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Western Press Review: German State Election -- 'Black Sunday'

By Joel Blocker, Dora Slaba and Alexandre d'Aragon

Prague, 27 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The headlines tell the story: "Kohl's Party Soundly Defeated," "Breakthrough for German Far-Right," "Germany's Far-Right Steals Limelight." Western press commentary and news analysis today is dominated by the results of yesterday's election in the eastern German state (Land) of Saxony-Anhalt.

With national elections due in five months, yesterday's vote gave the country's opposition Social Democrats a clear victory over Chancellor Helmut Kohl's long-time conservative Government. But even more important, for the first time since German unification eight years ago, an extreme-right, openly xenophobic and racist group, the German People's Union (DVU), was elected to a regional parliament.

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: What a disappointment for all democrats!

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in an editorial titled "The Shock" says: "What a disappointment for all democrats! The SPD (Social Democratic Party) fell far short of the decisive victory predicted by opinion polls, the national conservative coalition experienced a debacle, the FDP (Liberals) and the Greens did not score enough (five percent) even to be represented in the new regional parliament." The FAZ editorial continued: "But most shocking is the triumph of the radical Right and the fact that the DVU attracted young voters....The DVU's a reminder to those confident of victory (in next September's elections) that the road ahead has many twists and turns. The success of the Right-wing radicals (in Saxony-Anhalt) may present no other choice to the SPD than to establish a coalition with the unpopular CDU (Christian Democrats)."

SACHSISCHE ZEITUNG: April 26, 1998 will go down in German history as Black Sunday

Die Sachsische Zeitung, published in Dresden, says bluntly that "April 26, 1998 will go down in German history as Black Sunday." In its editorial, the paper writes: "The sad fact is that the extreme-Right German People's Union --the DVU-- will now sit for the first time since (unification) in a German state parliament....This is a dramatic event because it was far from a razor-slim decision, with (some 13 percent of the voters) clearly hoodwinked by demagogic DVU promises. Above all, the Bonn government coalition deserves criticism for not having taken seriously enough the developing dangerous threats to democracy (in the east). Otherwise, it would have exerted more effort in re-building the new states created (with unification). The alarms cannot ring louder than (they have with) the success of the DVU."

BILD: Black Sunday for all democrats

Germany's best-selling newspaper, Bild, used similar language in its analysis of the vote. In its editorial ,the paper says that it was "Black Sunday not only for the ruling coalition in Bonn, but Black Sunday for all democrats." The editorial recalls that last September the DVU only narrowly failed to win representation in the Hamburg state parliament, calling that "a warning shot" that fell on deaf ears. "Now," writes Bild, "it is ringing in our ears. Since yesterday it has become clear that the coming general election is not just about Kohl and (his SPD opponent) Gerhard Schroeder."

WESTDEUTSCHE ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: The vote combined protests and despair

Die Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, published in Essen, writes: "The vote for the DVU combined protests and despair --not least that of young people facing unemployment, which is higher in Saxony-Anhalt than anywhere else in Germany. Above all, the result represents revenge for empty promises. The CDU will do penance for this....True, the East is different (than the rest of Germany). But the success of the DVU should serve as a warning for the parties in the west."

LONDON INDEPENDENT: Germany agrees Kohl must go

Britain's Independent daily carries a commentary today by Anne McElvoy saying the election results show "Germany agrees Kohl must go." She calls the balloting "a significant step toward (Kohl's) demise after 16 years in power," writing: "The former East Germany has made Kohl's political fortunes in the 1990s. In the last election of 1994, his coalition won by a 10-seat majority on (the east's) residual loyalty. But the people who cried, "Helmut! Helmut!," as if their savior had come among them when he first campaigned in the east, will vote against him this year." McElvoy goes on to say: "This will be a bitter fate for a man who, in Bismarck's image, 'seized the coat-tail of history' to unify his country within a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall....On he strode, vowing to become the Chancellor of European Integration. Little attention was paid to the far more pressing task of integrating two mutually suspicious societies at home. But then Kohl has never had much empathy for individual east Germans."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Kohl humiliated as voters desert the CDU in droves

