SOME COME, OTHERS GO
Berlin Bulletin No. 179 August 6, 2020
Some come and others go, to the applause of some and regret of others.
On Saturday, crowds came to Berlin from all over Germany for a huge mass parade, estimated at 17,000 to 20,000 by the police but over a million by some exuberant adherents. Many or most politicians, media and a majority of Germans were debating - whether, how soon and with what anti-virus restrictions schools, vacation travel, and soccer stadiums might safely start up again? Even though the low infection rate was edging a bit back upwards. But the big crowd in Berlin, after picking up steam for weeks with smaller rallies, insisted that the whole corona virus pandemic had ended, or - maybe hadn’t really existed at all! It was most likely - just a "government plot to silence dissent, attack democratic rights and win dictatorial power."
The parade motto was “The End of the Pandemic – The Day of Freedom.” Was it coincidental that the latter words were the title of Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film about Hitler’s giant Nazi rally in 1935? There was no denying the participation of groups of neo-Nazis with their black-white-red war flag of Imperial Germany - a common substitute for the forbidden Nazi swastika flag.
But most participants ignored them and stressed their denial of the virus danger, their rejection of the menace of some future inoculation. They often included warnings that Bill and Melinda Gates control the World Health Organization (WHO) and plan to rake in billions by forcing their vaccines onto the world – possibly with a feared ”compulsory vaccination” registered with chips embedded under the skin. They denounced Merkel and the top German virologist, for being in on the plot.
Surprisingly perhaps, a few people hitherto in the splintered left scene have helped organize these events. Their only common denominators were demands for ”Freedom” and a refusal to observe social distancing or wear face masks. Indeed, anyone who wore one – like those in small groups of march opponents along the route, organized by anti-fascist organizations – was booed, shown the finger and sometimes threatened.
Although they merrily defied city or state ordinances, the Berlin police did nothing to stop the parade until its very end when they announced that its leaders would be “held responsible”. A final later meeting at another site was broken up – after it was all but over. In general, the police have arrested a few but usually been gentler than is their wont.
The uncertain leadership of this movement seems to be only a party calling itself Widerstand 2020 (Resistance 2020). Of its three founders, one was a woman (hitherto unknown politically) who implied she ran a small enterprise, and called movingly for togetherness - but she has since quit. The remaining two founders were an obscure Leipzig lawyer with a family in Mallorca and an ENT doctor from a village near Heidelberg. Their alleged party has a detailed statute but has no recognizable program except to oppose social distancing, facial masks, and any other restrictions on freedom.
It seems unlikely that this ghost-like entity can meet the deadlines for entering next year’s elections. But, like Kanye West, it could reach enough dissatisfied citizens to take votes away from the LINKE (Left), which opposes the face-mask deniers. It could also take votes from the far-right Alternative for Germany party (AfD). The latter is torn by internecine disputes between rabble-rousers and more dignified but no less sinister men in suits and ties, but is now showing signs of weakening. Perhaps this explains the swift growth of this new movement - as a Plan B - was to distract and divide genuine struggles of working people facing the joblessness, evictions and poverty resulting from the pandemic.
The crowds came. Meanwhile finance expert Thilo Sarrazin went out - out of the headlines anyway. As Berlin’s Finance Senator from 2002-2009 he stood for austerity, at least for the jobless and poorer pensioners. They could manage with 4 euro a day, he contended, which surely sufficed for a good sausage meal! In 2010 he wrote a book which asked: “Isn’t it time we finally broke taboo chains and discussed openly why some people are inferior in intelligence and too lazy to work?” He made his views clearer with the words: “I do not have to acknowledge anyone who lives by welfare, denies the legitimacy of the very state that provides that welfare, refuses to care for the education of his children and constantly produces new little headscarf-girls. This holds true for 70 percent of the Turkish and 90 percent of the Arab population in Berlin.”
His book, based on lies, stank of racism! Yet he was invited to countless interviews and talk-shows with the alibi: “Doesn’t media objectivity demand that all views be aired?” Soon 1,500,000 copies were sold, a non-fiction record. His recent book - “Hostile Takeover: How Islam Impairs Progress and Threatens Society,” is even more openly racist, and hints at possible eugenic solutions.
The glaring incongruity was that Sarrazin insisted on remaining in the Social Democratic Party (SPD), to the great embarrassment of party leaders. A first attempt to expel him was defeated in his local Berlin party club; so was a second attempt, when a few prominent Social Democrats defended his right to “free speech”. But new, bloody cases of Islamophobic violence made his views intolerable (at least publicly) and the top party commission finally canceled his membership, gaining applause from all but the Alternative for Germany (AfD). He may yet appeal to top German courts, but his name will doubtless disappear from German front pages.
