BY CARL-ERIK ISACCSSON
MAGDEBURG, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany - Visiting this eastern German city the day after state elections, the substantial vote for the ultraright German People's Union (DVU) was a major topic of discussion. The fracturing of the main conservative parties and increased political polarization was clear in a visit to the university campus here, and many DVU campaign posters around the city had been overwritten with the words "Nazis out" or "Welcome to the Fourth Reich."
Alexander Mawrodiew, who is from western Germany but is now studying at the university in Magdeburg, commented, "People are not satisfied with the government. It is protest votes." This was a common explanation given as to why the DVU received nearly 13 percent of the vote in the April 26 election. The conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of Chancellor Helmut Kohl dropped sharply, getting only slightly more votes than the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the former ruling party of East Germany. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) got the biggest vote, at 36 percent.
One of the themes of the DVU campaign was to scapegoat immigrants for the nearly 20 percent unemployment rate in eastern Germany. One Iranian student, who did not give his name, said his children have problems at school in Magdeburg because they are bated as foreigners. He is afraid to go into certain areas of the city.
On March 31 of this year, two young thugs broke into a Palestinian's apartment in a public housing project on the fringe of this city. They beat the man as he tried to flee, lacerating his face and feet, and set his bed on fire. The victim was hospitalized.
The number of reported incidents of rightist violence in Germany increased 27 percent in 1997 compared to the year before. Eastern Germany, with only 17 percent of the population, accounted for 45 percent of these attacks.
Two of the students this reporter spoke with said that youth from their campus were organizing to go to an antiracist action in Leipzig May 1, to protest a rally by the ultrarightist German National Democratic Party. Other students echoed the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the DVU.
An April 28 article in the magazine der Tagesspiegel quoted Kerstin Helmecke, the last in the list of 16 DVU candidates who won seats in the Saxony-Anhalt. She argued, "We're not Nazis. I just want to be a voice of the people.... Here you see Albanians and Russians driving new BMWs and Audis." She said that since the reunification of Germany she has had low paid jobs or been unemployed. Her husband is a member of an DVU outfit "The League to Honor Rudel," referring to a Nazi fighter pilot in World War II and a prominent figure for the ultraright here until his death in 1982.
Eberhard Lehnert said he learned he was a DVU candidate from reading it in the paper, and resigned soon after the election.
CDU feeds anti-immigrant chauvinism
Wolfgang Schauble the chairman of the parliamentary fraction of CDU and Christian Social Union (CSU), its conservative sister party in Bavaria, responded to the Saxony-Anhalt election results in an interview in Suddeutsche Zeitung May 2. "We should not engage in a competition with the extreme forces," Schauble. But he spoke for stopping immigrants from moving to certain areas, and said "the causes of immigration have to be fought."
German minister of finance Theodor Waigel, who is also the leader of the CSU, described the elections in Saxony- Anhalt as "a clear warning. Now the themes of immigration and law and order must be put at the center of our election campaign."
There is a dispute within CDU in Berlin over Kreuzberg, an area of the city where 40 percent of the inhabitants are immigrants. A wing of the party is demanding that more immigrants should not be allowed to move into Kreuzberg, and that Berlin should be "shaped by German traditions."
Deportations of immigrants, especially to Bosnia, and further restrictions on the right to asylum in Germany have been important features of government policy in Germany in the last few years, giving space for ultraright currents.
In the aftermath of the elections in Saxony-Anhalt, the Social Democratic Party is in crisis over what kind of state government to form. Since 1994, there had been a minority coalition government between the Greens and SPD in Saxony- Anhalt, which was tolerated by the PDS. Since the Greens didn't get the 5 percent vote needed to be seated in the state parliament this time, the SPD is without coalition partner.
Helmut Kohl has stated that CDU should focus in its election campaign against a possible "red-green" coalition government.
SPD Chancellor candidate Gerhard Schroder already on April 26, the day of the elections in Saxony-Anhalt, said that a "grand coalition" between the SPD and CDU was the only answer to the government question in that state. Schroder also expressed concerns over some kind of cooperation between SPD and PDS.
Both CDU and SPD have tried to undercut the influence of PDS by labeling it "left extremist," equal to "right extremist" forces like the DVU. But eight years after reunification, the PDS still gets about 20 percent of the votes in the eastern German states, tapping into anger over the deteriorating conditions for working people in the former German Democratic Republic.
Recently CDU leader in Nordrhein-Westfalen Norbert Lammert criticized the president of Bundestag, Rita Sussmuth, and Paul Kruger, a prominent CDU politician in the eastern states, after they participated in a TV show with the PDS politician Gregor Gysi.
Under pressure from Schroder and the national leadership of the SPD, Reinhard Hoppner, the leader of SPD in Saxony- Anhalt, began talks April 28 with the CDU on the formation of a coalition government. The move caused tensions within the SPD parliamentary group in Saxony-Anhalt. The leader of the parliamentary group, Jens Bullerjahn, told the Magdeburg paper Volksstimme, "I am elected by the people here in Saxony-Anhalt, not by Bonn."
On May 12, Hoppner announced he will form a minority government without the CDU.
Workers resist austerity push
The SPD and CDU may consider a "grand coalition" on a national level, if neither gains a big victory in the September parliamentary vote. They aim to carry out a bipartisan push for some of the attacks on working people that have been stalled since last year. A "tax reform" and further cuts in pensions, sick leave payments, and education are on the agenda for the ruling class.
But resistance to these attacks runs deep among workers and students in Germany.
Negotiations for 161,000 railroad workers have broken off and gone into arbitration. A railroad worker who spoke to Militant correspondents at the May Day event organized by the DGB union federation in Berlin said, "We need to do what they did in Denmark this week and in France several years ago - shut the railroad down. When we go on strike they try to whip up opposition to us, but we have a right to strike."
The more than 300,000 construction workers in eastern Germany have also broken off negotiations with the employers, who claim they can't afford a 1.5 percent wage increase.
On May 7 the monthly protest against unemployment drew a total of 60,000 people in actions in hundreds of towns around the country.
Carl-Erik Isacsson is a member of the metalworkers union
in Sodertalje, Sweden.
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