17.10.2017

Mehr echte (Sozial-) Demokratie wagen! Auswege aus der sozialen Krise Europas

Die Antwort auf die Wahlerfolge von Rechtspopulisten (zuletzt in den Niederlanden, Deutschland und Österreich) und auf den Rückgriff auf separatistische oder nationalistische Bewegungen in ganz Europa (z.B. in Schottland oder Katalonien) ist nicht mehr Zentralisierung, sondern weniger, und nicht weniger echte (Sozial-) Demokratie, sondern mehr.


Das dauerhafte Fehlen sozialdemokratischer, geschweige denn noch weitreichenderer, solidarischer europäischer und nationaler Politik und das Zunehmen “sozialer Kälte” seit (mindestens) den letzten beiden Jahrzehnten (langfristiger seit 1989 oder sogar 1982) wird von den urbanen, (bildungs-)bürgerlichen Mittelschichten in den Speckgürteln oder Innenstädten westlicher Großstädte objektiv wohl genauso wahrgenommen wie von denjenigen ärmerer ländlicher oder sonstiger peripherer Regionen. Doch letztere sind subjektiv - in ihrer eigenen Lebenswelt - ungleich mehr davon betroffen oder gar existentiell bedroht (oder empfinden dies perzeptiv zumindest so). Dagegen ist (zumindest in mittel- und nordeuropäischen Regionen) der Großteil der Menschen in der ersten Gruppe (urbane oder suburbane Mittelschichten) bisher noch nicht im gleichen Ausmaß von den Auswirkungen des globalisierten liberalen Fundamentalkapitalismus in Form von “Flexibilisierung”, Prekarisierung, Sozialabbau und (zukünftiger) Massenarbeitslosigkeit betroffen.

Wenn nicht durch eine, nennen wir es “neue sozialdemokratische”, solidarische Politik entgegengesteuert wird, werden diese Entwicklungen auch die gerade heranwachsende(n) Generation(en) (“Millennials” und folgende) in den nächsten Jahrzehnten in den bisher reicheren Zentren Europas erwarten, und die Peripherien werden – bis auf ein paar reiche Mitglieder der Oberschichten - endgültig in die armen Verhältnisse der Prä-EG/-EU-Jahrzehnte zurückfallen (1960er bis 1980er Jahre)
. Eine solche Politik ist in der der derzeitigen EU aber nicht gegeben; so sind in vielen anderen Bereichen Harmonisierungen erfolgt (meistens zugunsten der großen Konzerne), aber es ist z.B. bis heute dem einzelnen EU-Bürger nicht möglich, gegen fehlende oder mangelhafte Sozialstandards seines Staates (oder erst recht nicht seines Arbeitgebers) auf europäischer Ebene zu klagen.

Die Lösung dieser bestehenden Diskrepanz zwischen Zentren und Peripherien liegt - bei einer natürlich notwendigen Distanzierung von neofaschistischen oder neonazistischen Positionen - nicht in einer Verächtlichmachung der in den Peripherien durch die Wahl von entsprechenden Parteien “geäußerten” (realen oder perzeptiven) Nöte, so wie es viele Angehörige des städtischen (z.B. westdeutschen) Bürgertums aus ihrer (noch) komfortablen Position heraus tun. Es sollte in diesem Klientel und bei deren politischen Vertretern vielmehr darüber nachgedacht werden, wie man den propagierten verfänglichen “einfachen Lösungen” der Rechten, die durch die immer weiter auseinander gehende Schere der Lebenswelten zwischen Zentrum und Peripherie befeuert werden, konkret entgegenwirken kann – z.B. durch Investitionen in, nicht noch mehr Austerität an der Peripherie (nicht nur in den armen Ländern Europas, sondern auch in den Peripherien der reicheren (d.h. den strukturschwachen Gegenden in der BRD) – für Länder wie die BRD oder Österreich wäre dies bei der derzeitigen Haushaltslage nicht einmal ein fiskalischer Kraftakt; stattdessen dominieren national und in Europa jedoch Sparfetischismen wie die “schwarze Null” (die “Schuldenbremse” in der BRD), die von manchen als zu Recht als zukunftspolitischer “Wahnsinn” oder "Schwachsinn" bezeichnet wird.

Natürlich sind die Bevölkerungen an der Peripherie, die diese national(istisch)en Rückgriffe besonders zahlreich als “Lösung” aufgreifen, oft “nützliche Idioten” von rechtspopulistischen Politikern, die genauso wenig an einer sozialdemokratischen, geschweige denn solidarischen Politik interessiert sind wie die große Mehrheit der anderen Parteien und der Wirtschaft; dies ist aber weniger ein “Versagen des Bildungssystems” (wobei es da natürlich auch Ansätze gäbe), sondern dafür ist das Versagen der linken und grünen Parteien hauptursächlich, die sich seit spätestens Ende der 1990er Jahre an bürgerlich-großkapitalistische Interessen angebiedert oder diese sogar in ihrer eigenen Regierungsverantwortung offen vertreten und umgesetzt haben, und von denen sich deshalb die peripheren Bevölkerungen nicht mehr vertreten fühlen.



20.01.2017

From Russia with love? The end of the Obama era, the new Cold War and the globalist “Querfront”

Some media reports in Germany have purported the (recent and not-so-recent) existence of a “common front of the extreme left and the extreme right” - in German Querfront, literally “across front - that allegedly “works together” against “democracy”, the EU, “free” markets (e.g. free trade agreements such as CETA, TTIP or TPP), “liberal capitalism”, multiculturalism, feminism and LGBT rights.


They are alleging a cooperation between fascists or nationalists, who are against multiculturalism, feminism, LGBT rights and cultural globalism, on the one hand, and socialists, critical of capitalism, “corporatocracy, “free” trade, and economic globalism, on the other. Yet only because they address some similar issues and are critical of similar uncritical liberal pro-globalist propaganda doesn't mean that they are “populists” (currently the favourite buzzword to delegitimize anyone who is critical), and that they all share the same interests.

