Leipzig Book Convention 2018: No Record but Lots of Suspense

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LEIPZIG-  If there is one theme that would sum up the 2018 Leipzig Book Convention this past weekend, it would be suspense. While members of the committee had expected another record year with a possible 300,000 visitors, that mark was missed by a long shot and for the first time in six years, the number of visitors at this year’s convention had decreased. 271,000 visitors went to the convention that took place from 15th to 18th March, a decrease of 14,000 from last year’s number of 285,000.  But despite the decrease, there was a lot of suspense in this year’s convention, which goes beyond the theme of Romania as the guest country. Here are some examples based on the author’s annual visit together with family members:

Snow and Cold- The decrease in numbers had a lot to do with Old Man Winter’s last grasp. Snow and blowing snow, combined with extreme cold temperatures brought vast parts of central and northern Germany to a near standstill, with parts of Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia taking the brunt of the storm.  Frozen overhead lines and crossing points were additional factors that led to the shut down of the main railway stations in Leipzig and Halle (Saale) and the cancellation of train services spanning seven German states and points to the east. This led to overfilled streetcars and buses to the Messe Convention. Adding traffic jams on the major highways also because of blowing and drifting snow and many who wanted to go to the book convention decided to stay home- at least until the sunniest day of the convention, which was the last day (Sunday). But even then, the one critique point that seems to be the problem in Germany is snow removal, where much of the parking lots were still unplowed when guests arrived on Sunday, undoubtedly the peak of the four-day long convention.

Fighting the Right- Another factor affecting the numbers is the increase in the number and influence of the far-right media. Several publishing companies producing such propaganda in newspapers and books were present, mostly in Hall 3. This included Compact and Neue Stimmen, a pair of most prominent magazines that have ties with the far right groups including the Pegida, National Party (NPD) and Alternative for Germany (AfD), the third of which is currently in the German Federal Parliament as an opposition to the newly created Grand Coalition with the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats.  Especially on Friday and Saturdays clashes broke out between the far right and far left, resulting in police involvement and arrests. As they wanted to avoid massive conflicts like it happened at the 2017 Book Convention in Frankfurt/Main, it was met with partial success for despite measures to prevent violent outbreaks, the far right, with its anti-democratic and anti-European policies kept many away because of their strive to commit strife. On the flip side, several prominent authors who have written about right-wing terrorism and its threat to democracy were on hand. One of them, Norwegian author Åsne Seierstad, won the European book prize for her work on Anders Breivik, a far-right terrorist who killed 77 people in two separate attacks in 2011. People like Seierstad believe that right-wing extremism has been on the rise since then, including her home country.

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Peaceful Co-existence- While the snowstorm and the far-right made waves in the media, one aspect that was seldom touched was religion. In Hall 3 there was a section where Christianity and Islam were in peaceful co-existence of each other. At least four booths with publications and newspapers on Islam and another seven on Christianity were found clumped together with people gathering to both sides of the aisle. Interesting was how the two religions attracted the people. On the side of Islam, people came in droves because of their interest in the religion and the literature that pertained to it. This is disregarding how it was written- which was either German or Arabic with a couple English examples.  This included the Islam Newspaper in German, which judging by my observations, has a lot of culture and history, but go along the mentality of the Native Americans as described by historian Dee Brown: “We are still here.” Why? Because of attempts to suppress their culture by the domination of Christianity and the western way of life, one can see that Islam still exists and the impression is that they are open to anyone wishing to learn at least a bit of the religion. There had been fears that the religion would dominate the European landscape. That is not true. The people of Islam wish to have a sort of peaceful co-existence that has not existed for a long time, for many since the time before the Arab Spring of 2011 which led to millions fleeing the war-torn areas. On the other side, Christianity was presented in a marketing fashion. While on the way to the main entrance of the convention, we were greeted by hippie-style Christians who gave us a free coupon to one of the booths that was giving away books dealing with stories involving Christ, philosophy and the existence of God. Another booth was continuing the Martin Luther celebrations of 500 years ago by illustrating the printing press used to produce the 500 Theses written by Luther. And then there was Christianity in the form of music and schools that offer both. Target language was both German and English and they attracted a fair number of people. Yet despite the moderate increase of younger people joining Christ, the numbers have decreased on a global scale thanks to corruption, sex abuse scandals and attempts to associate Christianity with far-right figures, such as US President Trump. One can see the desperate attempts to convince people to join by giving away books upon leaving the Buch Messe- and seeing tons being discarded in garbage cans in the parking lot. It does appear that if Christianity was to regain its original form, it may need to separate itself from politics and reinvent itself by adapting to the needs of today’s generations, a step that has been taken in some aspects, like homosexuality, but in others- like tolerance- it’s having problems doing.

