Monday, 24 August 2009

Election Season

There's something that makes Germany very different to Britain in my eyes, and that's the fact that it's OK to talk about politics on any and every occasion. Whereas families in England will often change the subject when Uncle Joe starts on about the immigrants again, your average German family will get stuck in with gusto. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and they're entitled to air it at great length as well. Don't get me wrong, there are advantages to this, and it's usually very interesting.

Being human beings like the rest of us, German writers are no exception - only their options for airing their political views are wider than the odd Christmas dinner and drunken wake. And when election time comes around, there's no stopping them. I've already posted about Julia Franck's public advocacy of the SPD, but there have been a number of other interesting authorly interventions over the past few weeks.

First up was Dietmar Dath, in an interview with Welt Online. Dath has written all sorts of genre-busting stuff somewhere between literary fiction, fantasy and science fiction, including a non-fiction book about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and was shortlisted for last year's German Book Prize with Die Abschaffung der Arten. From the extracts I've read of it, I'd say Dath wedded Arno Schmidt with Margaret Atwood and a healthy dose of his own ideas. Anyway, he's a very vocal Marxist-Leninist and at the same time an accepted member of the literary establishment. So the interview with one of Germany's most conservative newspapers is great reading. Asked who he'll be voting for, he plumps for the former PDS, now called Die Linke:

The fun boys and girls in Oskar's crew (Lafontaine). Why? Because if a tiny remnant of health insurance, rent control, affordable education, collective wage law, etc. rears its head out of the rubble anywhere, these people will tie themselves to it with daisy chains and hurl insults at the diggers come to clear the ground. (...) I don't want socialism because it's written in books, I want it because I don't have rich parents. If I can't work any more I'll be in trouble if nobody helps me out.

On the same day Ingo Schulze weighed in, another candidate on last year's shortlist with the rather lovely Adam und Evelyn. Schulze has a lot to say about the former East Germany and the chances that unification blew, but this time he's widened his radius, giving us a broad picture of the evils of the world in an FAZ essay on the future of capitalism. Again, it's fascinating stuff, if perhaps not all that new to many readers. Fortress Europe, corruption, global warming, falling wages and rising debt - we need to rethink the way our world works, he writes. He recalls a scene from Rokand Emmerich's Godzilla, in which a scientist is standing in a huge hole in the ground saying, I can't see any traces of a monster, then the camera pulls out and we see he's in a massive footprint:

The German government reminds me of that scientist. They're trying to use the old ideas and categories to find out what kind of monster we're dealing with. But the standpoint and the approach are all wrong. (...) The finance minister Steinbrück recently talked about "fighting fire with fire" in extraordinary situations. I can't remember any political move in the past twenty years that didn't try fighting fire with fire. It might be a good idea to have a go at combatting flames with water for once.

And now we get Thomas Brussig, in the Tagesspiegel, on people who don't vote. Brussig is another East German, and has written a lot of satire on the subject of the GDR, including Heroes Like Us. It's hard to tell if he's being serious here, but it wouldn't surprise me. He complains that elections mess up the business of running the country, and compares voting behaviour in the GDR and modern-day Germany - people were once forced to vote but had no actual influence over their own lives, and now they stay away from the polls in their droves:

Not voting can mean: I'm not scared of any of the options on offer, and I don't tie my life's happiness to any of them. Not voting means not feeling subjugated to political conditions. I think that's not a bad situation. It's even a state of being worth striving for. Not voting means expressing freedom from politics. That's something very, very valuable.

Of course, some of us in Germany are free from politics by way of being disenfranchised, which doesn't mean we're not subjugated to decisions made above our heads, just to bang my own drum here. Aside from that, Brussig doesn't go into how democracy might work out what people want without actually asking them, so to speak, at the polls.

But ultimately, all these people are writers, so perhaps it's legitimate for them to leave any possible solutions out of the equation. After all, Uncle Joe doesn't have all the answers either.

No comments: