Berlin Bulletin No. 137
It didn’t affect many people directly, but even small victories are welcome these days. Germany’s Constitutional Court just ruled that no-one should be forced to declare themselves officially male or female. It thus created a third open category anyone can opt for (or be opted by parents when still a child). I think everyone can approve this step toward getting along together in the world and join in quiet applause. The Bundestag was given a year to conform to the decision with new laws, reprinting questionnaires and probably some signs. So far as I know no party questioned the decision; perhaps the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is still too busy with other ativities.
But gender choice remains a difficult matter for poor souls like me when learning German, which has had three genders for centuries. Every single noun at birth is assigned one of them, with little logic and no elasticity; “die Strasse” (street) is feminine, “das Haus” (house) is neuter and “der Stuhl” (chair) is masculine. Who knows why? A language teacher told me of her pupil, a Turkish woman, who objected to such rulings. Looking under a chair she said: “I don’t see anything masculine about it!” But these rules, I fear, will remain eternally sharp, troublesome and immutable!
The negotiations on forming a new German government are also troublesome. The elections were on September 24th¸ but there is little hope for a new government much before Christmas. Preliminary discussions are due to end this Thursday – with at least a definite Yes or a No.
All four parties involved have been coy thus far, like a child picking daisy petals: ”She loves me, she loves me not”, though not so gently, with angry words and threatened breakdowns. But the outcome was clear from the outset. The junior coalition partner till now, the Social Democrats (SPD), had molted so many election feathers it resembled a plucked pigeon and stated loudly: “NO! We’re quitting that suicidal team!” Since everyone feared another long election process, which could end even worse than the last one, one path was left for reaching the necessary 355-seat majority in the 709-seat Bundestag. Simple arithmetic and a bit of geography ensured it: only the “Jamaica variant” was possible. The name had nothing to do with rum or anything else Jamaican except the colors of its flag, black, yellow and green, each a German party symbol. So, like it or not, the four, never good friends, must somehow join arms, hopefully without any concealed daggers.
Merkel’s CDU had done very badly in the elections. The humanitarian halo she wore when she invited all refugees to come to Germany cost her many right wing voters and hopes for a full majority of seats with no partners necessary. But her homey, well-spoken, unemotional but convincing manner of speaking, avoiding all sharp edges, and a fairly steady economy for the majority, kept her at least in the strongest position.
Merkel’s one-state Bavarian partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU) also had miserable results, though it steered even further right than usual to keep its traditional voters from two-timing it with the more rabidly anti-foreigner AfD. In vain! The big loss turned the amused, slightly superior smile of its eighth-year, iron-handed boss Horst Seehofer into a worried frown as foes in his own ranks got busy whetting their knives, while wearing a very different kind of smile. He is trying to beat the challenge by turning even more to the right – also in the Jamaica negotiations. And despite their losses, the CDU and CSU (together as usual) have a strong hand, with 246 seats of the total 709.
As for the Free Democrats, glad to get back into the Bundestag (with 80 seats) after four years of enforced absence, they represent the secular Right and can be more open about big business ties than the CDU, which tries to please a far wider range of voters. Basically, the FDP wants lower taxes and fewer regulations for the wealthy and less stress on environment or social improvements. It is easy for it and the CDU-CSU to get along.
It and the CDU had “wings” which called, though thinly, for abjuring sanctions and military intervention and, with Russia, resorting instead to diplomacy. It is believed that these views reflected economic sectors interested in selling everything from cars and machinery to fruit and vegetables in the giant Russian market, but included some who honestly feared possible results of confrontation and ever more bases, sanctions and large-scale military maneuvers along Russia borders. Occasionally such tendencies were discernible among Social Democrats, too, who will soon be giving up their cabinet posts and retiring to the opposition benches, next to and competing with the LINKE. .
What about the Greens? In a Jamaica trio their voice will be weakest, backed by only 67 delegate seats, but they will indeed have a government voice with at least two cabinet seats.
Because of the overweight of the others they have been forced into one “compromise” after another. Their main environmental demands have either long been accepted by Merkel (if painless) or – like the closing down of all coal plants and barring all gasoline or diesel cars by a distant 2030 – are being laughed off and buried as impossible. They have little else of importance.
But alas, for years they have outdone all others in heating up world hot spots. With their leader, Foreign Minister at the time, they loudly supported the war against Serbia. They scolded angrily when Germany stayed out of the war against Libya, and they constantly tried to add logs to existing fires in the Ukraine and Syria, always shouting the loudest for more confrontation against Russia.
New plans were made in Brussels on Monday by most European Union members for building up a powerful new military force, not opposed to NATO, of course, but separate and additional. The obvious leader and heavyweight will be Germany, which is using changing statements by President Trump, not to break with the USA, an all too total reversal of policy, but to justify building a European Defense Union, militarily coordinated among EU members and high-powered enough to “defend” Europe anywhere from Mali to Melanesia.
The AfD, though still largely ostracized and not (yet) possible for any coalition, does now have 92 Bundestag members, loud, pugnacious, and extremely nationalist, many with romantic attachments to the “good old days” in Germany – and everyone knows what that means! Since they also favor the military build-up, this would make calls for tougher sanctions, more and “better” weapons and more German fist-waving almost unanimous, except for all 69 delegates of the LINKE party (plus a few mavericks). Sadly, a few LINKE occasionally seemed to waver; but thus far never in the Bundestag!
While Jamaica is debated, AfD supporters have not been idle. There are more than 7700 so-called “stumble-stones” in Berlin (and now over 60,000 in 22 European countries); little square bronze markers in the pavement showing where Jews and anti-fascists once lived before being seized and deported to their deaths. They contain the names, years of birth and, when known, place and date of death, and all are made by one single man. An amazing project! Last week, in a corner of West Berlin known for its Nazi underground, sixteen stones were torn out of the sidewalks. They will soon be replaced, and protests are planned, but this showed all too clearly, that threats of militarization, expansion and fascist ideas have not eased, neither inside sheltered government buildings nor outside in the streets – and at the big weapons factories. As the Spanish say: La lucha continua!