Outgoing Secretary of State Kerry with New York Times Columnist Thomas Friedman
(a self-described "radical centrist")  at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the main
globalist networking forum for business, finance, media and politics, on January 17, 2017




Yet the real 
Querfront has emerged in the “bourgeois middle” against this alleged “extremist” Querfront, at least in foreign policy and most economic policies, and it reaches from centre-left Social Democrats (e.g. those in the EU parliament) in Europe, the Democrats in the US (e.g. the Clintons) and centrist civil rights liberals ”quer” across the political spectre to centre-right economic neo-liberals (those who are currently meeting in Davos to plot the new globalist strategy); it also includes the traditionally conservative anti-communist “cold warriors”, as well as the new hawkish neo-conservatives in the tradition of Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.


As the day of the inauguration of Donald Trump is upon us, the situation calls for a new global peace congress, yet tensions are set to rise in a new Cold War between three powers – the US (with its willing or (more or less) recalcitrant allies in Europe and the Middle East), Russia and China. Europe is (at least as the unity its core professes to aspires to) economically and politically shattered. And, with a few positive exceptions, the media and politics on both sides of the Atlantic are bogged in a propaganda war of mutual finger-pointing, instead of promoting a pragmatic rather than an ideological analysis. The crisis in (at least) four areas (communications, ecology, socio-economics, politics) is reminiscent of the mid- to late 1920s and early 1930s, the new, escalating confrontation between NATO, Russia and China on the other, with talk of renewed nuclear rearmament (!!), of the early 1960s. Confrontations in Eastern Europe and the South China Sea are becoming more likely, as NATO and the US are ramping up their presence there.

It has always been very convenient for conservative politicians to blame “outsiders” or “the other side” (during and ever since the Cold War), and many of them have defined themselves against it (e.g. anti-communists or il-liberals). Most recently, since the escalation between the West and Russia (and increasingly also China) within the last decade or so, alleged or actual “foreign meddling” (in Ukraine 2014, in the US presidential election 2016) has been used to legitimise and support sanctions on Russia on the one hand (more damaging for Europe than for the US, whose trade with Russia is minimal) and to distract from the endemic failure of the system they have been promoting and perpetuating, on the other. It is also supposed to distract from their own (mostly US) “meddling” (to put it mildly) into other countries' affairs, too - Argentina, Georgia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Venezuela, and this is only from the past fifteen years or so, the for more details research the history of the CIA, or go to Wikileaks.



Most recently though, in a strange, almost paradoxical twist of events, these traditional anti-communist or anti-liberal warriors have been joined by their (former?) opponents on the other side, i.e. many liberals (the Querfront mentioned above). Many centre-left or centrist Clinton and Obama supporters have in recent years thrown any self-reflection overboard in their analysis of this failure, and have (in the “Russian hack” matter) even gone as far as sheepishly taking reports of shady organisations such as the CIA on face value (despite their brilliant Iraq WMD “evidence”?). No one doubts that there was some degree of Russian influence, yet by blowing it out of proportion and making it the biggest US “news” story in weeks, and going as far as ejecting Russian diplomats from the US, the White House is actually strengthening Russia's position, by giving it more PR than it deserves and by indirectly echoing the Kremlin's talking points. Vladimir Putin couldn't be happier about this, as he is the only one coming out stronger than ever before.



22.11.2016

Four more years “in search of lost time” for Europe? “Madame Alternativlos” and her eurozone austerity disaster

Angela Merkel was sworn into office as German Chancellor for the first time on precisely this date, November 22nd, in 2005, eleven years ago. On Sunday (November 20th) she announced her candidacy at the next parliamentary elections in Germany, well ahead of her initial intention to wait until January. The election is due to take place in approximately ten months from now, most likely in late September or early October, 2017. The current “political climate“ in Germany seems to be that there is no alternative to her continuing on after the next election. Yet, there is.


Chancellor Merkel (July 2010), here pictured with hands folded in a diamond shape, a
gesture which  has widely been interpreted as her signature hand gesture, or
the signature hand gesture of her "there is no alternative" attitude
.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Just three days prior to that, at Thursday's (November 17
th) press conference with US president, Barack Obama, in Berlin, at the occasion of Obama's last state visit to Germany, she had evaded clear answers to questions about her own future beyond 2017 and had urged everyone to wait until the beginning of the election year itself. A couple of minutes later, she also stated „Demokratie lebt vom Wechsel - democracy is kept alive by change“. This was, of course, in reference to the current transition from the incumbent president Obama to president-elect Trump in the U.S., but it could also have been a hint at her own future. Yet, in hindsight, and in line with the decision she announced just a few days later, it turned out not to be, or in other words, to merely be a diplomatic phrase. The current “political climate“ in Germany seems to be that there is no alternative to Merkel (aged 62) continuing on after the next election, thus extending her tenure to over twelve years, and to fifteen years if she would stay on for the entire next four-year term. Thus she would, in late 2019, be overtaking the famous first post-war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer (fourteen years, 1949-1963) and, at the end of the said term, in 2021, be just short of the sixteen years her mentor in the 1990s, Helmut Kohl, was in office (
1982-1998; both Adenauer and Kohl also representing her own party, the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU)).

Yet, within the last couple of months, meetings have taken place of some members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens (bourgeois centre-left), and the democratic socialist Left Party (Die Linke), in order to (tentatively) make preparations for a possible alternative centre-left coalition to replace Merkel's Grand Coalition (formed by her own Conservative fraction (made up of the CDU and the - more conservative - Bavarian sister party CSU) and the SPD) a year from now. For this to be possible, the SPD would have to modify its current profile the most, by moving left again, away from current centrist or even centre-right positions on most issues, that the party took to be able to govern together with Merkel; but this seems in the realm of the possible in light of the (by German standards) still rather early pre-election stages we're currently in (usually the main campaigning doesn't really kick off before the end of the winter, so about five months ahead of the election date).

