Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Angry East German Men Fueling the Far Right

At the New York Times, "One Legacy of Merkel? Angry East German Men Fueling the Far Right":


EBERSBACH-NEUGERSDORF, Germany — Frank Dehmel was on the streets of East Germany in 1989. Every Monday, he marched against the Communist regime, demanding freedom and democracy and chanting with the crowds: “We are the people!”

Three decades later, Mr. Dehmel is on the streets again, older and angrier, and chanting the same slogan — this time for the far right.

He won freedom and democracy when the Berlin Wall came down 29 years ago on Nov. 9. But he lost everything else: His job, his status, his country — and his wife. Like so many eastern women, she went west to look for work and never came back.

To understand why the far right is on the march again in Germany, it helps to understand the many grievances of its most loyal supporters: men in the former Communist East.

No doubt the far right has made gains across Germany. The Alternative for Germany, or AfD, won 13 percent of votes in last year’s elections, enough to make it the leading opposition voice in Parliament. It is now represented in every one of the country’s 16 state legislatures.

But support for the AfD in the East is on average more than double that in the West. Among eastern men, the party is the strongest political force, with 28 percent having cast their ballots for the AfD last year.

Eastern Man, a figure long patronized, pitied or just ignored in the West, is in the process of again reshaping German politics.

No one more embodies the frustrations of eastern men — or has been more the object of their ire — than Ms. Merkel, an eastern woman who rose to the pinnacle of power and provides a daily reminder of their own failure.

Yet Ms. Merkel never became the ambassador for the East that people yearned for: Living standards in the region still lag those in the West, even after what is perceived as a traumatic economic takeover.

Mr. Dehmel calls her a “traitor” and worse.

After reunification, Mr. Dehmel recalled, western men in suits and Mercedes-Benzes arrived in his eastern home state of Saxony, soon running businesses, running universities, running the regional government, “running everything.”

And that was before more than a million asylum seekers, many of them young men, came to Germany in 2015.

“I didn’t risk my skin back then to become a third-class citizen,” said Mr. Dehmel, now 57, counting off the perceived hierarchy on his fingers: “First there are western Germans, then there are asylum seekers, then it’s us.”

One-third of male voters in Saxony, where he lives, cast their ballots for the far right last year — by far more than any other place in the country...
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