Berlin Bulletin No. 153
Before I turn to more Cassandra worries and warnings, here is some good news. After six years of protest, with people living in tree houses, an artist couple getting hauled away for painting the forest, and the death of a man who fell from a tree ladder, adding tragedy to developments, the multiplying crowds every Sunday finally took effect. A court injunction stopped the huge RWE energy concern from further cutting down the last 500 acres of the Hambacher Forest near Cologne to make way for its open pit lignite coal mines and ordered that the big tough police actions be ceased. It was no final decision but stops the huge excavators at least for many months. Well over 50,000 joyful “Save Our Forest” proponents gathered nearby to celebrate a true people’s victory!
Lignite coal pollutes and stinks. Aside from the arboreal environment, Germany – and many other countries from Sweden to Brazil – are facing a less palpable but far worse stink – the menace of a turn to the far right. Mob scenes in Chemnitz in late August, with violent attacks on Near East immigrants, a Jewish restaurant, journalists and anti-fascists, brought big headlines but were only part of a long-lasting development. For years, in countless towns and cities, rallies and concerts featuring Nazi symbols, salutes and songs have blasted their threats. Though often outnumbered by courageous anti-fascists, too often they were not just protected but pampered by police and authorities infected with the same bacilli but camouflaged by official insistence on the right to free speech.
Eye-catching in Chemnitz were not just Hitler salutes under the statue of Karl Marx but the friendly cooperation between leaders of nasty PEGIDA anti-Islam movement, local pro-fascist thugs and a representative of the racist Alternative for Germany party (AfD), which has 92 nattily-dressed legislators in the national Bundestag, currently places second in polls and is represented in almost every state legislature (soon in all 16), with hopes in 2019 of first place in Saxony (with Chemnitz).
The Chemnitz event had an unusual aftermath. Hans-Georg Maassen, president of the Office to Protect the Constitution (VS), like the FBI, denied the veracity of a video showing thugs chasing foreign-born men, and implicitly supported the mob. His obvious lie made him a laughing-stock, but less joyfully when people learned that he had colluded with and advised AfD leaders. Instead of throwing him out on his ear, however, the coalition parties fired him from his post by promoting him to a higher, better paid one! This was too much for most Social Democrats to swallow, and their leader, Andrea Nahles, was forced to re-negotiate a change. So Maassen was not promoted. Instead he got a new job with his main ally, Interior Minister Seehofer, though at his former (high) salary.
At first the racist AfD was treated as a pariah by government leaders. But the media gave its leaders kid glove treatment, offering every chance to sound wise and very social not just in the Bundestag but on many a talk show. Gradually, some right-wing CDU politicians are now sending up trial balloons. If we see no other alternatives, they suggest, maybe we should talk it over with the Alternative for Germany after all. Though timidly at first, such trends are gaining strength.
Angela Merkel, though a true-blue conservative, can hardly agree to that direction. But some in her CDU and its Bavarian sister party (CSU) are plotting against her, at first as party chairperson – to be decided in December at their congress. A close Merkel ally, the party’s caucus leader, was surprisingly defeated recently by a man who disparaged “moral arrogance against protest voters”, his term for anti-immigrant AfD racists. For the first time in recent memory, her status is threatened!
This palpable slide toward right-field will be put to a test on Sunday, October 14th, in the important state elections in Bavaria and in Hesse on October 28th. The national government parties in both, the “Christian” parties and the Social Democrats, are likely to suffer big losses, with the AfD winning seats in the last two remaining legislatures. Three-quarters of all Germans fear rightist radicals, yet Germany now faces a threat of possibly disturbing turmoil, all too reminiscent of the situation in the four years leading up to Adolf Hitler’s take-over – and the horrific war that followed, with genocidal death for millions of Russians, other Slavs, Roma people and Jews of all nationalities. And Germans.
This leads to my recalling the Trojan princess Cassandra. Granted the gift of correct foresight by Apollo, when she spurned his advances he added the curse of never being believed – and the wooden Greek horse full of soldiers was welcomed into Troy despite her warnings.
Seemingly above the political fray, Defense Minister Ursula van der Leyen, no Cassandra, now demands an increase in the military budget, not the 4 billion euro increase to 42.9 billion already planned and approved by the Social Democratic partners in the cabinet, but far more. It seems the helicopter fleet needs expanding, possibly with the help of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. “I am optimistic because we have a clear prioritization,” she stated. Past requests by her department justify her optimism.
There is tension between Trump and the European Union, and personally with Merkel. But both agree: NATO must truly be strengthened with lots and lots of money (and a good share for such as Lockheed and Boeing). German leaders are also determined to head up a new, aggressively outfitted European Union army (with crumbs for Rheinmetall and Airbus, say in 10 or 11 digits). And despite current deployment of the US Army and the Bundeswehr in regions like Afghanistan and Mali, and the usual confusing signals from Trump, the military planners make no secret of their major target.
Last March NATO announced a new logistics command in the German city of Ulm ”to ensure the quick movement of troops and material across Europe in the event of conflict” and the EU is devising a similar plan for personnel and equipment to move quickly eastward, avoiding border delays, bridges and roads too weak to handle military vehicles. NATO troops – German, American and others, already maneuver repeatedly near the Estonian border, not far from Russian St. Petersburg.
Sadly, leftists in Germany have not only failed thus far to find ways of cutting the menace of the AfD and other fascists – a vicious but growing pack held in reserve till now by the powers-that-be (but how long?). They are also split, partly for personal reasons. A giant rally planned for Saturday, hopefully a grand success, is suspected by some of being a retort to Aufstehen (Rise up), the movement by one leader, Sahra Wagenknecht. It will stress solidarity with refugees and poverty-stricken immigrants, a good thing, but largely avoid the question of war and peace. It almost looks as if leftists are again, as in times past, not complementing but contradicting one another.
I think such debates should be conducted without hurt or recrimination. It is also my view that saving forests in Germany, preserving national parks from fracking, battling masculine domination and the dangerous nastiness of Supreme Court nominations, even refugee and immigration demands, are vitally urgent, but can never outweigh the danger that one more mistakenly fired missile near Baltic or Black Sea borders, one plane shot down in Syria, perhaps after a dubious “chemical attack”, can lead to a conflict, seemingly desired by some whose “hate Putin, hate Russia” pressures vividly recall headlines and ranting speeches of the 1950s and 1960s. They can all too easily make the worthiest struggles irrelevant, with glass and ozone ceilings alike destroyed by deathly fire and radiation. I can only hope that such warnings – not only mine – do not suffer the same fate as those of Cassandra.