Despite all differences, there are echoes and parallels between Germany and the USA
The American nightmare, tight-lipped and pouting, was finally forced to gallop off to its luxurious stable in Florida. Almost every European joined in "Hurrah!" cheers as it watched him go! In Germany, national elections in September 2021 will also be featuring the departure, in this case after sixteen years, of a very different kind of leader, Angela Merkel. The results are still nine months away, but we all know how much can develop in just nine months!
And despite all the differences, there are echoes and parallels between Germany and the USA. But this year will be marked not only by a national election on September 26; there will be six state elections as well — and also in Berlin on that same date. All the parties are jockeying for voters and the SPD, whose present leader, the city-state's mayor, wants to move upward into national politics, is worried about the party's low poll ratings. The current interior minister (here called "senator") is SPD man Andreas Geisel and is thus in charge of the police.
With hopes to win votes from some folks, those lovers of "law and order", a show of violence is always seen as appropriate, and not only in the USA! Last October Geisel sent in over 2,000 cops, also with visors, shin guards, and even an armoured military vehicle, to forcefully remove a few dozen women from a building they'd lived in for years in an "anarcha-queer-feminist" commune. The victorious police were called in at the behest of shady foreign owner-speculators who prefer wealthier customers. And to win votes.
And yet for years Geisel's diligent cops were somehow unable to find a bunch of pro-nazis who posted names and addresses of antifascists on the internet, smeared the walls of their homes, stuffed their mailboxes with threats, and set fire to their cars.
The LINKE, also hoping to win more votes in September, is taking a very different path, far more militant than in past decades (but totally non-violent). Two years ago, with the Greens, and the SPD as a reluctant partner, it pushed through a city law prohibiting all rent increases for five years and even reversing recent increases exceeding a certain level. Costs for improvements — real or exaggerated — were also tightened, and new renters could not be charged more than their predecessors. The real estate sharks were enraged — and are biting at the law in the highest courts.
Even before that final decision, the LINKE, with weak support from the Greens and resistance from the SPD (and from three right-wing parties not in the governing coalition) is pushing for an even more radical goal. A petition, after 77,000 signatures were obtained, must now master a far higher hurdle in order to qualify as a "referendum." Within a time frame of only four summer months — and despite any remaining corona restrictions —1,70,000 Berliners must have signed the petition papers — 7 per cent of all voters. If this tough task is accomplished the proposal will get on the ballot in September, along with the election — and will still require a majority of voters.
To add insult to injury for rightwingers and racists, the LINKE in Berlin has now proposed a law requiring all public services, from kindergarten teacher to garbage collector and court staff to meet a quota of 35 per cent employees with a first or second-generation immigrant background. This corresponds with the city population but not with hiring — now with only about 12 per cent of immigrant background, based on colour, religion, and name. This will certainly lead to a very hot fight — but again a good one!
The fight is also sure to be at least as hot on the national level. And complicated! Since Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer surprisingly decided to step down as head of the Christian Democrats (CDU), a thousand and one (1001) delegates, voting on-line from their homes, handed the homophobic, Muslim phobic, far-right Friedrich Merz, former German boss of BlackRock, his second defeat in two years. The winner, after a speech that was less about future plans than about his father, a miner, was Armin Laschet, now minister-president in the key state of North-Rhine-Westphalia. He seems (in only some ways) similar to departing chancellor Angela Merkel, sticking to softer tones while letting cabinet ministers be responsible for the dirty work. But he may not get chosen to fill Angela's boots as ruling chancellor; more likely is the head of the Bavarian joint sister party Markus Söder, a man with a truly Mephistophelean smile and changing policy hues, perhaps recalling a chameleon — but without even one big eye glancing leftwards.
And there are other obstacles than arithmetical ones. First of all, the Greens could choose to discard their last leftish remnants and team up with the CDU, as they already have in several states.
And more seriously, the LINKE has thus far upheld its rejection of sending troops to battlefields or missions outside Germany. Boots on the ground are followed by camouflage uniforms and, before long, to "protect" them, drones, panzers, and bombers. Will the LINKE maintain this party principle despite its total rejection by the potential partners, the SPD and Greens?
Last week an important LINKE leader in the Bundestag proposed a switch; Germany should again play a part in "world security" matters, the LINKE must be more realistic, even spending more money on armaments — not as much as Trump demanded but more than ever before. The world has changed and so must Germany's role in it, he insisted. In other words, the LINKE party should break with its role as the one and only "Party of Peace" and join the others in an alliance which, stripped of artistic camouflage colouring, is aimed at Russia, erasing
all thoughts of the 27 million Russian war victims or the menace just one of those storage bombs represents for all of civilization and environment too.
This will be fought out by the LINKE at its often-postponed, ZOOMED congress. The outcome could be fateful, like similar questions facing Joe Biden; will Germany — or the USA — treat Russia and China as adversaries, to be out-armed, surrounded and regime-changed, waving weapons costing ever more billions, even trillions, despite full knowledge as to who will pocket the billions and whose pockets will thus be emptied? Or will instead — thanks to growing pressure from people everywhere — a path of rapprochement be chosen, of détente or, in plain English — of peace.?
Views expressed are personal