Sunday, August 30, 2009

New axes in political spectrum?

In a very interesting interview with Le Monde, the secretary general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Pascal Lamy, talks about the global problems of social democracy. He says that social democracy has to renew its criticism of the capitalist market in order to reach the citizens again.
Over an entire page in the French daily, the former director of the European Commission lays down his visions for a new social democracy in Europe. It could start with a reinforced Party of European Socialists (PES) which allows direct membership, says Lamy.

What I found particularly interesting is his assumption that the old political spectrum left-right (i.e. equalitarian vs. libertarian) has been joined by two new political axes. The first one is the axis expensive-free. The discussion about free access to newspaper articles, books and entertainment facilities play exactly into this axis. They have led to severe discussions on the restriction of the internet in France, Germany, Sweden and other countries and led to the emergence of the pirate party at the European elections.
The second axis that Pascal Lamy sees is consumerism-anthropology (he says "economy-anthropology"), namely the question if money is really the ultimate donor of happiness.

I'm not sure if I'm following him in this analysis. But yet, I tried to graph it. And you will notice that I added two other axes that I find important: pro-European/anti-European and pro-immigrant/anti-immgrant. I would invite you to copy and modify this graph and to imagine further axes which are important to citizens today. Maybe, in a joint effort, we can find out how citizens "function" today, and what aspects are important to them in an election.

Simple bitmap-file. The font is Georgia, 8 pt.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Inglorious bastards - What a shame for European actors

If you decide to watch a film by Quentin Tarantino, you mostly know what you're up for. You know Pulp Fiction, the celebrated black comedy in which a guy in the back seat gets his head blown off because the car hits a bump in the road. You know Kill Bill, in which hundreds of people get killed by Uma Thurman in a revenge fight. You know that Tarantino films are bloody, macabre, funny and far off reality. That's what you're expecting when you decide to see a Tarantino.

But the new Tarantino film is totally different. This time, the fun is not so far off reality, and that's what makes the film a very gruesome experience - at least if you watch it in Europe. The first twenty minutes show a nerve-wracking scene. A Nazi officer, played by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, discovers a Jewish family in the house of a French farmer and has them murdered. Unlike former Tarantino films, a long intensive and deep-reaching dialogue in French and German language preceeds the kill. This is not fun. This is good acting of highly qualified actors. After watching that dialogue, you don't feel like laughing about the kills any more.

The film continues with a weird interplay of trash-talking American-style Brad Pitt humor, fighting scences and a serious and well-acted character study of the only survivor of the farmhouse massacre. That HAS to touch you as a viewer if you have an inkling of historic sensitivity. It's not a problem for me to parodize Nazi history, if it's done in a sensitive way. But Tarantino doesn't really choose if he wants to show an irrealistic black comedy or a serious revenge story in a historic setting.

If it was only for that, you could still shrug off the film as an uninformed American-style war movie. But the really sad part is that highly qualified European actors sign the movie with their name. German actors Til Schweiger and Diane Krüger as well as my personal favorite Daniel Brühl and Austrian actor Christoph Waltz have a high potential and have starred in outstanding films before (let me just remind you of Daniel Brühl in "Goodbye Lenin"). Of course it's their right to appear in funny and parodistic films. But a history-based film like this one also sends a political message. An American's vision of Europe and European history is often shaped by Hollywood movies like this one. And many Americans will now get to know the actor Daniel Brühl, one of the very few German actors with a reputation outside of the country, in the role of the self-loving Nazi whom he displays in the Tarantino movie.

It's a real shame to see the actors' talents wasted in a movie like this one.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Someone is taking the piss of the FDP's immigrant expulsion policy...

...or so you would think at first when you see this photo on Youtube and on other places where it's currently advertised.


The picture reads "20 years freedom of travel" - you would think someone malicious meant the trip back home to civil war stricken countries in the Balkans. But no: The picture is from the Homepage of the FDP group (Liberals) in the German Bundestag itself and they apparently meant something very different...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Some thoughts about the German election campaign

It's only a little more than a month until a new parliament will be elected in the largest state in Europe. European politicians are awaiting the election results in Germany before the European Parliament can approve the designated commissioners.

Germany is currently experiencing a very astonishing development. You could almost say that the voters have no clue what they really want. In the pre-election survey "DeutschlandTrend", the journalist Jörg Schönenborn observes that "the anger about banks and financial actors, the renewed feeling of injustice and the increasing wish for a more solidary society are normally signs for a [...] leftist majority. However, in the judgement of parties and persons, this is currently not reflected at all" (my translation). Quite the opposite, the more effort the SPD puts into its election campaign, the more the number of supporters seem to drop.

Before blaming the voters, it has to be said that the parties are not making it easy for them either. Over the last years in the grand coalition, it has become more and more difficult to divide the most important claims of SPD and CDU/CSU apart. While many citizens believe that the SPD has turned away from its social-democrat roots, the CDU has begun to talk about a social market economy. Not many of the common achievements in the grand coalition were attributed to either party and both sides are now trying to show what they have achieved over the last few years.

The young Green politician Jan Seifert believes that a new grand coalition may mean a further drop in popular support as voters perceive they don't have a real choice in the elections any more. Likewise, he believes that this could lead to a stronger radicalization of the small parties who lure the frustrated voters into their own camp with populist promises. I could add that those who vote for the small parties in order to end the grand coalition will lead to a weak SPD and CDU, which again will leave only triple coalitions (ruled out by all parties) or another grand coalition as an option.

What very much frightens me - and there I have to blame the citizens - is the hostility that voters show toward the election campaign in general. Politicians have to justify why the political parties - accepted vehicles for the aggregation of political ideas and the finding of solutions - dare to voice their proposals for the future of the country to the sovereign. For a week, the so-called "affair" about SPD minister Ursula Schmidt's business car has caused more attention than the political proposals of the parties. And in my view the German media have to take a share of the blame for that kind of coverage.

Final thought, I haven't seen any real campaigning emerge yet. Neither of the big parties has a real star. The CDU is trying to push the popular economics minister Theodor zu Guttenberg, but sooner or later in this campaign he will have to show his profile more clearly than he did so far. Commentators hold against him that he can say a lot of beautiful words without making a statement, but I believe that won't get him through the campaign.
The SPD has a few young talents, but I haven't seen them voice their ideas very clearly yet. We may have to wait a little more until the Steinmeier team really kick-starts.

Secondly, neither of the big parties has voiced a very clear campaign topic yet. The CDU is trying to gain voters with the promise of a vague tax reduction while the SPD is speaking out against nuclear power plants and in favor of renewable energy. I wonder if the topic of energy can be sharpened so much that there will be a public debate about it. Clearly, with the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen coming up in December and the recent Desertec initiative, there is a lot to talk about. But the issue will have to be framed by politicians and the media in a way as to appeal to the daily life of the citizens.

I think the next few weeks will be interesting one way or another. It'll be exciting to see what topics will interest the citizens the most...