As troubles mount, West Germany faces an uncertain future. Where will that future lead?
BONN, West Germany — It is time for the world to awaken to the far reaching significance of developments here! The abrupt collapse last autumn of the Social Democratic coalition that had governed this country for the past 13 years marked the end of an era in West Germany's postwar history. West Germany is now entering a new and potentially dangerous period of uncertainty and crisis. To most Germans, the road ahead is far from clear. A foreign visitor senses a general feeling of unease — a mood of foreboding — among Germans. Where is West Germany headed? Will Chancellor Helmut Kohl's coalition government be able to give the country the strong leadership it needs?
Dim Prospects for Slumping Economy
Shortly after taking office, the new chancellor boldly promised "a new start with a government that works." Opponents were quick to declare that "nothing will change but the rhetoric." What are Dr. Kohl's prospects? Much of the success of any leader in troubled times such as these hinges on his personal charisma and ability to inspire and motivate the public. But the new chancellor has been widely described in much of the German press as "colorless," "ponderous" and "uninspired." One diplomat described his style as "the bland leading the bland." The general feeling about Dr. Kohl's future is one of skepticism. Most observers believe his prospects are dim at best. No major changes are expected. Yet it may well be that major changes are the only way to deal with the serious problems facing West Germany. Chancellor Kohl's economic policy will certainly make or break his administration. The same economic problems that triggered the downfall of Helmut Schmidt's coalition remain to torment his successor. West Germany is in its worst economic crisis since the state was founded shortly after World War II. West Germany today has the fastest-growing unemployment rate in Europe. The jobless rate is expected to soon reach upward of 10 percent of the work force — more than two million people. Stagnant growth is another major concern. Current estimates forecast zero growth for 1983. Bankruptcies are at an all-time high. The alarming rise in bankruptcies and business collapses was spotlighted last year by the biggest corporate failure in West German history. West Germany's giant electronics company — AEG-Telefunken — collapsed, sending shivers through the West German economy. The crash of the company — long a household name throughout Germany and Europe — dealt a severe psychological blow to West Germans and dented economic self-confidence. Declining productivity is yet another concern, as are trade deficits, slowly rising inflation and a massive domestic budget shortfall. This gloomy economic outlook — which some government economists say could even prove "overly optimistic" — is bad news for Chancellor Kohl. Business circles seriously question his ability to bring about an economic upturn in the near future. There is probably no way out of the economic muddle except to cut back on over-stretched social welfare and other public spending. "We have lived beyond our means," Mr. Kohl himself has observed. "And some people, including some political leaders, have kept believing that you can live better and better while at the same time working less and less. We now have to face the most challenging economic situation since the end of the war. There has been too much public spending, and there are more debts than ever before." Cutting public spending is not an easy program to implement. Such austerity moves encounter considerable resistance, particularly from trade unions. Yet persuasive voices are declaring such cuts are the only way out. "Our people must learn again … to make sacrifices," asserts conservative CSU (Christian Social Union) party chief Franz Josef Strauss. There is clearly no quick and painless way out. As Dr. Strauss has also observed, "We have no magic formulas. We only have the right principles." But to impatient voters, are right principles enough?
New Third Force
Another major concern to Chancellor Kohl as he surveys his prospects is the emergence of a new national party known as Die Gruenen — the "Greens." The Greens could significantly alter the entire course of West Germany's political development. The Greens are a militant, antiestablishment alliance of diverse groups, including pacifists, environmentalists, Marxists, antinuclear protest groups and the like. The Greens seek the expulsion of foreign troops from German soil, dissolution of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the creation of a "nuclear-free zone" in Europe. Unlikely as it might seem on the surface, the Greens are given an excellent chance of entering parliament in the next elections. They have grown into a potent political force in a relatively short period of time. Under German electoral law, a political party must win a minimum of 5 percent of the votes to get a share of the seats. Public opinion polls indicate the Greens will almost certainly be able to meet this requirement. The freewheeling Greens, in fact, appear to have already become the country's third political force. The small Free Democratic Party (FDP), on the other hand, may well be eliminated from the legislature in the next balloting. (It was the FDP that precipitated last autumn's government crisis by withdrawing its support from the Social Democrats and entering a new alliance with Dr. Kohl's CDU/CSU conservatives.) In various state elections, the FDP has already fallen below the 5 percent popular vote level required by the constitution to seat a party in parliament.
If the FDP is cast out of parliament in the coming general elections, the consequences could be far-reaching — especially if the Greens end up holding the balance of power. By refusing any coalition, the Greens could make governing by either major party impossible. In the case of such a deadlock, another election might be necessary almost immediately. Analysts, however, have not ruled out a clear conservative victory at the polls. Were the CDU/CSU alliance to win an absolute majority, they could then form a new government with a free hand, unencumbered by the liberal FDP or any other nonconservative elements. Surprisingly, however, observers feel that Chancellor Kohl would actually prefer having to form a coalition with the liberal FDP to the prospect of achieving an absolute majority. The reason? He would like to limit the influence of the conservative right wing-spearheaded by Franz Josef Strauss — within his CDU/CSU alliance. Chancellor Kohl needs the center liberals if he is to keep West Germany on the type of middle-of-the-road course he envisions. Dependence on the FDP would serve to lessen right-wing pressure within the coalition. Chancellor Kohl's concern centers around the figure of Herr Strauss, leader of the CDU's Bavarian affiliate party, the CSU. Dr. Strauss is West Germany's most controversial politician and widely held to be the strongest personality in German politics today. Though Chancellor Kohl's political ally, the CSU chief has long been at odds with Kohl's positions on a wide variety of issues. Herr Strauss, for example, pressed for new national elections last autumn as the proper way out of the governmental crisis. He felt the CDU/CSU could easily win a clear mandate at that time. Such a victory, he observed, would make it unnecessary to have anything to do with the discredited Free Democrats. He felt the FDP was not to be trusted, in view of its "infidelity" to the SPD. Dr. Strauss ultimately deferred to Kohl, who backed the unusual parliamentary maneuver that immediately removed Chancellor Schmidt from power and postponed elections until spring. Mr. Strauss subsequently chose not to participate in Chancellor Kohl's interim cabinet with the FOP. If the CDU/CSU wins an absolute majority in the coming elections and is able to govern without the Free Democrats, Herr Strauss will undoubtedly receive important cabinet positions. He would almost certainly become vice-chancellor, and possibly also foreign minister or economics minister. His influence on the government would be major. But whatever the immediate results of the coming balloting, the signs for the longer-range future remain disturbing. Political analysts are in agreement that the months that follow the election could prove the ultimate test for West German democracy. The economic situation could well continue to slide, aggravating the political and social situation within the country. Since World War II, West Germany's political stability has been based largely on strong economic performance. Prolonged and worsening economic problems could lead to political paralysis.
