Rise of German rightists blamed on voter frustration

March 09, 1993|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Berlin Bureau

BERLIN -- Ignatz Bubis, the leader of the Jewish community in Germany, blamed voter frustration with politicians and politics of the major parties for the startling success of the extreme right-wing Republikaners in elections Sunday.

The Republikaner Party, campaigning with "the boat is full" anti-foreigner slogans, came from virtually zero four years ago to rack up nearly 10 per cent of the vote in Frankfurt, Mr. Bubis' hometown in the state of Hesse.

"I don't see any tragedy in this number," Mr. Bubis said. "But I am very disappointed." He does not yet find a real threat to the Jewish community implied in this vote.

"Nevertheless the community in Germany has become very skeptical," he said. "I am still optimistic, but my optimism has started to go down." He was in Berlin for the start of Brotherhood Week.

Sunday's results devastated the Social Democrats, who govern in Frankfurt and Hesse, humbled Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats, who govern nationally, and sent political observers scrambling for explanations.

Most agreed with Mr. Bubis that voters were protesting against the seeming inability of the major parties to deal with Germany's political and economic problems.

Germany struggles with paying for reunification, a declining economy, increasing unemployment, political scandals, asylum questions and a crisis of confidence in the ability of politicians to deal with these problems. Mr. Kohl himself said yesterday that politicians in both major parties speak with "too many tongues.

"The government has shown a miserable picture," the chancellor said. "There's no doubt about that."

Mr. Bubis, with tongue only partially in his cheek, praised the voters who registered their protest by staying home. "They had two possibilities: to stay home or vote against the democratic parties," he said. "In this case, I think to stay home was finally the better decision than to come and vote for the extremists."

Nearly one-third of the eligible voters stayed home. Voter participation in Hesse was the lowest since World War II. Non-voters were once again on the verge of becoming the biggest "party" in Germany. Mr. Bubis said that the voters who turned right sought "the strongest protest."

Mr. Bubis, who survived the Holocaust to become a prosperous Frankfurt businessman, once confronted Franz Schoenhuber, the Republikaner leader, about his life as a Waffen-SS soldier in the Nazi army. Mr.Schoenhuber had written a book called "I Was Present," in which he recalled his SS days with pride.

"I don't want to say he is anti-Semitic," Mr. Bubis said. "He says he is not. He gave examples. He likes Chagall. He likes Mendelssohn. He likes Offenbach. But all the people he likes are a long time dead.

"But he says 'I don't like Galinksi.' At that time Galinski was still alive." Heinz Galinski, now dead, was chairman of the German Jewish community before Mr. Bubis.

"So the only Jew he mentions that he doesn't like was a living Jew. And the Jews he liked are dead.

"And I don't want to say that all his members, or all his voters, are anti-Semitic, but there are many anti-Semitic voters and many anti-Semitic members."

Mr. Bubis doesn't think Mr. Schoenhuber can attract more than the roughly ten per cent of the voters that he has now.

"He attracts people with strong feelings of nationalism, and his slogans are very, very malicious," Mr. Bubis said. "I don't believe he will attract more people because the people will see that he can change nothing."

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