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Germany: Electoral Poster Prompts Concern

  • Roland Eggleston

Munich, 19 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- German cities and towns have recently been plastered with posters showing two red hands clasped together. The caption says "SPD/PDS We are ready."

The SPD is the Social Democratic Party, the main opposition group. The PDS is the successor party to the East German communists.

The poster was prepared by the governing Christian Democrats to suggest that if the Social Democrats win the election they will share power with the former east German communists.

The poster was approved by a special CDU election strategy conference in Bonn only last month with the strong personal support of Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

This week, CDU party officials in eastern Germany questioned openly whether it could be an election loser in a region where thousands no longer believe that the CDU-sponsored German reunification brought them benefits and are tempted to vote for leftist parties, including the PDS.

These critics believe the CDU should be running a practical campaign promising concrete measures to reduce the unemployment, which is the major concern of thousands in the former communist provinces, particularly young people.

The dispute was touched off by the CDU justice minister in the eastern German province of Saxony, Jurgen Heitmann, who said in a newspaper interview that the "red hands" campaign was having a "disastrous effect" in eastern Germany and would not win votes for the CDU in the September federal election. His remarks prompted a flood of comments from CDU officials in other eastern Germany provinces -- some agreeing with Heitmann while others insisted that the poster is a vote-winner among those who hated communism and fear its return in any form. Heitmann's own party organization disowned his remarks and said it was a personal opinion.

For Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the CDU it is more than an academic dispute. Political analysts believe the CDU has to gather votes in the five former communist provinces of eastern Germany if it is to win the Federal elections in September.

CDU spokesman acknowledged the party is worried that the Federal elections could result in an arrangement between the SPD and there PDS like that which followed the elections in April for the local parliament in the east German province of Saxony-Anhalt.

In Saxony-Anhalt the Social democrats won the most votes but not enough for an overall majority. Despite offers from the CDU to form a coalition, the social democrats preferred to form a minority government with the silent support of the neo-communist PDS.

Explaining his decision, the SPD leader Reinhard Hoeppner noted that the CDU had lost heavily in the election and said it would be a betrayal of their vote to bring the CDU into a coalition government..

Political analyst Hans-Henning Sendler believe the dispute within the CDU tells some of the history of post-reunification Germany. "A few years ago, winning votes in eastern Germany was no problem for the CDU," he says. "Helmut Kohl was the hero of reunification and he had promised that he and the CDU would turn the five eastern German communist provinces into what he called a "flourishing landscape."

Reality turned out to be something different. Hundreds of factories and other enterprises have closed and unemployment has soared. "Some have profited but many ordinary people have lost the living standards they use to have."

Another analyst, Horst Limbach, says German political parties, including the CDU and the SPD, should realize that eastern Germans have a different approach to the PDS than western Germans. People in the east are not afraid of the PDS," he says. "Many think that the PDS understand their position better than either the CDU or the SPD whose programs are created in western Germany -- in Bonn."

A CDU spokesman today told FE/RL that there were no plans to withdraw the "red hands" poster. He said it was a honest reflection of the party's concerns about what could happen to Germany.