TBR News November 17, 2017

Nov 17 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., November 15, 2017:”We will be out of the country until the end of the month. Ed”


Table of Contents

  • Is America Up for a Second Cold War?
  • Next stop, Paris! The strange journey of Lebanon’s Saad Hariri
  • Saudi Arabia’s Incompetence Would Be Comical If It Weren’t Killing So Many People
  • Saudi Arabia swapping assets for freedom of some held in graft purge: sources
  • Keystone oil pipeline leaks thousands of gallons of oil in South Dakota
  • Is a military coup against Trump in the cards?
  • A Country, Still Divided: Why Is the Former East Germany Tilting Populist?


Is America Up for a Second Cold War?

November 17, 2017

by Patrick J. Buchanan


After the 19th national congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October, one may discern Premier Xi Jinping’s vision of the emerging New World Order.

By 2049, the centennial of the triumph of Communist Revolution, China shall have become the first power on earth. Her occupation and humiliation by the West and Japan in the 19th and 20th centuries will have become hated but ancient history.

America will have been pushed out of Asia and the western Pacific back beyond the second chain of islands.

Taiwan will have been returned to the motherland, South Korea and the Philippines neutralized, Japan contained. China’s claim to all the rocks, reefs and islets in the South China Sea will have been recognized by all current claimants.

Xi’s “One Belt, One Road” strategy will have brought South and Central Asia into Beijing’s orbit, and he will be in the Pantheon beside the Founding Father of Communist China, Mao Zedong.

Democracy has been rejected by China in favor of one-party rule of all political, economic, cultural and social life.

And as one views Europe, depopulating, riven by secessionism, fearful of a Third World migrant invasion, and America tearing herself apart over politics and ideology, China must appear to ambitious and rising powers as the model to emulate.

Indeed, has not China shown the world that authoritarianism can be compatible with national growth that outstrips a democratic West?

Over the last quarter century, China, thanks to economic nationalism and $4 trillion in trade surpluses with the United States, has exhibited growth unseen since 19th-century America.

Whatever we may think of Xi’s methods, this vision must attract vast numbers of China’s young – they see their country displace America as first power, becoming the dominant people on earth.

What is America’s vision? What is America’s cause in the 21st century? What is the mission and goal that unites, inspires and drives us on?

After World War II, America’s foreign policy was imposed upon her by the terrible realities the war produced: brutalitarian Stalinist domination of Eastern and Central Europe and much of Asia.

Under nine presidents, containment of the Soviet empire, while avoiding a war that would destroy civilization, was our policy. In Korea and Vietnam, Americans died in the thousands to sustain that policy.

But with the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the breakup of the USSR, it seemed that by 1992 our great work was done. Now democracy would flourish and be embraced by all advanced peoples and nations.

But it did not happen. The “end of history” never came. The New World Order of Bush I did not last. Bush II’s democracy crusade to end tyranny in our world produced disasters from Libya to Afghanistan.

Authoritarianism is now ascendant and democracy is in retreat.

Is the United States prepared to accept a world in which China, growing at twice our rate, more united and purposeful, emerges as the dominant power? Are we willing to acquiesce in a Chinese Century?

Or will we adopt a policy to ensure that America remains the world’s preeminent power?

Do we have what is required in wealth, power, stamina and will to pursue a Second Cold War to contain China, which, strategic weapons aside, is more powerful and has greater potential than the Soviet Union ever did?

On his Asia tour, President Trump spoke of the “Indo-Pacific,” shorthand for the proposition that the U.S., Japan, Australia and India form the core of a coalition to maintain the balance of power in Asia and contain the expansion of China.

Yet, before we create some Asia-Pacific NATO to corral and contain China in this century, as we did the USSR in the 20th century, we need to ask ourselves why.

Does China, even if she rises to surpass the U.S. in manufacturing, technology and economic output, and is a comparable military power, truly threaten us as the USSR did, to where we should consider war to prevent its expansion in places like the South China Sea that are not vital to America?

While China is a great power, she has great problems.

She is feared and disliked by her neighbors. She has territorial quarrels with Russia, India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan. She has separatists in Tibet and Xinjiang. Christianity is growing while Communism, the state religion, is a dead faith. Moreover, the monopoly of power now enjoyed by the Communist Party and Xi Jinping mean that if things go wrong, there is no one else to blame.

Finally, why is the containment of China in Asia the responsibility of a United States 12 time zones away? For while China seeks to dominate Eurasia, she appears to have no desire to threaten the vital interests of the United States. China’s Communism appears to be an ideology disbelieved by her own people, that she does not intend to impose it on Asia or the world.

Again, are we Americans up for a Second Cold War, and, if so, why?



Next stop, Paris! The strange journey of Lebanon’s Saad Hariri

November 16, 2017

by Robert Bridge,


In early November, Lebanese PM Saad Hariri shocked the world by unexpectedly flying to Saudi Arabia and announcing his retirement. The Lebanese people suspected foul play on the part of Riyadh. Now they may finally have a chance to hear the full story.

In the latest twist in this incredible tale, Saad Hariri is expected to leave Saudi Arabia for France in several days before traveling to Beirut where he will reportedly formally resign as prime minister. To say Hariri’s return will be a momentous event would be a great understatement. Naturally, speculation is rife among Lebanese citizens that Hariri, a Sunni Muslim politician with strong bonds to Saudi Arabia, was coerced to quit.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Thursday that he looked forward to Hariri’s return following the latter’s acceptance of the French invitation. “I await the return of PM Hariri to Beirut so we can decide on the situation of the government – if he wants to resign or rescind his resignation,” Aoun said, according to presidential sources quoted by Reuters.

Earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron invited Hariri to France after speaking to him and the Saudi Crown Prince, the Elysee Palace said on Wednesday. Macron insisted that the invitation is not an offer of political exile.

The flight of Hariri

This sensational story began on November 3 when Hariri suddenly and without apparent warning boarded a flight from Beirut to Saudi Arabia. The next day, from the capital Riyadh, he announced his resignation, pointing to the “regional interference” of Iran and Hezbollah as the reason for his decision. He also said he feared assassination, which is certainly reasonable given that his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was killed in a massive truck bombing in 2005.

Analysts are of the opinion that Riyadh had grown exasperated with Hariri’s power-sharing arrangement with Hezbollah. And with Iran and Hezbollah’s success in helping to defeat Islamic State terrorists in Syria, tossing President Bashar Assad a veritable lifeline, this was seen as the last straw.

Hariri’s flight to Saudi Arabia and subsequent resignation, however, was just one earthquake among many to rock the kingdom at about the same time.

