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“I” comes before “us” and politics fall on hard times. From Germany a new warning to Europe

Alternative für Deutschland, the anti-immigrant, eurosceptic political movement, has made strong gains in the regional elections in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Deep cultural and social transformations, caused by globalization and digital technology, underlie the gap separating citizens and institutions. Finding new ways for modern democracy is of primary importance

If you open – verbal – fire against refugees and reception you are bound to win the elections: it has become an evident feature of European politics. The common thread of anti-immigrant sentiments connects Germany’s most popular parties (AFD – which registered remarkable gains in the regional elections of September 4 Mecklenburg-Vorpommern), those in France, Scandinavia, in Italy, the UK, Poland, Hungary, The Netherlands, Greece, and in other countries.

In the German Land bordering on the Baltic Sea, with a population representing less than 2% of the Country and a small presence of refugees, the SPD remains the largest party (30.6% of the vote to the Social Democrats, down 5 points), followed by the rightwing formation AfD ( Alternative Für Deutschland, 20.8%) and the Christian Democrats (CDU gained 19.0%, with a decline of 4 percentage points). To the left, Die Linke registered a defeat (13.2%), while the Greens and the neo-Nazis of NPD failed to enter the regional parliament. The following day, German chancellor Angela Merkel, defeated by the local vote, said she was “deeply dissatisfied” with the results, whilst defending the right to open the Country’s doors to those fleeing from war and hunger. “I believe the fundamental decisions we made in the past months were right”, although, she admitted, “we can’t afford to welcome one million refugees every year.” On the opposite front, the “winner”, AfD leader Frauke Petry, underlined: “The great coalition is no longer as great” and “people no longer trust the Volksparteien” (CDU and SPD). When told that the regional success was due to a general theme – such as migration – she initially denied, but eventually provided the interpretative key to the results, mentioning the “political disaster of refugees that prevails over everything else.”

Post-election debate in Germany is in full swing. For the past months AfD registered a series of successes in the consultations for the Lander, while the national elections of 2017 draw closer every day. Will Angela Merkel continue being the Christian-Democrats’ candidate Chancellor? Doubts worm their way through the Country, which like all others, winks at anti-foreigner, populist and nationalistic forces – a Country where the economy is sound, citizens’ rights are appropriately ensured, and social justice constantly followed by coalition governments. Then why are voters turning their backs to Angela Merkel? The reasons cannot be ascribed to social and economic dissatisfaction; German democracy is not in danger; Germany is a solid pillar of European and international balances. It is thus reasonable to image that if a crisis does exist in Germany  – and the outcomes of the Mecklenburg vote are but the most recent evidence of it – it consists in an overarching political crisis. The gap separating citizens and institutions, between widespread sentiments and public institutions, separating the perception/communication of reality and reality as it is, is growing wider. When facing concrete themes and problems, instead of calling for feasible, comprehensive solutions, a large number of voters are content with bombastic slogans that satisfy the stomach more than the mind.

An ethical crisis underlies the political crisis.

The I-you relationship is changing. Individuals come before communities, people prioritise their own interests even if the world outside their backyard could be severely affected … Against this backdrop, the outcome of the vote doesn’t seem to be the highest point of democracy, nor the peak of responsible participation to the development of the common good. Rather, it is seen as the occasion to “retaliate” against those in positions of political power, whichever political party or movement they belong to. Citizens fail to demand concrete measures based on shared values and instead – by surfing the web and collecting information on Facebook – they extol whoever utters stereotyped slogans and short-lived fabrications. This form of malaise has no borders. Also the Italian debate ahead of the constitutional vote next fall appears to follow this same trend. Moreover, it can be assumed that no more than 5% of Italian voters are authentically knowledgeable about the reform they will be voting. On the basis of which form of knowledge and criteria will Italians cast their vote on the referendum? A similar question was raised on the occasion of the Brexit vote, and the same question unnerves US citizens worried about the Trump phenomenon.

Citizens of “mature” democracies, at least those understood as such until today, are probably in a precarious equilibrium. Voting (for those who still go to the polls) thus becomes an action separate from civic participation and popular democratic conscience. Mecklenburg is yet another reminder. To Germany and to Europe as a Whole.

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