In recent decades, there has been a lot of progress in my home country. It’s not that long ago that homosexuality was criminalised (till 1971) but rape within marriage wasn’t (till 1997), that the term “Einwanderungsland” – “country of immigration” – was seen as treachery (till the early 90s) and that children of immigrants had to fight to be allowed to any but the worst highschools (yesterday more so than today). Even though Germany is still not a liberal utopia, many of these issues are turning to the good. But in the past weeks, we have been reminded that hatred and xenophobia, though they lost much of their power, will always be lurking around.
Refugee homes have been attacked in several cities, but that’s not what made it into big media.
In Dresden, eastern Germany, thousands of people gathered for a protest against what they call the “Islamisation of the Occident”. I’ll make it quick; obviously, Europe isn’t being islamised. There’s a loose alliance called “pegida” (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident – Germans are the only people who call themselves “patriotic Europeans”). Pegida, similar to the people recently voting in favour of the new German right-wing party AfD, think that they represent a silent majority, that all proper Germans share their fears, that a clique of elitists is pushing forward change for their own obscure reasons and that they’re really not racist, like really, for shit not. If you don’t trust my words, you can easily read up on the issue in those two articles, one by BBC, the other one by the English version of Deutsche Welle. If you do trust me, just assume that all the protesters demand is either already established (“criminal asylum seekers should be banished”), is based on phantasms (“Western media are conspiring against the little guy on the street”) or both (“they’re stealing Christmas”).
It can be deduced that the official demands cannot be the core reasons why so many individuals are being driven on the street. Those, I already hinted, are fear of change, fear of being left behind, fear of the unknown. Dresden lies in an area of Germany where there are the fewest foreigners, the least employment, the worst perspectives for the youth and, as a result, the most neo-Nazis. Not surprisingly, supporters of pegida barely differ between rather distinguished groups like Turks and Moslems or the PKK and Al-Qaida.
It can also be deduced that these groups are not representing the majority. The political parties with the by far closest ties to the movement, AfD, currently has 6% in all-German polls. Around 75% of the members of the nearest conservative party, the leading CDU/CSU, don’t want their party and the AfD to collaborate. Furthermore, most media articles focus on the pegida protests, even though counter protests are usually the same size, if not considerably bigger, depending on the city. The stronghold of pegida, Dresden, saw 9000 individuals protesting for more tolerance a few days ago, though the number shrank to 5000 while pegida grew from 10,000 to 15,000 in a couple of days. That’s less than 3% of Dresdens population, with people from other areas travelling there in order to join the protests (“slowpoke tourism”). Ironically, here we have a case in which mainstream media allegedly helped our sulking little racists.
But what is actually bizarre about this new right movement, incorporated both in the Dresden protests as well as the AfD, is the strong and seemingly disconnect attraction towards Russia.
Everyone knows that there are many people of Turkish origin living in Germany, but not so many know that there’s also a considerable Russo-German community. It mainly consists out of descendants of German settlers migrating to eastern Europe in the 19th century, who used and use their opportunity to “return” to the prosperous and liberal West, mainly since the crumbling of the iron curtain. In the beginning, most of those “Spätaussiedler” (untranslatable, literally “late repatriate”) spoke little or no German. I have lots of friends who were born in Russia and didn’t speak a word of German until their early childhood, but nowadays have no knowledge of their original mother tongue left. Often, there is nothing about them, not even the name, that would let you assume you’re talking to someone born on the eastern side of the Oder river. In this light, it doesn’t seem so very surprising that Russian media corporations would establish German-language branches, such as Russia Today did recently with their German offspin Russia Today Deutsch. Except, of course, that RT Deutsch cares about this technically interesting group as much as a fluke fisher cares about trouts.
The in-your-face propaganda incorporated by RT Deutsch is funny. I’m a huge fan of well-crafted propaganda, but RT Deutsch – additionally to being bad journalism – is “The Eternal Jew” compared to the original website’s masterpiece “The Battleship Potemkin”. In other words; RT.com interviews high end Russian politicians and experts, gathers and uses sources, is neutral in the headlines and balanced in most individual articles. It takes quite a bit to understand the sophisticated machination of the kremlin behind it. If you take, for instance, BBC or German state-controlled heute.de and count how many pieces at a given day are directly critical of their respective governments, you will get quite a number. For heute.de, if you count it in the very moment you’re reading this, I assume you’ll find around five articles which in the headlines alone point out what’s wrong with our country (that was before they changed their layout to the worse, it’s probably less now because there are fewer headlines visible altogether). The German army being badly equipped, a minister of a ruling coalition party being an alleged pedophile, etc. You would never see this on RT. If anything, opposition members would be alleged pedophiles.
Now take a look at RT Deutsch. The first thing that’s drastically different is the layout. RT.com resembles BBC or heute.de before their stupid change in design. RT Deutsch, however, features less articles, bigger writing (tabloid-ish altogether) and biased headlines wherever you bother to read. Rhetoric questions, partially answered in just the same header, are omnipresent. Only after a minute of reading you’ll have understood the narrative of RT Deutsch. America and the EU are the bad guys, the NATO is power-hungry and a bunch of warmongers, everybody is dependant on Russia, etc. Take a guess on their stance on the Ukraine. Also recently launched RT UK is not nearly as, well, dumb as RT Deutsch.
Why can two versions of the same website in two languages be so different? RT.com is aimed at an English-speaking, somewhat academic, media-savvy, international readership. Basically me. RT.com was established to convince me of a pro-Russian point of view. RT Deutsch, however, is targeted at people who vote for the AfD, which is another way to say “people who like to think just enough to have an opinion, but not enough to question it”.
Actually, someone in Russia was quite smart here. Somebody noticed that in Germany, there is an emerging community of conservatives that is in strong opposition towards the EU, the USA and what they assume to be the German system. As conservatives kind of thrive on this good-and-evil-mentality, they needed a reactionary counterpart to the complicated west. A tower of strengths against all those things that make them afraid and shatter their worlds. How happily surprised must the Kremlin media advisor have been when he realized that in the heart of Europe, there is a group of people who don’t know so much about Putin, but still really like him. What would have been a more rational choice than to feed them with what they already believe in?
According to some thinkers, the Backlash-effect against social progress is a returning phenomenon. In the USA, there were waves of antifeminism around 1900, in the 1940s and again in the 1970s. The cycle, if it exists, seems to be 30 to 40 years in length. Here in Germany, this is slightly shifted and the 1980s are regarded as a time of conservative backlash against the liberal achievements of the 1960s and 70s. Well, 1984 was thirty years ago and I guess it is again time for slowpokes to catch up.