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Blocks at the Manga–  While the Manga exhibition, located in Hall 5, attracted its typical individuals, which included superheroes, waitresses in short skirts, aliens, and people dressed up in outfits dating back 125 years ago, one has to look more carefully at the trends that a person can find. While the theme from last year  was lighting in Japan, this year’s theme seemed to be boxes and its several shapes, designs and sizes. No matter whether they were lunch boxes, jewelry boxes or even mini-storage boxes or even designer boxes  found at booths like the Sega games, it was a real treat just to see these boxes while looking at the products typical of Japan, which include stuffed animals, sweets, games, books and even dishware, just to name a few.

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Thinking Scandanavia- To round off our tour of the Buchmesse, we have some literature recommendations worth noting. One of the unique aspects of the convention was found at the international book section in Hall 4 and in Scandanavia. Consisting of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finnland, the themes most commonly written by authors in the region  consists of mysteries, tourism, mental well-being and lastly photography. Two books that represent fine examples of such works is a Danish work by Meik Wilking entitled The Little Book of Lykke: The Path to being the Happiest People in the World, which focuses on the Danish secret to being the happiest society in the world. This includes the way of life, physical and mental well-being, mentality towards materialist items and money as well as the power of the bicycle.  Another is a collection of night-time and sometimes underwater photography by Finnish author Petri Juntunen entitled “At the Heart of It All,” where he brings the new meaning of photography to light, as he focuses on relicts and other non-life forms that are shone down by a ray of light, showing the interest from above.

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To sum up the visit and the highlights, the 2018 Leipzig Book Convention may have not set any records this year, yet judging from the news and my own observations, one could not get enough of the suspense that was presented, both positively as well as negatively. Still, as themes, such as religion, extremism, social and cultural issues and current affairs (such as environment and climate change) become the everyday norm, such book conventions like in Leipzig and also in Frankfurt/Main will need to adapt in a way that these issues are addressed and people understand them and take action. This action should also include putting an end to hate and violence, a commodity that has always been a burden to society but one that seems to become a universal problem on all fronts, especially since the end of 2015. It is only hoped that the next book convention will bring about constructive themes and discussion instead of propagizing hatred and inequality based on things we don’t like.

The next Leipzig Buchmesse will take place  from 21st to 24th March 2019. To see more photos of the Buchmesse, please click here as it will take you to the Files’ facebook page and its photo album. Please feel free to add your photos and impressions of the Buchmesse. We love to see them. 🙂

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End of the Line: Angela Merkel

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Twelve years ago, German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, faced with growing pressure from the opposition and within his own perty, especially his party the Social Democrats lost one state after another in the state elections, initiated a vote of confidence to determine whether he has the support to continuing governing the country with the Greens or if he should hold new elections. After three years of power during his second five-year term, he was considered an obstructionist, and many voters were dissatisfied with his governing of Germany. He failed and was forced to hold elections which he eventually lost to the current governing leader, Angela Merkel and her party, the CDU.

Fast forwarding to the present, it appears that Lady Chancellor’s days are about to end, and very quickly. After her party lost over 150,000 votes (or 8.6 percent) in the September elections- many going to the Free Liberals (FDP) and the right-winged Alternative for Germany (AfD), she faced the second strike on November 19th, when talks to form the Jamaica coalition- featuring the FDP and the Greens- failed  after Christian Lindner, head of the FDP, walked out of the talks in Berlin and reinterated this comment:

“It’s better to not govern than to govern wrongly.”