Echoes From the Past
Such prospects are especially disturbing to observers with a sense of history. A strikingly similar set of circumstances developed inside Germany earlier in this century — with catastrophic consequences. Following Germany's defeat in World War I, a system of democratic government replaced the old empire in Germany. It is commonly referred to as the Weimar Republic, so called because the assembly that adopted its constitution met at the city of Weimar. Weimar was a democracy, but that was not enough. Germans quickly discovered that it was easier to write a democratic constitution than to make it work. The Weimar Republic was plagued almost from the start by a variety of political, economic and social concerns. The Weimar constitution, for example, ensured the representation of small minority parties in parliament. As a result, innumerable separate parties were formed. This meant that only by coalition — temporary alliances of parties — could government majorities be formed. The fragile governments thus formed were the victims of continual disunity and bickering among "partners." Small parties often held the balance of power, becoming bottlenecks — stalling and blocking legislation. More often than not, not elections failed to break such parliamentary deadlocks. Increasingly hard times further fueled the fires of political pandemonium. The Depression in the United States shook Europe's economic fabric, and Germany was hit hardest of all. Economic problems triggered widespread social and political turmoil. By the end of 1931, more than six million Germans were unemployed; by 1933, more than eight million. Tensions moved inevitably toward the breaking point. The ongoing disunity of the political parties made a drastic solution of the crisis inevitable. The National Socialists under Adolf Hitler moved to capitalize on German discontent. The multitude of parties were unable to unite against him. This sounded the death knell of the Weimar Republic and the birth, in 1933, of the Third Reich.
A New Weimar?
Is Bonn, many observers are beginning to ask, becoming a new Weimar? Trends within West Germany make such comparisons inevitable. West Germans are not blind to the striking similarities between these two periods of time. Many are dissatisfied with a political situation under which the smaller parties exercise disproportionate power. The prospect of the Greens winding up as the power brokers in the formation of a new coalition government appalls the average voter. West Germans would like to see the emergence of a new, more dynamic leadership, a leadership that will make a difference — that will be able to get a grip on the drift and provide challenging new concepts and goals. Regardless of their present political affiliations, growing numbers of West Germans admit — though often reluctantly — that the dynamic, no-nonsense style of leadership exhibited by Franz Josef Strauss may ultimately be required to deal with a situation that has become intolerable. (It was Mr. Strauss who, as finance minister, brought West Germany out of deep economic trouble in 1967-69.) Though he has never made a secret of his desire to occupy the chancellor's office, Mr. Strauss once remarked that he hoped conditions within his country never became so bad that the people would have no choice but to elect him chancellor! Such a time, however, may be just around the corner.
Unlike leaders in other nations facing similar difficulties, West German officials cannot pursue an active program of appealing to public feelings of "patriotic duty" and "national mission." Though appeals of this type can be very effective in galvanizing public support, the burden of recent German history renders such an approach impossible. Were West German leaders to invoke such ideals, the shock waves would rock the sensibilities of history — conscious neighbors. Is, then, this potentially crucial resource of nationalistic fervor to go to waste? Some German leaders have suggested that rather than abandoning such a valuable instrument of motivation, these patriotic feelings might be transferred to supranational goals — specifically, toward the building of a strong, united Europe! In this vein, Franz Josef Strauss has declared: "Whoever wishes to be a German must see to it that he becomes a European while there is still time. We must have patriotism in an entirely new understanding of the word." Since World War II, one fact has become increasingly clear: West Germany's concerns are intimately bound up with the concerns of Europe as a whole. Many are beginning to realize that the solution to a divided German nation can be properly found only in a European context. Germany's fate — and destiny — is irrevocably tied to that of Europe! And in many ways, the German nation — at the center of Europe's peoples — is the key to Europe's destiny. As Franz Josef Strauss observed in the postscript to his book Challenge and Response (1970): "If Europeans do not grasp before long that they must find a common response, equal to the historic occasion, to the challenge with which they are confronted, Europe will finally miss what chance it has of being allowed to embark upon the future as a more or less independent unit." West Germany has much to offer Europe. Despite its serious troubles, it remains the Continent's strongest economy and possesses Western Europe's largest conventional army. It cannot fail to play a leadership role in the Continent's search for solutions to the burgeoning East-West crisis. Bible prophecy — explained in the pages of this magazine — reveals that Germany and Europe are heading toward a time of great crisis — and great opportunity. It is one of the functions of The Plain Truth to announce in advance the unfolding of fast-paced events in Europe. Far-reaching developments lie just ahead — and they will astound the world and totally change the course of history!