21.9.16

Social Distortion: What Berlin's Election Results Really Mean

In the wake of the Berlin elections, the right wing has gone into overdrive suggesting that immigration was the cause of the CDU's recent drop in Berlin. Nothing could be farther from the truth...  



In the past few days, endless headlines and cut-and-paste headlines and tweets on social media have suggested that the CDU's ranking fell in Berlin because everyone here was fed up with Merkel's "open-door refugee policy".  That's utter bollocks.  Many English readers will assume it's the truth, though, for the simple reason that they don't understand what's being written or said about the elections in the German language.  The English speaking right wing has been taking full advantage of that fact to create the illusion of a popular right-wing revolt.


As Huffington Post's Cas Mudde pointed out in his analysis of the election, most English readers seem to envision the elections here as a "a two-horse race" between the AfD and the CDU. In reality it's more of a six-party split: five are to the left (or centre-left) and one is to the right. So, Berlin remains an incredibly progressive and cosmopolitan city, just as it was before the elections. It hasn't converted into some sort of Trump-supporting 51st state overnight!

Anyone who lives in Berlin will know that the majority of people in this city support and give aid to the local refugee / immigrant population whenever the can.  And the 2016 election results reflect that fact.  Below are the official results of Sunday's election (taken from cleanenergywire.org):



The CDU's position on refugees has mainly been to organize the transportation of refugees through Europe so they don't die in smugglers' boats. The right wing has dubbed this its "open door" policy. "Humanitarian" seems like a better term for it.

The SPD's position is to increase funding for refugees arriving in all nations, rather than keeping them out. They also seek greater integration for people who are already here.

Freie Demokraten Partei (FDP) advocates fighting the causes of flight (e.g. war) and granting asylum to refugees for at least as long as there are circumstances that threaten their lives in their homelands.

The Green Party states that its opposed to "Fortress Europe".

The Left Party's website simply says, "Refugees Welcome." Nuff said!

So, out of the six parties that make up Berlin's government, the AfD is the only one with an anti-immigration platform.  If this is what the right wing media means when it says we are "punishing" CDU for its immigration policies, then we're not doing a very good job, are we!?  Because in total, nearly 80% of voters in Berlin have opted for left or centre-left parties who want to go on supporting immigration and asylum rights.

That doesn't mean one should be complacent, though. It is alarming that the AfD's 14.7 percent vote has given them an opposition voice in a city like Berlin, which is due to be led by a socialist-environmentalist coalition. However worrying that is, though, it doesn't amount to the widespread revolt against immigration that the right wing is clearly fantasizing about. But then, they probably know that's the case.  Whenever the public sentiment is against you, misrepresentation of facts is a great way to nudge peoples' minds in the 'right' direction.

Another detail that most of mass media monopolies outlets seems to have missed is the fact that CDU's Minister for the Interior, Henkel, is a deeply unpopular deputy mayor in Berlin. In this role he has become one of the most despised figures in town.  Henkel tends to go into a meltdown each time that someone holds a demonstration that he dislikes... and that happens pretty often in Berlin.  In fact, it happens pretty often in most countries. Demonstrations are very rarely held to say things that people in power want to hear, which is a point that Mr. Henkel utterly fails to appreciate.

He infamously labelled the countercultural area around Rigaer Strasse a 'danger zone' and posted round-the-clock police surveillance there, despite the fact that it has less violent crime than nearby Simon Dach Strasse [a touristy bar strip].  Of course, the fact that Rigaer Strasse is where all the anarchists, activists, communists, pacifists, refugees, feminists and vegans live has probably played a role in his decision to clamp down on the area. Because, what could be more terrifying than being offered a vegan sausage by a smiling leftist...?

Henkel's hardline approach has resulted in a tonne of over-policing at demos, and general heavy-handedness (such as the recent tear-gassing of Blockupy activists who were staging a sit-in at the Ministry of Finance). He was behind numerous heavy-handed crackdowns on refugee protest camps around the city before that, too. He's a conformist and a bully, and proud of it - none of which sits well with the majority of people living in Berlin.  His behaviour has impacted the CDU's popularity in Berlin, a city where demonstrations and political street parties make up a major part of the social calendar.

Meanwhile, the bigger concerns for voters in Berlin's elections seem to have been rising rents, corruption and misspending by officials.  To date, only the left or centre-left parties have pledged to tackle issues like the decline of free childcare or rising public transit fares in Berlin. The AfD, by comparison, has focussed almost entirely on scapegoating foreigners, queers and women - who, as we all know hold the reins to real power in Germany (eye-roll implied).

As even the rightist tabloid Berliner Zeitung conceded that, in Sunday's elections, "AfD was elected in areas with low church affiliation, high Hartz IV rate and a low percentage of foreigners." In other words, positive experience won out over negative expectations of refugees and immigrants, in most areas. 

Indeed, the people in Berlin who are concerned about the refugee policy seem more concerned about the fact that they don't have proper homes and have to sleep rough, or in overcrowded shelters. Or that they need a better form employment than collecting bottles and dealing drugs. (At present many are barred from entering the legal job market).

The latest flood of cut and paste tweets gloating about the CDU's failure are nothing but a desperate, English led campaign to make reactionary sentiments seem bigger and badder than they really are in Berlin.  But then, what else would you expect from a bunch of bullies who like to push the most vulnerable members of society around?  Given a chance to push our minds around using the media, they'll take that, too.

I wouldn't mind people painting Berlin as a conservative town if it were anything like the truth, but it's not.  This may be why we are seeing so much writing that claims otherwise; it's like the old adage says:

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...is NOT a fashion blogger! I write about underground music, streetart, left-wing activism, social media trends and green issues. Other publications that I have written for include: Urban Challenger Blog, Siegesaeule, Shlur, Alternative Berlin, Sensanostra.