Strategies against neo-Nazism
The interior ministers of the federal government and the Länder met in Berlin on Friday to discuss a common appeal to the federal Constitutional Court to abolish the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD). This move came after the decision of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to file an appeal on behalf of the Cabinet.
The lower chamber of Parliament, the Bundestag, has been called upon to support the move so that the Rechtsstaat would appear to be unified against the extremist danger. However, the co-operation of the Länder, represented in the Bundesrat, the upper house, is indispensable in ensuring the consistent implementation of an eventual prohibition of the NPD. In Germany, the police fall under the jurisdiction of Länder.
Authorities at both the federal and Länder level have been collecting material to prove the unconstitutional character of the NPD for months. Proof of the party's violation of the Constitution is the precondition for its prohibition.
Interestingly, the right-wing conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) government has been at the forefront of support for a hard-line approach throughout the process. This attitude is a consequence of the CSU's traditional role as the "stalwart on the right fringe" of German politics. In the words of its late leader, former Bavarian Minister President Franz-Josef Strauss, "no political force to the right of the CSU can be tolerated."
Due to the remaining hesitancy of several Länder governments, federal Interior Minister Otto Schily (Social Democrats) expects that a decision could be made "by the end of the year" at the earliest.
Immigration as a campaign issue?
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder announced this week that a law introducing organised immigration would be presented before the next federal election in the autumn of 2002. Thus, the issue would be removed from the political parties' agendas for the electoral campaign. Schröder was contradicted by parliamentary opposition leader Friedrich Merz (Christian Democratic Union, CDU), who insisted that immigration should be an issue of primary national concern.
He further said that it would be "arrogant" of the government to prevent the topic from being discussed. Merz said he did not "exclude immigration as a topic for the electoral campaign."
Reaction to this statement was immense. A whole battery of "socially relevant groups" (the official German term for important pressure groups) threw their weight behind Schröder, denying any legitimacy to the Christian Democrats' attitude.
The chairman of the Central Council of the Jews in Germany, Paul Spiegel, scolded Merz for spreading a variety of "elite-driven xenophobia," which would, in turn, encourage other less sophisticated manifestations of racial hatred. The chairman of the Council of Protestant Churches in Germany, Manfred Kock, spoke in the same vein, denouncing the idea of making immigration the subject of the habitual and primitive mud-slinging of pre-election campaigns.
This grand coalition of left-wing and liberal forces regards a liberal immigration policy as a fait accompli and is indeed unwilling to allow any substantial discussion of it. Such an attitude is clearly at odds with parliamentarian rules but not atypical for German Moraldebatten (moralistic debates), in which the opponent is vilified and any compromise on the matter is seen as "treason." On the other hand, this is not the first time that the Christian Democrats have tried to capitalise on the issue of immigration and xenophobia.
In early 1999, they won—rather surprisingly to most observers—the elections in the Land of Hessen. They won against a fairly successful Social Democratic and Green coalition government, exploiting the fears of a conservative public regarding the forthcoming reform of Germany's citizenship laws by the new Red-Green federal government.
For a year now, ever since the devastating news broke of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's illegal financial affairs, the Christian Democrats have been reeling from the blow. Since then, the new party leadership of federal chairwoman Angela Merkel and parliamentary leader Friedrich Merz has been waging a battle on two fronts—against backstabbing Kohlites, on the one hand, and a painfully popular SPD Chancellor, on the other.
Poland at Frankfurt Book Fair
The annual Frankfurt Book Fair, the biggest and most prestigious presentation of literature worldwide, opened its gates on Thursday 18 October and will last until Monday 23 October. This year, the special guest country is neighbouring Poland. According to some knowledgeable sources, Poland is managing to present its profile to the "Western" audience fairly well.
Polish literature, and Central and East European literature in general, has never had it easy on Western markets. A major reason is the difference in the outlook adopted in the wake of the 20th century. The neighbours to the East confuse many a Western reader with the depth and sincerity—and often poetic mood—with which they treat literary topics.
In Germany, the host of the Book Fair, the situation has always been slightly better, owing to the obvious reasons of proximity and a common, though not easy, history. In the post-war Federal Republic, Polish literature in particular was lucky to find an interpreter, in more than one sense, in Karl Dedecius, the Lodz-born bi-lingual founder and first director of the Deutsches Polen-Institut in Darmstadt. As a result of his work, Polish literature has been more widely translated and edited in Germany than any other "Eastern" literature in "Western" countries.
Jens Boysen, 20 October 2000
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