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Last Updated: Friday, 14 November, 2003, 20:10 GMT
CDU red-faced over 'anti-Semitism' row

By Ray Furlong
BBC, Berlin

The leadership of Germany's opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) will hope that by expelling Martin Hohmann from the party's group in parliament it has put an end to the furore surrounding the speech he made six weeks ago.

But it was far from the smooth show of unanimity the CDU might have hoped for.

Martin Hohmann (third from left) stands with CDU colleagues after the vote
Some MPs are said to have found it difficult to vote against a colleague
Although 195 MPs supported his expulsion, 28 opposed it and 16 abstained. Another four spoiled their ballots while five MPs did not turn up to vote.

"The result makes it quite clear that his position and his views have a certain support in his party," said Green Party MP Claudia Roth.

"It's not enough to say: Hohmann is expelled and that is the end of the story. I feel that the story will continue."

Meanwhile, the CDU headquarters has been bombarded with faxes, emails and phone calls from rank-and-file party members backing Mr Hohmann.

PR disaster

Party leader Angela Merkel sought to play down the dissent, telling reporters that some MPs had found it difficult to vote against a colleague.

It was not a vote for Hohmann or against Merkel - it was a vote for an open society
Back-bencher Guenther Nooke
Other MPs went further. CDU back-bencher and former East German human rights campaigner Guenther Nooke voted for the expulsion - but said the No votes represented a kick-back against "political correctness".

"It's understandable," he said. "It was not a vote for Hohmann or against Merkel. It was a vote for an open society."

In any case, it is just the latest embarrassment in an affair that has been a public relations disaster from the very beginning for the CDU leadership.

The fact that Mr Hohmann could even have made such a speech casts a shadow on the party's reputation.

In it, he tried to document how Jewish people were responsible for the atrocities and killings of the Russian revolution - and compared it to the Holocaust.

The party miscalculated when it hoped that reprimanding Mr Hohmann would be enough. The degree of national outrage forced it into a humiliating U-turn that culminated in Friday's vote.

Conference problem

Angela Merkel
Merkel will have to explain the decision to the party grassroots
Furthermore, the scandal came at a time when the CDU is well ahead in opinion polls and felt it had the government on the ropes over a whole range of economic woes.

The Hohmann affair is still not entirely over. He retains his seat in parliament, while the process of expelling him from the party itself could be more difficult and drag on for some time.

Influential weekly Der Spiegel wrote on its website that the issue could also overshadow next month's party conference in Leipzig.

"Merkel and her team are suddenly confronted with the job of explaining their decision to the party grass roots," it said.

At the same time, the party must try to refocus public attention away from its internal problems and back towards core political issues.




SEE ALSO:
'Anti-Semitic' MP expelled
14 Nov 03  |  Europe
German MP sorry for Jewish slur
01 Nov 03  |  Europe
Russia's revolution 85 years on
06 Nov 02  |  Europe


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