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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Germany has the same bug we do

by digby

Apparently, nobody anywhere really cares much if their leaders are corrupt, working with a foreign power for some kind of transnational fascist movement --- or both. It's an interesting take on nationalism I must say. Didn't see that coming:

It’s not as though the relationship between the Russian government and the German far right, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, has ever been a secret. Last year, when the government expelled a group of Russian spies, AfD leader Alexander Gauland protested: Germany could be letting “itself be drawn into a new Cold War by rabble rousers,” he declared. During Germany’s most recent election campaign, Russian state media campaigned openly for AfD. Pro-Russian and Russian-based social media accounts, some real and some automated, repeated AfD’s anti-immigration and anti-European messages, as well.

Nevertheless, there is something different about the investigation — recently produced by the BBC, a German television station, an Italian newspaper and Der Spiegel, a German magazine — into the Russian contacts of one AfD member. Like others in his party, Markus Frohnmaier, a member of the Bundestag (the German parliament), opposes European sanctions against Russia and makes frequent trips to Crimea. But a strategy document obtained by journalists, created before the German elections in 2017 and sent from a former Russian counterintelligence officer to a member of the Kremlin administration, tells an additional story. The document assesses Frohnmaier’s chances, recommends “support” and notes that if he wins, “we will have our own absolutely controlled MP in the Bundestag.” Another document, apparently written on behalf of Frohnmaier’s campaign, openly asks for both “material support” and “media support” from the Kremlin. Frohnmaier claims the document is fake.

A cache of other emails, analyzed in Der Spiegel, places these exchanges in a broader context. They describe a broad range of Russian “foreign-policy activities” in Europe, ranging from the “organization of meetings, vigils and other protest actions in [European Union] countries to the successful support of resolutions in the national parliaments of the EU and to media campaigns.” Not everyone who participated would necessarily have been paid — though in light of the Frohnmaier revelations, it is worth asking whether the members of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, Italy’s nationalist League party and others who have traveled to Crimea or maintained links to mercenaries fighting in eastern Ukraine did so with the expectation of receiving something in exchange.

Some of Frohnmaier’s subsequent actions and connections now make more sense, including the strange story of Manuel Ochsenreiter, a far-right commentator who worked in Frohnmaier’s office and was recently named in connection with a firebombing attack on a Hungarian cultural center in western Ukraine. The attack was allegedly designed to exacerbate Hungarian-Ukrainian relations, just as the two countries were arguing over the language rights of the small Hungarian minority in the west of Ukraine. The story had been seized on by Viktor Orban, the authoritarian Hungarian leader who has deep Russian ties of his own, as an excuse to make difficulties for Ukraine in various NATO and E.U. councils. Even though a lot about the attack remains mysterious, it looks very much like a classic Russian foreign policy maneuver, dating back to Soviet times and beyond: create a fake incident, deepen an ethnic conflict, then sit back and watch as it plays in Russia’s favor.

Even more interesting is the question of how the rest of Germany grapples with the Frohnmaier story. Inside the Bundestag, one leading Social Democrat has called for a parliamentary investigation; the Christian Democrats have demanded that Frohnmaier resign. But Germany is still profoundly resistant to the idea of a Russian threat to German democracy, preferring to downplay it as some kind of Cold War throwback idea, and to suspect those who discuss it of warmongering. The belief that German business depends on a good relationship with Moscow runs very deep, even though Germany’s trade with Poland is now larger than its trade with Russia. One German friend laughingly described to me the “psychological battle” the Frohnmaier story must present to many mainstream Germans, who will have to decide whether their instinctive desire to downplay stories about Russian influence trumps their instinctive dislike of the AfD.

The fact that it's always authoritarian, far-right, bigots is nothing to worry about I'm sure. It's much more important that liberals and progressives the world over not appear to be hysterical. Because that's just icky.