On the evening of Hariri’s announcement, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) initiated an extraordinary anti-corruption raid, which led to the arrest of 11 princes, four ministers and many businessmen. The Riyadh Ritz Carlton has been converted into a luxury jailhouse to hold the detainees. In addition to tightly consolidating King Salman’s son’s grip on power, the move could potentially add $800 billion to Saudi coffers. There was probably hope in Riyadh that all of the events, taken together, would spark chaos on the streets of Lebanon. However, if that is the case, that effort failed, as has been the case with so many Riyadh initiatives of late. In fact, Lebanon seems to have been energized and united by the Hariri scandal.

“In one week of Hariri being in Saudi Arabia, the Lebanese PM has achieved more in unifying the Lebanese than he could ever have hoped for in a lifetime of politics,” Beirut-based journalist Martin Jay wrote in an RT opinion piece this week.

As if the purge of Saudi Arabia’s princedom and business elite were not enough, MbS began a dangerous saber-rattling display aimed at regional countries.

Saudi saber-rattling

Days after Hariri announced his resignation, Riyadh accused Lebanon of “declaring war on Saudi Arabia” because of purported “aggression” by the Iran-backed Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. In reality, however, this was a poorly feigned attack on Iran, which for Riyadh is the real bugbear in this story.

Although Iran-Saudi relations have been strained for over a decade, things really took a turn for the worse in January 2016, following the execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric.

Then, on June 7, 2017, Iran suffered its first terrorist outrage in a decade as Islamic State militants carried out attacks against the Iranian Parliament building and the Mausoleum of Ruhollah Khomeini, leaving 17 civilians dead and 43 wounded. Many Iranian officials suggested that the attacks were the work of “foreign governments,” including Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is beginning to suspect that it is being outmaneuvered in its ‘near abroad’ by Tehran, which now enjoys an arc of influence extending from Iraq to Lebanon, and beyond, as well as in the tiny outposts of Yemen and Qatar. Riyadh exaggerates the danger of this “Iranian influence,” while at the same time failing to recognize its flatfooted foreign policy as a major reason for its setbacks of late.

For example, in its three-year war against Yemen, which has already killed some 10,000 civilians, a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions is underway, threatening some 7 million Yemenis with starvation. The turbulent events of Nov.4 were partially designed, it seems, to shroud the Yemen breakdown.

As Saad Hariri issued his resignation from Riyadh, and Saudi princes and officials were being rounded up and arrested, the young Crown Prince, 32, said his military had intercepted a Houthi ballistic missile, launched from Yemen towards an international airport on the outskirts of the Saudi capital. Some analysts are of the opinion no rocket was ever fired. In any case, MbS blamed Iran for supplying the Houthi rebels with missiles.

“The involvement of the Iranian regime in supplying its Houthi militias with missiles is considered a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime,” MbS told UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in a telephone conversation. He added for good measure that the move “may be considered an act of war against the kingdom.”

At this point in our Arabian mystery, it cannot be denied that Riyadh is working closely with the United States and Israel. It did not go unnoticed, least of all by Iran, that US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, had paid a visit to the Crown Prince just one month before the November tumult began.

Although the contents of that meeting have never been made public, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, fired off a tweet that got no Trump response: “Visits by Kushner & Lebanese PM led to Hariri’s bizarre resignation while abroad. Of course, Iran is accused of interference.”

Judging by the secretive Kushner meeting, Riyadh appears to be working as a proxy of sorts for the region’s real power-brokers, the United States and Israel.

“We don’t know if the Saudis are playing a game whereby they will let Hariri go back to Lebanon as a reminder… that they can go to any extreme to remove power from him,” Beirut-based Martin Jay told RT via telephone.

Now it remains to be seen if Saad Hariri and his family will remain a long-term guest of Emmanuel Macron in Paris, or if he will, as promised, continue on to the next leg of his mysterious journey back to Lebanon, where he will certainly be the center of attention from all sides.



Saudi Arabia’s Incompetence Would Be Comical If It Weren’t Killing So Many People

November 17 2017

by Murtaza Hussain

The Intercept

Saudi Arabia should be a very powerful country. Endowed with one-fifth of the world’s proven oil reserves, close ties with powerful Western states, access to endless amounts of U.S. weaponry, the support of global corporate interests, and the religio-cultural cachet afforded by stewardship of Muslim holy sites, the kingdom should by all accounts be an undisputed regional powerhouse.

Suffice to say, this is not the case, as a quick glance at the Middle East today reveals.

Saudi foreign policy is floundering in a way that would be comical if it didn’t involve so much human devastation. Under the newly minted leadership of Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi government is stuck losing every proxy war that it is involved in. It has failed to bring their diminutive Gulf rival Qatar to heel and most recently humiliated its own ally, the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, in what appears to be a tragicomic attempt to destabilize the Lebanese government.

Saudi Arabia is often criticized for being the seedbed for radical Islam, but this might be just a symptom of a deeper problem: the radical incompetence of its leadership. Since the 1975 assassination of King Faisal bin Abdulaziz — the last ruler widely seen to have promoted a positive image of the country — Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy has been catastrophically adrift. Despite spending exorbitant sums of money to spread its influence, the kingdom’s leaders appear more and more besieged — at war not just with Iran and its allies, but with Qatar, the Muslim Brotherhood, and internal rivals.

It’s worth comparing Saudi Arabia to another country in its region that it actually has a lot in common with: the Islamic Republic of Iran. Despite their sectarian and ethnic differences, in many ways the two rivals are more similar to each other than the rest of their neighbors. Both are repressive petro-states that employ state religion as a tool for keeping their people in line. Both try to use sectarian identity as a way to cultivate their influence abroad. And both are seeking to establish themselves as regional hegemons, heedless of the destruction that their efforts cause.

There are real differences, of course: Iran is an international pariah, commands a fraction of Saudi Arabia’s resources, and seems to be permanently on the brink of being bombed into oblivion by an unremittingly hostile United States.

Yet Saudi Arabia, despite its innumerable advantages, has proven to be infinitely worse than Iran at the sordid game to win power in the region.

Although the rivalry between the two countries is sometimes portrayed as the continuation of a supposed primordial conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims, the actual roots can be found in a more recent history: the upheavals of 1979.

In 1979, Iran underwent its Islamic Revolution and began zealously exporting its revolutionary ideology throughout the Muslim world; the new Islamic Republic pushed a politicized version of Shia Islam developed by Ayatollah Khomeini during his long years in exile. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, was spooked by the demise of a fellow monarch, the revolutionary sentiments of the new Iranian leaders, and by an ill-fated millenarian uprising in Mecca that year. Saudi Arabia’s response to the uprising was to ramp up an effort parallel to the Iranians attempts to export the revolution, with the aim of promoting a fundamentalist version of Sunni Islam at home and abroad; the ostensible purpose was for Saudi Arabia to win influence in the region and in the wider world.

