Victor Grossman is author of Crossing the River: A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany. He also writes regularly about German politics.
transcriptSHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Earlier this week, negotiations to form a new government in Germany fell apart. On September 24th, Germans elected a new Bundestag, German parliament, in which the major traditional parties, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, who had been governing in a so-called grand coalition significantly lost control. Also, for the first time in Germany's post-war history, a far-right party was able to enter parliament. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Christian Democratic Party entered into a coalition talk with the Neoliberal Free Democratic Party and Ecologist Green Party. However, these talks fell apart when the Free Democrats declared that their positions are too far apart from those of the Greens. Now it looks like a new election or a minority government are the main options remaining. Here's what political scientist, Heinrich Heine from the University of Dusseldorf had to say.HEINRICH HEINE: We are indeed in an exceptional situation. Such a situation has never occurred before. The German president is now required to bring order insofar as he can try to bring all parties back to the table. Maybe even to explore any options for a possible forming of a government based on the results of the last election.SHARMINI PERIES: Joining me now from Berlin, Germany to analyze the political situation is Victor Grossman. Victor is the author of Crossing the River, a Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany, and writes regularly about German politics. I thank you so much for joining us, Victor. VICTOR GROSSMAN: Thank you for inviting me. SHARMINI PERIES: Victor, what has happened here? Why did the coalition talks fall apart?VICTOR GROSSMAN: It seems there are actually four parties because the Christian Democrats have a special sister only in Bavaria, and the four of them each trying to push their own condition and making certain compromises but not enough in the end. It was dragging on and dragging on and dragging on, and nobody knew will it work out or will it not work out. They say that it almost worked out at the very last minute until this one party, the Free Democrats, came and said, "We're not going with it anymore. It's gone. The chances are lost." Now, all the parties have been invited to speak to the president. The president in Germany is not the same as in the States. He's more a figurehead character except in such situations. Now he has the job to try and patch something together, and there are three possibilities, as mentioned by your professor: one is that they try again, but they don't want to try again, and especially the Free Democrats say, "No chance." The second possibility, that they again have a grand coalition between the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats. That's what they've had for the last four years, but that hurt the Social Democrats so much. They lost so many votes in this because they were the junior partners. They came out with only about 20% of the vote and they don't want do it again and they said,"No more." Now, there is a chance some of the people in the Social Democratic Party are willing to think that over. We'll have to see tomorrow. Another possibility is to have a minority government. There's never been anything like that in Germany where the chancellor, that would probably be Angela Merkel, with one of the other parties, would rule but would not have a majority. That means that every time she wants to get some new law in order, she has to try to win some of the other, one or the other parties to give her a majority. Which means that it is very very shaky. And the other possibility is that they give up and have a new election only a few months, the last one as you heard was in September. A new election within a couple of months , it would have to be in about two three months. And actually nobody really wanted that especially when the voters don't want to go to the polls again. And there's a chance that it won't come out any better than before. There's also another danger that this far right-wing party. It's to the right of the Trump republicans. It's a far right party. That they had about almost 13% this last election. That they might even gain by it. That there's all kinds of pluses and minuses. Frankly, in my own opinion none of them are any good of these four parties. None of any good and none of them really promising a real hope for Germany.SHARMINI PERIES: Victor, in terms of trying to form a coalition what are the issues at stake? What are they talking about? What are differing on in terms of the issues? VICTOR GROSSMAN: One issue was the question of the immigrants or refugees because the Greens say that refugees coming from the near east and northern Africa who have arrived in Germany should be able to bring their wives and children in most cases. Sometimes it's husbands but usually families here. The Christian Democrats or rather their sister party in Bavaria say's no, nobody else, nobody else. That was one big issue. Another big issue was about environment. The Bavarian party is against any improvement in the environment and so are the Free Democrats. They don't want to cut down on oil. They don't want to cut down on gasoline motors. And there's been a big fight on that. There are other issues too but those are two of the issues that keep on coming up over and over.SHARMINI PERIES: Victor, if you could elaborate more on the fact that the Social Democrats who had initially said they would not enter into a new coalition with Angela Merkel's CDU but now pressure is mounting on the party chairman Martin Schulz to renew the grand coalition. Why is the SPD so reluctant to enter into a new coalition with the government? I know they had minority status in the past and not a lot of power but why are they declining now?VICTOR GROSSMAN: Well, as I mentioned, the Social Democrats were the junior partners with the Christian Democrats and the Bavarian sister party with Angela Merkel. They were in there for four years and they did nothing but lose votes. They lost and they lost. They're afraid that if they do that again they might disappear or they might no longer be the second major party. They are now still the second major Democratic party but only by 21% of the vote whereas the Christians have over 30% which is also not so much. Both of them have taken loses to this right-wing group. But they would be so small that