Another SPD member, definitely still in the party, filled recent headlines. Olaf Scholz, vice chancellor and finance minister in Germany’s ruling coalition government, had hopes of becoming his party’s candidate for chancellor, to succeed Angela Merkel after next year’s election. But then that fan was hit – by the biggest scandal in many decades. Wirecard, a major German financial services provider and one of the thirty strongest enterprises on the elite DAX stock index (like Dow-Jones) suddenly went bankrupt. It then turned out to be as phony as – well, let’s say Trump’s anti-corona remedies. Its “prosperous Asian branches” were one-room holes-in-the wall, 1.9 billion euros had somehow evaporated into thin air – and so, it seemed, had its manager. Its CEO and a few other biggies were not so quick and got nabbed. The big question is why the special oversight department of the Finance Ministry somehow never noticed these shenanigans? Or if it did, why it waited several years and a media exposé to do anything. In either case, the buck stopped on the desk of Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who is still stuttering various excuses. He and a few gentlemen from other cabinet posts, slightly less fully implicated, may survive the scandal. But one thing seems certain. The rightward-leaning Olaf Scholz as SPD candidate for chancellor in 2021? No way! That might encourage a trend.
One very different development hit the Berlin press last Sunday - someone did leave the scene, causing very contradictory sentiments.
Berlin, a city-state, is governed by a triple coalition: SPD, Greens and LINKE (Left). The latter has three seats in the ruling executive body (the Senate). The difficult one responsible for Housing was assigned to Katrin Lompscher, 58. On TV she seems a gentle, motherly type. Some learned that after becoming an engineer she worked on a construction site and then, as a young mother, studied architecture and city planning (all in GDR days). When she took on the Berlin job she proved she was a scrapper - for the people of Berlin. Overcoming powerful resistance she pushed through a law freezing current rent levels for five years, reversing some past overcharging and trying to hinder further gentrification. Its opponents are now contesting the law’s validity in the higher courts. If her law is OK’d it could be a model for other states.
She has also endorsed a grass-roots initiative for a referendum: “Confiscate Deutsche Wohnen”. This greedy, heartless real estate firm owns 163,000 apartments, 111,000 in Berlin. Her position sufficed to make business-friendly media call her “the most-hated woman in the city”. True in part perhaps - but hated by whom?
Then, last Sunday, a startling item hit the media; Katrin Lompscher was stepping down! The reason: her job as housing senator required her to sit on the advisory boards of three publicly-owned companies. This was modestly remunerated. An AfD representative found that she - or her tax adviser - had neglected to report the sums and pay her taxes on these three jobs, a sum of about 7000 euros. She has stated that she was unaware of this lapse, regretted it deeply, and immediately paid the missing amount. But she also gave up her job as Senator and also her seat in Berlin’s House of Representatives, saying that a public figure must have a totally clean vest.
Many admirers were shocked and saddened. The real estate bosses and their open and less open allies rejoiced. The leaders of the LINKE in Berlin expressed their admiration for her principled step – and set about choosing a successor. There were whispers that the regret of some LINKE leaders was not all too gloomy, her militancy on rent control had put some others in the shade. Perhaps it had caused bumps in the togetherness with less confrontational Greens and Social Democrats, with whom some yearn to share Cabinet posts in a coalition on the federal level – after the 2021 elections. Too much militancy could be a major hindrance. These issues may be of central importance at the Congress of the LINKE, October 30-November 1 in Erfurt, where new party leaders must be chosen. Regardless of the outcome; the fight on affordable housing, jobs, fascists, environment, all more burning than ever due to corona, must be centered “in the streets and workshops!”
This holds true for today’s most burning issue. The horrific explosions in Beirut shocked us; they cost up to 150 lives, injured far more and wrecked countless buildings. But the date forcefully recalls the purposeful explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki exactly seventy-five years ago. They cost well over 200,000 lives and totally destroyed two cities.
Today thousands of far more destructive nuclear bombs and missiles threaten the world. A small error during NATO maneuvers in Estonia, another mistaken judgment in the Gulf of Iran or the South China Sea – any could be the spark which within minutes nullifies all debate about candidates, police violence, monopoly power, environmental disaster and all else. Yet politicians like the Republican Trump and the Democrats Schiff and Engel, and their equivalents and pals in Germany, are outdoing one another in condemning “our adversary” in Moscow or Beijing – and heightening tension. The pressure to move instead towards diplomacy, détente and demilitarization - to safeguard our troubled world - now on Trump, after January 20 hopefully on Biden, must grow and grow!