Almost four decades later, it’s difficult to dispute which country has shown more competence in their struggle.

While Iran is looked to by many Shia political groups around the world as a model and source of support, Saudi Arabia is openly loathed by Sunni Muslims across the ideological spectrum, with the handful of exceptions made up by those directly on its payroll. Iran can count on the support of loyal Shia militias in Lebanon and Iraq, and yet many of the Sunni militant groups spawned by Saudi Arabia’s extremist proselytizing routinely declare war on Saudi leaders for being insufficiently extremist.

The contrast of Sunni disunity and Shia coalescence can be chalked up in part to how Saudi Arabia and Iran treat their respective sectarian communities. Iran’s alliances have allowed for independent political structures that the Islamic Republic does not directly control and command; it supports Shia groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shia Iraqi militias, and the Houthis in Yemen, which all maintain some degree of autonomy in their decision-making. Iran even allows for groups and actors with heterodox Shia beliefs to come into its fold and is glad to co-opt some Sunni groups and religious minorities that are willing to work under its leadership.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, worked in concert with its ultra-conservative clerics, to wage an ideological war against local forms of Sunni Islam and Sufism, extending the battle to grassroots populist Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood. These crackdowns created untold numbers of enemies, yet Saudi Arabia’s friends remain unclear, beyond a handful of clients and tiny, neighboring sheikdoms. With a few exceptions, Saudi Arabia’s engagement in outright sectarian hostility has also prevented it from coopting dissident Shia movements and helped push them instead into Iran’s orbit.

For all its largesse, for all the cultural cachet granted by controlling the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia has proven unable to use soft power to improve its image in the Muslim world, let alone create powerful proxies like Iran’s allies in Hezbollah. Beyond transactional relationships with other countries and nonstate actors, Saudi Arabia seems unable to accept allies that don’t march in complete lockstep not only with the regime’s particular religious beliefs, but also its absolute authority.

Iran’s leaders have committed many crimes since the revolution, and the international community — led by Iran’s chief antagonist, the United States — has let the world know about it. Yet Saudi policies continue to bring down international condemnation in a measure that rivals the Islamic Republic — despite the frequent shield of U.S. backing. For a brief moment, it seemed like the Saudis could claim the moral high-ground when the Iranians found themselves in the unpopular position of supporting a mass-murdering dictator in Syria. But Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ceded whatever relative moral authority the kingdom might have claimed by engineering what may be an even larger humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, where a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition wages a brutal, ongoing war.

Lacking popular support or reliable allies in the Muslim world, Saudi leaders have begun to touch the third rail of Middle Eastern politics by publicly embracing Israel. Even in the U.S., where the Saudis have spent considerable resources on lobbying and public relations, they have singularly failed at improving their country’s image. While the kingdom has managed to utilize the culture of institutionalized corruption in D.C. to build elite relationships, its soft power with the U.S. public is close to nil. Even Iran, to which American political and media structures are ceaselessly hostile, has its tactful foreign minister Javad Zarif and smiling president Hassan Rouhani in public seeking to revitalize the county’s image. Saudi Arabia has no comparable presence — and indeed no comparable figures who could pull it off.

Even a country so blessed with resources and advantages cannot endure forever under such catastrophically incompetent and wasteful leadership. As some U.S. elites fawn over the kingdom’s announcements of piecemeal reforms and bizarre plans to build robot-cities in the desert, a slow but inexorable unraveling lurks in the background. A century after it was first created, Saudi Arabia is recklessly adrift in a world that is suffering for it.


Saudi Arabia swapping assets for freedom of some held in graft purge: sources

November 17, 2017

by Samia Nakhoul, Katie Paul


BEIRUT/RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi authorities are striking agreements with

some of those detained in an anti-corruption crackdown, asking them to hand over assets and cash in return for their freedom, sources familiar with the matter said.

The deals involve separating cash from assets like property and shares, and looking at bank accounts to assess cash values, one of the sources told Reuters.

Dozens of princes, senior officials and businessmen, including cabinet ministers and billionaires, have been detained in the graft inquiry at least partly aimed at strengthening the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

These include billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the kingdom’s most prominent businessmen.

One businessman had tens of millions of Saudi riyals withdrawn from his account after he signed. In another case, a former senior official consented to hand over ownership of four billion riyals worth of shares, the source said.

The Saudi government earlier this week moved from freezing accounts to issuing instructions for “expropriation of unencumbered assets” or seizure of assets, said a second source familiar with the situation.

There was no immediate comment from the Saudi government on the deals and the sources declined to be identified because these agreements are not public.

Analysts said the deals may help end uncertainty about the anti-corruption crackdown but could have an impact on Saudi Arabia’s risk perception among investors.

“Eliminating uncertainty about what the Saudi authorities are going to do goes a long way toward giving the market comfort that the regime is getting its house in order, and plugging its deficit,” said Louis Gargour, founder and senior portfolio manager at London-based hedge fund LNG Capital.

Riyadh has been cutting spending while raising taxes and fees to curb a state budget deficit caused by low oil prices. The deficit, which hit $98 billion in 2015, is shrinking but at a high cost to the economy – data in late September showed Saudi Arabia in recession during the second quarter.

The Saudi government has in recent years been pressing wealthy individuals to invest more in the kingdom and bring home some of their wealth from overseas.

The United States is closely watching the situation in Saudi Arabia, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday.

Asked about agreements to hand over wealth for detainees’ freedom, Mnuchin told CNBC: “I think that the Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman) is doing a great job at transforming the country.”


Gargour said: “From a civil liberties point of view obviously incarcerating people doesn’t give us comfort, and that’s why we’ve seen spreads on Saudi bonds go 50 basis points or so wider.”

Funds started selling Middle East bonds early this month after Saudi Arabia detained dozens of senior officials and businessmen in an unprecedented crackdown on graft.

Credit spreads and the cost of insuring debt against default have increased not only for Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, but across the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Qatar, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi.

“From a trading point of view you want to identify the private companies most impacted and short or sell them, and conversely public sector companies will benefit,” said Gargour.

The market value of the portfolio of Saudi equities held by the Public Investment Fund, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, has gained, even as the arrest or questioning of more than 200 people in the inquiry caused stocks in many privately controlled firms to slump.

Reuters could not immediately verify a Financial Times report that in some cases the government is seeking to appropriate as much as 70 percent of suspects’ wealth to channel hundreds of billions of dollars into depleted state coffers.

The Saudi authorities have help from international auditors, investigators and people with experience in tracing assets. Bank representatives are on hand to execute the decisions immediately, one of the sources said.

