Oct 032020

There is this journalist in Slovakia who occasionally sends me questions about the Radical Right and or Germany. It’s one of these wonderful relationships that the internet makes possible: we have never met in person, never even spoken on the phone, but for years we have been swapping messages and ideas.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of German unification, he sent me these two. No idea if they ever made it into an article, but I’m currently cleaning out my mailbox and thought I might repost our exchange here.

After 30 years, what is the most positive aspect of Germany reunification, and why, and what really didn’t go that well, and why?

In my view, the most positive aspect is that Germany managed to integrate the population of the former GDR without large-scale social upheaval. Exactly a decade ago, I had the opportunity to talk to an official from the South Korean Ministry for Re-Unification. They were very worried that in the (very unlikely) event of Korean re-unification, unhappy northern soldiers could form a guerilla. While the mode and the outcomes of unification are rightfully controversial in Germany, insurgency was never a concern.

On the other hand, unification was organised as the accession of the GDR to Western Germany. Western Germany stayed very much as it was. Eastern institutions that worked well (most prominently universal state-run child care and public transport) were scaled back massively. Unification tied up so many political and social resources that unified Germany was neither willing nor able to address the shortcomings of the old republic.

From your perspective, what is the most important challenge (except COVID-19) Germany has to face in the foreseeable future?

Germany has managed the integration of the eastern population reasonably well, but it has fallen other West European nations when it comes to integrating the so-called second and third generation of immigrants, let alone those who have arrived more recently. Germany is also trailing many of its neighbours in terms of gender equality. So in my view, 30 years after unification, building a more modern, inclusive and equitable society should be our priority.

Jan 132013

Every now and then, I spend a merry evening pulling half-forgotten manuscripts/preprints into this not-so-new website. So here is tonight’s potpourri:


Jan 032013

The NPD is Germany’s oldest surviving Extreme Right party. It has been around for about five decades. After merging with its long-time rival German People’s Union (DVU, the ruling mentioned in the post was finally squashed), it is also a serious contender for the coveted title of Germany’s daftest party (see exhibit number one). While it has been electorally successful occasionally, for most of its history it has been confined to the lunatic fringe. While parties such as the Front National, the Freedom Parties in Scandinavia or the Austrian FPÖ have thrived, the NPD has, apart from a brief period in the late 1960s, always been at the very margins of German politics.

This is not to say that the NPD is not a dangerous, racist and outright nasty party. Therefore, the idea of banning the NPD has surfaced time and again, becoming its own Doppelgänger after the 2001-2003 disaster. Upon granting the matter due consideration, I think the plan is largely bonkers. If this kind of concise verdict does not impress you much, you can read my full analysis of the proposed NPD ban at the extremis project, the go-to site for all thing, well, extreme.

Jun 042012

German politics never fails to amaze: After the Left parties successful attempt to condemn itself to irrelevance without actually splitting the party, the ball is back in the ruling coalition’s court. Today was the day of the ‘coalition summit’, i.e. a formal meeting of the respective leaders of the three parties in the chancellery. The main purpose of these summits is not normally to have a frank exchange of ideas, or to draw up grand designs – it’s a bit late for that in the electoral cycle anyway. Rather, they are shows of unity and determination. As such, they would normally end with a joint press conference or some other public display of sympathy and dynamism. Today, the three leaders left the chancellery in their limousines, denying us any comments, which of course looks like a statement in its own right.

Apparently, however, they have agreed on two things: After months of quarrelling, the coalition will initiate legislation on the ‘Betreuungsgeld’, a pet project of the Bavarian CSU. Over the last years, the government has invested heavily (by West German standards) in the development of state-run and state-sponsored day nurseries, and will have to invest a lot more to meet its targets. This is not exactly a Christian-conservative priority, and so the CSU wants an extra subsidy for parents who do not use these subsidised facilities. Large parts of the CDU are lukewarm at best, and the FDP says it’s nonsensical, but they will go ahead with it nonetheless because they accepted the idea in principle in the 2009 coalition talks. As a reward for them, the government will also initiate legislation on an FDP project: a subsidy/tax credit for private long-term care insurance contracts that complement the state-run long-term care insurance program. Experts disagree how much extra money will be needed for care, and it seems a little roundabout and not very liberal to tax people so that the government can then hand that money back in the form of subsidies to private companies that provide a service which the state cannot provide, but I trust that some people in the industry are very happy tonight. And yes, this is the very same government that insists on austerity and balanced budgets.

Back in 1951, Lasswell and Lerner defined policy as ‘a systematic attempt to shape the future’. But that was before the discipline invented symbolic politics, and I’m sure the coalition summit is exactly what they had in mind.

German Coalition Summit: How not to kill any birds with a considerable number of stones 1