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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

German Consul Visits UMB

German Consul General Dieter Schnelle presents to the UMB community on October 30.
Patrick Ayers
German Consul General Dieter Schnelle presents to the UMB community on October 30.

On Wednesday, October 30, the German Consul General, Dieter Schnelle, paid a visit to UMass Boston as part of an educational tour to teach about the recent German elections and about U.S.-German relations. Mr. Schnelle spoke for nearly an hour to a crowd consisting of mostly faculty and several students. The discussion was held in the Chancellor’s conference room.

After greeting everyone, Mr. Schnelle discussed the layout of the entire German political system and the election process in Germany. Schnelle began by giving an overview of the German party system, describing each of the numerous political party ideologies and support bases.

In Germany, the two main parties are the SPD and the CDU-CSU. Even though these are the two dominant parties, they do not have the same lack of competition that the Republican and Democratic parties here in America have established. In fact, The SPD, or Social Democratic candidate, Gerhardt Schroeder, the incumbent candidate in the recent election, won by only a few votes over the CDU-CSU candidate.

As Mr. Schnelle described in detail, both the SPD and the CDU-CSU received 38.5% of the vote, and the SPD candidate, President Schroeder, received only a few votes more for the win. Mr. Schnelle, likened the German election to the 2000 U.S. Presidential election, saying in a sarcastic manor, that “It was almost as close as what happened in Florida.” This got a laugh from nearly everyone in the crowd, serving as a nice change of pace, considering the detail Schnelle was delving into regarding the complicated world of the German political process before the small crowd.

Mr. Schnelle went on to describe the German parliament, which consists of over six hundred seats. One of the unique aspects of Germany’s parliament, is that even when parties are not victorious with their candidates in the presidential election, they can still receive seats in the Parliament. In the case of the second place party in the last election, the CDU-CSU, they can receive a lot.

The consul-general went on to detail what areas of Germany voted for which parties. Unlike in the U.S., where the two coasts typically favor Democrats, the voting blocs in Germany are based on the northern and southern halves of the country. The Northern half cast more votes for Gerhard Schroeder and the SPD party, while the Southern portion favored the CDU-CSU Conservative Party.

Mr. Schnelle mentioned how many people in America and other countries often ask him if the neo-Nazi party in Germany is dead. He described, unfortunately the answer is no, the Nazi party still does exist, though not entirely as it did when Hitler was in power. However, as Mr. Schnelle was quick to point out, according to the election results, the neo-Nazi party, which actually goes by a different name, received only a small minority of the vote, equaling only a few thousand people. This means that the party received less than one percent of the entire vote. With a smile, Mr. Schnelle assured everyone, that the Nazi party is dwindling and will hopefully be extinct in the future.

Mr. Schnelle then turned his discussion to German relations, commenting on the mood of the German people, the country’s relationship with the U.S., and the overall feelings in his country about the possible war with Iraq.

Germany does not support the possible war with Iraq. Germany has been one of the most vocal European powers against the possible war, and Mr. Schnelle was quick to point out why. Ever since its reconstruction after World War II, there has been a strong angst in Germany towards anything even remotely military.

“There is a strong fundamental passivism movement,” Schnelle described, trying to help those gathered to understand the modern day German psyche. He went on to say that, “Germany has no qualms with Saddam’s removal,” but “We don’t want it done militarily if it can be avoided.” The reason why Germans seem so against military action in Iraq is because of the likelihood of civilian casualties. The German government and people do not appear ready to have the deaths of many civilians on their collective conscience, especially if weapons inspectors could be let in to dismantle Saddam’s arsenal.

Mr. Schnelle made it clear that Germany is a friend of the U.S., but explained the anti-war and anti-military movement there is so strong that even after September 11, when the U.S. was building a coalition to attack Afghanistan, the German parliament voted by a majority of only two votes to allow German troops to be sent over.

“So, imagine what the vote would be like now, a year and a half after 9/11, to send troops into Iraq when there is no concrete proof that Saddam has these weapons of mass destruction,” Schnelle pointed out, drawing attention to how difficult it would be to get Germany on the side of the U.S. government in the possible war with Iraq.

Mr. Schnelle then opened the forum for questions. Only two people asked questions and they both related to the German political parties.

On a lighter note, the other joke Mr. Schnelle made had to do with America’s low voter turnout. In the recent elections of Germany, nearly 80% of the population turned out to vote, putting the turnout in the U.S to shame. “In Germany the voter turnout is quite high as you can tell, unlike some other countries,” he said, turning his smiling face to the crowd and holding it there in silence for a brief moment before laughter erupted.