Saudi authorities have said they have questioned 208 people in an anti-corruption investigation and estimate at least $100 billion has been stolen through graft, an official said last week as the inquiry expanded beyond the kingdom’s borders into the United Arab Emirates.

Those detained include other high-profile businessmen such as Mohammad al-Amoudi, whose wealth is estimated by Forbes at $10.4 billion, with construction, agriculture and energy companies in Sweden, Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia; and finance and healthcare magnate Saleh Kamel, whose fortune is seen at $2.3 billion.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is trying to use the anti-corruption purge as a way of boosting his popularity with the Saudi population, said Jason Tuvey, Middle East economist at Capital Economics.

“But he may have realized that by doing this he’s gone a step too far and ruffled too many feathers, and he is maybe trying to find a way out that means these people don’t end up in prison forever and can carry on their business operations as before.”

Additional reporting by Tom Arnold in DUBAI, Lawrence White and Claire Milhench in London; Writing by Saeed Azhar; Editing by Janet Lawrence



Keystone oil pipeline leaks thousands of gallons of oil in South Dakota

TransCanada Corp’s Keystone pipeline leaked about 5,000 barrels of oil in South Dakota in the US. It comes days before neighboring Nebraska decides on the fate of the company’s ambitious Keystone XL pipeline project.

November 17, 2017


Canadian pipeline company TransCanada closed a section of its Keystone pipeline system after an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil leaked onto agricultural fields in the state of South Dakota in the United States.

TransCanada said in a statement it discovered the leak near the town of Amherst early Thursday after a drop in pressure was detected in its operating system. The company is investigating the cause of the leak.

Brian Walsh from the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources said the leak, which came from an underground pipeline, had been contained at the site.

“Ultimately, the clean-up responsibility lies with TransCanada, and they’ll have to clean it up in compliance with our state regulations,” Walsh said.

The 4,324 km (2,687 miles) – long Keystone pipeline system carries crude oil from Canada’s Alberta to refineries on the US Gulf coast. It can handle nearly 600,000 barrels daily.

The pipeline has transported more than 1.5 billion barrels of crude since operations began in 2010, according to TransCanada’s website.

Keystone XL decision looms

The spill takes place just days before authorities in the neighboring state of Nebraska decide whether to grant the final permit needed for TransCanada’s long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline.

The controversial pipeline, which will run from Hardisty in Alberta to Steele City in Nebraska, got a federal nod in March when US President Donald Trump reversed his predecessor Barack Obama’s decision to reject the line on environmental grounds.

Trump argued that the proposed 830,000-barrel pipeline, which would serve as an extension to the existing Keystone pipeline system, will bring down fuel prices, create jobs and shore up national security.

TransCanada has also said the pipeline would promote energy security in the region and provide economic benefits to many communities along its route. It claims the pipeline would provide a $3.4 billion (€2.9 billion) boost to the US economy.

“If this spill had happened along the proposed route in Nebraska, it would be absolutely devastating,” said Brian Jorde, a lawyer representing Nebraska landowners opposed to Keystone XL. “Their proposed route is within a mile of thousands of water wells.”

“We hope the PSC is paying attention,” said Greenpeace campaigner Mike Hudema, referring to the regulatory body that will rule on the pipeline.

An announcement by the Nebraska Public Service Commission, or PSC, is expected on Monday. A rejection of the route would put the future of the pipeline in jeopardy, dealing a major blow for President and Trump and the Canadian energy sector.

Other states have already approved XL’s route.


Is a military coup against Trump in the cards?

November 17, 2017

by Finian Cunningham


In an extraordinary US Senate hearing this week, lawmakers and military officials rounded on President Trump as being a danger to world peace due to his Commander-in-Chief powers for launching nuclear weapons.

The highlight came when the hearing was told military officers have the constitutional right to disobey the president.

This was, in effect, an open call to mutiny against the president’s authority. The Senate hearing surely counts as an outstanding moment in a year of topsy-turvy politics since Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the United States on November 8 last year. Yet that moment of potential sedition seemed to pass off as a rather humdrum event.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held its hearings Tuesday on the legalities surrounding the presumed executive power of the president to launch nuclear missiles. It was the first time in over 40 years since such a debate was convened on Capitol Hill, not since 1976 when Richard Nixon was about to be ousted. That reference alone speaks volumes as to what lies at stake for Trump

Time magazine ran the headline: “Should President Trump Have the Sole Power to Launch Nuclear Missiles?”

Senator Chris Murphy (D) set the tone and purpose of the hearing by saying: “We are concerned the President of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, and has a decision-making process that is so quixotic that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with US security interests.”

Hinting at the severe constitutional implication, Murphy added: “So let’s just recognize the exceptional nature of this moment, of this discussion we’re having today.”

It’s hard to imagine a more demeaning way to refer to the head of state. Basically, Trump is being painted as a nutcase with his finger on a button for Armageddon. How is the president supposed to retain authority after that?

These broadsides against Trump have been rammed by political opponents, pro-Democrat media and the US intelligence community for the past year and more. Recall when Democrat rival Hillary Clinton berated Trump during a televised debate as a security danger because of his volatile temperament and would-be access to the nuclear codes.

Even members of Trump’s own Republican Party have cast him as a threat to national security. Last month, Republican Senator Bob Corker blasted his fiery rhetoric toward North Korea as “putting the US on a path to World War Three.”

Capping his first year in office, Trump returned last week from a 12-day Asian tour claiming it a major success in terms of promoting American business interests. But former intelligence chiefs soon rained on Trump’s parade by calling him a “national security threat” in high-profile media interviews. Former CIA boss John Brennan, and ex-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper were referring to Trump’s conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the APEC summit in Vietnam. Both former spooks, who presumably still retain close contacts within the security-military establishment, denounced Trump for “accepting Putin’s assurances that Russia did not interfere in the US elections.” Trump, they said, was “being played by Putin” and was thereby endangering the security of the US.

These comments were echoed again this week by Brian Hook, a senior State Department official, who told a conference in Washington that “Russia is a clear and present threat to the West.” As Radio Free Europe reported: “Hook’s tough line on Moscow appears to be in contrast to stated attempts by the administration of President Donald Trump to improve relations with Russia as a means to solve global crises.”

Again, it is hard to imagine how more derogatory the slurs against a sitting president could be expressed. The tenuous “Russia-Gate” accusations of “collusion” between Trump and Russia purportedly to get him elected have marked him down as a “Kremlin stooge.” On top of that, Trump is allegedly a national security threat; and now this week, a crazy buffoon who must be wrestled from the nuclear button.

One US military official giving evidence to the Senate hearings questioning Trump’s authority described him as having “God-like power to end the world.”

