Flogging the foreigner issue
Will "foreigners" be a campaign issue in the upcoming German federal elections? Die Tageszeitung asked this question this week, as did the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Writing sarcastically, the Tageszeitung called Angela Merkel, leader of the Christian Democrats (CDU), the "megaphone of the masses," (17 October), citing her so-called solid logic: in a democracy the citizens should decide the issues; immigration is an issue; therefore, immigration and foreigners should be an issue of the elections.
But while Angela Merkel and some members of the CDU would not hesitate to put "foreigners" on the agenda, there are others who adamantly believe that this should not be the case. Volker Rühe, a top CDU party official and former defence minister, is but one voice of opposition, speaking out in favour of immigration and against making "foreigners" a campaign issue ("[Christian Democratic] Union Fights over Immigration Policy," 16 October Süddeutsche Zeitung). Thus, a touchy subject for Germany in general is already becoming an even touchier election issue, long before campaigning has even begun.
On 18 October, the Süddeutsche Zeitung followed up on this issue with a report of the warning of Rezzo Schlauch, the Greens' parliamentary leader, who warned against the turning of Germany to the right and said that "in the present situation, the conduct [of Angela Merkel] is extremely problematic." He went on to say that previously it had been the CDU's strategy to integrate the right, whereas now the right is associated with "groups like the NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany)"—that is, the radical right.
The Tagesspiegel also wrote about this issue on 18 October, quoting Friedrich Merz of the CDU, who said, "when the problem is solved, then there will be no need for it to be a campaign issue. And when it is not solved, then politicians should not have the audacity to declare what should and should not be discussed in a campaign."
And so gradually, the left-wing components of the German government (Social Democrats, Greens) have made immigration and foreigners into an issue of right-wing radicals. What better way to discredit the CDU than to make claims that it aligns itself with the radical right and brings up issues that essentially only the NPD, that is, neo-Nazis, care about?
What should there truly be to fear in discussing this issue? The Tagesspiegel answered this question by concluding its article with a list of the most recent racially motivated attacks in Germany. What is to be done? Germans have a problem regarding foreigners and immigration, and yet some claim this should not become the theme of any discussion or vote. Ostensibly, in the eyes of some, it is better to silently disregard both the problem itself and the worries of Germans who fear more immigration.
The former Communist party (PDS) held its party conference this past week in Cottbus. There is less concern in the German press about the fact that there are rumours of a union between the former Communists and the ruling Social Democrats (SPD). On 16 October, the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote about the overwhelming success of Gabi Zimmer, who was voted in at the conference as the new leader of the PDS. She did not rule out the possibility of a coalition with the SPD, "where it serves the needs of people."
On 16 October, the Tagesspiegel ran the headline "The PDS Strengthens [the Position of] Helmut Holter, the Politician Who Knows How to Handle the SPD." The incorporation of extremists into German politics, it would appear, should indeed be a concern; however, that concern applies across the political spectrum, as ex-Communists meet with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
It was the Tageszeitung in Berlin that ran a headline citing Sigmar Gabriel of the SPD: "When It Comes to Law and Order the PDS Is Actually Right-Wing Extremist" (19 October). At least one German politician is proving capable of moving outside of the typical partisan rhetoric, in which the PDS inevitably gets off easier than other extremist parties.
Addressing the past
Another issue in the German press this week was that of the compensation of forced workers from the Nazi era: should companies currently undergoing bankruptcy be forced to pay? Much to the continued embarrassment of German politicians, it is proving tremendously difficult to collect the required DEM five billion.
However, the Germans are not the only ones who should be embarrassed. A headline from 19 October in Die Welt reads: "Czech Republic Drags Its Feet on Addressing the Past." Czech historian František Hybl would like to erect a memorial to 265 Carpathian Germans, who were halted during a trainride after being expelled from their homes near the High Tatras, forced to strip down and hand over their valuables. They were then shot by soldiers returning from a victory parade in Prague.
Hybl, in his desire to commemorate and draw attention to this event, met with opposition from the Czech justice system, when a judge declared that "this issue had been cleared up already," and from Czechs at large, who have sent the historian anonymous threats. Hybl points out that "even among us, not only among the Germans, there was terror."
Czechs must, along with the Germans and other Central and East European states, address the untenable aspects of their own past.
Andrea Mrozek, 20 October 2000
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