Latest polls (if we can still “trust“ any of them after the failures of the pollsters in the UK and the US this year) suggest that a “Red-Red-Green“ coalition is just short of the 50% mark and thus a majority in parliament; but it could gain more dynamics if, from the coming spring at the latest, it presents itself as a viable left-wing alternative to Merkel's current centre to centre-right policies - as, with the exception of the refugee policy (at least prior to the cynical Turkey "refugee deal"), the Grand Coalition is centre-right to hard right on most other issues. This is true especially with regard to fiscal policy, where the mantra of “fiscal responsibility“ or “fiscal conservatism“ has led to austerity, both domestically (German: „schwarze Null“ ("black zero"), i.e. a balanced budget, a no-debt policy, and no Keynesianism, despite Germany's current interest rate for borrowing being negative (!!)) as well as, much more drastically, outside Germany, in the “Euro crisis“ countries. Greece, which was driven into abject poverty, but similarly Portugal and Ireland, and to some extent Italy, were most affected by German-initiated austerity “measures” to “solve” the “Euro crisis” - i.e. socialize the debt by cutting public goods and services, and privatize the profits of banks and corporations (by “bailing them out”).

At the same time, the German government is increasing the military budget, allowing arms exports to autocratic states in the Middle East and elsewhere (most prominently Saudi-Arabia and Oman) and ratifying the notorious transatlantic "free" trade agreements with Canada (CETA) and the US (TTIP), which are opposed by many in the European populace (Berlin saw a demonstration of more than 200 000 against TTIP already in October of 2015). With a centre-left government, a change of direction in this crucial field (national and European economic, fiscal, infrastructure and social policies) can at least be hoped for – a bit “against hope”, of course, as there would be strong resistance to any Keynesianism or any kind of real European "Marshall Plan" by the European and global financial institutions, such as the IMF and some other EU institutions (such as the ECB or the infamously political (neoliberal) European Court of Justice), but still a spark of hope.

Anti-austerity protest in Athens, Greece, on June 21st, 2015,
"ΟΧΙ" στην ΕΞΌΝΤΩΣΗ ("no to annihilation")

Source: Wikimedia Commons
 

In light of Brexit, the upcoming presidency of the (at least economically (remains to be seen?)) nationalist Donald Trump, the likelihood of a much more illiberal or conservative-nationalist government in France early next year, and generally an increasingly more illiberal political and societal climate in Europe and globally, Merkel has been dubbed as the “new” or “last remaining” leader of the “free world”.


20.11.2016

Jonathan Sugarman - a "financial whistleblower"

Jonathan Sugarman worked in the position of risk manager at the Italian UniCredito Bank's branch in Dublin, Ireland (most recently dubbed the "Panama on the Liffey", and one of the major global centres of financial crime). "Due to liquidity breaches", he resigned in 2007, a year before "all Irish banks ran dry", and before the financial crisis fully "broke out". He hasn't been able to find work again since.

Last Tuesday, at a hearing at the European Parliament, on the initiative of the GUE/NGL (European United Left/Nordic Green Left) fraction, he disclosed the collusion of some state Central Banks and financial regulators (in this case the regulators and central banks of Ireland and Italy) as well as members of the Irish government at the time or of later governments (ministers Richard Bruton, Fine Gael, the, now late, Brian Lenihan, Fianna Fail, and Joan Burton, Labour) with private banks in the "white collar", i.e. financial, crimes that so far have been almost completely ignored, let alone investigated or prosecuted, by the authorities of said countries - or any other countries, for that matter. In this case, they are the Italian UniCredito, the German Depfa (Deutsche Pfandbriefbank) and, most notoriously and in the mean time nationalised, the Anglo Irish Bank,  Watch the video (from youtube, below):






"(...) [B]anksters come in all shapes, colours and nationalities. (...) My crime (...) was to comply with Irish law. I walked down to the regulator's office, the Central Bank of Ireland, and said: 'I am breaking the law. I am signing for billions that do not exist.' (...) I have not been able to work for nine years. (...) There is a law, there is a discussion. But there is nothing being done, absolutely nothing in practical terms. (...) Why do people not know [about the criminal activities of certain banks in Ireland and elsewhere]? Because they get threatened, like I did. (...) It tells quite a lot that (...) my first TV interview was for (...) Australian StateTelevision [i.e. no European media covered it!]. The Central Bank of Ireland refused to go on record. (...) The chairman of my bank of Ireland, after (...) a breach of billions, was appointed director of the Central Bank of Ireland [!]. (...) So how much truth are we going to have? The citizens of Ireland have been going through unbelievable austerity for bailing out a bank called Anglo Irish Bank. Most people in Ireland never had anything to do with Anglo-Irish Bank, in the same way as most people in Ireland, and probably Germany, had never heard of Deutsche Pfandbriefbank [Depfa]. (...) It was 'Mickey Mouse banking'. (...) There were no questions asked. (...) The governor of Banca d'Italia [the CentralBank of Italy] at that time was a Mr. Mario Draghi. I'm sure Mr. Draghi can be found and asked. (...) There is no point in making new laws if the ones that exist are not enforced." [all emphasis added by us, PB]

Our prediction is: Mario Draghi, the current President of the European Central Bank, won't be "available for any questions or interviews on the matter". Unfortunately, Sugarman's account will most likely not be covered by any mainstream news, at least not at a prime-time hour, as the main news are currently focusing on Donald Trump's transition in the US, and, most recently, on Angela Merkel's announcement of seeking another term as chancellor in Germany. 




02.10.2016

The end of “the West as we know it”? The post-factual age and the “continuation of capitalism by other means”

As Germany celebrates the twenty-sixth anniversary of its unification tomorrow, i.e. the date when East Germany, at least “technically”, was being incorporated into “the West”, by joining the EU (then EC) and Nato, this “West” (if it has ever existed as such a monolithic bloc) might not be a valid concept anymore soon.


Donald Trump, the most prominent of the "post-factual" political actors. He was spot-on when he described the attitude of his followers: "I have the most loyal people. (...) I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters" (January 23rd, 2016)


Critics of “the West” and the neo-imperialist globalization it has, no doubt, been promoting over the last decades, might find this a development to be welcomed, and see this as a chance to argue for a more emancipatory, anti-colonial “post-Western” world order, yet, unfortunately, judging by recent and the current elections, events and political climate, the “alternatives” that are more likely to be popular among the broader populace, at least in most of Europe and the US, are not emancipatory, but regressive.


