WOW. Do I seriously know 100 words in German? In just over a week?
I didn’t think I could do it. This took me all summer and then some with Turkish. I guess there are some benefits to studying related languages!
What was that marvellous word #100, I hear you ask. It was none other than the humble rechts -“right”. Not terribly glamorous, but useful for giving directions, along with its sister words links (“left”) and geradeaus (“straight on”).
In honour of my learning the directions links and rechts, it seems appropriate to take a look at their other, political, meanings. It’s time to learn about German politics!
First, the basics.
Germany is a federal parliamentary republic, which, as far as I can tell, basically means that governing power is split between federal and state governments, and that the head of state (i.e., the Prime Minister in Canada or the President in the US) is granted their power by a legislative brach (i,e., a parliament or a congress)
Every 5 years, the President, or Bundespräsident is elected by the Bundestag and state delegates. Since 2012, Joachim Gauck, a former pastor, has filled this role.
Germany also has a Bundeskanzler (Chancellor), elected for four-year terms. Dr. Angela Merkel, physicist, has been the Chancellor since 2005. She’s been in the news a lot lately for her openness to accepting refugees from the war in Syria, and most recently for her decision to allow a German satirist to be prosecuted for mocking Turkish President Erdoğan. She is also Germany’s first female chancellor, one of the architects of the EU, and has been described with such language as “the most powerful woman in the world“. I have no idea what her politics are like, but I think I like her.
Now, much further that this and I know I’m getting on to dangerous ground; politics are generally to be avoided in conversation. I know. And when I went to France, I tried to avoid learning about political parties. Bad idea! Ignoring them just meant that when I inevitably found myself in a political discussion, I had no idea what was going on. Therefore, without further ado, it’s time to look at some German political parties. Like in Canada, there seem to be several, with a couple of them rising to the forefront. These are the CDU and the SPD.
CDU stands for Christlich-Demokratische Union Deutschlands, or Christian Democratic Union of Germany. It is Germany’s main conservative party, and the party to which Bundeskanzler Merkel belongs (Did I use that word correctly?). According to their website, they stand for “…the Christian understanding between people and their accountability before God (…) a free and constitutional democracy, a social and ecological market economy, Germany’s inclusion in the Western values and defense community, and the unification of the nation, as well as a unified Europe.”
The other large party in Germany, SPD is a centre-left party whose initials stand for Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or Social Democratic Party of Germany. The SPD is also Germany’s oldest party, founded in 1875. That’s only about 10 years younger than Canada! The party platform is one of social democracy, believing in a strengthened social market economy, a welfare state, civil rights and European integration. I tried to get direct quotes from their website, but it didn’t have an English section, Google translate was not quite good enough, and my German was definitely not good enough. Oh, well. One more reason to keep learning!
There are, of course, several more worth knowing, including…
The CSU (Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern or Christian Social Union of Bavaria), a sister party to the CDU, which apparently only exists in Bavaria (What? Not sure how that works), and is generally more “socially conservative”
The Freie Demokratische Partei or Free Democratic Party (FDP) is a liberal party, which believes in both economic and social liberalism. In 2013, they were won no seats in the Bundestag, for the first time in the party’s history.
The Bündnis 90/Die Grünen (Alliance ‘90/Green Party) focuses on alternative energy, sustainable development and a green transport policy.
Apparently, German politics were pretty stable until Bündnis 90/De Grünen came along, and since then there’s been a whole bunch more parties created – among them the Die Linke (Left Party) and the Piraten Partei, which seems to be pretty much what it sounds like.
Politics have always been tricky for me to keep track of – who thinks what, why, what they want to do and how they want to achieve it. Basically, though, German politics feel pretty familiar. You’ve got your centre-left (centre-links?) and centre-right (centre-rechts?), you’ve got more intense versions of each, and you’ve got a green party and a few out-there ones. What I was most struck by was the openly-religious bent of the CDU. I mean… “Our party was established in 1945 by individuals who wanted to construct Germany’s future with a Christian-influenced, non-denominational party of the people.”?
I’m not saying religion doesn’t play into politics in Canada and the US. I just don’t know if a leading party (the governing party, in fact) could get away with openly announcing that they want to construct a Christian-influenced future. In some ways I imagine it’s better to just say it and deal with the fact that religion influences politics. But then on the other hand isn’t the ideal, ostensibly, that it shouldn’t influence things? (And then there you’re getting into forms of knowledge and the value we place on knowledge that is perceived as emotional/spiritual vs. what is perceived as rational) That’s a whole other can of worms.
At the end of the day, the two systems feel more or less the same. Rechts, links, und geradeaus.