they're really scared. Some of them are scared and other say we can make compromises. The interesting thing is that the Social Democrats are close to the union movement and are under pressure partly to go together with the Christian Democrats who are not very friendly to the union movement or the labor movement or to stay out. They're caught really between two wings of that party. One wing would like to get in. It means having nice cabinet seats that are very comfortable chairs and pensions and all kinds of perks. The others say, "No, we'll only lose out." That's the big question at the moment, which we may see an answer to tomorrow evening. SHARMINI PERIES: Alright, now let's turn to what you've mentioned a few times now the rise of the far right party. There are some that believe that if new elections are to be held, say in April, such a vote would strengthen the far right anti-immigrant AFG or Alternative for Germany. What do you think of this? Is that true? Is the right-wing extremism still growing in Germany? If so, why?VICTOR GROSSMAN: Yes, this right-wing party is still very much alive, called the Alternative for Germany. It got close to 13% of the vote in September. In the polls, it's stayed about that level between 11% and 14%. The problem is that many people in Germany are really sick of all the old parties. They don't believe any of them. They're unhappy and dissatisfied. They fear for their jobs. They don't know what's going to come along in terms of pensions. Many don't believe either of the bigger parties and say,"Well, let's try it with this new party". This new party has no better program than any of the others but it builds on racism and hate the immigrates. It's a little bit like building the wall to Mexico. Hate the immigrates. Keep the immigrates out. It's their fault, which is of course nonsense because it's not their fault. It's to hate muslims. To hate anybody with a different skin color and that's what they built on. And they're trying to get people who are unhappy and dissatisfied. They're trying to get them interested, to win them to say that's your enemy. That's the one who are giving you trouble. Instead of looking up on top to the ones who are giving them trouble and are making troubles are organizations like Siemens. The company Siemens, which has just announced is firing eight or nine thousand people in Germany and another an airline, Air Berlin is firing people. Although they're making money by the billion, they're firing people to find some cheaper workers some place else. That's the people that they should be angry at. Unfortunately, a lot of people have fallen for this line, "It's the foreigners who are at fault." The other parties except for the left-wing party the other parties have sort of weakened in their opposition to this especially the Christian Democrats and especially the ones in Bavaria who are the furthest to the right. They're afraid of losing votes to these right-wingers and therefore they've been turning right themselves. It's moving the whole picture in Germany towards the right and that's a dangerous situation.SHARMINI PERIES: And the left party Die Linke, Victor, where are they at? How did they do in the election and what is their position in all of this?VICTOR GROSSMAN: The left party stands at about 9 perhaps 10% of the vote, which is not bad except that it's pretty well stagnant. They haven't really improved. That's what they got in September and the polls are showing just about the same. They are the only party which opposes all military use of German troops abroad whether in Afghanistan or in Africa or in other places. They say Germany should never send troops abroad anymore. It's sent enough in the past century. They're alone in that. They're also alone in a real fight for people's rights and especially the working people, their rights. They're against discrimination of every kind also against foreigners. First of all the media never give them a fair break and second of all they're many prejudices against them. In West Germany they still see them as sort of an East German party although that's not true anymore. Now they're in both parts. Basically a fear of leftists, in America as well, they're called Liberals. They're afraid of them and this has kept them down to this 9 or 10 percent. Also the fact that they have not yet really found a way to reach people and to prove to them we have a party which is fighting to keep housing costs rents down so they're not so expensive. To get pensions up so that people who are no longer working at least can get along or not in poverty. To use the money instead of sending soldiers abroad and building up more and more armaments, which is what they're doing. To turn that money for kindergartens, for the old people, for schools. The schools are in a mess. That's their position but that have not really been able to get beyond that 9, 10% of the people with that message.SHARMINI PERIES: Victor, earlier you mentioned that one remaining possibility for Angela Merkel is to head a government which is a minority government because she does have the largest party in parliament thus fa,r but minority government would be unprecedented in post-war Germany. What do you think the chances of this happening? What would this mean in terms of German politics and governing with minority status?VICTOR GROSSMAN: Well, Angela Merkel is although she's not a very loud speaker. She doesn't do a lot of ranting. She's a quiet speaker. She gets along. She has a pleasant way of talking to people. But her policies are not so good for people. However, she's made herself so popular that she does have the best chance of holding out through this whole crisis and winning out again for another four years. But they're not quite so positive as they were say a few years ago. They are people who'd love to get that job instead of her and so she said that she would prefer to have new elections rather than to have a minority government where it's always balancing and dependent on the approval or disapproval of the other party. She'd rather have a regular election. Whether that will come true or not the next perhaps days or hours or at least weeks should show whether Merkel still has the power to stay in there and keep in there and keep in control.SHARMINI PERIES: Alright Victor, I thank you so much for joining us today and I appreciate your analysis. And thanks for bearing with us with the technical challenges of connecting via broadband. Thank you so much.VICTOR GROSSMAN: Thank you and my greetings to people there. Goodbye.SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.