Bruce Blair, formerly a nuclear launch commander, said in a later media interview: “The power to destroy human civilization is unilaterally wielded by one man, who happens to be a career con artist and reality TV star known for his impulsive petulance, short temper and even shorter attention span.”

Perhaps the most significant comment came from General Robert Kehler, who commanded US Strategic Command overseeing the nation’s nuclear arsenal between 2011-2013. He told the Senate committee: “If there is an illegal order presented to the military, the military is obligated to refuse to follow it.”

Kehler said this obligation to refuse orders applies to all presidents. However, in the context of the unique and relentless media attacks on Trump over the past year, the call for disobedience takes a special significance. It is an open challenge to Trump’s ultimate authority.

Let’s be clear. Trump’s personality and behavior are suspect. He is impetuous and reckless in his rhetoric. His threats to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea are deeply disturbing. So too was his bragging at the UN General Assembly in September of “totally destroying” the Asian nation due to its nuclear weapons program. Trump’s cheap Twitter shots at North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as “Little Rocket Man,” and more recently as “short and fat,” are gratuitously provocative and have escalated fears that a nuclear war could break out.

Nevertheless, there seems to be an ulterior agenda of opportunism going on among the American political class which has never accepted Trump’s election as valid.

Portraying Trump as a Russian stooge, a traitor and a national security danger are all par for the course in the ongoing campaign to take him down and to overturn last year’s election result.

But here’s the intriguing thing. The Senators this week in their hearings on Trump’s nuclear powers did not contemplate amending legislation to curb those powers. Senator Bob Corker told reporters: “I don’t see it happening.”

Brian McKeon, who served as acting undersecretary for policy at the Defense Department during the Obama administration, said: “If we were to change the decision-making process because of a distrust of this president, that would be an unfortunate decision for the next president.”

So, there you have it. US lawmakers and military officials seem to have no problem with the fact that a president could launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes against some perceived enemy state. If they did object, then they would be pushing through legislation to widen authority and consultation to restrict the use of nuclear weapons.

The real issue here should be about how any American president has been given the authority to launch a nuclear war, not just Trump.

What Trump’s opponents within the political and military-security establishment are really aiming at is to find some pretext for undermining his office, and ultimately to challenge his presidential authority on the grounds that he is unfit.

The public call this week for the US military to disobey Trump’s orders is a shot across his bow that a coup is not unthinkable.


A Country, Still Divided: Why Is the Former East Germany Tilting Populist?

The Berlin Wall fell 28 years ago, yet vast divisions remain between the former East and West of the country. In the recent election, the populist AfD party did particularly well in the eastern states. But why?

November 17, 2017

by Maik Baumgärtner, Markus Deggerich, Frank Hornig and Andreas Wassermann


It’s a weekday morning in Thuringia’s state parliament and the representatives are engaged in heated debate.

“Embarrassing,” one of them shouts.

“The NPD couldn’t have put it better,” yells another, referring to the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany.

“I’m outraged!”

“How dare you?”

“I won’t stand for your constant lies!”

“You couldn’t even spell the word ‘decency’!”

“Just shut up!”

“I think it’s only right that we as the state parliament apologize for this comment.”

The parliament is having a debate about the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a far-right terror cell that murdered 10 people across Germany between 2000 and 2007. Should there be a memorial to their victims? Two MPs from the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) have seized the opportunity to provoke other parties.

Thuringia’s regional government consists of a so-called “red-red-green” coalition of the Left Party, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens. One of the AfD politicians is arguing that this coalition wants to dictate to the people of Thuringia and indeed “the German people” that they are “basically stuck in the Third Reich.” He maintains the coalition is out to convince the public that “people are rotten.” Only victims of NSU terror are honored, he argues, and not those of Islamist terror. “We’re expected to become loyal followers of a new so-called anti-fascism!”

The plenary assembly taking place in the newly-built, light-flooded state parliament building is attended by Bodo Ramelow, Thuringia’s state governor, a member of the Left Party. He goes from staring at the speaker, incomprehension written across his face, to burying his head in his hands. Eventually he goes up to the podium himself.

“I am ashamed that such a speech is made here in the state parliament,” says the state governor.

Something has changed in Germany. A country that until recently was crowned the most popular in the world in various surveys has become consumed by self-doubt and mired in a quest for identity. The rapid rise of the AfD has rocked the nation, including in the states of what was once West Germany and where the AfD are now represented in all state legislatures. Mainly, however, it has been the case in the states of the former East, where the AfD is now the second more powerful party. In Saxony, it’s the strongest.

November 9 marked the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It wasn’t a milestone anniversary as it was in 2014, when the country threw a jubilant party complete with fireworks and guests from all over the world. The unified country had grown up, was economically robust, modern and tolerant. The message was: finally, what belonged together had grown together, as former Chancellor Willy Brandt once predicted. But had it really? Is it still true?

What’s going on in eastern Germany? In the wake of the elections in September, newspapers have been trying to figure out why the eastern states have lurched the furthest to the right, and why German nationalism and xenophobia appear to have be getting inexorably more overt there – from the anti-immigrant Pegida marches to the anti-refugee protests in Freital and Heidenau and the outpourings of anger at Angela Merkel during her election campaign appearances over the summer.

The theories put forward so far are based on two assumptions: That it’s the result of economics and the wealth gap that still exists between the western and eastern states, or that it’s related to some supposed collective psychological disorder spurred by the fact that the experience of two dictatorships was never properly dealt with.

But it’s not that simple. In recent weeks, a team of DER SPIEGEL journalists met people who have been observing, encouraging or fighting the shift to the right in Germany’s eastern states: voters, parliamentarians, state governors, regional politicians and representatives of grassroots society. It has created a multi-faceted picture showing nationalist, racist and anti-democratic elements, as well as lighter ones – and possible paths out of the populism trap.

Everyone seemed to agree that the September election was a cry for attention. Twenty-eight years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is high time eastern and western Germany finally listened to one another, so that German reunification is not merely an excuse for fireworks, as it was on the 25th anniversary, three years ago.

Something for Everyone

The rubble has been swept into little piles, with plastic garbage sacks dotted between them. “Mineral wool can cause cancer,” read stickers on the bags. “Wear protective clothing!” it says underneath, followed by a vivid exclamation mark and a gas-mask pictogram.

This is all that’s left of an obsolete high-rise estate built in communist East Germany. Weisswasser in Oberlausitz, a region near the border between Saxony and Poland, is a deserted town. Many have left and those that have stayed can justifiably call themselves among the losers of German reunification. 28 percent of them voted for the AfD in the federal elections.