With this, the Federal Republic of Germany is in the worst crisis since 1982, when the vote of no confidence was initiated against Helmut Schmidt, which formed the coalition of CDU and FDP and vaulted Helmut Kohl into the governing seat as chancellor, and thus ruled for an unprecedented 16 years, thus breaking Konrad Adenauer’s record for the longest regime in modern German history.

Given the current situation with Merkel, the family of the late chancellor Kohl can now rest easily. His record will remain untouched.

Merkel is running parallel to British Prime Minister Teresa May. The lady with the iron fist is getting rusty. Merkel is 63 years old and despite her successes during her years as chancellor, she is facing increasing opposition from not only within members of the Bundesparliament and Bundestag, but also among the voters. Like May, Merkel ran the platform in the federal elections as if she was unphased by the attacks made by the candidates, most notably from Martin Schulz from the SPD and Frauke Petry of the AfD. However the results of the elections revealed that Merkel has lost touch on many of the issues affecting Germany, and to a larger extent, Europe and the rest of the world. This includes issues involving refugees, the environment, lack of funding for infrastructure, education and other domestic issues, and most recently lack of unity among Germany’s neighbors, even though her relationship with the US is on the rocks because of actions by the President (Trump), not Merkel herself.

With the Jamaica coalition finally dead, and despite pleas by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to concentrate more on building a government and take responsibility for the voters, the writing is now on the walls of Brandenburg Gate: We must redo the elections again.  This may be a dangerous  choice, as the AfD will surely gain more votes and even have a chance to win the elections. This is why Alexander Gauland and Alice Weigel have celebrated the failure of the Jamaica and even have called for Merkel to step down. However, with the polls showing almost two thirds of the population favoring new elections, this may be inevitable.  Adding insult to injury is the SPD’s constant refusal to create a Grand Coalition with the CDU, claiming they feel like a back-up plan to Merkel should she and her party be caught in a “Schlammasse.”

Both Martin Schulz and Andrea Nahles have stated that new elections are acceptable especially for voters.   The same echo applies from the Left, and even the Greens find the new elections as the best alternative.

While Merkel has the option of ruling with a minority- together with the Greens- the chances of her winning that, let alone ruling with a minority successfully are very slim, bordering on the nil scale, especially as she would have a larger opposition as she would have had had the Jamaica been formed. And with growing dissatisfaction as to how to handle the delicate issues, it makes a person wonder if age is already catching up to her and her rule of power combined with her lack of flexibility on these issues makes her an obstructionist and a hindrance to the success of the CDU and its relationship with the sister party, the CSU. It is a well-known fact that the average age of the politicians in the two parties is between 56 and 58 years, with some even in their late 60s. Yet, as one can see with Saxony’s prime minister Stanislav Tillich’s planned resignation in December and the hand-over to Michael Kretschmer, a 42-year old, there are enough younger politicians ready to take over the reigns of the party and make better, more efficient decisions than the older generations.

So let’s look at the scenario very carefully:

Merkel wins the chancellorship through direct elections presented by President Steinmeier but would rule with a minority government.  Her only chance to get a majority is with a coalition with the SPD (and possibly Greens), which Schulz and Nahles both refuse.

She calls for new elections, which takes place in Spring 2018, but not after having a very intensive and sometimes violent campaign, especially the latter from members of the AfD. The votes come in and how would this fare out?

The AfD has a real chance to win the elections but if and only if with an absolute majority (at least 45% of the votes) for it would fail to govern without a partner otherwise. None of the other parties will join.

The CDU wins but with an absolute majority as well, as it cannot partner with other parties except maybe the Greens.

The SPD may have a real shot of winning and forming a Red-Red-Green coalition with the Left and Greens. This could be Martin Schulz’s lucky day especially with a younger group of politicians from each party.

