The Dark Horses of 1994: GERMANY / Doomsday scenarios that can be ignored

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The Independent Online
WATCH for the bad-news headlines from Germany during the coming year. And then ignore them. Many Germans - let alone other Europeans - expect things to go badly wrong somewhere along the line. In reality, democratic and prosperous Germany is doing just fine. And it'll do better in the years to come.

In that respect, Germany is an upside- down version of the Soviet Union, in the late 1980s, as seen by conventional wisdom at that time. Then, many pundits argued that Mikhail Gorbachev could square the circle and set the country on a democratic path. In reality, it was about to become a political and economic Humpty Dumpty: all the West's horses and all the West's men couldn't put Gorby together again. In unsettled Germany, by contrast, it is easy to argue that an abyss lies ahead. In reality the country, still reeling from the impact of unity, is going through a complicated and expensive overhaul which will leave democracy strengthened.

First, the bad (or badly confusing) news. In elections in what in Germany is known as Super- Election Year, there will be increased support for far-right parties. The Republicans will gain seats in the federal parliament, in December 1994. There will be strong support, too, for the ex- Communists, in the east. Both the main parties, the ruling Christian Democrats and the opposition Social Democrats, will take a battering from fringe parties. And bad news for one man at least: more than two-thirds of Germans expect Helmut Kohl, the unity chancellor, finally to lose power. His challenger, Rudolf Scharping, already says he feels at home in the Chancellery offices. There will be neo- Nazi rallies, which may, in some cases, be attended by crowds nudging into four figures, and which will send the government into a spin. There will also be some vicious attacks on foreigners. The Germans, rightly, will agonise. Next, the economy, and more tales of doom. Ministerial optimism that the recession is almost at an end can easily be shot down. On a whole range of indicators, one can demonstrate that the economy is on the down and down. But that is less than the whole story. Germany's economy, though less bouncy than some of its new Asian competitors, is still much stronger than its European partners. In the east, hardship is real. Even there, however, progress will continue to be enormous.

All the political and economic uncertainties provide ample scope for parallels with the Weimar republic. Even when commentators do not argue that Hitler might be just around the corner, it is easy to suggest that the Germans are - to quote one, not untypical British headline - 'too big for their jackboots'.

In reality, nobody is more worried than the Germans themselves about not offending the neighbours. Ordinary Germans are fully alert to the dangers of the far right. Thus, the greatest immediate danger may not be political extremism, but political drift.

If, as seems possible, a grand coalition of Christian and Social Democrats is formed, few expect that to provide any sense of political vision. Just more complaining, and a pile of doomsday scenarios - at home and abroad.

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