Disregarding any such more idealistic visions of an independent, “equal”, “fair”, “post-Western” “global” or at least overarching governance, realistically, the alternatives of governance within our political systems are, sadly, confined to “more of the same” or “regression”. Whereas the former (the “established” political classes) have, to put it mildly, on the whole failed to come up with answers to the (old and new) challenges of an increasingly unbounded world (dis)order, the latter (the (old) new regressives) have challenged them on this; not by delivering real alternatives, but by reverting back to less complex, yet more regressive, pseudo-“solutions”. In doing so, they have, as mentioned above, also managed to contrive a post-factual “ideology”, each according to the situation of their own country. What Friedrich Nietzsche has called „Die Umwertung aller Werte“ (the ”transvaluation of (all) values“)1 when speaking of the advent of nihilism replacing religion in the early modern era, could nowadays, in our post-postmodern (?) era be described as the “transvaluation of (all) facts”, a process where facts are increasingly being replaced by stereotypical counterfactuals, or to put it more bluntly, lies.


"Vote Leave" Poster in Omagh, Northern Ireland. The "fact" stated on this poster was later debunked as untrue. Firstly, the amount is closer to  £35 million.1 Secondly, the claim that EU money can, after Brexit, instead be spent on Britain's NHS just like that, is "misleading".2



In other words, one of the developments is the tendency that almost amalgamous, unitary, centrist governments or parties (normalcy in Austria and increasingly in Germany) are in power, without the above visions or ambitions, i.e. the normalization of grand coalitions comprising those, i.e. the “established“, parties, and the increasing absence of a real political culture of opposing, polarizing positions. The other one is that we are set, as early as 2017, to experience the advent into (official, not only hegemonic) power of (even more extreme) right-wing, proto-fascist or openly fascist governments, who are increasingly dominating the political sphere in the post-factual era, not only in smaller, but in major Western countries. They have already taken over in some Western or other countries, e.g. in Hungary, Poland and the Philippines. All of these regressive to fascist governments target different groups, according to the (perceived) “threat” they pose to the “values” of the respective country. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte, has publicly likened himself to Hitler in his ambition to “happily slaughter” the “three million criminals” (referring to drug dealers and addicts) in his country. This is what he promotes as the very simple “solution” to the “drug problem” there. Poland's ruling Conservative PiS party of Prime Minister 
Beata Szydło is pushing for the country's already very restrictive abortion law to be toughened even more, which would mean a near-total ban on any termination of a pregnancy, i.e. the abolition of women's right to abortion, citing its Catholic family values as being incompatible with these basic rights of women. In Hungary a referendum is held today, officially about EU refugee quotas, but in which de facto the ultra-nationalist government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban is seeking the approval by the electorate of its racist and xenophobic ideology, basically echoing the positions of the even more right-wing neo-nazi opposition party “Jobbik”; if it is valid and ends with a “Nem” (“no”) majority, is likely to increase Hungary's regression towards “splendid isolation”, which has been going on for more than half a decade now.2


But to be clear, the rise of post-factual pseudo-alternatives, again, is not a phenonemon of countries perceived as peripheral or “too small to matter” - and that's the backbone behind the “the end of the West as we know it” thesis. The post-factual political actors have taken over hegemony in many (or even most of the) major countries of the West. To wit, the majority of the electorate in the United Kingdom has, in what was probably the most momentous political decision, at least in Europe, this year, opted to leave the European Union, yet many of the politicians in favour of Brexit (Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and others) blurted out their (seemingly anti-systemic) message without delivering a clearly formulated plan for a future outside of the EU.



25.04.2016

Austrian presidential elections: The end of the world as we know it? The establishment in shock after the biggest landslide in the country's post-war history

Austria's post-war political system of perpetual compromise and Grand Coalitions is crumbling down as polarization and right-wing populism is increasingly dominating the discourse in the Alpine Republic. The established government coalition parties, the Social Democrats (SPÖ) of Chancellor Werner Faymann, and the conservative People's Party (ÖVP), have suffered disastrous defeats.  


On the eve of the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Italy from fascism (April 25th, 1945), north of its borders a neo-fascist candidate, Norbert Hofer (FPÖ), has come out on top in the first round of Austrian presidential elections with more than a third (35%) of all votes, winning more than the candidates of both “established“ parties together. An independent-Green-centrist candidate, Alexander van der Bellen, came a distant second at just over 21%. A run-off ballot will be held between the two of them in four weeks, on May 22nd.
Presidential candidate Norbert Hofer (right) with Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, at the
notorious "Akademikerball", an annual festive meeting of far right-wing politicians and sympathizers at
Vienna's Imperial Palace. Source: ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk, Austrian State Broadcaster)


The government coalition parties' candidates have only come in third and fourth, respectively, barely reaching double digit percentages (although in a way, they had already anticipated this, by not nominating their party leaders or charismatic personalities, but merely second- or third-rate party stooges), with an (at least rhetorically) "anti-establishment" candidate (Hofer) winning big and an independent candidate (van der Bellen) coming in second.


In what is the best election result on the federal level ever (35%) for the extreme right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), the party won the first round of the presidential elections by a margin of more than 10%, with Alexander van der Bellen, a professor of economics, officially an independent candidate, but supported by the Green Party, coming in second at around 22%, thus being the candidate who will face off against Hofer in the run-off in four weeks. Although the anti-FPÖ polarization of the left-leaning voters will certainly lead to a closer race then, it is doubtful if van der Bellen can rally all of them and also especially the centrist (i.e. Christian Conservative ÖVP) voters behind him, including those of Irmgard Griss, a former judge and also independent candidate, but more right of centre than Mr van der Bellen. She garnered mostly bourgeois, rural voters, but also from Vienna's inner city as well as the rich suburbs, and came in a close third, with just under 19% of the votes, thus narrowly missing out on the participation in the run-off. Demoted to also-rans were the 
 the Social Democrat Rudolf Hundstorfer (11,3%) and the People's Party's Andreas Khol (11,1%). Richard Lugner, a(n) (in)famous Viennese construction engineer, socialite, and self-declared "Kasper" ("joker" or "court jester"), also presenting himself as “anti-establishment“, got 2,3%.