Nine kilometers to the east, on the River Neisse, is Bad Muskau. It’s home to a palace and a park which was renovated to the tune of millions and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Tourism is a nice earner for the small town and its inhabitants, and Bad Muskau is one of eastern Germany’s success stories. Even so, almost one in three voted AfD in the election — 3.6 percent more than in Weisswasser.

“In actual fact, we’re already just a perfectly normal mainstream party here,” says Tino Chrupalla. In Oberlausitz, the AfD offers something for everyone – people who feel forgotten as well as those who’ve benefited from reunification. “Even pastors vote for us.” In September Chrupalla succeeded in ousting the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) as the most popular local party, which they had been for the last 25 years, when he won a direct mandate and defeated Michael Kretschmer, the Saxon CDU’s general secretary.

When 42-year-old Chrupalla talks, he comes across as friendly, open, frank. He waxes lyrical about Weisswasser’s golden years in East Germany, when people worked in the lignite mines and the glassworks, and lived in ultra-modern high-rises.

“I had a lovely childhood,” he says. “Very nice, very safe.” Doors were left unlocked in the countryside, there were few break-ins and when they did happen, the perpetrators were soon apprehended by the East German police. “My parents never had to worry about where I was playing.”

Once the Berlin Wall had fallen, Helmut Kohl – the CDU chancellor who went down in history as the father of reunification — became his new idol. He joined the Junge Union, the youth wing of the CDU, and he and his friend and fellow party member Michael Kretschmer paid a visit to the chancellor. Chrupalla trained to be a housepainter and went on to set up his own business. His company thrived, he got married – reunification brought him nothing but good fortune.

But he felt increasingly alienated from Germany. Thousands of jobs were lost. Half the inhabitants of Weisswasser moved away. Bus routes in the surrounding countryside were cancelled. Stores and schools in local villages were closed. And gangs from Eastern Europe started crossing the open border to steal cars.

The region was changing, and so was Germany. The financial crisis, the euro crisis, the refugee crisis and then same-sex marriage. “No one ever asked us what we thought,” says Chrupalla. He took part in the anti-Islam, far-right Pegida demonstrations in Dresden and eventually joined the AfD. Then he stood for election as a member of the German parliament.

“I never dreamt I would lose my constituency,” says Chrupalla’s erstwhile colleague, Michael Kretschmer. As the representative for Oberlausitz in the Bundestag, the CDU politician helped keep EU research funds pouring into the region and opened doors in Berlin for local mayors. “I believe I was a good representative,” he says.

But during the election he got the impression that voters wanted to “make a point” – not necessarily to him, he says, but to the chancellor, to the CDU in Berlin. About refugee policy. “People had the feeling they weren’t being taken seriously,” he says.

In fact, protest voters have done him a favor, too. In December, he is set to take over from state governor Stanislaw Tillich, who is resigning in light of his party’s disappointing performance in the September election. Kretschmer, who lost his seat in Oberlausitz, is now supposed to save the CDU in Saxony and indeed the state itself from the AfD.

His rival Tino Chrupalla, meanwhile, is also advancing his career – in Berlin. He’s now deputy chairman of the AfD’s parliamentary group. “As a humble housepainter, I am proud to have made Saxony’s CDU lose its footing,” he says.

So far, Chrupalla has not shown any signs of demagoguery, unlike AfD firebrands like Björn Höcke, a Saxon state parliament politician who has publicly questioned Germany’s culture of remembrance for the Holocaust. He refers to an “erosion of democracy” and says that regional parliaments aren’t consulted on important issues. “The genie’s been let out of the bottle,” he says. “People aren’t going to stand for it any more.”

The Sin of the Fathers

The Haseloff family has lived in or near Wittenberg for 600 years. Its members have been active in local politics through the generations, and right now it’s Reiner Haseloff’s turn. The 63-year-old is the current governor of Saxony-Anhalt.

As he leads the way through his hometown, which is southwest of Berlin, his every step brings him face to face with his past, and with Germany’s history. Here’s the linden tree at the Luther House where Haseloff proposed to his wife. There’s the square in front of the university, one of the oldest in Germany, which was visited by Frederick the Great and Napoleon. And there’s the church where Luther preached his sermons and the first mass was celebrated in German.

Haseloff still remembers how in October 1989 he and many others gathered here, not far from Luther’s pulpit, to pray for peaceful change, and then headed outside to the market square to demonstrate.

Today radical right-wingers are setting the mood, and the CDU politician is asking himself how this could have happened. “God punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” That’s what he heard recently in church on a Sunday, during a reading from Exodus. “You can work out for how much longer we will have to carry the twentieth century’s burden of guilt,” he says.

He is digging, layer by layer, to reach the roots of today’s dissatisfaction. He starts with the economy. “Imagine if half the country’s population had no regular work,” says Haseloff, who was director of the local employment office in the 1990s. At the time, 49.3 percent of people in Saxony-Anhalt were registered as unemployed or were signed on with an employment initiative. “We veered from one insolvency to another.”

At the same time, the birth rate in the region declined by 50 percent. “Social rupture on this scale was unprecedented in peacetime Germany,” he says,

Every week for the last 15 years, opponents of the controversial Hartz IV labor reforms introduced in the early 2000s have demonstrated in Wittenberg. Haseloff has often talked with them. But this afternoon a different group has assembled on the market square. Angry Christians are protesting against the “Judensau,” or Jewish pig – an anti-Semitic relief dating from the 14th century that adorns the facade of the church. They want it to be removed.

It’s an issue that Haseloff is familiar with. In 1988, he was part of a group of Christians who succeeded in getting a memorial plaque to Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust installed in the ground below the relief. But he believes the Judensau shouldn’t be removed. “If it’s taken away we would no longer have this reminder that we must confront our history,” he says.

The demonstrators aren’t convinced. They see a connection between the relief and the state of current politics and the AfD. “Something is happening and we can’t tell yet where it will lead,” says one of them.

It’s possible that issues weren’t debated enough in recent years in the states of the former East. Perhaps because people were too busy simply sorting out their lives. “We were buffeted by change,” says Haseloff.

But now that the unemployment rate is down, the economy is finally picking up and even the population is once again growing, the long absence of public debate and of questions about identity has become more conspicuous. The far-right is consciously exploiting this vacuum.

In regional elections in Saxony-Anhalt in March 2016, the AfD secured 24.3 percent of the vote, its best result in Germany at that point. The new representatives marched in step to the regional parliament. Back then, Haseloff seemed to be in shock in his office in Magdeburg. He said it reminded him of Weimar Germany in its dying days and that he had realized “how fragile democracy is in Germany.”

