Can Catholic crosses keep the far right at bay in multicultural Bavaria? | The Guardian

Given the demographics of Bavaria (25 percent with a migration background) and greater independence of Church leadership, unclear whether this apparently political gambit will work apart from being objectionable:

Today the German state of Bavaria will formally renounce the ideal of multiculturalism. All public buildings will be required to display a “clearly visible” crucifix near the entrance. Crosses already hang in Bavarian class- and courtrooms and many town halls. Now ministries, jobcentres, municipal hospitals and police stations must follow suit. Fearing civil disobedience, universities and theatres have been granted an exemption from the executive order of Bavaria’s new first minister, Markus Söder, to underline “Bavaria’s cultural and historical heritage”.

At first blush, this seems to put Söder in the same camp as Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbàn, who promotes “Christian democracy”, a term he uses interchangeably with “illiberal democracy”: a nationalist, anti-immigrant, antisemitic, Eurosceptic and authoritarian brand of populism. Or with Jaroslav Kaczyński’s governing Law and Justice party in Poland, and similar populist outfits in eastern Europe.

But Bavaria is different. Different from the rest of Germany, and from the ex-Communist countries to its east and south-east. It is the only German state to have been ruled by one party – the Christian Social Union (CSU) – since the Federal Republic was founded in 1949. The CSU has an agreement with the Christian Democrats (CDU) not to poach on one another’s turf. This has allowed the CSU to pander to Bavaria’s rural and conservative population in a way that the more inclusive CDU could never dare. At the same time, the business-friendly CSU has transformed Bavaria from an agricultural poorhouse into an industrial powerhouse – think BMW and Audi, Siemens and Bosch, biotech, AI and financial services. “Laptop and lederhosen” is how the Bavarians – who enjoy Germany’s lowest unemployment rate and highest incomes – describe the CSU’s mix of folksy populism and determined modernisation.

It’s a difficult balancing act, and the rise of the rightwing AfD – Alternative für Deutschland, the true German exponents of the Orbàn-Kaczyński brand of populism – combined with Angela Merkel’s swerve to the left on immigration and energy policies has made it harder. To take one example: when Horst Seehofer, Merkel’s minister of the interior, was Söder’s predecessor as Bavaria’s leader, he constantly goaded the chancellor by calling for a reduction in the number of refugees entering Germany to 200,000 per year. A few years ago, that seemed bold. Now the government has adopted Seehofer’s “upper limit”, but the AfD is demanding closed borders and massive repatriation. There’s no way the CSU can go down that path, not least because industry wants more immigration, not less.

The Nazis were unsuccessful in Catholic areas until Pope Pius XII made a deal with Hitler in 1933

In this situation, Söder has taken a leaf from the Zentrum: a pre-1933 party of political Catholicism. Although National Socialism originated in Bavaria, the Nazis were unsuccessful in Catholic areas until the future Pope Pius XII made a deal with Hitler in 1933 and agreed to disband the Zentrum in return for the protection of Catholic institutions. Söder, who is facing elections to the Bavarian parliament in October, seems to hope that religious feeling will prove an antidote to political radicalism, and that conservative Catholics will rally to the CSU as they once did to the Zentrum.

He could be wrong. Under Pope Francis, the Vatican is no longer the conservative bastion it was under John Paul II and the Bavarian Benedict XVI. Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich, who heads the Conference of German Bishops, has criticised Söder for trying to instrumentalise a religious symbol for political aims. More to the point, Bavaria’s modernisation has meant that the once backward and priest-ridden society is now better educated, and that Catholics, though still the majority, are more independent of the church. Few Catholic voters will be swayed by church leaders who condemn the AfD, still less politicians who hang up crosses in job centres.

Meanwhile, Bavaria is becoming ever more multicultural. Almost a quarter of the population have what Germans call “a migration background”. And for the first time since the war, more people are leaving Bavaria for other parts of Germany than the other way around. The most popular destination for Bavarians is Berlin – the epitome of decadence and religious indifference, not to mention multiculturalism and everything Bavaria is not supposed to be. Trying to bridge the chasm between a globalist, liberal elite and the rising number of the disaffected and disenchanted, Söder is more to be pitied than censured for his crucifix gambit.

via Can Catholic crosses keep the far right at bay in multicultural Bavaria? | Alan Posener | Opinion | The Guardian

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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