Germany – a country at the crossroads

Image: Felix Mittermeier


The German political-social situation is serious. It finds itself at a crossroads that could lead to practices reminiscent of those of the Third Reich

The week that passed between January 8th and 14th became a symbol of the tension growing in Germany.

Two major movements marked these days.

The first was a classic strike, in the railway system, whose backbone is the Deutsche Bahn (DB), a state-owned company that, in addition to long-distance routes, operates regional lines and part of the metro in the capital, Berlin (the system called S-Bahn, where the “S” stands for “Instant" - fast).

The strikers – drivers of passenger and freight trains – demand better wages and a reduction in working time from 38 to 35 hours per week.

A Deutsche Bahn He tried to obtain a declaration of the strike's illegality from a Frankfurt court, without success. It is the third temporary strike by train drivers since November. The company's own estimate is that this time the strike affected 80% of train circulation in the country. Coinciding with a strong cold wave at the beginning of the year, which plunged the entire country into negative temperatures for entire days, the strike resulted in a notable reduction in users' ability to travel, affecting other services.

Some time ago, the German government tried to privatize Deutsche Bahn, unsuccessfully, due to lack of interested buyer. However, to prepare the company for sale, it adopted a series of restrictive measures, “downsizing” personnel and investment. The result was a drop in the efficiency of German railways, which no longer had the exemplary profile of punctuality and quality that they enjoyed in the past. The comings and goings of COVID 19 and its variants from the beginning of 2020 only worsened the situation, sometimes reducing the available staff.

The other major movement of the week was that of farmers, who occupied the roads and city streets with their tractors, blocking them, in protest against the cuts in subsidies by the government, particularly with regard to financing diesel oil. for vehicle consumption.

In this case, what is observed is an attempt on the part of conservative parties, including the radical alternative for Germany (AfD), far right, to politically capitalize on the farmers' movement. According to the most recent polls of voting intentions, the AfD has already become the second political force in Germany, behind only the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and far surpassing all the parties that make up the current government coalition, the Social Party Democrat (SPD) of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the Greens and the liberal FDP. In turn, the left is in crisis, with the dissolution of The Left and the formation of a new party, BSW, led by deputy Sahra Wagenknecht, who lent her initials to her acronym.

This week's situation showed the tense crossroads at which Germany finds itself, pressured by destabilizing inflation that affects mainly sectors such as agriculture, food, energy and services, whose prices have been increasing significantly more than the generic annual average, which is around 10%. In the energy sector, for example, which was hit hard by the disruption of Russian gas supplies due to the policy of confrontation with Moscow over the war in Ukraine, the inflation rate exceeded 40% annually.

The subsequent crisis revived the German trade union movement, dampened in recent years by more collaborative strategies with capital, despite the harsh cuts in social investment and wages caused by the fiscal austerity policies that prevail in almost all of Europe, often implemented by socialist parties. or social democrats, with help from the Greens, as was the case in Germany.

On the other hand, the same crisis has once again encouraged the extreme right, which mobilizes hearts and minds with its easily appealed demagogic flags, such as xenophobia against refugees and immigrants, particularly those from Africa and the Middle East. Such retrograde flags have been reinforced by the growth of Islamophobia since the Hamas terrorist attack in Israel on October 7 and the brutal retaliation by Benjamin Netanyahu's government against the entire Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank, which has been killing children and women en masse. Across Europe, and Germany is no exception, the far right wants to hide its traditionally anti-Semitic past by fomenting Islamophobia, which is helped by the official policy of repression against Palestinian sympathizers.

In short, the situation is very serious from a progressive perspective, as the current trend is for this crossroads to become a highway for the extreme right, with the revival of practices reminiscent of those of the Third Reich.

* Flavio Aguiar, journalist and writer, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (boitempo). []

Originally published on Current Brazil Network.

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