well-known far-right ‘think tank’. Their self-stated meta-political mission is to educate the future nationalist. The long-term objective is to achieve a stealthy transformation of German society. They have been around for a while, and there are books and chapters about them, written by people who study right-wing extremism for a living.

Their head honcho is one Götz Kubitschek, a prominent right-wing publisher who is well connected within the more intellectual sector of the larger right-wing extremist movement. He is an associate of Björn Höcke, who in turn leads the right-most faction within the AfD.

Höcke says that he comes to the Institute to dose up on ‘intellectual sustenance’ (yes, that’s how he rolls). It was at the Institute that Höcke gave a speech in which he claimed that Africans were, quite literally, ‘a different breed’ – one of many statements that, amazingly, did not end his political career.

Alice Weidel is the co-leader of the AfD group in the Bundestag. Weidel used to be one of those legendary ‘economic liberals’. Most of whom left the party in 2015. In this role, she wanted Höcke expelled from the AfD for his outrageous statements as late as 2017.

Now Weidel followed the example of her co-leader Gauland by speaking at the Institute‘s ‘academy’ for future leaders. Rumour has it that Kubitschek brokered an agreement between Höcke and Weidel. In a video that is making the rounds she tells Kubitschek that ‘it feels great’ to be there. Once more, move on: nothing to see here.

Sep 012019
 
Regional support (district level) for the AfD in the EP 2019 election

Today’s elections in Brandenburg & Saxony are sending a new set of shock waves through German politics. Here are some quick thoughts.

  1. The AfD polled about 28 per cent in Saxony, their best result yet. Saxony is truly the AfD’s heartland.
  2. The AfD did also well in Brandenburg. In both states, they are led and dominated by members of the “Flügel”, the most radical faction within an increasingly radical party. When the eastern states voted five years ago, it was not even clear that they were radical populists. Now, the links to right-wing extremist organisations and policies are becoming clearer and clearer
  3. Recall-question based models of voter flows are the work of the devil. But the estimates published by the big pollsters suggest that like in 2016, the AfD managed to mobilise a very large number of former no-voters ans hence benefitted from the massive increase in turnout. So that’s democracy at work, I guess.
  4. Even in their heartland, the AfD topped out below 30 per cent. I have zero hard evidence / strong theory for that, empirically, that seems to be about the maximum that these parties can achieve in Western Europe.
  5. Accordingly, they should not get more than a quarter of the total attention. So here is the other, totally underreported story of this election: for the Greens, the German East used to be a wasteland. But now they are in double digit territory and might well end up in government in both states.
  6. The SPD, on the other hand, made it barely beyond the threshold in Saxony. For once, I’m lost for words.
  7. The Left, formerly the eastern party, has also lost big in both states. And yet, if one counts the left parties as a bloc, there seems to be a left majority in Brandenburg that may form a coalition.
  8. In terms of electoral behaviour, the overall story is one of fragmentation and volatility. And for once, the East is the avant-garde: this is where Germany as a whole is headed.
  9. And yet in both states, the parties that have dominated them for the last three decades, the SPD in Brandenburg and the CDU in Saxony, came out top. Their support is much reduced and this might be their respective last hurrah, but still.
May 262019
 
Results of the EP 2019 in Germany (exit polls as of 7pm)

Results of the EP 2019 in Germany (exit polls as of 7pm)

It will take some time to get nearly-final results for Germany, let alone for the EU, but the picture emerging from the exit polls in Germany is reasonably clear. So, in time honoured tradition, here are my hot takes:

