Adventures in “Linkenland” begins today with John Riceburg’s new bi-weekly blog navigating the left-ier lands of politics. He starts of here with political funny guys, Die PARTEI.
A week and a half ago, more than four in 10 German voters decided to stick with “Mutti”, i.e. Merkel from the CDU, and a further quarter picked her former finance minister, i.e. Steinbrück from the SPD. This squeezed the small parties such as the Greens and the Left, who lost a million voters each compared to the last elections, and the FDP, who dropped a full 10 points and got kicked out of parliament. One small party, however, was able to multiply its result by a factor of eight: Germany’s satirical Die PARTEI.
Riding through Berlin on my bike, the election posters with empty smiles and emptier slogans tend to blend together. “Courage”, “stronger”, “together” – it’s like the Olympic Games of Vacuousness and I just tune out. So I have to ride past a few times before I notice the big one on Kreuzberg’s Oranienplatz: Four attractive young women and what’s their slogan? “Bla bla, blablabla blabla blablabla.” Finally! A party that says things the way I’m reading anyways! And while the SPD and the Greens make vague promises about raising taxes for the extremely wealthy (these are the parties who lowered taxes for the rich the last time they were in government), Die PARTEI has a more immediate solution: “If you vote for us, we will have the 100 richest Germans whacked.”
Die PARTEI was founded by editors of the satirical magazine Titanic in 2004 with the promise to re-divide Germany and re-build the Wall. Other countries have had their share of satirical candidacies before (remember Roseanne Barr?) but it speaks to Germans’ propensity to take everything too seriously – even their satire – that Die PARTEI is still going more than eight years later. And it’s still a legitimate political party, complete with 10,000 members and a dozen provincial branches. They rely on an old-school Stalinist aesthetic including grey suits, tautological speeches (“We are a party, because we are a party!”) and a genuine hymn from East Germany in the 1950s: “The party, the party is always right!”
During the elections in 2005, they tried to sell their state-allotted TV advertising on eBay – eventually they produced three commercials filled with the logo of the discount airline HLX (HLX denies having paid anything for it). However, for the next round in 2009, the federal election commission decided that Die PARTEI was not, in fact, a “Partei”. The justification was dubious and party leader Martin Sonneborn made his disapproval clear to the commission: “The last election official in this country who treated small parties so undemocratically was executed in 1946 by an Allied military court!” This case eventually led to a OSCE complaint about Germany’s election system and a change in the law, but Die PARTEI still wasn’t allowed to participate. They were, however, in the Berlin elections in 2011, where they presented candidates from the hip hop band KIZ and amassed almost one percent – and in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, received double the percentage results of the FDP. PARTEI activists celebrated by sneaking in to the FDP’s election night party and, when their disastrous results came up on the screen, popping champagne bottles and throwing confetti.
In my home of northern Neukölln, Christina Schwarzer and Fritz Felgentreu have been smiling down from posters and trying to win the district for the CDU and the SPD respectively. Their smug grins can just barely hide their thoughts about how they can kick us and our neighbors out of our apartments to convert them into lofts for their rich friends. But Die PARTEI has a different look: Stand-up comic Georg Kammerer is photographed from below with a champagne glass and the ominous slogan: “Power comes from above”. It’s as if he’s running for mayor of Mordor – but at least his pose with a handgun and a pit bull makes him look like a local boy.
In this last election Die PARTEI garnered just short of 80,000 votes – eight times their result from 2005 – and they’ve got their first elected representative in the city council of Lübeck. It was less than their stated goal of “100 percent plus X”, but they’re looking towards the European elections in March 2014 with full confidence. Their humor is occasionally tasteless – like Sonneborn putting on blackface to mock Obama hype – but their lack of any kind of programme means they can promise absolutely anything the citizenry desires. This includes not only unicorns but even an interactive iDemo in front of the Brandenburger Gate with Die PARTEI members holding up iPads as placards that would display whatever message citizens submitted on the web (“Eat more fruit!” for example). In regards to Berlin, Sonneborn also has a clear programme: “We are planning on blowing up the new Berlin Palace directly after reconstruction has finished.” For that promise, they’ve got my vote. If I had a vote.