Another Wild Ride Through Germany? As Germany struggles to construct a government, Eastern European nationalism, the nationalism of Russia, Poland, Hungary and the Ukraine, is having its revenge. The unabashedly white supremacist and Islamophobic populism that has taken hold in the lands to Germany’s east, is summoning from its grave the ghost of Hitler’s psychopathic god. (Painting: "The Wild Ride", 1889, by Franz Von Stuck.)
GERMANY’S TROUBLES always blow in from the East. Unsurprising really, since, geographically speaking, there’s not a lot to stop them. Those fastnesses of steppe, plain and forest, home to all manner of divine scourges, have haunted the Germanic imagination for centuries. Indeed, “guarding the borders” against the ravages of barbarian Lithuanians, Poles and Russians “from the east” has proved to be one of the most consistent themes of Germanic history. Teutonic Knights and Prussian grenadiers; the warriors of Empire and Reich: all have braved the dragons of the East, until, as Germany’s poet-philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, rightly predicted – they turned into dragons themselves.
What began as a mission to protect the volk, eventually morphed into a mandate for conquest. For a thousand years, Germans have inflicted upon their neighbours the very horrors they feared their neighbours were conspiring to inflict upon them. Germanic culture’s unrelenting Drang nach Osten (drive towards the east) stirred up a witches’ brew of ethnic and cultural resentments which continue to trouble the dreams of Europe. The nations born out of the bleeding corpses of the Hohenzollern and Hapsburg empires were never able to transcend the circumstances of their post-World War I creation. Eastern European nationalism remains as extreme in its expression as the German chauvinism which gave it birth.
And now, as Germany struggles to construct a government, all that Eastern European nationalism, the nationalism of Russia, Poland, Hungary and the Ukraine; is having its revenge. The unabashedly white supremacist and Islamophobic populism that has taken hold in the lands to Germany’s east, is summoning from its grave the ghost of Hitler’s psychopathic god. Is it possible that these populist regimes actually believe that a reanimated German fascism will be their friend and ally? That the political genes of the beast which laid waste the physical and human infrastructure of their homelands 75 short years ago, have somehow been altered?
It’s as if the populist governments of Eastern Europe have somehow been persuaded to take seriously Joseph Goebbels’ last ditch propaganda campaigns of 1944-45 – in which the same German armies that had slaughtered millions of Jews and Slavs were re-presented as Europe’s last, best hope against the Asiatic hordes of the Bolshevik East. Are the populists hoping that, in 2017, Germany can be persuaded to undertake another racist crusade: this time against the “Islamisation” of Europe?
Sadly, the unintentional author of this hellish narrative is Germany’s moderate and motherly Chancellor, Angela Merkel. It was she who metaphorically spread wide the arms of her prosperous, post-fascist/post-communist Germany to receive the anguished victims of the Syrian civil war. Upwards of a million refugees poured across Germany’s borders – initially to a warm welcome from tens-of-thousands of generous German citizens. But, even as the new Germany welcomed them in, the flood of Arab refugees prodded awake some of the German nation’s oldest fears. For many of Angela Merkel’s compatriots the refugees represented the archetypal “other”. Syria may be located to Germany’s south, but in the volkish imagination of millions of older Germans they will always be “Easterners”.
Small wonder, then, that the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, is so determined to avoid another federal election. Unike Chancellor Merkel, Steinmeier, the Social-Democratic Party and the Greens, are terrified that if another election is forced, the authoritarian populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) already Germany’s third-largest party – will take even more votes off Merkel’s Christian Democrats and its Bavarian sister-party the Christian Social Union.
In the days following the 24 September federal election, it was hoped that a black-yellow-green “Jamaica Coalition” (after the signature colours of the Christian Democrat, Free Democrat and Green parties) could be cobbled together. This ideologically implausible combination of conservatives, neoliberals and ecologists was required because the Social-Democrats had already ruled themselves out of another “Grand Coalition” with Merkel – in part because they did not want to cede the AfD the status of Germany’s largest opposition party.
So corrosive has the anti-immigrant, Islamophobic atmosphere in Germany become, however, that large numbers of rank-and-file members of the leading right-wing parties are falling into step with the AfD’s ideological drummers – forcing their leaders to follow them. The AfD may have secured only 12.6 percent of the Party Vote, but its sympathisers are estimated at three-times that number.
Those rising winds from the East are laden with ashes and tears.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 24 November 2017.