  1. News of a far-right takeover were exaggerated, to say the least. The only relevant Eurosceptic party, the radical right AfD, performed a the lower band of expectations. While their vote share increased by three percentage points compared to 2014, they remained two points below their result in the 2017 Bundestag election. Given the EP elections are supposed to be second-order contests in which Eurosceptics in general and righ-wingers in particular vent their anger, this is really a bit embarrassing. Journalists will pin it on Ibiza-Gate, but the declining salience of migration, their string of funding scandals and last not least the AfD’s veering to the right that puts off more moderate voters are better explanations.
  2. Left-libertarian, pro-European views can be a vote winner. The Greens, who dared to propose “more Europe” and who put two prominent sitting MEPs on top of their list that, for want of a better word, could be described as “critical left”, doubled their vote share, winning as many votes as the two more traditional parties on the left combined.
  3. Multi-partyism is doing well in Germany. The party system may look more fragmented than it would in a federal contest because there is no threshold in place, but the drop is massive: in 2009, the two historically big parties CDU/CSU and SPD had a combined vote share of nearly 59 per cent. In 2014, this number was even higher at 63 per cent. Now we are looking at something in the range of 44 per cent. There also seems to be a massive increase in votes for “other” parties, but I have no details on this yet.
  4. It sucks to be a Social Democrat. The Christian Democrats are not doing terribly well, but they managed to remain the strongest parties by quite a margin. The SPD on the other hand have dropped well below a result of 20 per cent that was rightfully seen as disappointing in 2009 (in 2014, they clearly benefited from Martin Schulz being the leading candidate for the S+D). I know I keep banging on about this, but the result neatly illustrates the argument that Kitschelt made 25 years ago: Social Democrats are fighting a losing battle against New Left parties on the one hand and New Right parties on the other. At least in the German case, they are also competing with the Christian Democrats. It will be interesting to see to what degree this pattern applies to other countries, too.
May 262019
 

Germany – no EP electoral threshold for the last time

There are currently 111 ‘political associations’ registered with Germany’s federal electoral commission. 41 of them (counting the CDU and the CSU separately) are fielding candidates in the upcoming European elections.Why are they doing it? Narcissism aside, this is a national election that is held without an explicit electoral threshold (this is going to change), so even fringe parties have a real chance of winning a seat. Plus (and this is a big plus), if they manage to win at least 0.5 per cent of the vote, they qualify for Germany’s very generous system of public party funding.An even bigger plus is that regular participation in elections turns a mere ‘association’ into a proper party that enjoys a special privilege: it can only be banned by a super-majority in the Constitutional Court.This latter point is particularly relevant for parties at the the far-right of the far-right end of the political spectrum.

Who is more right-wing than the AfD?

There are several parties to the right of the AfD. The most prominent of these parties is the NPD. The Constitutional Court has ruled that their ideology closely resembles that of the original Nazi party but still refused to ban them, essentially because they are electoral irrelevant (they still managed to win a seat in the EP in 2014). In 2014, they garnered 301.139 votes (1%), which was enough to secure them a seat – currently their last one outside of local councils. Their lone MEP is former party leader Udo Voigt, a convicted Holocaust denier and Nazi apologist. I’m not in favour of using terms like “neo-fascist” with abandon. It’s misleading and hence bad science. But the NPD is literally a neo-Nazi party.

And then there is “Der Dritte Weg” (“The Third Way” – sorry, Anthony Giddens) – a party for people who think that the NPD is too modern and wimpish. Many of its ~500 members used to belong to militias that could be dissolved much more easily by the authorities than an organisation recognised as a party. They are a bunch of hyper-traditional right-wing street-fighters.

In terms of electoral support, the Third Way is less than irrelevant. They don’t even exist as a party in the northern states. In the most recent state election down here, they scored a cool 0.1 per cent, and I don’t think they have any candidates in this year’s local elections. But they have managed to draw up a list for the EP 2019. And, more specifically, they managed to put up a number of posters around our commuter rail station.

Right-wing extremist campaign posters from hell

These posters make it wonderfully clear what the Third Way is all about, and so I’ll cap off this year’s election posters from hell series with them. They are truly hellish, but in a different way. Here is the first one:

third way EP 2019 campaign poster - defend Europe's borders

Defend Europe’s borders. That’s a bit boring really

“Defend Europe – close the borders”. This one is a bit of disappointment. First, why defend “Europe”? Sure, there is the blackboard-style font which dropped out of favour in adverts ca 1955, urging as to “vote German”. There are also the oak leaves around the Roman numeral, but they are still in use by German authorities today. The silver-black thingy could be the muzzle of a gun or a surveillance camera or perhaps a modern take on the Volksempfänger radio. But all in all, the message is a bit too 21st century. So let’s move on.

third way EP 2019 campaign poster -national and socialist

What do you get when you add one part nationalism, one part socialism, and one part revolution?