The results could be the same on the second go-round and then the parties would need to rethink their mandates and policies, conceding many to form a universal coalition (everybody but the AfD).

 

But in order to have any chance of a stable government to rule Germany for the next five years, one thing is certain: It must be done by the younger generations as they are more universalists and aware of the issues than the older ones. These are the ones who were taught to listen- and they have listened to the needs of the people.  There is no need to shake up the establishment in Berlin (and the EU in Brussels). There just needs to be a new leader to take Germany to the next level.

Angela Merkel has done her part. It is now time for her to step aside and let others take over; people who are younger and brighter and have better ways of repelling the xenophobes and greeds of the world.  Only then will not only the CDU and CSU but also the other parties have a chance to become successful in the long term.

So for now Ms. Merkel, it has been a pleasure. Happy Retirement and Thank You for your service for Germany, Europe and the rest of the world. 🙂

Facts about  the minority and reelection process can be found here.  Information on the failure of the Jamaica coalition and the consequences can be found via ARD here

 

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Merkel Hangs On But Trouble On Horizon

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Christian Democratic Party still holds the cards despite record losses. Free Democrats (FDP) back in the Bundestag, the Right-winged Alternative for Germany (AfD) enters national politics as the third strongest party. 

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BERLIN- The German Federal Elections of 2017 will go down as one of the most controversial elections in modern history. While we have seen government coalitions being taken down because of the vote of no-confidence- the last one being in 2005- there has not been a time where the election campaign has been hotly contested, sometimes even corrupt as this one.  Before looking at the reasons behind this argument, it is best to look at the results.

Summary:

Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU remains the most powerful of the political parties in Germany, having garnered 32.9% of the votes, according to the polls. Unfortunately, that is a loss of 8.6% from the results in the 2013 Elections. Its coalition partner, the Social Democrats, barely finished second with 20%; with the loss of 5.1% of the votes, they set a new low for the number of votes. The director of the party, Martin Schulz, declared at the close of the polls that his party would no longer work together with Merkel’s party, thus forcing the chancellor to look for new partners to rule the country. A very difficult task given the fact that third place finisher, the AfD, finished with 13% of the votes. The party’s candidate, Alexander Gauland, vows to chase Merkel’s government and her policies, especially with regards to refugees and the environment. Gauland is one of many in the party who wishes to bring back policies once carried out by Adolf Hitler during his time in power, minus the holocaust. While Merkel will definitely discard the AfD and has vowed to win back the voters who have left her party for the far right during her next four years in office, she has the possibility of forming a coalition with the Greens (who won 8.9%), FDP (who returned to German parliament after a four-year absence with 10.6% of the vote) and the left-wing party Die Linke (which got 9%).  Most likely will Merkel form a Jamaika Coalition with the Greens and the FDP but according to information from German public channel ARD, all three parties would have to work together to create a joint mandate on several points. Given their hard stance on several issues, this will be rather difficult to achieve. But in order for the coalition to be realized, some compromises and sacrifices may be needed in order for the coalition to work for the next four years. Merkel will most likely face not only one but two sets of opposition. Apart from the AfD preparing to attack her policies at every possible convenience, she will have the far left in the Linke and SPD to contend with, especially with Martin Schulz, who tried to play down her policies during his campaign, but to no avail.

Critique Points:

So what exactly went wrong with the 2017 Campaign? Everything possible, but it would be difficult to point everything out without having to type until seven in the morning, so I will focus on one aspect and that is how the campaign was run.

Firstly, the campaign was very Americanized. Instead of including the parties in the debates, especially on television, it was merely a divorce battle between two coalition partners, the SPD and the CDU. Nothing from the Greens, FDP, Left, AfD and others that were running. Surely with the other parties taking part in the debates, we would have a better idea on the stances of each one plus their plan on how to tackle the problems facing Germany.

