CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER

Berlin Bulletin No. 128, May 3, 2017

A story worthy of a mystery author – or dramatist – has been hitting German headlines. It began when police at the Vienna airport in Austria arrested a first lieutenant of the German Bundeswehr army when he picked up a pistol hidden some weeks earlier in a bathroom. He denied it was his and was released. But his fingerprints somehow matched those of a refugee who had applied for German asylum two years earlier.

Like Alice in Wonderland when she got bigger and bigger, the story turned “curiouser and curiouser” and here too, odd language was important. This young blond German officer, 28, had been registered in the German states of Hesse and Bavaria as a refugee from Damascus in Syria. He had said he was Catholic but the men of ISIS had persecuted him and killed some of his family because of his partially Jewish background and Jewish name – “David Benjamin”.  Strangely enough, he spoke little or no Arabic and was questioned in French – with a German accent. No-one had ever been suspicious, or so it was claimed. He then seems to have commuted between his job as officer in a mixed French-German unit in French Alsace and his false existence as a Syrian refugee in Germany.

He remains mum, but it seems he was planning to commit some crime which would then be blamed on Syrian immigrants, in line with a current media wave against “criminal foreigners”. Two things are known: his accomplice, a 24-year-old German student now also under arrest, stored munition for the lieutenant. And a “death list” found in his quarters includes the name of a young woman delegate of the LINKE in the Berlin Assembly who is known for her defense of immigrants.

As with Alice, the story took on ever greater proportions. How could the Bundeswehr, including the military snooping department (with the acronym MAD) somehow miss out on such strange goings-on? It now seems that they did indeed  know; the French military college where he had taken courses advised the German military authorities two years ago that his final thesis was racist and pro-fascist. Somehow this did not overly disturb anyone.

It does now! Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, who has been leaning out the political window to attract rightist votes away from the even-further-rightist party AfD (Alternative for Germany), stated vigorously – to cover his past negligence, or worse: “Our investigation of this incident will leave no stone unturned”!

Probably damaged far more was Ursula von der Leyen, the ambitious Defense Minister, hitherto preoccupied with building up an aggressively-oriented Bundeswehr with the latest, most “effective” rifles, tanks, drones and other shiny utensils, ready to embark within days or hours to the furthest corners of the globe. Now, suddenly, she was on the defensive – or not quite so suddenly, since more and more reports have surfaced in recent months of brutal customs in the armed forces, especially the hazing of recruits and other underlings often involving sexual abuse. In her usual clipped, efficacious manner she took the unprecedented step of admitting weaknesses in processing and leaning doors open to “extremists” who are not supposed to be in the Bundeswehr – but always have been, sometimes at the top. Her words were really aimed at absolving herself and blaming subordinates, although she has been responsible top boss for three years. Her words quickly led military men, hitherto her closest buddies, to yelp like whipped dogs, thus weakening her usual position of coolly smiling superiority. Just such wrinkles could hurt what some have speculated were her hopes of succeeding, or even replacing, Angela Merkel.    

How many knew of the officer’s double existence – and perhaps of his plot? How many have similar views? The story echoes the case of the National Socialist Underground group which murdered nine Greek or Turkish immigrants and one German policewoman and set off a disastrous bomb in a largely Turkish neighborhood. The trial of Beate Zschäpe, a surviving member of the group, is now in its 5th year in Munich while Bundestag investigations drag on – and there are more and more suspicious connections between the murders and official authorities who have somehow been shredding key documents incriminating secret service agents and politicians at high levels, and now, strangely enough, even the American FBI!   

There is no lack of dirt flying around, much of it related to elections. On Sunday, May 7th, the same day as in France, there will be much tamer voting in northern Schleswig-Holstein, where the Social Democrats are strong. One open question is whether the LINKE (Left) will get back into the state parliament. Five years ago they were down to 2.2% and weren’t, but current polling has them teetering on the hurdle of 5% where a single vote can make the difference. Any and every win in a West German state is, for them, a pleasant surprise.

Another election is due a week later in Germany’s most heavily populated North-Rhine/Westphalia (with Cologne, Dusseldorf, Essen and Bonn).  Can the Social Democrats and Greens, governing as a coalition since 2010, reach a majority again? The chances look skimpy. They might manage if they bring in the LINKE, whose polls are at a wobbly 6 %, but would they accept it as a partner or prefer a taboo even if it means losing their own chances to stay in office? And would the LINKE consent even if invited to join?

The same question may recur in September after the all-German vote. The sudden surge for the Social Democrats after cheerful Martin Schulz took the reins has slipped considerably, while Merkel’s Christian Democrats, after dimming, has recuperated and is well ahead again. But with four smaller parties all balancing at about 8%, attaining a 50% coalition majority is tougher than ever. Except for the present solution, with two big boys, CDU and SPD, ruling together though neither is happy about it, it’s hard to find any way to squeeze “three men in a tub” with four smaller parties getting in each other’s way. The Greens are slipping downward fast. The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is also slithering downhill, luckily,  after infighting led to pushing out of the top job its very attractive, a tiny bit more moderate leader and very pregnant Frauke Petry, a main force in building the party. It is possible that her shape had a negative effect on the chauvinist, racist, ultra-reactionary delegates, but who then surprisingly replaced Petry as candidate with Alice Weidel, 38, a partner in a same-sex, parental partnership, and also a far-right business consultant who once worked with Goldman-Sachs. Her co-candidate, Prof. Alexander Gauland, 76, is just as far right as she is. As the oldest delegate in the new Bundestag he will probably get to make the opening speech. (A side-note: before departing the GDR as a youngster he attended the Friedrich Engels High School in Karl-Marx-Stadt. They left little mark!)

As for the LINKE, some leaders yearn to join in an SPD, Green, LINKE coalition, which might become numerically possible. Others in the party say that any compromise on withdrawing German troops from current threatening bases in Lithuania, near the Russian border, and anywhere else in the world, would mean abandoning the basic principles of the party. But just such a program change would be a condition for their admission to a coalition. For those who have a constant fear of provocations or even war with Russia by such NATO forces, or maybe kicked off by something like the Maidan Square events in Kiev, this is the most vital question in the world. They hope that Merkel’s meeting with Putin will lead to de-escalation!

The months ahead – in France, Britain, Germany and the USA – could be crucial ones, for the European Union – minus Britain – and very possibly for the world. Unlike with Alice, “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!” does not apply here. We are not in Wonderland!