And today? The federal elections saw a small sea-change in Saxony-Anhalt. Support for the AfD was 19,6 percent, 5 percent lower than it was in the regional election. “We don’t need a shift to the right,” says Haseloff. Properly implementing existing agreements and laws would be enough. “The others should not be given any opportunity to use our failings against us. We cannot allow them to accuse us of us not abiding by the rule of law.”

Fürstenwerder in the Uckermark, in the eastern German state of Brandenburg, isn’t a forgotten and ignored country village. It’s home to just 650 people, but there are two doctor’s practices, an elementary school, a bakery, a butcher’s, a local history museum and a bookstore with a café, where ladies meet for a glass of sparkling wine and neighbors exchange eggs their hens have laid for coffee grown by Mexican Zapatista cooperatives.

In Fürstenwerder, the AfD scored 24 percent in the federal election.One afternoon in October, Nils Graf is sitting down in his bookshop with the local mayor, Dirk Kammer, discussing this swing to the right. Kamme, a qualified carpenter, still can’t believe it. “If you make an effort, the way you have to make an effort anywhere in Germany, then you can have a good life and make something of yourself,” he says.

Needless to say, the government’s refugee policy has also been an issue in Fürstenwerder. There’s a young Syrian who appears to suffer from schizophrenia, and whose erratic behavior upsets locals. Nonetheless, the majority of them are not xenophobic. Five Syrian families have lived here, and were well looked after by the village’s official welcoming committee and by the community at large. So why exactly did the AfD do so well in the election?

Graf explains that the far-right even had supporters among people who donate to refugee charities: “Self-employed skilled laborers who think that AfD has their interests at heart.” They picked up on just one aspect of the AfD’s program that suited them, “and they don’t care about the rest of it.”

Kammer has been mayor for a year. It’s an unpaid position, but a full-time job. The 45-year-old says people often visit his office just to complain. “There’s a branch blocking the road or they think the grass needs mowing somewhere,” he says. But they don’t want to do anything about it themselves. That’s what you’re there for, he’s often told. You sort it out.

And once they’ve voiced a complaint, they want something to be done about it immediately, he adds. They can’t understand that he needs to talk to other authorities. “Nothing’s going to happen from one day to the next,” he often finds himself saying.

He’s a member of the local council and represents the grassroots Bürgerfraktion movement. He’s keen to promote more open debate in the village. “No one should be allowed to just retreat and isolate themselves until the lid blows off,” he says. “Democracy is about having to make an effort.”

New System, New Problems

How does life in a dictatorship change people? It’s a question that Wolfgang Freese has given a lot of thought. “Democracy can be incredibly hard work if in the past all your decisions were made for you,” he says.

He’s in the council hall of the district authority for Ostprignitz-Ruppin, northwest of Berlin. It’s a big room with high ceilings and wood-paneled walls in the heart of Neuruppin. He’s recalling the events of November 1989 – when outside, on the cornices of the building’s masonry, thousands of candles flickered, a symbol of the peaceful protests against the East German regime. Inside, Freese was pushing for democratic co-determination rights for the opposition group Neues Forum. Freese still regularly visits the room. He’s now a representative for the Green Party and discusses district matters here with other politicians.

Even then, he had concerns about how eastern German society would cope with unemployment and foreigners. The country was unfamiliar with either. Guaranteed jobs and no immigration meant that for many, the East German system was a comfortable one.

Neuruppin has come a long way in recent years. Unemployment is down, its arts and culture scene is thriving, many residents are involved with civic initiatives. The association “Neuruppin Bleibt Bunt” (Neuruppin Remains Colorful) has done a lot to bring together locals and refugees.

Even so, Freese, who works in special education needs and as a DJ, has, over the years, often been irked by people who tell him: “Wolfgang, I voted for you even though you’re with the Green Party.” Or that they voted for him, but that their second vote went to the neo-Nazi NPD.

In the last few months he distributed pamphlets against the AfD and tried to get into conversation with its supporters. Freese feels like he knows everybody in Neuruppin and was surprised to see a lot of people he didn’t know. One day he ran into an old acquaintance he’d worked with in the East German civil rights’ movement, who’s now in the AfD. His former comrade-in-arms told him that whenever he sees Angela Merkel or Sigmar Gabriel, he’s reminded of East Germany’s Central Committee. “That’s where a line is drawn,” says Freese. “How can you argue with that?”

The local politician is now 61. He’s eager to carry on working and looking to the future, taking a stance, both in public and as a private individual. However hard it may be. “Who wants to ruin a birthday party by correcting problematic statements?” he asks. But he also says that remaining silent isn’t an option. He wants to reach out to people in their echo chambers, correct fake news and de-emotionalize hysterical debate. “Constant dripping wears the stone,” he says, smiling cautiously.

Rewriting the Past

Bodo Ramelow is sitting in the Thuringian parliament’s canteen in Erfurt, shortly after the debate about the NSU memorial. The state governor is talking about the first time he saw a fully-veiled woman in Thuringia – here in the parliament, of all places. It was Wiebke Muhsal, an AfD representative, protesting against what she sees as the debasement of women.

He goes on to describe the pig heads left on the construction site of a new mosque as a protest by people who think Muslims are to blame for more crime, more rapes, and that everyone will be having to wear veils soon. “I have to hear these blues all the time,” says Ramelow.

“There’s a lot of adrenaline about,” he says. The mood in the AfD is becoming increasingly autocratic, which other parties interpret as them saying: You’ll be gone soon – we’ll have driven you out.

Ramelow gets out his phone. He’s got three color-coded maps of Germany saved on it which supposedly explain the malaise gripping the eastern states. The first one shows where incomes are lowest and where the minimum wage is most common. “It’s the old East Germany,” says Ramelow. “Marked the darkest.” He switches to the next map, which shows in which states the most foreigners live. Thuringia is home to the second lowest number of foreigners in Germany. “There aren’t any foreigners there,” he says, opening the third map. This one shows where support for the AfD is strongest. The whole of eastern Germany is dark blue.

But how do these maps correlate? And why are so many people expressing their frustration in nationalistic, xenophobia terms?

Anyone who grew up in communist East Germany knows “Sister Agnes,” a film made by the state-run DEFA studios in 1975 which tells the story of a plucky district nurse in Oberlausitz who looks after the needs of the villagers and can solve every problem, even when it involves taking on the authorities.

Ramelow recently began referencing the film in public appearances. “It still works,” he says. He talks about the time he – a West German – first saw a postcard depicting Sister Agnes. He laughed uproariously – he thought it was hilarious. “Later I realized it was all about identification, about one’s ‘homeland’, and that the figure of the district nurse is still relevant.” The film shows a world that many miss, but doesn’t reflect the realities of East Germany under longtime leader Erich Honecker: A society where medical care was available in every community and there was always a village store around the corner. The way people remember it, the store’s shelves were perfectly well-stocked.

