Sunday, May 22, 2005

Wuppertal, my current home town, has around 3 or 400,000 residents. It is smack in the middle of the state Nord Rhein Wesphalen (North Rhine Westfalia). This has between 18 and 20 million residents. Other important cities in NRW include

Köln (Cologne), famous for a really big gothic cathedral as well as perfume;
Aachen, famous for being Charlemagne’s capital city;
Düsseldorf, a rather important place for business, and home of 30-odd thousand Japanese folks, for some reason;
Dortmund, not so famous, perhaps, but it is where I work;
Essen, famous for Thyssen and Krupp steel;
Bonn, former capital of West Germany (and, briefly, all Germany).

NRW is where the 30 Years War came to an end (the Peace of Westfalia, negotiated and signed in Münster).
NRW is where Beethoven (Bonn) and Friedrich Engels (Barmen, now part of Wuppertal) were born and raised.
NRW was (and, sort of, still is) the industrial heartland of one of the world’s premier industrial economies.
NRW is Germany’s biggest state in terms of population.
NRW is the heartland of German socialism, communism, and social democracy.
Solingen, a major knife-producing town, is in NRW.
A Germanic army defeated a Roman army in the Teutoburger Forrest, which is in NRW.
Get a map. Start in Bonn and follow the river up to Mönchengladbach and Duisburg, then go east to Dortmund. That little area is where the vast majority of the folks in NRW live, and it is one of the most densly populated regions on Earth (although you wouldn’t know it to look at it).
Since heavy industry (mining, manufacturing, etc) has had its day in most rich countries, you needn’t stretch your imagination to understand that NRW has some unemployment concerns (imagine Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Cleveland, Gary, Akron, and all of West Virginia in one tight package, then add people and take away jobs).

NRW has been governed by the Social Democratic Party (SPD) for the past 39 years (usually alone, sometimes in coalition).

Today, NRW will elect a new state government.

The SPD coalition government (with the Greens as partner) need to win. To lose here would be a disaster for morale, obviously (and a boost to the winners). To lose here would also tip the balance in the upper house of the federal parliament (the Bundesrat) further against the national SPD/Green coalition, making governing rather difficult. To lose here would all but guarantee that the next national government of Germany (to be elected next year) would be conservative. The NRW election is, far and away, the most important thing happening in Europe today.

[The most important thing yesterday was the Eurovision song contest, which was won by a Greek performer. The German performer came last. Right on!]

So, if you can read German, you can find out lots about the election HERE.

If you can’t, I will tell you about the parties in competition.

The SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschland) is the mainstream center-left party. They used to be into socialism and such, but underwent a transformation not unlike Labour’s in Britain (moving them towards “the center”, to a sort of polite liberalism). They have dominated the state (and before the war, the region) and would go into a tailspin if they lost here. They are the leader of the national governing coalition (led by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder), and will probably lose the national election next year if they lose this one now. They look to get around 30% of the vote, I think.

The Greens (Bündnis 90 / Die Grüne) are the coalition partner in NRW and at the national level (Joschka Fischer, the foreign minister, is their de facto leader). They started out as a hard-core ecological and pacifist party, but in a civil war between the fundamentalist wing (the Fundis) and the pragmatists (the Realos), they Realos won. This has made them “more electable” but at the price of a bit of soul. They will probably get around 10% of the vote in this election (which is quite good for them).

The CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union) is the main center-right party. Their members would ejactulate in their underpants if they pulled off a win here. There is reason to hope that they will fuck it up, though. They had hoped for voters to choose “change” but have mixed their message (basically “let us try!”) with an appeal to xenophobia, and that doesn’t go down so well with the mainstream in what is, ultimately, one of the most heterogenous parts of Europe. They are also hovering around 30%.

The FDP (Freie Demokratische Partei) is one of the most loathesome parties in the world. They are, ostensibly, classical liberals, but are so desperate to be in power that they will say, quite literally, anything. This time they are promising (I swear) jobs, better schools, jobs, lower taxes, jobs, smarter children, jobs, restrictions on immigration, jobs, more immigration, jobs, improved infrastructure, jobs, reduced government spending, jobs, increased government spending, and jobs. Birgit’s mom said she likes them. I said “Of course you do! What’s not to like?” They even have an openly gay national leader (Guido Westerwelle). They even ran a few years ago with the goal of getting 18% (18 being code for Nazis: A = 1 and H = 8). Fuckers. They might get 10% of the vote. They would be the CDU coalition partner if things go their way.

The PDS (Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus) is the heir to the East German communist party and are a genuine leftist party. They have shed their Stalinism and tickle me in the red zone. Their national public face is the (hot and sexy, like Rosa Luxemburg) Sarha Wagenknecht. Rot Front, my friend. I would like to see them get somewhere around 10%, but it is probably not going to happen. The thing is, they would likely pull votes from the SPD or Greens.

Another Left spoiler is the WASG (Wahlalternative Arbeit & soziale Gerechtigkeit) which is composed of disillusioned SPD supporters who can’t think of a good name for their party. They could pull a few votes, but aren’t much of a party.

There are also two neo-Nazi parties, but I doubt they will have much success. They will scrap it out at the bottom of the rightwing barrel with a Biblethumper party (no kidding: PBC - Partei Bibeltreuer Christen), a quasi-fascist ecology and family party, and an old peoples’ party (the Gray Panthers). The left brings a Marxist/Leninist party (i.e., unreformed Soviet-style communists), a social solidarity party, and an animal rights party. There is also a party called Die Partei which looks totally serious except for the part about making eastern Germany a “special economic zone” which will be separated from the rest of the country (they are, surely, joking about reversing unification).

Anywho. I will tell you the results as soon as I have them.

My own polling indicates that Birgit will vote Green, her mom will vote FDP, her dad will vote CDU, our friend Kirsten will vote SPD, and her boyfriend doesn’t know.


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