"Pull Yourself Together," blared a mass-circulation German newspaper after the shocking results of Sunday's local elections in the state of Hesse had been reported. The message was not directed at frustrated voters, 8.3 percent of whom cast their ballots for the right-wing Republikaner Party, which drew only 0.7 percent the last time out. Instead, quite correctly, the rebuke was aimed at the bickering, stalemated centrist parties that have been the bedrock of postwar German democracy.
This election outcome does not mean neo-Nazism is on the march. Several times before reunification, when West Germany encountered blips in its economic miracle, extremists enjoyed headline-grabbing gains that dwindled when good times returned. But that was then and now is now.
Now is the disillusion of eastern Germans promised prosperity with freedom only to encounter devastating recession and the personal insecurity of a market economy. Now is the anger of western Germans who feel their wealth draining into a bottomless pit left by 40 years of Communist mismanagement. Now is an avalanche of refugees and asylum-seekers attracted to Germany's open borders by swirling turmoil in the old Soviet bloc.
The headline quoted above expressed the hopes of many who are rightly worried by crumbling stability at the center of Germany politics. Scandals, broken promises, gridlock, indecision seem the order of the day as the country goes through a recession deeper and more socially disruptive than anything we Americans have experienced in the last two years. Norbert Walter, chief economist for Deutsche Bank, predicted this month that Germany is heading for a "crash landing" marked by high unemployment, falling production and "inappropriate" policies. Moreover, it could extend straight through 1994, a year in which there are to be no fewer than 19 German elections culminating in voting for a new Bundestag and chancellor.
Germany matters. It is the economic giant of the European Community, the chief source for rehabilitation of the former Soviet states. High interest rates decreed by its inflation-obsessed Bundesbank have been a brake on the U.S. recovery and on economic growth worldwide.
So the entire globe has a stake in the German political Establishment's pulling itself together with consensus economics and sensible immigration reforms. Let Hesse's jarring message be heard.