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Saturday 27 May 2017


The German Spring

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 27th April 2017

It's odd that Germany receives little political scrutiny from New Zealand political commentators, given the fact that New Zealand's current MMP political system is based on theirs. So, to what extent is Germany likely to experience positive movement on the marriage equality front after its election later this year?

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Alice Weidel: Far right Alternative for Germany's out lesbian leader of a party opposed to marriage equality and same-sex parenting
Germany has had a chequered history on LGBT rights. There was hope during the interwar period, when Weimar Germany saw the rise of large scale metropolitan LGBT venues and social movements, only to be cursed by the Nazis after 1933, leading to concentration camp imprisonment. Moreover, when postwar reconstruction occurred, the Christian Democrats were one of the largest political parties in the new democratic postwar Bundestag, and initially they were dependent on West German votes from conservative Catholics. Over time, urbanisation and social liberalisation meant that both East Germany (1968) and West Germany (1969) repealed Paragraph 175, which had criminalised male homosexuality before the Second World War and on both sides of the Berlin Wall. Although the Christian Democrats and their satellite coalition partner the Free Democrats largely clung to power after the collapse of communism (1990), their voter share constantly diminished, leading to Social Democrat/Green ascendancy at the turn of the century and passage of anti-discrimination laws and registered partnerships (civil unions) legislation during their consequent term of office. However, although Chancellor Angela Merkel is quite inclusive herself (given that her Treasurer, Free Democrat leader Guido Westerwalle, was an out gay man), her opposition to marriage equality is based on residual conservative Catholicism. The Free Democrats voter share collapsed, leading to their exit from the Bundestag, but the Christian Democrat voter share has been buoyed by generally positive verdicts on her economic management skills.

However, more recently, her humane and compassionate stance on Syrian refugees has led to regrettable backlash from the populist, anti-immigrant and socially conservative Alternative for Germany, although there have been frequent suspicions voiced about neo-fascist entryism within the organisation. Alternative for Germany was founded in 2013 and has had successes in German provincial and European parliamentary elections. Polling at eleven percent, it is well over German MMP's four percent threshold for list-only representation, even if it wins no constituencies at the 2017 German federal election. AfG is Eurosceptic, social conservative, and supports dissolution of the Eurozone. It is anti-feminist, committed to climate change denial and wants to return to mandatory military conscription. It also supports binding referendum. Most of its support appears to come from post-communist former eastern Germany.

Alternatives for Germany has eaten into the Christian Democrat voter share and commendably, the Christian Democrats refuse to entertain any thoughts of a coalition with the far right party over its anti-immigrant racism and due to suspicions about extremist elements, comparable to the Social Democrats, Greens and "the Left", roughly equivalent to New Zealand's leftist Alliance Party of the nineties. To maintain power, Merkel has relied upon a 'grand coalition' of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, probably unthinkable in New Zealand. As for recent opinion polls, they show the Social Democrats and Greens and Christian Democrats and Free Democrats at almost parity, although entering early May, the CDU and Free Democrats were slightly ahead. This suggests the CDU and the Social Democrats may enter a further grand coalition, or it may force the Social Democrats and Greens to reach a modus vivendi with the Left. In that case, they would be able to form a minority government, whereas the Christian Democrats and Free Democrats would have no similar prospect with Alternatives for Germany, which Merkel loathes due to its anti-immigration policies and contempt for her open borders humanitarianism. There is still only a five percent gap between the CDU and Social Democrats in late April's German opinion polls.

According to the Economist however, Alternatives for Germany has fallen afoul of factionalism, an ever-present malady for populist anti-market right wing groups or neo-fascists. One need only recall New Zealand First and its splintering in 1998 and the children's kindergarten that is Pauline Hanson's One Nation in Australia. Even a relatively successful populist political party like the French National Front has problems with that- its northern members tend to be fiscal conservatives, while their southern members are authoritarian and often unreconstructed neo-fascists from the bad old days of the initial French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen. Photogenic female AfD Bundestag leader Frauke Petry is having headaches with Bjorne Hocke, the Thuringian state AfD leader who thinks Germany should be "less apologetic" about its Nazi past. Such open factionalism has corroded AfD's appeal, meaning rather than Germany's version of the French National Front, it is starting to look like the awful splintered mess that is the post-Brexit United Kingdom Independence Party. Certainly, its recent party conference didn't impress any bystanders, with party delegates rejecting mainstreaming calls for pragmatic coalitioneering rather than as an anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant populist 'protest party. ' It also rejected a motion from Petry stating that it should reject "racist, antisemitic and nationalist ideologies." She seems have had enough, vowing that she will not lead Alternatives into October's Bundestag elections.