This next first exhibit is much more exciting. We learn that the Third Way is both ‘national’ and ‘socialist’. So national-socialist. It does not get any clearer. And they are also ‘revolutionaries’ – all super obvious references to ‘leftist’ wing of the Nazi movement. Extra points for the hammer/sword combination, which represents the unity of workers and soldiers. It was used, inter alia, by left-leaning Nazis and the Hitler Jugend. Then, in the 1990s, it was adopted by the autonomous neo-Nazi groups (“freie Kameradschaften”) from which the Third Way emerged. Unlike other extreme right symbols, its use is also legal in Germany.

Next is this one:

third way EP 2019 campaign poster - multiculturalism kills

Multi-culturalism makes for really bad design choices

So: multi-culturalism kills. How exactly? Presumably by diluting the pure blood of the in-group. Because apparently, it also leaves bloody hand-prints on freshly painted walls. A very similar poster by the NPD (“immigration kills”) was banned by the authorities for inciting hatred. Presumably, the Third Way got away (hah!) because they were overlooked.

Speaking of reasons for banning, there is this one:

third way EP 2019 campaign poster - prison cell reserved for

“Traitors of the people” – heard that one before?

A picture of a prison cell that it reserved for “traitors of the people” – yet another term that was used by he Nazis to justify violence and murder. I was mildly shocked that they stopped at the German version of “lock her up” and refrained from depicting a gallows.

If you are equally shocked and also confused to who exactly the traitors might be, in a bid to clarify the situation they present a handy list of traitors that need to be stopped:

third way EP 2019 campaign poster - stop the traitors of the people

Who is the enemy? Here is some clarification

The dots refer to the colours usually associated with German parties. And so the CDU/CSU are traitors b/c “asylum flood”, the SPD introduced the “Hartz IV” flexicurity legislation, the Greens are behind “gender madness”, and the Liberals want to unleash capitalism. So they want to put almost anybody in prison. Somewhat surprisingly, the Left and the AfD were not given any attention, perhaps because the colour-in thing became too confusing?

Two questions remain. First, how are these guys legal? The short answer is that banning a party is complicated and risky, and so for the time being, they are kept under observation and members will be prosecuted individually for stuff like breaking the peace. Second, where are your youthful neighbourhood anti-fascists when you need them? I have no answer to that.

May 202019
 

Our local party system may have collapsed, giving way too much room to the officers & gentlemen / wannabe parish priests. But just when I thought I had seen the worst, the regional CDU got it in their head to prove that even with the benefit of professionally designed templates and logos, things can go horribly, horribly wrong. Don your protective gear and have a cautious look at these spectacularly bad campaign posters:

May 152019
 

Local democracy is a good thing. It is also one of the good things that you can have too much of. After almost sixty years of territorial reforms, Rhineland-Palatinate, a state that harbours about 5% of Germany’s total population, is still home to about 2,500 of the nation’s ~11,000 municipalities.

There may be an EP election on May 26, but the real fight is over the various local offices that are up for grabs. We will not just choose the village mayor but also 24 members of the village council, 44 members of the town council, and 50 members of the district council, all by open-list PR. As a matter of course, there is also a directly elected town mayor and a directly elected head of the district, but they have longer terms (I think).

Think this is bonkers? You are right. And it gets better: while the mainstream parties (and some of the more fringe ones) dominate candidate recruitment in the cities, here in the suburbs we get unaffiliated lists.

Last week, yours truly reported on the retired general who stepped in as a caretaker mayor and now runs as an independent, because he wants to continue as our village mayor. His opponent is the local CDU’s ex-honcho who was also the former mayor’s (now disgraced) deputy. In the heated local political climate, that would have been the end of his career. And so he set up his own list.

Unaffiliated lists don’t benefit from professional templates for campaign material that party lists can rely on (although this can go horribly wrong, too). Also, all the good colours associated with politics are already taken.

And so our hero opted for local design talent and purple, the colour beloved by feminists, the artist formerly known as Prince, and (protestant) priests. The result is this.