Other West European commentary reflects similar views of Kohl's diminishing electoral chances. Britain's Financial Times, in a news analysis by Peter Norman and Frederick Stuedemann, says that "Kohl, the chancellor who united eastern and western Germany in 1990, was humiliated as voters deserted his Christian Democratic Union in droves. It was the first significant test of the electoral mood in the former communist east before the September 27 general election." Their analysis continued: "The DVU's unexpectedly strong showing sent shock waves through Germany's democratic parties...the DVU came from nowhere in the last three weeks of the campaign to win 13.2 percent of the vote...Its strong showing, and the failure of the environmentalist Greens to clear the five percent hurdle to re-enter the state parliament, will change the political landscape of Saxony-Anhalt."

DERNIERES NOUVELLES D'ALSACE: The ballot creates headaches for all German political parties

The French regional newspaper Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace calls the election results "the Saxon trap." In a signed editorial, Jean-Claude Kiefer writes: "The regional ballot in Saxony-Anhalt creates headaches for all German political parties. First, because of the rise of the extreme a former German Democratic Republic state. Also, because nothing in this desolate region (more than 22 percent unemployment rate) corresponds to the usual criteria in German elections." Still, Kiefer continues, "the vote indicates electoral trends --notably that Helmut Kohl, the reunification chancellor, has been totally disavowed in eastern Germany. But the results also pose tactical problems to the Social Democrats of Gerhard Schroeder" who, Kiefer says, "are unlikely to attain an absolute majority in September." Kiefer concludes: "In this sense, these elections are a trap. They have clearly confirmed the decline of Chancellor Kohl (but they could) embarrass his opponent."

LA REPUBBLICA: Helmut Kohl received a slap in the face

Italy's la Repubblica carries a commentary by Bernardo Valli that says "Helmut Kohl received a slap in the face." Valli writes: "What was expected to be an electoral humiliation, serious but not irreparable, became an affront with heavy political ramifications that will no doubt influence the September federal elections. Even before this vote, a growing number of his colleagues in the CDU thought that the chancellor no longer has what it takes to succeed himself. They said it loudly: the chancellor of reunification has become a losing candidate" Valli continues: "After the blow in Saxony-Anhalt, Kohl's legendary capacity to recuperate is no longer what it was....The votes that went to the extreme Right yesterday are in great part votes that Kohl had won in the last elections as the chancellor of reunification."

WASHINGTON POST: Biggest surprise of the ballot is the DVU's breakthrough

In a news analysis in the Washington Post, William Drozdiak focuses on what he calls "the biggest surprise of the ballot...the breakthrough by the German People's Union, a fiercely anti-immigrant party of Right-wing nationalists that rose from obscurity to win (more than 13 percent) of the vote." Drozdiak writes: "(The DVU) has emerged in recent years as the country's fastest-growing party of the far Right, feeding on voter resentment toward the nine million foreigners living in Germany -- foreigners who are accused by Right-wing extremists of stealing jobs and milking the country's generous social-welfare benefits."

Drozdiak says that "the German People's Union was founded 10 years ago by Bavarian publisher Gerhard Frey, who lavished enormous sums of money on the Saxony-Anhalt election campaign, spending as much as all other parties combined, according to state authorities. Frey has declared his intention to build a powerful political base in eastern Germany by exploiting rampant popular frustration with unemployment and immigration --even though foreign residents represent little more than one percent of the population in the six eastern states."

The analysis goes on to say: "Posters and leaflets handed out during the Saxony-Anhalt campaign called for immediate expulsion of 'all foreign bandits' and 'jobs first for Germans only.' They urged that foreign children be barred from German schools and all social spending be directed only for 'German purposes.' Many People's Union backers appear to be young people, confirming a belief by sociologists that as many as one-third of eastern Germans between the ages of 15 and 25 show extreme Right-wing sympathies." And Drozdiak concludes: "Germany's Office for Protecting the Constitution, a government agency that monitors extremists, condemned the People's Union in a 1996 report for what it described as the party's 'anti-Semitic and racist tendencies.'"