‘Merkel understood nothing’: AfD’s fury in east Germany

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reduced majority has forced her into tough coalition talks with two smaller parties. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2017
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‘Merkel understood nothing’: AfD’s fury in east Germany

COTTBUS, Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel hails from Germany’s ex-communist East, yet it is here where the anger against her runs deepest and the far-right protest party AfD has celebrated its strongest gains.
The electoral success of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany, which scored 12.6 percent in September 24 elections, stunned much of the country.
But in Cottbus, located in the Lusatia coal mining region near the Polish border, many cheered the strong result for the party whose battle cry is “Merkel must go.”
In the city of 100,000 people that is dominated by drab Soviet-style tower blocks, the AfD even beat the chancellor’s conservatives, more than doubling its national result by attracting 26.8 percent of the vote.
The list of grievances against Merkel is long if you listen to Klaus Gross, 67, a former army officer of the Soviet-allied regime who became a sales representative after Germany’s 1990 reunification.
“First we had the policy of rescuing the euro, then renewable energy with all these wind turbines everywhere,” he said, pointing to a green energy push that unsettles many in a region dependent on massive open-pit coal mines.
“Then the shut-down of nuclear power plants, overnight,” he went on, referring to the 2011, post-Fukushima decision to shutter Germany’s nuclear reactor fleet.
“And then finally the refugees,” he added, pointing to Germany’s mass influx of more than one million asylum seekers since 2015, which has became Merkel’s key political liability, even within her own conservative bloc.
“Who asked us if this was what we wanted?,” Gross fumed. “Much of the population has been ignored by Merkel and her people!“
In a restaurant near the Cottbus city center, local AfD candidate Marianne Spring-Raeumschuessel was approached by a couple aged in their thirties.
“We voted for you!,” the young woman whispered to her. “You’re right!“
“They have celebrated me like a pop star around here,” said Spring-Raeumschuessel, a former businesswoman aged in her 70s.
She spoke with glee about the fact Merkel’s reduced majority has forced her into tough coalition talks with two smaller parties, predicting that “it will not work.”
The fact that the chancellor said, after scoring her party’s worst result since 1949, that she had done nothing fundamentally wrong, showed that “Mrs Merkel understood nothing.”
Wolfgang Horbenz, 76 and a former power plant mechanic, said the establishment parties must once more take the people seriously and that the AfD “has a future as long as the other parties refuse to change their policies from top to bottom.”
Cottbus, 120 kilometers southeast of Berlin, boasts some historic homes from its early 20th century days as a flourishing textile industry hub — but since the Cold War era it is dominated by residential blocks made from prefabricated concrete slabs.
Gerd Loesky, a 73-year-old retired home decorator, lives in one of them.
What galls him is the mass arrival of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees over the past two years, he said, telling AFP: “It bothers me that they come here ... and that money is wasted on them.”
Horbenz, the mechanic, conceded that “we do not have many,” with the town hall putting the number of migrants in Cottbus at around 3,000.
He said locals “do not want a situation like what I saw in the Ruhr basin” — the industrial heartland of western Germany that attracted large numbers of Turkish and other foreign-born laborers from the 1960s.
Eastern Germany still lags behind the west in income and wealth, and heavily-indebted Cottbus has long had to scrimp on fixing its roads and bridges or investing in its schools or kindergartens.
“Now many people are asking: ‘Where does all the money come from for the refugees’?” said Gross. “All of a sudden? That’s just not on!“
Margrit Koal, a 65-year-old doctor and AfD voter, said that since the election one month ago, she once more feels “hope.”
“I’m happy because there’s now a force in Germany that forms a counter-pole to the established parties,” said Koal.
Asked about the openly racist and revisionist remarks made by some AfD politicians, she said “every public person sometimes says things that they may regret later.”


Indian temple controversy turns political as protests grow

Updated 7 min 5 sec ago
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Indian temple controversy turns political as protests grow

  • Three dozen priests staged a sit-in against the verdict overturning the ban that kept women aged between 10 and 50 out of the temple.
  • Though Hindus form a majority of the Kerala's population of more than 35 million, it is home to millions of Muslims and Christians.

KOCHI/NEW DELHI: A senior leader of India’s ruling party warned on Friday that protesters in the southern state of Kerala would take the law into their hands if officials attempted to let women enter a hill temple at the center of a raging controversy.
A political tinge for the controversy could help Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party gain ground in Kerala, where it has never made much headway, and won just one of 98 seats it contested in the last elections to the state assembly in 2016.
Protests against women entering the Hindu temple grew on Friday, with hundreds of hard-liners blocking three women from entering the Sabarimala temple for a third day.
The demonstrators were defying a Supreme Court verdict that overturned a decades-old ruling by a lower court denying entry to women of menstrual age, whom some Hindu communities consider to be ritually unclean.
“If the government is trying to implement its agenda in Sabarimala, we will prevent it, even by taking the law into our hands,” said K. Surendran, the general secretary of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in the state.
“Sabarimala is not a place for anybody to tamper with.”
Surendran accused the state’s Communist Party government, which has tried to implement the verdict, of provoking devotees after police gave protection to some women who sought to reach the remote site.
He did not elaborate on what the party plans to do, however.
Three dozen priests staged a sit-in against the verdict overturning the ban that kept women aged between 10 and 50 out of the temple, where a celibate deity, Lord Ayyappan, is worshipped.
Television broadcast images of scores of police attempting to calm emotional protesters, who consider the verdict a challenge to tradition and interference in religious affairs. The Supreme Court called the tradition patriarchal.
Though Hindus form a majority of the state’s population of more than 35 million, it is home to millions of Muslims and Christians.
The controversy has fired up Hindu religious sentiment, with some residents supporting the view that the temple devotees’ feelings ought to be respected.
Members of Modi’s BJP in the state have also strongly backed those seeking to block the entry of women.
Hindu hard-liners, including members of the BJP’s youth wing, have clashed with police and attacked women, including journalists, who have tried to get to the temple.
Two women who got close were forced to turn back in the face of protests and a threat by the head priest to shut the temple if they entered, senior Kerala police official S. Sreejith told reporters on Friday.
A third woman turned back at the request of police, citing the tension.