May 11, 2010

Wrong by Omission

An article about the elections in Germany's biggest state (by population) at The Irish Times caught my attention
Lighting a fire in Germany's heartland

DEREK SCALLY in Duisburg

Forget the UK – regional elections tomorrow in Germany could have far- reaching implications for Angela Merkel, Europe and Greece. And crucial to the outcome is the country’s former industrial heartland, the Rhine-Ruhr

NECESSITY IS the mother of invention and in the German city of Duisburg, the cash-strapped local government has become outrageously inventive.

A pensioner group was the first to notice the chill in its local swimming pool: to save money, the water temperature has been reduced by two degrees and opening hours slashed. Now unblushing city councillors want to introduce a tax on the city’s 20 “pleasure locales” – sex clubs and brothels – of €2 per 10 sq m of floor space.

It’s a taste of things to come in Duisburg, and in the entire Rhine-Ruhr region. Now struggling, it was once the wealthiest region of Germany that, like Liverpool and Newcastle, grew rich on the industrial revolution spoils of steel and coal.
For the entire article click here.

I rarely write letters "to the editor", but in this case I did so yesterday.
Dear Mr. Scally,

"DEREK SCALLY in Duisburg" on top of this message box -- does that mean that you are actually living in Duisburg? I really can't believe that because your analysis of the decline of that city fails to mention one of the most important reasons for it.

In an recent interview with the WELT, the new head of the staff union of the German police, Rainer Wendt, says that he thinks that the monopoly of the state on the use of physical force ("Gewaltmonopol") has become, in some "migrants' quarters" of the Republic, void. He specifically mentions parts of the cities of Berlin, Duisburg, Essen and Cologne.

Here's a crucial excerpt:

Wendt: There are parts of the cities of Berlin, Duisburg, Essen and Cologne, where police doesn't dare to tread anymore. If an officer makes a check on a driver who was caught speeding there, 40, to 70 friends will come to the scene in no time. And if the officer is harrassed by such a crowd, the rule of law has to capitulate and withdraw.

WELT ONLINE: And your explanation for that is a lack of respect for the power of the state?

Wendt: Isn't that apparent? The perpetrators don't accept the German legal systen and its representatives. By the way, it is well known that such blitz mobilisations are mostly performed by young men with a Turkish or Arab background. In such quarters, the monopoly on the use of physical force of the state is shaken. Officers experience something similar when they come to the scene of a punchfest between people of Turkish- or Arab descent. They will be pushed away again and again and be told: "That is an internal matter, get lost!" or "Shove off, we'll ask our hodja to manage that, not you".
(Translation mine:

Duisburg is the city that hosts Germany's biggest mosque. Duisburg covers 232,8 km² with a population of 496,665 (December 31, 2007). Statistically, 8% of the population are Muslims, but some suburbs have a population of more than 50% with a "migration background", as the politically correct description goes. It is empirically proven that a society can suffer as much as a Muslim population of 3%, above that, it will suffer. Duisburg is the city, too, where German police broke into a private home to remove a visible Israeli flag that 'offended' Muslims.

You describe Duisburg's inner city in detail. Are you really saying that you didn't notice the many headscarf-clad women there? Germans rarely shop at low-cost chain stores, even if they are strapped for cash.

You compare the people of the Rhine-Ruhr region with England's northerners. I know the North of England well and yes, you are right. One of my grandfathers was a miner, the other a steelworker. Indeed, we are a tough, straight-talking lot. Yes, the hardships and humiliations of the past decades have sapped our confidence, but hardly in the way you describe. Have none of the people you interviewed for your article mentioned that? For example what it means for a woman to be faced with a deeply misogynist and violent culture? Or the schoolchildren who are victimised on a daily basis? Maybe not, because even that tough, straight-talking lot is afraid now to be labelled "Nazi" or "racist". And that is the worst that can happen to one in our Brave New Germany. It has destroyed people's livelihood and reputation already. Rest assured, very few of us are.

Best regards,
Nora Brinker
The elections were held on Sunday. The pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) hit another low, winning just 6.7 percent of the votes. Merkel's Sacré-Cœur Socialists (who have shed the Sacré-Cœur-bit long ago) lost disastrous 10.2 percent to end up with 34.6 percent as their worst result in Northrhine-Westphalia ever. It means, too, that the Merkel-administration has lost its majority in the Bundesrat (the "upper house").

So the current government coalition won the support of less than 42 percent of the voters. We have a stalemate situation and what the future governance will look like is, right now, a matter of everybody's guess.

The all over results:
CDU 34.6 percent
SPD 34.5 percent
Greens 12.1 percent
FDP 6.7 percent
The Left 5.6 percent
Others 3.9 percent.

Notabene that a 5 percent clause applies to elections in Germany.

There is a rare public consensus that the Merkel administration was bitch-slapped for their magnanimous help for bankrupt Greece, also, tax cuts, which had been promoted by them, don't go down very well with the notoriously jealous egalitarian Germans, they might, after all, benefit the rich.

How is this reconcilable with the dramatic claims I made in my above "letter to the editor"? The reply is: Easily! A whopping 40.7 percent of the voting public did not vote at all and it is safe to assume that they have resigned long ago because there is no alternative whatsoever between the two major parties (it drives me up the wall if I read about "Merkel's conservatives"), because they have been shut up long ago by the threat of being labelled "Nazi" and other more or less subtle means, ranging from manipulation to threats, and because they are worn-out and have simply ceased to care. What remains to do once you've realised that roughly 16% of Turks, the by far biggest minority in Germany, are dependent on welfare, twice the share of Germans, and that the unemployment rate among them is 23%, compared with 10% for Germans (applying to 2005, the last year for which data are available) and THAT NO PARTY YOU MAY VOTE FOR WILL DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT. Given, that most rural regions in East Germany are entirely without any Turkish population, the ratio is much more overwhelming in those parts of the country (like the Rhine-Ruhr region) where Turks make up for a two-digit percentage.

Derek Scally (in Duisburg, no less) says that:
With its huge working-class population, the Ruhr was once a stronghold of Social Democrat (SPD) voters. Rabes says he’s an SPD voter at heart, but like many here he has no interest in voting. The forces at work, squeezing his quality of life, are beyond the control of any political party, he says.
Really? And I wonder what those "forces at work" might be? The most truth- and meaningful statement in Derek Scally's article is made in the headline already. The Ruhr-region IS Germany's "heartland". Full stop. And it has been conquered long ago. Chance? I don't think so.

My personal consequence? I moved to former East Germany more than 3 1/2 years ago. Right now, I am living in a tiny community in the Ore Mountains close to the Czech border in a virtually Islam-free environment, where I hope to grow old. (I mean REALLY old.) Of course, I realise that this is just a variant of the "being worn-out and having ceased to care" mentality.

Should I receive a reply to my letter, I will update this entry.

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