Norbert Hofer, an aviation technician, was launched as a candidate who previously was not widely known in the political sphere of Austria outside of his native state („Land“) of Burgenland, and was initially seen as a pro forma candidate even by his own party. Now he set up everyone, against all predictions and polls reaping the “grapes of wrath“ directed against the said “political establishment“ in a country that has had a penchant for right-wing populist positions for decades.



14.03.2016

Germany: Weimarization or “new normalcy“ in Europe? Elections in times of the refugee crisis

Three similarities (or one generalization) can be established from the results of all three state elections ("Landtagswahlen") taking place in Germany last night. The second and third one are reminiscent of the pre-Nazi era in Germany, the Weimar Republic (1919-1932).


The first one: In all three elections, the incumbents, more due to their own charisma, less due to their party affiliations, came out as winners, sometimes even with significant gains.
 It became pretty clear early on in the evening, that Chancellor Merkel's party, CDU, has failed to re-gain state governments in two states of Southwestern Germany, Baden-Württemberg (10,7 million) and Rhineland-Palatinate (4 million), and has just barely managed to keep one in the Northeastern state of Saxony-Anhalt (2,2 million inhabitants).


Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) with Winfried Kretschmann (Green Party), since 2011
Minister-President of Baden-Württemberg, the third largest German state ("Land") by population and one of three states where parliamentary elections were held yesterday, Sunday (March 13th)


The Chancellor's Christian Democratic Union suffered a disastrous result in its former stronghold Baden-Württemberg, where it had constantly governed for more than 40 years, until 2011, with almost a third of the seats lost, and for the first time, also the position as first party, which the Greens (normally and elsewhere a party of around 5-10% of votes) won, edging out the CDU's measly 27% with a result of 30 %. Many see this mainly due to the personality of of Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann, in contrast to the weak candidate of the CDU, Guido Wolf. In Rhineland-Palatinate, the CDU also failed, with Julia Klöckner, who is seen by many as one of the most hopeful possible successors of Ms. Merkel as party leader or even chancellor, losing to incumbent Marie Luise ("Malu") Dreyer of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). And in the Northeastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, the CDU's Rainer Haseloff is set to remain in power, although with a reduced majority and a new coalition.


And this is the second parallel: New coalitions will have to be formed. In all three states, the most likely outcome is a „Grand Coalition“ of the two biggest parties or even a three-party-coalition. This is becoming the "new normalcy", after decades of post-war Germany, when either a centre-right (CDU with the FDP (i.e. Liberal Democrats)) or a centre-left coalition (SPD with either the FDP, the Greens or (in East Germany) with "Die Linke" (the socialist "Left Party")) was almost always possible; now it's almost never and almost nowhere possible anymore across Germany. This “new normalcy“ is that there are now five parties in all of these (and now in most state) parliaments (as was also the case in the federal parliament (Bundestag) between 1990 and 2013, with a Grand Coalition CDU-SPD governing from 2005 to 2009 and again since 2013). Thus, the governing coalitions failed to gain the majorities that they won five years ago in all of the three states. A Green-CDU “Grand“ coalition is likely in Baden-Württemberg, a SPD-CDU coalition in Rhineland-Palatinate (they would be holding 60% and 75% of the seats, respectively) and a CDU-SPD-Green (“black traffic light“) coalition in Saxony-Anhalt (in this Eastern state, even those three parties together would barely have a majority (46 to the opposition 41). This “new normalcy“ reminds us of the situation in the Weimar Republic (1919-1932), a time of instability due to constant changes of governments and coalitions, with a multitude of parties, increasing radicalization, and the disaster of the coming into power of the fascist Nazi regime in 1933.

                                

The logo of the far-right "Alternative for Germany", originally founded as
a neoliberal 
anti-Euro, Eurosceptic party in mid-2013, but having taken a clearly far-right
turn 
last summer (July 2015) at the beginning of the refugee crisis.



Which is linked directly to the third parallel:


22.02.2016

On this day, 73 years ago: The end of the Weiße Rose ("White Rose") resistance group in Munich

The end of the Weiße Rose ("White Rose") - in memoriam Sophie (1921-1943) and Hans ‪Scholl (1918-1943), Kurt ‪‎Huber (1893-1943), Alexander Schmorell (1917-1943), Willi Graf (1918-1943) and Christoph Probst‬ (1919-1943): on this day, 73 years ago, Sophie and Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst were executed in ‪‎Munich‬


Top left to bottom right: Kurt Huber, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf, Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl

The Scholl siblings, who grew up in the towns of ‪‎Ludwigsburg‬ and later Ulm‬, both in Württemberg‬, Southwestern‪ Germany‬, in the 1920s, started studying in Munich in the early 1940s. As a result of their increasing renunciation of the ‪‎Nazi‬ regime and the war it had started, they founded a resistance group under the name of "Weiße Rose" (White Rose) and secretly wrote critical leaflets. The first one was printed in the summer of 1942. Their leaflets were distributed not only in Munich, but also Cologne‬Stuttgart‬ and ‪‎Vienna‬, with a circulation of 6000 to 9000.



Memorial for the Weiße Rose at Munich University, where the Scholl siblings
and Willi Graf had studied and where they were arrested on February 18, 1943 
Sophie and Hans distributed the sixth edition of their anti-Nazi leaflets, harshly criticizing the death of almost half a million soldiers and civilians at the battle and humanitarian disaster of Stalingrad‬ in late 1942 and early 1943, at the university of Munich on the morning of February 18th, 1943, when they were caught and apprehended by the janitor and mechanic of the university, ‪NSDAP‬ and ‪‎SA‬ member Jakob Schmid, and brought to the dean of the university.


