Month: November 2016

Equal and Opposite Reaction – A Political Journey Through Germany, Austria, and America in 2016

There is a global crisis of principles in the world right now. In America, we are watching as political parties start to fracture and fight in the wake of a horrific election that put the least qualified candidate the country has ever seen in the highest seat of power we can offer. The most terrifying aspect of this situation isn’t even the ineptitude of the man in question, but the fact that his rhetoric of hate speech, xenophobia, and intolerance serves as a giant mirror of insight into the true feelings and circumstance of the American population. What liberal America failed to see was that underneath every step forward we gained in the last administration, there was a riptide of dissent. We were truly naive to believe that just because we were ahead, there wasn’t a rising tide of animosity that would find both voice and motivation in a candidate that reflected their angst.

In the week of the election, I was in Berlin, Germany. While this was intended to be a leisure trip that happened to coincide with the election, I eventually realized how incredibly important it was to be there at this time. Our first evening there was spent sharing a drink with our host, a young employee of the German Parliament who deals with the PR and social media for one of the members. Through her, we gained an insight into the German perspective on the American elections. In short, Germany is terrified of the choices America is making. They remember and have internalized the fear associated with what their country went through in World War II. There are markers of that horrifying time in their history in the bullet holes decorating famous monuments and the small brass plaques memorializing the people murdered in the buildings above in the name of hate and bigotry. There was anti-Trump graffiti and signage in every Berlin neighborhood we visited.

Germany isn’t without it’s own problems, though. There is a far right party rising against the insurgence of Middle Eastern refugees. The Alternative for Germany party is gaining speed in the German political system, using fear and misfortune to attack the current administration with xenophobia and hatred. They are attacking Chancellor Merkel’s welcome of over a million refugees in 2015 and leveraging the stress that the German people feel to gain power. The stress is very real as Germans start to watch their quality of life decrease as their country becomes saturated with the needs of foreign people. The fear of their loss of privilege makes them turn to a political party that tells them that they’ll fight back to regain the previous status quo, even if it means leaving millions to starve at the border of their country. (http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/alternative-for-germany-second-place-merkel-district-1.3748133(http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37274201)

While in Germany, we met up with an Austrian native living in Berlin and learned of the political quagmire in play there. Alexander Van der Bellen was elected as the Austrian President last May and became one of their first left wing presidents since World War II. Shortly afterwards his competitor, Norbert Hofer and his Freedom Party brought a case to court and it was ruled that this April the election will have to be redone as “…some of the postal votes in various districts had been carried out illegally. The court found there had been some irregularities and ordered the run-off vote be repeated “completely and throughout Austria,” according to a court statement.” (http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/01/europe/austria-presidential-vote-redo/)

Is this sounding familiar yet?

The Freedom Party of Austria stands strongly against accepting the tide of refugees into the country. They, too, are riding the wave of fear brought on by Austria opening its doors to migrants fleeing the violence in the Middle East. This insidious plot goes even deeper when you examine the allegations of current ties between Hofer and Neo-Nazi movements. The Freedom Party adopted as its emblem, the blue cornflower, is the same flower that Nazi’s wore in secret to recognize each other after their party was banned in Austria between 1934 and 1938.  Though Hofer denies that he has anything to do with the Nazis, there are some that remain skeptical. It is hard to ignore that previous leaders of the Freedom Party have been know to praise the Third Reich, though it seems as though current members of the party that begin to openly espouse aspects of neo-nazi behavior are removed from the public eye. ( http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36342362)

As we face the next four years in which we have to contend with a population so incredibly divided, it is important to look outside the country at the patterns emerging across the world. The common denominator across the current human condition is that the world is afraid. Three different countries are providing three perfect examples of what fear can do when harnessed by a few in the name of power. It is time to examine the fear within ourselves to steel against those that would beg our allegiance in the false name of security, and it is time to provide support and safety to those in need. The only true way to combat the use of fear-mongering as a persuasive tactic is to fight those that would tell people that they are less than they are, and to shelter and care for people such that fear can take no hold within them.