On February 5th, 2020, Thomas Kemmerich of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) was surprisingly elected as Minister President of Thuringia, one of 16 federal states in Germany. His own party, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) all voted for him to oust officeholder Bodo Ramelow, a die-hard communist who in the 1990s been placed under surveillance by the Federal Agency for State Protection. It was the first time that the AfD, the political establishment’s new boogeyman, had the chance to cast such an important vote.
This democratic decision was sharply criticized by Chancellor Merkel. While being on a state visit in South Africa, she called it an “unforgivable procedure”, demanding the election to be overturned as her party couldn’t back a government support by the demonized AfD. Due to immense pressure from all sides, including the mainstream media and even his own party, one day later Kemmerich described his position as untenable. On February 8th, he resigned his post, but stayed in office as acting minister president. During a new round of elections on March 4th, Ramelow retook his old position in Thuringia. This time Merkel didn’t protest at all.
Considering her personal background, her reaction isn’t surprising at all. Born in Hamburg in 1954, as a baby she moved with her father Horst Kasner, later known as the “red pastor“, to Templin in the communist part of post-war Germany. Kasner was a theologian who claimed to be the spiritual father of the concept that socialism and the Church were compatible. He saw it as a real alternative to capitalism and considered loyalty to an antifascist state a Christian duty. Later he distanced himself from the official party line, but his daughter apparently didn’t.
Unlike other children coming from a religious household, Merkel didn’t shun mass communist organizations and joined not only the Young Pioneers (Junge Pioniere), but also took the position of assistant secretary for the Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend) at her school. Being a diligent student, Merkel was allowed to enjoy higher education. That was already a privilege, considering that only 10% of those who had received primary education were given the opportunity to obtain the certificate of eligibility for university entrance.
After studying psychics at the Karl Marx University in Leipzig, she started to work as a scientist at the Central Institute of Physical Chemistry, a part of the Academy of Sciences of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in Berlin, which had 600 staff members, and where she became secretary for agitation and propaganda at the basic level in 1981.
There are indications that she believed in a fallacy called Democratic Socialism and wanted the GDR to remain independent. But as a pragmatic tactician, she changed her mind. A foster daughter of Helmut Kohl, West German chancellor when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, and whom she later displaced, Merkel made a meteoric career. At the end of 2005, she was appointed to the highest office in Germany.
According to her own words, for Merkel February 5th, 2020, was a “bad day for democracy”. Well, yes and no! On the one hand, a federal chancellor gravely interfered in regional responsibilities. On the other, everybody willing could see Merkel’s true authoritarian colors shining through.
She also said that “The election was incompatible with the way the CDU thinks and acts.” That’s absolutely true, though not in the sense that she meant it. The CDU’s leader’s reaction just shows how fast Germany’s political culture is dwindling, and a sad reminder of the ideological environment in which Merkel grew up.
Christian Hirte, Commissioner for East Germany in Merkel’s government, can be considered collateral damage, after he was dismissed because he had dared to congratulate Kemmerich on his success. Obviously, loyal party soldiers aren’t entitled to their own opinion.