14.02.2016

These dates in 1934: The February fighters - defeated in anti-fascist struggle in Austria

On this weekend, the weekend of February 12th, we honour those who, eighty-two years ago, were the first to bravely and openly resist a fascist government in ‪‎Europe‬ militarily - the workers of Austria‬February 12th to 15th 1934 marked the end of the First Republic and of "Red‪ Vienna‬" and the establishment of open fascism‬ in Austria.


The Karl-Marx-Hof in Vienna (Döbling district), one of the workers'
public housing estates, where the anti-fascist fighting took place in February 1934.
Source: user: bwag, 
© Bwag/Commons (Wikimedia Commons)


In Austria, the First Republic, which had been founded after the end of the
‪ Habsburg‬ Monarchy in 1919, was increasingly dismantled by the ruling Christian Social Party (which was backed by the Italian fascists), from early 1933. On March 4th of that year, Austrian Chancellor Engelbert‪ Dollfuß‬ of the CSP dissolved the parliament, officially due to "insurmountable differences" between the parliamentary parties in debates over how to react to a strike of the train workers. An attempt to convene again on March 15 was then forcefully shut down by the police. From then on, Dollfuß governed de facto dictatorially and without checks, by constitutional "emergency laws". Fascist paramilitary forces, most prominently the "Heimwehr", Home Guard, increasingly took to the streets to fight against the striking workers and the defenders of the Republic, whose defence forces, the forces of the Socialist Worker's Party of Austria, were the "Republikanischer Schutzbund", Republican Protection League. Although they were not officially the state executive, the actions of the fascist Heimwehr were approved and backed by the Dollfuß government, which used them to crush any strikes and other republican, i.e. Socialist or Social Democratic resistance. During 1933, major Socialist figures and leaders were arrested and the state of the working class in Austria became disastrous in early 1934.
Fighting also took place at the Schlingerhof
in Vienna (Floridsdorf district), where a large cache of weapons was based.

Source: user:Extrawurst, Wikimedia Commons

On February 11th of that year, the Interior Ministry announced that a nationwide raid, officially to search for weapons hidden in the homes of Socialist leaders and workers, would take place the next day. Upon hearing that, the Schutzbund commander of Linz, Upper Austria, Richard Bernaschek, decided to take up arms against the police and Heimwehr forces. This was the outbreak of fierce fighting. Artillery, and in one case even the air force, was used to crush the workers, who rose up in their homes, the famous large blocks called "Gemeindebauten", public workers' housing complexes (pictured are the famous Karl-Marx-Hof and the Schlingerhof) on the outskirts of Vienna (which had been built by the Socialist city councils of Vienna between 1918 and the early 1930s ("Red Vienna")), and in some smaller towns, most of them in the industrialized regions of Upper Austria and Styria.


14.11.2015

The Ides of November: The Black Friday in Paris as the culmination of a Black Autumn of terrorism and war

Yesterday was a "Black Friday" for Paris, when some of the deadliest attacks ever in post-war Western Europe were committed, and all the media are focusing on them right now, as they happened in one of the centres of the Western hegemony, in "Fortress Europe".  It is terrible what happened. My prediction is that - as with Charlie Hebdo in January - this attack was not perpetrated by recent refugees, but by "homegrown" local young men.


This is what ghettoization and failure to integrate leads to. A few years ago, Sarkozy wanted to "clean" the banlieues in France and called the youngsters there "scum", he did not even try to reconcile them to French society, but estranged them more from it. But it has also been a black autumn elsewhere (on the "periphery") so far. Most terrorism is not happening, as the priorities of the media coverage suggests, "by Muslims against Westerns and in the West", but, not or scarcely covered by the same media, outside of the West and "Fortress Europe", by Islamists and others against (more secular) Muslims and others, or as state terror, such as the illegal U.S. drone strikes, condoned by Germany, or the bombing of Kurdish freedom fighters by Turkey. No one changed their profile picture to the Kenyan, Lebanese or Kurdish flag, though.


When refugee boats with 900 people aboard sank earlier this year, there was only a fraction of coverage of it, compared to the reports on Paris in the last 48 hours. The same was true for the attacks in Beirut just about 24 hours prior to Paris, the attacks in Istanbul last month and the Russian plane that was brought down by a bomb about two weeks ago, all of which had at least several dozens of victims.


To put Paris into a non-Western context, a short recap of just very recent attacks,i.e. of this autumn:


145 people were killed in Maiduguri in Nigeria in a suicide bombing on September 20th. Another 42 were killed on October 14th in the same town, as well as 11 there on October 23rd, and 27 on October 23rd in Yola, Nigeria...

57 people killed in 
BaghdadIraq, in three attacks on October 5th, 19 people killed in three attacks in Iraq on November 13th...

Seven people killed in 
SanaaYemen, in a suicide attack on October 7th...

102 people killed in 
Ankara on October 10th, the deadliest terrorist attack ever in Turkey...

The same day, 38 people were killed in 
NdjamenaChad, in a suicide bombing...

11 people died in a bombing of a bus in 
Quetta in Pakistan, on October 19th, another 22 in another Pakistani town, Jacobabad...

244 people were killed by a bomb blast aboard MetroJet flight 9268 from 
Sharm El Sheikh on the Sinai to St Petersburg, on October 31st...

12 people killed in an attack in 
MogadishuSomalia, by a car bomb, on November 1st...

43 people were killed in 
Beirut on November 12th, the deadliest since 1990...

So far, 128 people killed in Paris on the night of November 13th/14th, the deadliest terrorist attack in France since 1961...


Yet, the perpetrators of those attacks (and in the case of Turkey it is the least clear who was behind them) should not be equated with the refugees. Anyone trying to draw political capital from these attacks, especially by trying to curb the freedoms and rights of any human being, regardless if native of migrant, and regardless of his or her ethnicity, nationality, political affiliation, or religion, should be confronted. To suggest or impose such limitations and to use a militaristic rhetoric, "war on terror" (Bush) or "total war " (Sarkozy today), instead of treating terrorism as a crime, is wrong. Terrorism will never go away, it will always be there as long as there are fascist, fundamentalist, or nationalist ideologies. 


