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German Media Roundup: A new dawn in America

German newspaper editorials in The Local’s media roundup are heralding Barack Obama’s convincing election victory as a historic event with global implications.

German Media Roundup: A new dawn in America
Photo: DPA

Never fond of George W. Bush, Germans woke up on Wednesday to the pleasing prospect of having a politician they adore in the White House. Germany’s media love Obama too and beyond the likelihood of better ties with the United States, publications across the political spectrum agreed electing America’s first African-American president was a watershed of epic proportions.

The conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung analysed the huge historical significance of the election. “For the first time in the history of the United States, an African-American is moving into the White House,” the paper wrote. “In what other democratic nation is Barack Obama’s story possible – the son of a Kenyan, who five years ago very few people had any idea he even existed, is entrusted in this moment of immense domestic and foreign challenges with the highest office in the United States?”

The centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung celebrated Obama’s victory without qualification and said it was important for the United States after a very tough period in time. “The election of Barack Obama was an act of self-liberation, indeed of self-purification for America,” opined the paper, invoking the country’s history of civil rights.

“Forty-five years after a black preacher declared his dream of an America without racial constraints on the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, this country has once more proven that it can evolve. It has overcome centuries-old prejudices. Forty-five years after Martin Luther King’s great speech, the Americans have made a black man their president.”

Perhaps happy to turn the page on the Bush era, the paper concluded: “America is a tolerant, cosmopolitan country, perhaps more now than it ever has been.”

The right-wing daily Die Welt took a more cautious approach to events this week, eyeing his zealous following and promises with some scepticism: “Barack Obama’s victory is so forceful, his constituency so extensive, his mandate so absolute and his mission so ambitious, that his acceptance speech before hundreds of thousands in Chicago reaches far beyond the political, nearly into the religious.”

The newspaper seemed to doubt that Obama’s charm can last long into his presidency: “One will hold this lustrous night on one’s memory, as soon as the routines of daily politics catch up to Obama. The roots of disappointment lie hidden in the messianic expectations that have been set for this man, which he himself nurtures in his portrayal of himself.”

Berlin’s left-wing daily Die Tageszeitung emphasized the hope Obama could transcend the political dived between Democrats and Republicans: “In the middle of the night into Wednesday morning, America has become a bit more colourful. For the first time in a long time America’s political map resembles a patchwork rug. The days are over, when the red of the conservative states bled brightly over the Midwest and the South, and the blue states in the Northeast, East and West formed merely a narrow band around this Republican heart of the nation.”

The paper concluded that Obama had succeeded in breaking down old fronts that split America: “Obama’s campaign mantra, that there is no red America or blue America, but only a United States of America, has proven to be true. Contrary to the beliefs of at least one generation of Americans, the rift cutting across American society appears to be bridgeable.”

ELECTIONS

Germany’s far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance

Best known as an anti-migrant party, Germany's far-right AfD has seized on the coronavirus pandemic to court a new type of voter ahead of regional elections in the state of Saxony-Anhalt on Sunday: anti-shutdown activists.

Germany's far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance
Björn Höcke, party chairman in Thuringia, at an election event in Merseburg, Saxony-Anhalt on May 29th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Willnow

“Sending so many people into poverty with so few infections is problematic for us,” is how Oliver Kirchner, the AfD’s top candidate in Saxony-Anhalt, views the measures ordered by the government to halt Covid-19 transmission.

The anti-shutdown stance seems to be paying off in the former East German state. The party is riding high in the polls and even stands a chance of winning a regional election for the first time.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD chooses hardline team ahead of national elections

Surveys have the AfD neck-and-neck with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, with the Bild daily even predicting victory for the far-right party on 26 percent, ahead of the CDU on 25 percent.

In Saxony-Anhalt’s last election in 2016, the CDU was the biggest party, scoring 30 percent and forming a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.

But the CDU has taken a hammering in the opinion polls in recent months, with voters unhappy with the government’s pandemic management and a corruption scandal involving shady coronavirus mask contracts.

Social deprivation

A victory for the AfD would spell a huge upset for the conservatives just four months ahead of a general election in Germany — the first in 16 years not to feature Merkel.

They started out campaigning against the euro currency in 2013. Then in 2015 they capitalised on public anger over Merkel’s 2015 decision to let in a wave of asylum seekers from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The party caused a sensation in Germany’s last general election in 2017 when it secured almost 13 percent of the vote, entering parliament for the first time as the largest opposition party.

Troubled by internal divisions and accusations of ties to neo-Nazi fringe groups, the party has more recently seen its support at the national level stagnate at between 10 and 12 percent.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD investigated over election ties

The party is also controversial in Saxony-Anhalt itself. In state capital Magdeburg, posters showing local candidate Hagen Kohl have been defaced with Hitler moustaches and the words “Never again”.

For wine merchant Jan Buhmann, 57, victory for the far-right party would be a “disaster”.

“The pandemic has shown that we need new ideas. We need young people, we need dynamism in the state. For me, the AfD does not stand for that,” he said.

Yet the AfD’s core supporters have largely remained unwavering in the former East German states.

For pensioner Hans-Joachim Peters, 73, the AfD is “the only party that actually tells it like it is”.

Politicians should “think less about Europe and more about Germany”, he told AFP in Magdeburg. AfD campaigners there were handing out flyers calling for “resistance” and “an end to all anti-constitutional restrictions on our liberties”.

Political scientist Hajo Funke of Berlin’s Free University puts the AfD’s core strength in eastern Germany down to “social deprivation and frustration” resulting from problems with reunification.

The party’s latest anti-corona restrictions stance has also helped it play up its anti-establishment credentials, adding some voters to its core base, he said.

Other east German states in which the AfD has a stronghold, such as Saxony and Thuringia, continue to have the highest 7-day incidences per 100,000 residents in the country. Saxony-Anhalt’s 7-day incidence, however, currently is below the national average (31.3) as of Wednesday June 3rd.

READ ALSO: Why are coronavirus figures so high in German regions with far-right leanings?

Hijab snub

Funke predicted the AfD would attract broadly the same voters in
Saxony-Anhalt as it did in 2016, when it won 24 percent of the vote.

“Some have dropped off because the party is too radical, some radicals who didn’t vote are now voting and some of those who are anti-corona are also voting for the AfD,” he said.

The Sachsen-Anhalt-Monitor 2020 report, commissioned by the local government, found that the main concern for voters in the region was the economic fallout from the pandemic. But the AfD’s core selling point — immigration and refugees — was number two on their list.

According to AfD candidate Kirchner, many people in Saxony-Anhalt still view the influx of refugees to Germany “very critically”.

“And I think they are right,” he said at a campaign stand in Magdeburg decked in the AfD’s signature blue. “Who is going to rebuild Syria? Who is going to do that if everyone comes here?”

When a young woman wearing a hijab walked past the stand, no one attempted to hand her a flyer.

By Femke Colborne

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