German politics finally going international?
Our author shares his perspective on German politics and how he missed international issues. He observes a shift which might lead in a new direction.
When I first came from Iran to study in Germany in 2013 I did not know much about German Politics. Although being interested in local and global politics, my knowledge was limited to the big parties of CDU, SPD and the Greens. The only politicians I knew were Gerhard Schröder, Angela Merkel and Helmut Kohl. These I knew only for the international coverage they received; Schröder for being part of the Iranian Nuclear Talks back in the 2000s and his decision on the Iraq war, Merkel for her talks on the end of Multikulti as well as appearances during the 2006 World Cup games and Helmut Kohl for his role in the German Reunification. German Politics never seemed to be part of the Global narrative, in a sense that it never played a crucial role, particularly post reunification, which might be an explanation of my limited knowledge.
September 2013, only a month into my arrival at Salem, a political debate, similar to an Elefantenrunde was organized. Some prominent party members and representatives of several of the party’s youth division were invited. This was the very first time I got to experience Party politics discussed, very “Hautnah” as Germans would like to call it. Whilst I can go on and talk about how, in an overwhelmingly conservative student body, only certain parties, namely the Greens and SPD got bombarded with critical questions (no die Linke representative), I would rather focus on what seemed most pressing for the audience: the question of Taxes, minimum wage and the at the time hotly debated PKW Maut. Back then I had no idea of what a Maut was or what policies each party had on their agenda with regards to taxation, much to my confusion and frustration. It also explains why, when I began to ask a question on foreign policy, all parties at first seemed puzzled. I wanted to know more about the parties plan to shape foreign policy, it’s relation to US politics and the plans how to deal with Iran. After several sighs they reluctantly started to come up with answers without going into detail or taking diverging stances. It was then that I realized how Germans are so domestically oriented; for of course in every country, domestic issues have a higher priority and are the main concerns of citizens, but there always remains a significant, as small as it may be, dedicated to foreign affairs and relations, something I never got to see or experience in the German debates or political discussions I watched.
Whilst part of it is of course due to a historical past, and a reluctance to engage in “more” than what Germans deem necessary for international relations, I think it wouldn’t be quite an exaggeration to call Germany a rather closed country. Be it political discussions, personal relationships and any type of engagements, the average German seems to rather keep things to themselves. This is a much different approach than in my home country or that of the US, where international standing or prestige has a much different meaning and popularity amongst the electorate.
Thinking about to my first impressions and experiences with German politics now in 2017 is thus on its own kind of like reading a historical anecdote, for even though it was 4 years ago, Germany has become a much more engaged nation, understandably so given its prominent economic and political role in the turbulent times we live in. The challenges of deal with crisis avoking many to flee, and leaders like Putin, Trump and Erdogan all have made Germany transition from its all too famous role of “we rather keep things to ourself”, as gradual and trivial this shift may seem. The Wahlplakate may not be talking about Turkish accession to the EU or condemning Erdogan, but now they strongly root for more Europe, of peace with Russia or the need for an Einwanderungsgesetz and onn TV, more and more immigrants and refugees are shown and asked questions.
While the issue of immigration was debated everywhere questioning whether these people could pose a threat or opportunities for Germany, other burning issues like social justice were almost abandoned. Also the discourse on immigration lacked many things; the CDU and SPD for example not even for once discussed the idea for a comprehensive immigration plan. The way the debate was lead in public has not benefitted anyone, but those who would like to seize the opportunity and exploit it for their own electoral success, namely the AfD.
This is not to draw a pessimistic or optimistic image, it is simply a narrative of how the attention of the German electorate has been slightly shifting over my 4 years of presence here. Global topics seem to become a more significant part of German politics and whilst this may seem unsettling for the German, who only saw him or herself, it definitely is indicative of a transitional phase, its destination being unknown.