On the left, behold the man blessing the vineyard, with a little help from his purple tie. In the middle, see his acolytes. The lady at the very centre of the composition is his loving wife, who believes so hard in his mission that she has donned a matching purple blouse. The merry folks are posing on a flight of stairs that leads down to the local protestant church. I rest my case.

Disclaimer

I have added the rays and the slogan. Everything else is (sadly) real.

May 062019
 

It’s that time again: EP and local elections are in conjunction, and politicians are wasting public space and money on election posters from hell.

In national campaigns, election posters are a remarkably inefficient way to burn through campaign funds. Their main function is to remind voters that their party still exist. Apart from that, they are unlikely to have relevant effects. And yet, parties spend time, money, and effort putting them up.

Why do parties use posters?

I think it is ritualistic. No-one dares to fight a campaign without them, lest they appear weak in the public space. They also provide a useful rallying point for the troops, like banners in a battle. Or so the story goes.

Many years ago, I was invited to the Netherlands to observe the campaign. One thing that struck me was that posters were of a modest size and confined to specific billboards where all the parties (and boy do the Dutch have a great number of parties) put them in neat rows so that the populace could ignore them collectively in a more focused manner.

In Germany, parties can either rent space on the large commercial billboards, or they may use public lampposts and signposts for smaller posters. For the latter, there is some regulation in place, but it must be pretty light-touch. More importantly, it is confined to the size of the posters and public safety. Unfortunately, matters of taste and intelligence go completely unregulated.

Election posters: local talent

Which brings us back to local politics. Here, election posters may serve a useful function. In most states, local elections are fought on some hideously complex and flexible variant of open-list PR. Especially in smaller municipalities, local lists that are unaffiliated with national parties and even independent candidates can be relevant actors.

Therefore, flyers and posters are still de rigeur, even if local politicians have recently discovered the internet and social media. Campaigns are personalised and literally run by amateurs. And more often than not, it shows.

Five years ago, there were some pretty horrible examples. The FDP’s “let’s illustrate random idioms” campaign provided a few of my all-time favourites. But this year’s crop is not bad either.

The general who would be mayor

The general who would be mayor

Local elections are the little league of politics

Exhibit A shows one of the two men who want to be village mayor. In 2018, their predecessor left under a massive cloud of (so far unproven) allegations, and both the local SPD and CDU, who had formed a coalition in the village council, basically collapsed. Into that void stepped Walter Jertz, a retired general, who stood uncontested as an independent and took over as a caretaker for the rest of the term.

The idea of a general in political office is generally scary. The idea of a general, whose last command before retirement was over some 30,000 soldiers in the Luftwaffe, becoming village mayor is odd. But Jertz seems to like the job. And so, at the tender age of 74, he is standing for a full term.

At one point in his career, he was spokesperson for the NATO forces in the Kosovo war. He has also written a book on military propaganda, published various articles on PR for the forces, and edited a handbook on security communication. So one must really wonder what has gotten into him lately.

This is awkward on many levels

First, there is the awkward “Jertz”/Herz rhyme: the name apparently qualifies the man to be a mayor with a heart. While this is reassuring from a Buffy-centric point of view (we most certainly don’t want a demon/vampire running the show), it is also straight from the advert-for-the-local-butcher-with-no-budget playbook.

Second, there is the “Pro-Oppenheim” pledge. In Germany, for the last twenty years or so, the “Pro-” suffix has been used exclusively by right-wing extremist parties and groups. PRO DM, Pro-Germany, Pro-Cologne, Pro-Chemnitz – you name it. It probably takes a somewhat nerdy complexion to spot this, so I assume this was not intentional but just unfortunate. Very much so.

And third, don’t use a cut-out. It is certainly eye-catching, yet for all the wrong reasons. This is not the 1980s. You are not Donald Trump. But if you think you absolutely have to, in this populist time and age, don’t ever hang a cut-out of a politician from a lamppost or tree, even if it is your own likeness. It looks bad enough as it is. And with a single determined twist, the friendly neighbourhood vandal can and will turn you into Mussolini. So: Please. Just. Don’t.