Geopolitics

Merkel And The Far Right, Why Both Are About To Make History

German elections will see the results of a seismic change within the German political landscape, as Merkel's moderate policies have opened space on the right for extremists.

Poster for Merkel next to one for AfD in Stralsund, Germany
Poster for Merkel next to one for AfD in Stralsund, Germany
Stefan Aust

BERLIN — The legacy of Konrad Adenauer, the first ever chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, was quite tangible, namely a stabilized albeit largely destroyed and indebted nation deeply tied to the West. Willy Brandt's legacy was Ostpolitik, the lean eastward as well as his unforgettable genuflection at the Warsaw Ghetto uprising memorial. Helmut Schmidt left behind a stable and strengthening economy. Helmut Kohl brought about Germany's reunification. And Gerhard Schröder gave us the "Agenda 2010" and the refusal to join U.S. President George W. Bush in the hare-brained scheme that was the second Iraq war.

But what about Angela Merkel's legacy? The economic powerhouse that Germany has become is not necessarily her doing. So what else will she leave behind? How about the sudden nuclear power phase-out, the scrapping of compulsory military service, the demonstrative opening of Germany's borders, a culture of welcome that most recently has also extended to the passage of gay marriage. To cut a long story short: the modernization of her CDU party towards a Christian, green, socially-democratic people's party.

Is this Angela Merkel's real legacy?

This is arguably the single most important change within the German political party landscape. But it's not, of course, without its consequences. The Social Democratic SPD party must, for the first time in its 150-year history, fear for its survival as the party of the people. The new CDU has taken its place in the political landscape, which in turn was left behind by the Green Party and The Left party.

On the conservative end of the spectrum, however, the new CDU has left a sizeable gap, and it is this gap that the nationalist AfD is now trying to fill, quite successfully in fact. What has long been a missing right-wing alternative now exists, though it's open for question just how democratic the AfD is given the racist, nationalist, xenophobic and loutish conspiracy theorists it has attracted. This is the consequence of a seismic change within the German political landscape. And it begs the question: Is this Angela Merkel's real legacy?

Ahead of the coming parliamentary elections we do not really have the choice between two candidates, two parties or two different coalitions but only the choice of possible coalition partners for Merkel's CDU, which is well ahead in the polls.

Those who want to get rid of Merkel only really have the choice between voting for the extremes of The Left party or the AfD. That is what I call caught between a rock and a hard place. A rainbow coalition is the only viable alternative. And the potential coalition partners are doing everything in their power to put on a controversial election show on the political stage to distract us from recognizing this as true and lulling us into a false sense of security. It's their way of making us believe our vote still counts.

Let's face it: Merkel will stay in power.

SPD's Martin Schulz hurls his demands, such as gay marriage, at the masses and is utterly perplexed when the chancellor has beaten him to it, just like the tortoise beat the hare in the famous fairy tale. He also nonchalantly demands the withdrawal of all U.S. nuclear missiles from German soil, hoping to snatch a few votes away from The Left party, with whom he refuses to enter into coalition because of its demand that Germany leave NATO.

Cem Ӧzdemir of the Green Party is trying to ingratiate himself with the CDU, while the party's would-be theologian Katrin Göring-Eckardt is brimming with moral self-contentment and unctuous self-promotion. All of these people, and I really mean all, are hungering for a position, no matter how insignificant, in Merkel's next coalition government. Even Christian Lindner of the FDP, the only alternative to Merkel for bourgeoisie voters, is really angling to be part of Merkel's cabinet in the end.

So let's face it: Merkel will stay in power. She has rendered the opposition innate and leaves voters no choice but to vote for her. One of the fundamental principles of democracy, namely to be able to vote a government out of power, has been side-lined by all parties in the fight for who will become mummy's next darling.

Thus this pantomime of an election campaign is finally drawing to a close with only one true novelty: The AfD, it is safe to say, will be in parliament, no matter what. With that in mind, it may yet be an historical election after all, albeit one with an unwanted result. For the first time ever, a far right wing party will be sitting in the Bundestag in the Reichstag building. Sadly, yes, this too will be part of Angela Merkel's legacy.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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