Riding the Wave of Islamophobia The German Geert Wilders
Part 3: Making Xenophobia Respectable
Merkelbach and Bader look at Stadtkewitz as if he were their great white hope, a cowboy who will ride back to Berlin and put an end to the murky minutiae of politics, the divide between politicians and citizens and the shady machinations of political parties. Most of all, they see Stadtkewitz, not unlike the white-haired Sarrazin, as someone who can make xenophobia respectable.
Stadtkewitz is a local politician, which is likely to help his cause, because every good populist, on either side of the political spectrum, sees himself as a representative of ordinary citizens, of people opposed to the elites and the politicians who are depriving them of their rights, prosperity, values and identity.
"We've talked about the immigration freeze you propose. But what do we do with the immigrants who are already here?" Merkelbach asks cautiously.
"The Russlanddeutsche (ethnic Germans from Russia) are a problem here," says Bader. "They've practically developed a ghetto in Wetzlar."
Stadtkewitz looks surprised. Islam is his subject. He hadn't expected to be talking about Russlanddeutsche and ghettoes in Wetzlar.
"I could imagine that in cases where there is no integration, we simply refuse to extend residency permits," Stadtkewitz finally replies.
"But we can't get rid of some of them, because they have German passports," Merkelbach says quietly. "Like the Kazakhs."
Stadtkewitz doesn't have a solution for the Kazakh issue, so they move on to other subjects: Turkey's aspirations to join the European Union, which have to be stopped, and renewable energy, which could eliminate Germany's dependence on Arab oil. Then Stadtkewitz says that he's hungry, and they all drive to a Burger King together. Stadtkewitz orders a Whopper and Doll a vegetarian burger.
Turning Germany Into a Switzerland With Fewer Mountains
In the afternoon, back at the hotel, Bader and Merkelbach push together tables to form a podium for the press conference.
The one reporter who shows up is with an agency that, as he says, "covers the Giessen area." Stadtkewitz solemnly announces that Merkelbach and Bader are now on board with the Freedom Party and that he has asked them to form a state organization in Hesse.
"What exactly does your party stand for?," the reporter asks.
"We intend to cover the entire non-extremist spectrum," says Doll.
"We want to address the major issues of the day," says Stadtkewitz.
When Stadtkewitz discusses his party program, it seems clear that he wants to see Germany turned into something resembling Switzerland -- just with fewer mountains. He advocates strict immigration laws, expedited deportation, a ban on minaret construction and direct democracy through referendums. He is critical of the EU and envisions a country that is oriented toward Christianity and the West, largely free of Muslims, patriotic, safe and rich, and with limited government. He wants to seal off the country, arguing that the things coming from beyond Germany's borders, things like European bureaucracy, globalization, Islamists and foreigners taking advantage of the German social welfare system, are rarely good.
It is dark by the time Stadtkewitz's BMW is on the road to make the 550-kilometer trip back to Berlin. Stadtkewitz says that he thought long and hard about whether to take it upon himself to found a party. After all there had already been a right-populist party in Germany: the Law and Order Offensive Party, nicknamed the Schill Party after its founder Ronald Schill, the Hamburg judge who founded it in 2000. Things seemed to be going well for the party initially but eventually the project failed. Experts and political scientists now say that populist parties can only succeed in Germany under a charismatic leader.
Bid to Attract Voters from Political Center
Stadtkewitz may lack Schill's cold personality but he is also more focused. Stadtkewitz is calm, thoughtful and not a neo-Nazi. These character traits alone could be sufficient to attract voters from the political center unwilling to be associated with the far right.
Stadtkewitz really would have preferred to operate and run the party from behind the scenes, in keeping with his original plan.
"I wanted to build the party in collaboration with Kirsten Heisig. She was supposed to be the face of the party and I would be the organizer. We met when I left the CDU, and she said to me: 'René, I won't say no if you want to develop something of your own.' We moved forward with the project, had meetings and started planning," says Stadtkewitz. "But then there was that tragic event." In early July, the body of Heisig, a judge in a Berlin juvenile court, was found hanging from a tree in Tegel Forest. She had committed suicide. Her book, "Das Ende der Geduld" (The End of Patience), published posthumously, became a bestseller.
"Someone like Kirsten Heisig doesn't come along very often," says Stadtkewitz.
He has tried to meet with Sarrazin. It seemed promising at first, but now a meeting seems unlikely to happen. "Sarrazin doesn't want to talk, for now," says Stadtkewitz.
That leaves Marc Doll, who is dozing on the back seat, and a few loyal supporters in Berlin.
- Part 1: The German Geert Wilders
- Part 2: 'I've Always Been Underestimated'
- Part 3: Making Xenophobia Respectable
- Part 4: Berlin State Elections the 'Deciding Moment'