24.09.2015

The end of the "Lampedusa strategy"? Part 1: The people behind the numbers - the story of Ahmad

"Due to instructions by the authorities, the train service to Germany via Salzburg has been suspended" - these are the announcements at Vienna's train stations for the time being. This very formal rhetoric is masking the very informal way in which one of the seemingly matter-of-course "freedoms" of Europe - i.e. the freedom to travel across borders at will and without any control - has been shaken by "urgent contingencies".



Fortress Europe: the fence at the Schengen external border
 of Hungary (Magyarország) with Serbia, September 13, 2015

Introduction: as it happens


Central Europeans are currently faced with people, whose fate is - as far as their personal "lifeworld" is concerned - far removed from their own, (relatively) orderly circumstances of life, or at least far removed from abject poverty, existential plight or even fears for their own lives. They are, as opposed to the past years and months, not faced with their fate in the news anymore, but now in the flesh, in person.



The topic of the constant periphery-centre migration had already been in the focus of the broader newscast audience in most European countries for several times within the past decade or so - but only for brief periods of time, let's call them "Lampedusa moments" (most recently, when almost a thousand "boat people" drowned earlier this year). This has now changed, as unprecented numbers of people are now reaching "the centre", i.e. the prosperous countries of Western and Northern Europe, for the first time in more than a decade, i.e. since the wars in Yugoslavia in the mid and late 1990s. Ironically, it is now from the same area, the former Yugoslav countries and their respective the borders to Hungary and Romania, that many of the refugees have been trying to enter the more prosperous areas of Europe, namely Austria and Germany.

The current waves of migration are dubbed a "refugee crisis" in the mainstream discourse. However, these didn't come out of thin air - the "refugee problem" and the topic of asylum had and has not comprehensively been dealt with by the individual European (and other) governments, let alone on a transgovernmental level. On the contrary, oil has been put into the geopolitical fire several times ever since those late 1990s. Even more fundamentally, this is a systemic problem, i.e. the crisis of a global capitalist "world system" (Immanuel Wallerstein) based on inequality and accumulation. Since the ludicrous "Dublin Agreement", first signed in 1990, and in place virtually unchanged ever since, (it contradicts the Schengen Agreement of 1995), and the (restrictive, regressive) creation of Frontex in 2005, nothing fundamental has been done on a major policy level (Immanuel Wallerstein calls this inaction the "Lampedusa strategy of the neoliberals"). Makeshift "solutions" have ever since been offered by those governments, such as rescue missions to save (mostly unsuccessfully) the "boat people" in the Mediterranean (and most of these efforts have only been temporary and/or abortive), and financial support for the countries neighbouring the respective "crises areas" and war zones, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and, within the EU, Italy, Greece, and Hungary. Now, as a short-term "solution" of the momentary "refugee crisis", a quota for the distribution across the continent of the several million who have been and will be arriving has been imposed on the EU level; it is very unlikely, however, that many countries outside of Austria, Germany and Sweden, especially those in Central and Eastern Europe, and the UK, will commit to fulfilling this quota.

Wien Westbahnhof (Vienna Western Station) - top of the screen: Arrival of the Sonderzug (special train) from Nickelsdorf at the Austrian-Hungarian border, and of another (delayed) train from Budapest Keleti (Eastern Station). Bottom of the screen: all train services from and to Germany via Salzburg are suspended.

                            Refugees at Wien Westbahnhof (Vienna Western Station),
               having arrived on the special train from Nickelsdorf, September 20th


The people behind the numbers: the story of Ahmad 


Despite the increased "immediacy" and "proximity" of the refugees now having arrived in Central Europe, most of them remain mere numbers in the public discourse, where the main questions are about quotas and distribution, not about individual stories. With most of the asylum seekers being distributed across the countries (so far mainly Austria and Germany) into specific camps or other provisional housing, otherwise uninvolved locals going about their normal chores and daily lives are unlikely to meet them in a non-encamped situation. However, it occasionally does happen. I had seen them arriving in drones the day before at Vienna's train stations, but then I met eight of them in person, with Ahmad (pictured above) willing to progress into a conversation about more than how to go about washing the laundry in the laundromat in Vienna's 10th district. At first glance I wasn't sure of his background, as he looked very similar to many of the local young men of Arab, Persian or Turkish descent, who have been living for decades, or were even born, in that very district of the Austrian capital, Favoriten. But as our conversation started and then progressed, it turned out very quickly that he was a (now former) employee of the IOM (International Organization for Migration) in Latakia, Syria, until he and his colleagues there lost their jobs as their building was shelled by IS forces, on September 10th. So, he and his group fled Latakia, and made it to Vienna, through nine countries, in ten days. After a bus trip to Beirut, they boarded a plane to Izmir, where their northbound journey into the unknown began in earnest. On "a small boat carrying only 16 people" they made it across the sea to the Greek island of Leros.

Ahmad Moussa, from Latakia, Syria, who I met at a laundromat in Vienna's 10th district, on Monday evening. He told me he dreamed of studying music and becoming a professional musician, but at the insistence of his father, he studied international law instead and worked for the International Organization for Migration. Now, he is a refugee himself as his IOM/UN building was shelled by ISIS recently. His favourite composers are J. S. Bach and Franz Liszt and he likes to listen to "Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2", but as well as the violin and the cello, he likes to play his favourite "Western rock songs" on the e-guitar.



A ferry brought them to Athens, from there, they went on to Northern Greece, and crossed the border into Macedonia following the train tracks to Skopje. With the "help of the local police", they caught a train to "the last village in Macedonia" and then two more trains, a twelve-hour train to Belgrade and then another one to Subotica. It ended there due to the closure of the Hungarian border. When they walked the last bit towards the border, they witnessed "war between the refugees and the Hungarian police" due to the fence being closed about one and a half days earlier. After spending the night "sleeping in a car park", they were taken to the Croatian border the next day on buses. Along with 3000 people, they were stuck there for a couple of days before they managed to cross over into Croatia and then Hungary, where they were seized by the police. The police "accompanied them" to the Austrian border, where they stayed for a night before being taken to Vienna last Sunday.