Secondly, there was only one TV debate with, as mentioned in the last point, just the two coalition parties. Normally in a multi-party elections, there would be more than one TV debate- better three: two with the main four parties and one with the remaining parties, pending on their performance in the Bundestag. Even in the past, there were at least two TV debates. And with that TV debate between Merkel and Schulz, it turned out to be the German version of the Hillary vs. Trump debate: 100% mudslinging and not getting to the point with the debate at hand. No wonder why Martin Schulz wanted a second TV debate as there were several themes not discussed during the first debate. A big plus for him.

Thirdly, the focus was for the most part on the refugee crisis and what went wrong. Merkel has been sandwiched between Schulz’s accusation of her not doing enough for them and the accusation of the AfD and even the sister party the Christian Socialists (CSU) in Bavaria for not enforcing restrictions on the number of refugees entering the country. There was almost no space for themes that are bigger than that, such as climate change, trade agreements with North America, the EU, the widening gap between rich and poor, etc.  While Merkel and Schulz were wrestling it out politically, the AfD fed off the lack of selection and frustration of the voters who eventually went for them to begin with.

Fourthly, there should have been a TV debate with the AfD, period. Following the Beutelsbach Consensus for Political Discussion in the Classroom (enacted in 1977), having Gauder, Höcke or even Petry as a spokesperson in the debate against Merkel, Schulz and other candidates would produce discussions for all to watch with the purpose of bringing out whatever they have for plans should they be elected. As chaotic as the party has been due to political struggles and controversial remarks from members of the party, this party could be a one-term party unless they have a clear platform that will win over voters, which the only platform they have up until now is to throw out the immigrants in favor of the uneducated- something that was seen 84 years ago.

Fifthly, the last argument has resonances from America’s elections last year: The election was based too much on fame and picking apart the candidates and not on the themes concerning the German and European population. We have Merkel whom many think she’s too old and naive. We have the Schulz effect which is like buying Levi’s jeans just because it is a brand. We have Petry who is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We have Göring-Eckhardt, who is the brains but not the support. OK, to be blunt, we have several flavors of Dithmarscher Beer but they all taste the same! And that is what we see with our candidates, period!

What Happens Next?

It is clear that Merkel will start her fourth term and is on course to outgovern Helmut Kohl before the next elections in September 2021. It is also clear that Schulz’s declaration of the divorce from the CDU and going on the opposition is final and that Merkel has just the Greens and FDP to form a coalition. The question will be how she will manage two different oppositional groups: the AfD, who will do everything possible with its 13 representatives in parliament to make her life very difficult, and the SPD and Linke, who will use all measures possible to fight the AfD and keep Merkel in check. For the first time since 1945, we have a right-wing party in power with a potential to repeat history, but this legislative period will feature three factions fighting it out in the German parliament: the far-right, the far-left and the traditional center. This will make things very difficult for Merkel’s coalition to pass any policies agreed on that would satisfy the population.  It is certain that Merkel cannot afford to ignore the AfD and has already declared to win back voter who had left her party to join the far-right. But in order to do that, Merkel will not only have to change her mandate and appease the voters, but she will have to face the AfD directly, consistently, at every possible convenience and especially, proactively.  She will not be able to be passive to the party as she did during the elections and even before that.  She will need to present themes that are complicated for the AfD to comprehend, let alone far-left. And she will need to use all legal measures possible to ensure that there is order in Berlin. She doesn’t need to be Margaret Thatcher, but in order to succeed in the next four years, she will need to go away from her passive approach and go on the proactive to ensure that her policies get through and her oppositions are in check. Only then will she be certain to break Kohl’s record and keep her party the CDU’s reputation as the party that shaped Germany. All other approaches would have fatal consequences for Germany, Europe and Democracy, in general.

