German socialists win referendum campaign

Wednesday, June 19, 1996

By Graham Matthews and Karen Fletcher

On May 5, 1996, the people of the east German states of Brandenburg and Berlin soundly rejected by referendum a treaty to unify those two states. The treaty was defeated even though almost every major party campaigned for the adoption of the treaty (the Brandenburg Greens did not call for a vote either way). Only the PDS actively campaigned for a "no", vote.

Having failed to gain a majority in both states, the treaty has now lapsed. Green Left Weekly interviewed ANDRÉ BRIE, PDS "no" campaign coordinator, about the party's campaign against the treaty, and the implications of the treaty's failure for politics in Germany.

Question: Please explain why the PDS opposed the treaty which was the subject of the referendum here on May 5.

We called for a "no" to the treaty because it was not agreed upon in a democratic way, with the participation of the state parliaments. The population was then excluded from all negotiations and discussions.

But the main problems we had were with the treaty itself. Firstly, it did not solve the main problems of the whole region, especially the question of a very high level of unemployment. On the contrary, the treaty stipulated that an additional 40,000 jobs in the public sphere should be abolished; that's about 20%.

Our second objection was that the constitution of Brandenburg, which is a relatively modern and democratic one — at least in Germany — would be eliminated by the fusion of the two states. We thought that the constitution of the new state could only become worse.

Thirdly, the state of Brandenburg was founded only six years ago, after the unification of Germany, and people, especially in east Germany, have been confronted with so many far-reaching and dynamic changes during the last six years that in our opinion it was too much, another very important change. They would have lost their Brandenburg identity, which has become important for them.

Question: The PDS was the only party to run a "no" campaign. Can you explain how the campaign was carried out?

We started a political campaign one year ago by establishing publicity about the treaty. Until the last few weeks, nobody was really informed by the government. We have informed people.

We went to the highest court of Brandenburg because in our opinion this treaty was in contradiction to the constitution of Brandenburg. We were not successful, or had only minor success.

We discussed in the parliaments and forced the two governments to deal more carefully with the content, with the aims of the treaty, in the parliaments. Until we made our demands, this discussion did not take place in the parliaments.

Four or five weeks ago, we started an advertising campaign against the treaty. We spent about 300,000 deutschmarks for big and small posters, information material and for advertising in newspapers. The two governments spent nearly DM10 million. The associations of entrepreneurs, and even the trade unions, also spent money to campaign in favour of the fusion.

We followed the campaign of the government. At every rally, at every performance, discussion, and so on, of the government, our comrades have taken part and have been more successful, had better arguments than the government.

Question: Why did the two governments and the CDU and the SDP support the merger so strongly?

First, I think it is an expression of the whole neo-liberal policy — leading to a centralisation of power and finances, to social cuts, to social and economic deregulation.

Secondly, it was a part of the strategy to establish a new capital of "great power" Germany. They wanted to have Berlin not as a separate state, but only as a city, which would mean that they could carry out their central policy against the city of Berlin in a much more effective way.

Thirdly, the unification of Berlin and Brandenburg would have given them a lot of possibilities to overcome and to remove the positive democratic achievements which have been made, especially in Brandenburg.

Question: What are the implications of the failure of this treaty?

For the first time since the unification of Germany, the big parties, the CDU and the SPD, have failed in a strategic question. I think it will give a lot of self-confidence to the people.

During the last years, especially in west Germany, the most reasonable things the PDS proposed were rejected only because they came from the PDS. This time the people were not afraid of being linked with the PDS and expressed their will.

Question: How can the PDS build on this success in the fight for jobs and against social cuts?

Firstly we have to use the organisational experience of this campaign. In my opinion, for the first time since 1990 the PDS was able to realise a real campain, not only on paper, but with organisation of the party, of public relations work, of people and so on. The PDS had a lot of successes between 1990 and 1995 in elections, coming from 10% to 20%.

We now must become able to implement also positive aims. For example, we need an active industrial and economic policy in order to create jobs, implement more democracy, especially in plebiscites at the local level, and to contribute to the struggle for ecological change in Germany — ecological tax reform for example.

Question: Do you feel these positive changes will conflict with Maastricht and the move towards a united Europe?

The PDS does not oppose European integration, European cooperation, but we have criticised the treaty of Maastricht I, which excluded the social questions and ecological questions and was not accompanied by a democratisation of the European Community. The European Parliament, especially, has very few rights. It's not a real parliament.

We have demanded that the economic union be extended by a social union with an ecological regime and with real democratisation of the whole community.

We cooperate with other leftist forces in Europe, especially within the Forum of the New Left, in order to implement a plebiscite on the implementation of Maastricht II and to extend the European Community to social, ecological and democratic developments.

Question: What do you think the "no" vote reflects about the thinking, particularly of east Germans, on their position in a united Germany and a united Europe?

In my opinion the result improved the possibilities to fight for positive changes in Germany. Germany in 1996 is worse than Germany before unification. The east Germans have the experience — negative and positive — of two social systems.

The only part of the German population to have experienced a real emancipative movement were the east Germans. It was the east Germans who carried out the changes at the end of 1989 in a democratic, peaceful, civilised way. In 1990, people thought that the west German deutschmark and economic system, the market and the wonderful shops and so on, would be the fulfilment of their dreams.

Now a critical, differentiated experience has become free and can be used for a new development. The "no" result is also an expression of the new self-confidence, of the ability for a differentiated view of society.

West German big business and the government thought that they could extend West Germany to the River Oder and abolish the society of the GDR, including the society which developed at the end of 1989 and at the beginning of 1990 — the most interesting, most democratic and the most modern development in Germany. We are now witnesses to a development where other experiences, experiences of east Germans, are contributing to the disappearance of the old West German republic too. There is at least a chance of a new development.

Question: Prior to the 1998 elections there will be a lot of discussions within the PDS, also a lot of attacks on the PDS from without. How do you see the next two years unfolding for the PDS?

The attacks contributed to the self-confidence of PDS members and of east Germans, of oppositional forces within Germany. But it has endangered political democracy and culture because socialist thinking, alternative thinking, was excluded from the necessary discussion and this is dangerous for all.

I think in 1998 the PDS has to be ready to take over responsibility in governments in east Germany. We have not decided up to now, our position regarding participation in governments. We have to develop an ability to cooperate with other parties, especially with the Social Democrats and the Greens.

We have to pay a price for participating in governments. It is not easy to make compromises. It is much easier to be a "clean" opposition, but I hope the PDS will become able not to repeat the mistakes of the social democrats at the beginning of the century and, later, not to look only for power and to forget about the content of leftist policy.

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