“The longer ago something was, the happier the memory,” says Ramelow. Anger takes several forms. One of them is quiet, expressed behind closed doors, and another is loud, bellowed on market squares. And these days, in parliament, too. Ramelow and his colleagues have to ask themselves how they should respond to this form of dissatisfaction, both in society and in the assembly.

Almost every party is now addressing the subject of heimat, or “homeland,” including Ramelow and the Left Party. It’s not about insulting AfD voters, he says, but about taking people seriously, and addressing issues such as child care and poverty amongst the elderly.

“In Berlin, the parties need to form a government soon so that we in the eastern states can start to negotiate with them about injustices that are specific to us, but also improved social services and more investment,” says Ramelow. Parties other than the AfD need to come up with solutions fast. “If we underestimate these people, it will harm democracy.”

Taking a Stand

It’s Tuesday evening at the Karl Liebknecht stadium in Potsdam-Babelsberg – the “Karli,” as it’s affectionately known. But the floodlights are switched off, the stalls are empty and just a few of the SV Babelsberg 03 football club offices next door are lit up.

Katharina Dahme, 31, sits in front of a wall decorated with trophies and pennants, explaining how the relationship between football and politics works here in Potsdam, in Brandenburg just outside Berlin. “We organize sit-down protests against neo-Nazi demonstrations, against the AfD and work with refugees,” says Dahme, a member of the supervisory board. “This is all matter of course.”

In 2014 the club founded a team for refugees, Welcome United 03, and registered it for official game activity. It was promoted in the very first season – but not everyone was pleased. “People made ape noises, wore t-shirts with abusive slogans, and insults from fans and other teams are unfortunately not uncommon,” says Dahme. At one game last year, several players with a rival team wore t-shirts under their jerseys with the slogan ‘Refugees not Welcome’, the mood was very aggressive.”

She’s believes the success of the AfD has encouraged people to be more open. “There’s been an increase in people braying anti-Semitic chants or making ‘Heil Hitler’ salutes directly to the camera,” she says. And she thinks that’s partly due to the AfD. “If people are saying these things in parliament, then I can say them too,” is the thinking, in her opinion.

But the Welcome United team recently played the team that had been so aggressive last year, and this time there wasn’t a trace of overt discrimination or disrespect. “Our campaign is working,” says Dahme.

The Babelsbergers hope that it will also pay off elsewhere. In mid-September, they launched an initiative called “Nazis raus aus den Stadien” (“Get Nazis out of stadiums”). People across Germany have started wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan.

However, fans ran into problems on home turf when they responded to “Heil Hitler” salutes made by fans of the visiting team by yelling “Nazi pigs out!” The Northeastern German Football Association promptly slapped a fine on the club.

“We’re not standing for that,” says Dahme. “As far as we’re concerned, there’s an anti-racist consensus in our stadium and I’m proud of that.”

Banging the Drum for Democracy

When Alexander Gauland set his sights on the Frankfurt an der Oder constituency, in Brandenburg, it looked like a direct mandate was his for the taking. Frustration was rife and the AfD’s high-profile frontrunner was met with cheers when he spoke at taverns on the campaign trail.

But events took an unexpected turn. The man who talked on election night about “hunting” Angela Merkel and her party, lost to affable, elderly Martin Patzelt of the CDU, who’s been in politics in the region for 20 years.

Asked what he learnt from the election, Patzelt recalls the day that Gauland praised and defended the exploits of the Wehrmacht in the Second World War. “At that point, I switched from listening mode to fighting mode,” he says.

Nearly all his campaign posters were defaced, with “Traitor to the Nation” and “Merkel’s Marionette” scrawled across them. Patzelt, who ran a Catholic children’s home in communist East Germany, was undeterred. He stuck to his convictions – the convictions he was known for.

In 2014, he had appealed to his constituents to take in refugees on the grounds that people in Brandenburg had enough spare rooms and spare cash to accommodate a few guests. Patzelt reminded them that Germans expelled from eastern and central Europe after the Second World War, such as his own family, had also been reliant on kindness and generosity. He himself took in two Eritreans. Then he received death threats.

Patzelt is vehemently opposed to the shift to the right that many in his party are now calling for. “That would be a seal of approval to all the sloganeering and then when in doubt, people might end voting for the extremist version,” he says. His conviction paid off. Patzelt fared better on election night than his party did.

But what happens now? As mayor of Frankfurt an der Oder from 2002 to 2010, he urged the younger generation to head west for training. He hoped they would eventually return and start families and businesses. The plan didn’t work out. Now, the generation that founded craft industry firms, businesses and farms after German reunification is retiring, and few of them have managed to find successors.

Patzelt himself is 70, and will be retiring in four years. Until then, he plans to armor his constituency against the sloganeering of the populists. Together with his colleagues from the SPD, Left Party, Green Party and pro-business FDP, he will be touring villages, visiting schools and taverns, banging the drum for democracy. “With the fall of the Berlin wall, we were given the privilege of being able to decide our futures ourselves,” he says. “I want to reignite people’s enthusiasm for that.”

A New Division? A few days after the federal election, the Bertelsmann Foundation published a study aimed at finding explanations for the erosion of Germany’s mainstream parties. The social scientists who authored it found that society is divided into those who approve of modernization and those who are skeptical of it.

Modernization skeptics would like to halt the process of social, economic and cultural change. They yearn for some kind of harmonious and safe national order, with rising wages and a robust welfare system. Much like the old West Germany.

According to these findings, the election results would suggest that most modernization skeptics live in the eastern states, while western Germany is home to more modernization supporters – people who are, for the most part, well-disposed to the changes wrought in recent years.

If this is true, Germany faces a new dividing line running along the former intra-German border. But these findings might also just be another example of the typical, patronizing view western Germans have of a part of the country they don’t understand. It’s an area – between the Baltic coast, the Harz mountains, the River Oder and the Ore mountains – which has in fact undergone a radical modernization.

Reiner Haseloff has spent a lot of time trying to figure out why the AfD, with its prejudicial ideas, is more successful in eastern Germany than in the west. “Who founded this party? Who is at its helm, who are its intellectual leaders? Which society gave rise to it?” He points to Bernd Lucke, Alexander Gauland and Björn Höcke, who all hail from western Germany.

The governor of Saxony-Anhalt is a polite man. “West Germans like to come over here and philosophize about us,” he says. He is keen to distance himself from that attitude, and doesn’t want to pass judgement on the west. “I wouldn’t presume to do so.” He has enough on his plate understanding his own constituents.

And it’s only one side of the story, adds Haseloff. “This debate should be conducted in the west honestly.”








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