However, in a development that will probably horrify most lesbians outside Germany itself, the AfD party conference elected Alice Weidel (38) to lead the party into their election campaign in October. Why? Because Weidel is an economist and consultant from AfD's western branch- and is also an out lesbian, who has two children with her partner. But how does Weidel justify leading a political party that opposes marriage equality and same-sex parenting, in that case? It should be noted that Weidel is not the first LGBT individual to lead a major German political party- the very first was the late Guido Westerwalle, the out gay leader of the Free Democrats (roughly equivalent to New Zealand's ACT Party), who served as federal Treasurer and was in coalition with Angela Merkel and the CDU until their second term- whereupon the Free Democrats voter share fell below MMP's five percent threshold. As the FDP didn't have the requisite two Bundestag seats for sub-threshold additional list representation, the party failed to return to the Bundestag. Westerwalle died from cancer shortly afterward. However, there is an important difference- the Free Democrats were centre-right social liberals and supported marriage equality, same-sex parenting and other LGBT issues.

The same cannot be said about Weidel and the AfD. She is certainly highly qualified as a economist, having acted as a consultant for Goldman-Sachs and Allianz, and having spent six years in China when it comes to foreign relations experience with a major European trading partner. However, she opposes both German membership of the single European currency and corporate bailouts. She is also not above exploiting tensions between her party and mainstream Germans, as well as propagandising against refugees and Muslim immigrants. However, her party upholds Germany's current discriminatory marriage and adoption laws, and also favours restricting parental welfare aid to heterosexual family units only, as well as opposing comprehensive sex education in schools. Insofar as families go, its 'pro-family' policies are only as long as the families in question are German, given that it also supports increased deportation of criminal immigrants, an end to immigrant and refugee family assistance, and is an advocate of climate change denial. It remains to be seen whether she can co-exist with Alexander Gauland, the eastern AfD co-leader who wants to relativise Germany's experience of the Nazi era and believes that Germany should "not" apologise about its Nazi past. As for her sexual identity, Weidel has made a weak statement that her 'private life' as a lesbian mother should be differentiated from her public life. She also attacks 'political correctness', which appears to mean that she may not be reliable in terms of solidarity with German LGBT communities. Is this what a lesbian political leader should be?!

It looks as if the Social Democrats change of leadership to Martin Schulz has changed their fortunes too, with their polling now on parity with the Christian Democrats. He is running a popular campaign attacking Merkel's proposed tax cuts, welfare cutbacks and increased military spending and condemned Alternative for Germany's Euroscepticism, affirming Germany's core role within the European Union. He has also condemned US President Donald Trump as "misogynist, anti-democratic and racist."

Germany may be about to become the next nation to recognise marriage equality if the Social Democrats, Greens and the Left can form a tripartite coalition, given the factionalism on the right and Merkel's principled abhorrence of the AfD. Previous attempts to introduce marriage equality in March 2012, June 2013 and December 2015. The German federal election will be held on October 23rd, one month after New Zealand goes to the polls. Given our own MMP electoral system, Germany's experience with populist arriviste political parties will be interesting to watch. Might it harbour a lesson for New Zealand and Winston Peters kingmaker aspirations?

Recommended:


Wikipedia/Opinion polling for the German federal election 2017:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Opinion_polling_for_the_ German_federal_election,_2017

Wikipedia/Same sex marriage in Germany:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R ecognition_of_same-sex_ relationships_in_Germany

"In the Petry dish: A primer on Germany's AfD wars"Economist:08.04.2017:http://www. economist.com/blogs/ kaffeeklatsch/2017/04/petry- dish

"Germany's AfD party heads further right after leader suffers defeat"Guardian:22.04.2017:https://www. theguardian.com/world/2017/ apr/23/rightwing-german-afd- party-set-to-go-further-right- after-leader-suffers-defeat

Derek Scally: "German right-wing party appoints 'liberal' to front election" Irish Times: 23.04.2017:http://www. irishtimes.com/news/world/ europe/german-right-wing- party-appoints-liberal-to- front-election-1.3058597

"German election: Martin Schulz stakes anti-populist bid"BBC News:19.03.2017:http://www.bbc. com/news/world-europe-39321678




Craig Young - 27th April 2017

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