Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Who Said German Politics Weren't Sexy?

Since a certain political crisis has reached the boiling point, I present without further ado, an insightful despatch from The Wife.

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At the risk of inviting a lot of shoulder shrugging indifference amongst the gracious readers of this blog, I comment today upon a minor scandal that has held the German political scene in suspense for some months now. It also gets a bit confessional at the end, so you might consider skipping it – I won’t mind.

In spring, the world learnt something about Horst Seehofer, member of parliament and a high-ranking official in the CSU, the Christian Social Union (the Bavarian ‘sister-party’ of the German conservatives…as is typical, the Bavarians have to have their own version of everything). The CSU has been exerting one-party rule over that somewhat idiosyncratic southern 'free state' of Bavaria—thereby ensuring, as they would have you believe, absolute moral purity—since the founding of the Federal Republic in 1948.

Anyway, earlier this year, it was revealed that Herr Seehofer had had an extramarital affair that was not only longstanding but also, rather inopportunely, fruitful.

The bouncing baby Seehofer in question has recently arrived; small though she may be, she’s caused her own little political tsunami. Seehofer’s impressive, if imprudent, virility has rocked the boat a bit, not only because the C in CSU is virtually synonymous with ‘Catholic’ but also because he had been spending most of 2007 vociferously pushing to ascend to the throne of the ‘free state’ when its current king, Edmund Stoiber, finally totters off into the sunset (muttering inanely like Lear on the heath).

For weeks on end the German yellow press and its readers held their breath: would Seehofer leave his wife or not? Then, at the beginning of July, the news trickled out: he will stay. Result: relief tinged with a mix of ‘told you so’ cynicism and disappointment. After all, since Seehofer’s political ambitions were already beyond repair, he might as well have done something brave for a change and gone the whole way for true love. Oh well, Edward VIII he ain’t.

Now, his former lover has spoken out. After a sassy new haircut and the application of a hefty layer of make-up (and, I would say, a close encounter with Photoshop), Fräulein F. holds her (rather wilting) little bundle of joy into the camera with one big maternal beam.

The intended message is clear: I’m a strong, sexy chick who can do it by myself (the Diana-strategy)! Dig this Horsty: this is what you’ve passed up by staying with your Missus (it IS the Diana strategy alright – Frau Seehofer even looks...neigh...a bit like Camilla). And much like in Diana’s case, it seems the otherwise uptight reading public is ready to accept this version of grrrl-power (don’t forget, in Bavaria, they roll those ‘r’s).

So far, so sordid.

However, I had an uncanny epiphany today, one of those six-degrees-of-separation stories that now and then enrich all our otherwise tedious lives. My realisation of who Fräulein F. is has brought forth my first real emotional reaction to this sorry little farce, a reaction somewhere between triumph and embittered disgust.

Triumph because the case has yet again confirmed what I’ve said all along: there’s something rotten in the state of Bavaria. And the overtly Christian Conservative is no less a mammal than the rest of us.

The embittered disgust derives from the double standard behind it all. And this is where it gets a little more personal.

The famous Fräulein F., would you believe it, grew up only one village away from mine in the rural nowhere of Northern Bavaria. Though I must admit she was certainly a medium-sized fish in our rather tiny pond: her father, in fact, was our village mayor (CSU, of course. Catholic, of course).

I remember only too well his neatly side-parted, bearded and stripe-tied image on the flimsy xeroxed newsletters through which this local council spread its Good News: births, deaths, meetings of the Landfrauen and the Frauenbund (groups providing excitement—or at least macramé—to farmers’ wives), and the officially-sanctioned binge drinking (with optional subsequent wife-beating) called the Männergesangsverein. Oh, and of course: those CSU-meetings.

Now, it’s obvious to me that the origins of this little Immaculate Conception were prepared by a powerful, but not so divine, force. I call it the Old Boys Network (copyright pending). In the fetid little swamp of Bavarian local politics, this is the motive force for just about everything.

Now that the CSU is getting ‘modern’, of course, the Old Boys have let a few chicks into their ranks, as Fräulein F.’s example—she was a personal assistant to someone in the sister-party CDU (aka, ‘the conservatives for those not blessed with being Bavarian’)—shows. It’s possibly in this nepotistic context, too, that she met Seehofer (though I like to imagine him dangling her on his knees at some dingy village festival in the 1980s—who knows I might have been an innocent bystander: somehow this makes me feel vaguely ill).

And the same nepotistic network that brought Fräulein F. and Herr S. together is now closing ranks around her and promoting her as a gutsy, albeit provincial, feminist who deserves all our admiration and support. (Just look at that baby beam!)

Hang on: didn’t she have a four-year affair with a married man? Which memory hole did that get thrown down? Where are the voices (and there are many of them…and they are loud) which are typically raised when such things happen outside the charmed circle of C-Party influence and regard? Where’s the comment from the man in white at the Vatican – who, like bloody Bono, has an opinion about everything – at a moment like this?

Fräulein F. was but a toddler when my mother proved her own feminist strength by—for good reason—filing for divorce and leaving said village with two kids in tow. It’s odd (no, actually, it’s more than odd, it’s infuriating) that people then (good, loyal and relentlessly moral CSU voters all of them) went on a veritable witch hunt against my mother, not only literally turning their backs on her (and my brother and me) in the street but also gleefully spreading hurtful and slanderous rumours.

Where was the yellow press then? Who offered her a glossy photo spread (and the attendant financial rewards of celebrity)?

Of course... my mother was ahead of her time – and not a bearer of a CSU membership card.

Or, of a CSU politician’s child.


ario said...

A superb dissection of CSU hypocrisy and the accompanying Medienwirbel around this rather sordid affair, Mrs Wood.

I still remain at a loss, why, when it's clear that the solitary rule of the CSU has created a culture of nepotism, they are not replaced at the ballot box by the SPD. Do you think it's just down to (relatively) good economic stewardship and inherent Bavarian conservativism?

Anja said...

Thanks for the flattering comment, Ario -- and your question, which touches upon one of the great mysteries of German politics. I honestly can't tell you why, but I know it is stifling. I reckon it's the selfish conservative gene pushing its eternal continuance with particular fervour (not least thanks to the spiritual aid of Roman superstition). I knew that I had to get the hell out of there when I was ten years old ....