For more on the election results, please check out ARD online, which will show you the results and the predictions of what will happen in the coming months. Link:

http://www.ard.de/home/ard/ARD_Startseite/21920/index.html

 

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2017 German Federal Elections: A Preview

Germans go to the polls on 24 September to elect their new Chancellor- A lot of questions still exists

After the US, Dutch and French elections, the German elections, which will take place on 24 September 2017, will be the decisive factor on how Germany will be governed for the next four years. Yet like the Presidential Elections that brought Donald Trump to power, this election will decide the fate of the European Union as well as the rest of the world, going forward, as there are several factors that will influence the voters’ decision on which party should rule the Bundestag in Berlin. Furthermore, given Germany’s economic, social and political leverage on Brussels as well as the United Nations, people are praying that whoever is elected Chancellor will be the one that will shape the country and take it into the direction that is the most desirable both nationally as well as globally.  Factors influencing the political decision among the voters include:

Germany’s role in terms of environmental policyamong other things, renewable energy, climate change and protecting flora and fauna

Germany’s role in terms of refugee policy, which includes integration of those qualified to live in the country and quick deportation of the unqualified and criminals

Germany’s role in international relations, especially within the EU and with the US. While President Trump would rather have Frauke Petry of the AfD (even though she is now on maternity leave) instead of the incumbent Angela Merkel of the CDU, Germany is trying to shore up relations with countries still loyal with the EU, while fighting fires caused by the far right governments of Poland, Turkey and Hungary, as well as Great Britain’s Teresa May.

Germany’s role in domestic policies and how it can close the ever continuing widening gap between the rich and the  poor, as well as improve on the country’s education system

Even more important are some thought provoking questions that are on the minds of all Germans, Americans living in Germany (including yours truly) and other foreigners living in Germany, for whoever rules the country for the next four years will have an impact on the lives of others, for each party has its own agenda that is different than that of the policies of Chancellor Merkel up until now. For some parties, this election could be make or break because of their struggle to win support. Here are some questions that are of concern as we bite our nails and worry about 24 September:

  1. Will Angela Merkel win her fourth term, thus be on the path to break the longest power streak of serving 16 years, set by the late Helmut Kohl (1982-1998; he died in June of this year)?
  2. Will the Martin Schulz Effect save the Social Democrats (SPD) or mark the beginning of the end of the centralist party?
  3. Will the Free Democratic Party return to the Bundestag after breaking the 5% barrier?
  4. Are too many windmills too much for the Greens?
  5. Will the Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) continue its winning streak and roll into parliament? If so could it even overrun the CDU and even govern Berlin?
  6. Will the Leftist Party (Linke) serve as the counterpunch to the AfD or will it need help?
  7. Will this election mark the last for the Nationalist Party of Germany (NPD)?

These questions will be answered through my observations of the election, which will be after the tallies are counted and we know which parties will form a coalition and elect our next leader. We need to keep in mind that the German elections are different than the American ones as we elect two parties- one primary and one as second vote, and the new Chancellor is elected after a coalition is formed between two or more parties. Currently, we have the Grand Coalition, which features Merkel’s CDU and the SPD. Yet we have seen coalitions with other smaller parties. A party can have the absolute majority if more than 50% of the votes are in their favor.

To better understand the multi-party system, there are a pair of useful links you can click onto, which will provide you with an insight on the German election system. Both are useful for children, and both are in German, which makes it useful to learn the language.

Checker Tobi:  http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Die-Checker/Checker-Tobi-extra-Warum-w%C3%A4hlen-wichtig/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=39903768&documentId=45989192

logo! on ZDF: https://www.zdf.de/kinder/logo/bundestagswahl-aktuell-100.html

Fellow American collegial column Leipzig Glocal produced an article on the multi-party election system and the number of parties that could run in the elections. Details on that can be found here:

http://leipglo.com/2017/09/19/federal-elections-2017-party-roll-call/

While I cannot vote on the count of my American citizenship (though ideas of switching sides have lingered since Trump’s elections) like other American expats, I can only stress the importance of going to the polls on the 24th. Your vote counts because we are at the crossroads. Can we do it, like Merkel said with taking on the refugees in 2015? Or can we afford to experiment and if so at what price? Only your vote will make a difference. So go out there and vote. And allow me to comment once there is a new Chancellor, be it another four years of Merkel (and the flirt with Kohl’s record) or with someone else……

Viel Glück und Glück auf! 🙂