Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Günter Grass stirs up the German election campaign a bit

The 85-year-old writer and public intellectual Günter Grass has inserted himself into the German election campaigned. And inserted his foot into his mouth.

Grass blasted former SPD Finance Minister Oskar Lafontaine, who infuriated the SPD leaders by switching to the Left Party in 1999, where he became a prominent spokesperson for the Party and helped it shed some of its "eastern" image. (Daniel Brössler, Literatur-Nobelpreisträger Grass rechnet mit Lafontaine ab Süddeutsche Zeitung 13.08.2013)

Albrecht Müller notes, as have other including Lafontaine himself, that the former Finance Minister no longer plays a prominent role in national politics for the Left Party. (Günter Grass lässt sich leider wieder einmal in eine Kampagne einspannen – wie schon des Öfteren seit 40 Jahren. Und diesmal besonders komisch: zugunsten des Machterhalts von Merkel. NachDenkSeiten 13.08.2013)

Grass' expressed complaint against Lafontaine is that he is the one preventing electoral cooperation and the prospect of the SPD joining the Left Party in a national coalition because, says Grass, Lafontaine has always been against it. Both Lafontaine and Müller object that in fact it's the SPD that has consistently refused such a possibility while Lafontaine has advocated it.

Günter Grass was a prominent figure of the intellectual left in Germany for decades. He was particularly outspoken about the need for Germans to recognize, analyze and understand the Nazi era and the crimes committed then. He wasn't entirely consistent himself about this, however. In 2006, he publicly explained for the first time that at age 17, he had been a member of the notorious Waffen-SS. A fact of which Lafontaine reminded him and the public in his reply this week to Grass' criticism.

This BBC News article, Guenter Grass served in Waffen SS 08/11/2006, reports on that revelation. As I explained in my post D-Day, 1985 05/29/2004:

The SS (Schutzstaffel, or "protective detachment"), also known as the Blackshirts, were an elite Nazi group headed by Heinrich Himmler. The SS operated the concentration camps, and its members were infamous for their sadism, fanaticism and murderous brutality.

The SS grew into a large, complex organization. The Waffen-SS was attached to regular military units and, unlike most of the SS, included conscripts as well as volunteers. Nevertheless, the Waffen-SS earned its own notoreity. It was the First SS Panzer Division who, on December 17, 1944, in the Battle of the Bulge, had murdered 71 unarmed American prisoners of war in the Belgian town of Malmedy. Malmedy was the worst massacre of U.S. POWs during World War II.
From what Grass said, as quoted by the BBC, he was a conscript: "It happened as it did to many of my age. We were in the labour service and all at once, a year later, the call-up notice lay on the table. And only when I got to Dresden did I learn it was the Waffen SS."

Still, it was a real embarrassment for him and detracted from his image as a public intellectual.

Albrecht Müller points out that in his interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Grass praises the "Agenda 2010" neoliberal reforms, which are good example of neoliberal "reforms," this having lowered wages and heightened social insecurity in Germany. And he accuses Grass of echoing the criticism that financial lobbies directed at Lafontaine, which were a major factor in his resignation in 1999. Lafontaine resisted the neoliberal drift and demanded better regulation of the finance sector.

Müller is right that the only was the SPD has a likely chance of forming the next government is with the support of the Left Party. So he argues that Grass' misleading trashing of the Left Party only increase the likelihood of Merkel continuing as Chancellor.

It certainly appears that SPD Chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück is really aiming to become the junior partner to Merkel in a new CDU/SPD Grand Coalition.

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