09.04.2015

On this day in 1945: In memoriam Georg Elser

At this time of day, 11 pm, seventy years ago, on April 9, 1945, Georg Elser was executed by the Nazis at the KZ (concentration camp) at Dachau near Munich.


His attempt to kill Adolf Hitler in the Bavarian capital about five and a half years earlier had failed. Elser had planted a bomb into a column at the Bürgerbräukeller (a beer cellar) where Hitler held a speech on the evening of November 8, 1939, on the occasion of the Nazis celebrating their botched putsch attempt ("national revolution", later dubbed "Beer Hall Putsch") of 1923. Unfortunately for Elser and in a fateful evil twist of world history, Hitler left the locality earlier than foreseen, and the bomb detonated thirteen minutes after his departure, without killing any of the Nazi leaders who had been present.


Georg Elser (born January 4, 1903 - died April 9, 1945)


Already on the same evening, Elser was caught at the Swiss border, arrested and held at KZ Dachau, where the Nazis planned he should remain until a show trial after the German "Endsieg" (final victory) in WWII would be held against him. But when faced with the Allied troops' advance onto German territory in early 1945, Hitler ordered Elser's execution on April 9th.

Until recently, the proletarian carpenter from the town of Königsbrunn, near Ulm, Württemberg, Southwest Germany, who wanted to kill Hitler to "improve the situation of the workers and to end the war" (quote Elser) was barely remembered and commemorated as a hero. To this day, he stands in the shadow of others in the official German narrative and practice of commemoration, such as those around the colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, who tried to kill Hitler on July 20, 1944, i.e. much later and out of much more nationalistic motives than Elser. July 20th, 1944, is a date every German and many others associate with resistance to Hitler, whereas Elser's attempt on November 8, 1939, has remained unknown to most, even within Germany, so far. Hopefully, this will change in the future.









10.03.2015

“Fuck Minsk II”? “Dr. Strange-(Breed)love” or: How Europe Learns to Start Worrying

"Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus" - the famous quote by Robert Kagan, the neocon who legitimated the post-9/11 military interventions, criticizing Europe for its allegedly “weak” and “appeasement” stance in the war on terror, is making a comeback. It dates from back in 2003/04, when the dispute over the US-led invasion of Iraq, that Germany and France had opposed, led to a prolonged period of cooling of the US-German relations (US-French relations had never been as amicable anyway, due to France's temporary refusal to participate in and greater skepticism towards the US and NATO). Now this German-American rift, that had only been patched up for a short period between Iraq and Bush jr.'s presidency and the NSA scandal(s) of the Obama era, is opening up again, as officials in Berlin are accusing the neocons of 'dangerous propaganda' in the confrontation with Russia. 



Victoria Nuland, self-declared "anti-European" (2013)


The 'Martians' are back, led by Kagan and his wife Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the Department of State. Along with their supporters and representatives in NATO, they are once again, pitted against those 'Venusians', who, led by Germany and France, have been undertaking diplomatic efforts to achieve a de-escalating peaceful solution of the Ukraine crisis. It had already gotten clear what the 'Martians' thought of a European initiative independent of US interests in Ukraine about a year ago, when Nuland uttered the now infamous expletive “fuck the EU” in a phone call to the US ambassador in Kiev.

In her view, Ukraine was already considered the newest Eastern European outpost of the American Empire as soon as the opportunity to install a pro-American government there became a realistic option in the beginning of 2014, and the US made sure that Arseni Yazenjuk (referred to by Nuland as “Yaz”, “our guy” in the same phone call) became Prime Minister in Kiev in the pro-Western government that was set up after pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich was toppled in February 2014. Due to that, the complete veracity of the Western narrative of the Maidan or "EwroMaidan" as a purely “peaceful people's protest for the EU and against a corrupt government” began to be questioned. Nuland apparently told Yanukovich: “No violence against protesters, or you'll fall”. Is that a sign that Nuland and her entourage were calling shots in Kiev at the time? That's not entirely clear (as is, who the snipers were that immediately triggered the overthrow of Yanukovych as a reaction - government/pro-Russian or Maidan/(pro-)US agents?). What is pretty clear by now, though, is that (direct or indirect) Russian influence on the conflict in Eastern Ukraine is countered by Academi (formerly "Blackwater") mercenaries, i.e. U.S. "private army" presence in the war zone, and that NATO is continuing to drum up the tone against Russia, in spite of the efforts by the leading European “allies” (?), France and Germany, that lead to a peace deal (or at least truce) being brokered at Minsk in February (the so-called “Minsk II” agreement).

                          
Audio: V. Nuland's phone call to the US ambassador at Kiev, 02/2014 ("Fuck the EU")

Apparently, Nuland's 2014 motto is being amended in 2015. It is now “Fuck not only the EU, but Minsk II, too”. Last year, the expletive only met mild and still mostly veiled protest by the Europeans. Now, though, Germany apparently has had more than enough of it, and is finally calling a spade a spade. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister, and several sources in the Bundeskanzleramt (Federal Chancellery of Angela Merkel) have accused the NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), Gen. Philipp Breedlove, of "dangerous propaganda". Steinmeier was referring to massively exaggerated or even completely fabricated NATO "reports" that were cited by Breedlove as factual information in relation to the Ukraine conflict. The general, who hails from Cincinnati, Ohio, claimed that “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery” had been sent into Eastern Ukraine, contrary to the reports of Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichten-dienst (BND), that were saying that the Minks II truce was largely holding and that the agreed withdrawal of heavy weaponry by both sides was continuing. Breedlove often referred to imaginary columns of Russian tanks and although not everything he has been purporting over the last few months has been complete bogus, his “numbers have been significantly higher than those in possession of America's NATO allies in Europe.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
Philipp Breedlove, NATO's "Jack D. Ripper" (with US Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Kabul, September 2014) 



The main domestic counterpart of Nuland and her "General Jack D. Ripper" propagandist is Barack Obama. The president has ordered to put on hold a planned deployment of US army personnel into Western Ukraine to train members of the Ukrainian National Guard there (which would have been another step towards escalation), thus trying not to undermine the fulfilment of Minsk II agreement.