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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 September, 2004, 22:20 GMT 23:20 UK
Analysis: East German discontent
By Ray Furlong
BBC correspondent, Berlin

Holger Apfel (L), top NPD candidate, and Uwe Voigt (2nd L), leader of the NPD speak to reporters in Dresden.
The impact may be limited for now, but the message is clear
The results in the elections to state assemblies in Saxony and Brandenburg have a clear message.

East Germans are fed up with the mainstream political parties and are looking for alternatives.

Government welfare cuts have added to anger over mass unemployment, and the feeling that the former communist East has no hope of catching up with the prosperity of the West.

"People are ready to support parties outside the political mainstream, which represent a different kind of politics," said Frank Schwerdt, a member of the NPD (National Democratic Party) national leadership, in response to the results.

The NPD is a far-right group that the German government tried to outlaw last year. It gained around 9% support in Saxony, while its ally the German People's Union (DVU) gained just over 5% in Brandenburg.

We're against government economic policies, and we're against immigration
Frank Schwerdt
NPD leader
"There are definitely people voting for the NPD to show their protest, but we're not a protest party," said Schwerdt.

"We're against government economic policies, and we're against immigration. Many foreign employees are brought to Germany because they are paid less. Germans are losing their jobs."

As he spoke at the NPD head office, two vans with armed policemen kept guard outside - a sign that this is no ordinary political party.

Its success led to scuffles between police and left-wing protesters in Dresden when the elections results were announced.

Frustration

The NPD has been linked to violent skinhead groups, but its main focus in the campaign was on frustration at the economic situation and welfare cuts.

These include cutting benefits for the long-term unemployed, and forcing people to take any kind of job offered - no matter how badly paid - or lose all state support.

People see the reality, and they had different ideas about how reunification would turn out
Gesine Loetzsch
Parliamentarian
This has caused particular anger in the former communist East - where unemployment is twice as high as in the West, and wages, benefits and pensions are lower.

"If you look back 15 years, people had a lot of hopes and the politicians said 'everything will be OK'," says Gesine Loetzsch, an MP for the reformed communist PDS.

The PDS has benefited even more than the NPD from the wave of anger. In Brandenburg they gained nearly 30% of the vote, and in Saxony 23%.

"Now people see the reality, and they had different ideas about how reunification would turn out," says Loetzsch.

"You don't create more jobs just by putting pressure on unemployed people. We need an industry policy that will create decent jobs, not low-paid ones."

Limited impact

The governing SPD argues that the reforms, while painful, are necessary if unemployment is to be reduced and the social security system saved from bankruptcy.

This message earned it a stern rebuke from the voters on Sunday.

Germany's main opposition party, the Christian Democrats (CDU), has also backed the reform package - and also lost votes.

But the SPD remains the strongest single party in Brandenburg, where it will probably rule with the CDU - which still won more votes than anyone else in Saxony.

The impact of the protest vote will be limited for now, as the reformed communists and the far-right are confined to the opposition benches in the state assemblies.


SEE ALSO:
Schroeder punished in state poll
06 Sep 04  |  Europe
Germans protest at reform plans
30 Aug 04  |  Business
Schroeder suffers election rout
14 Jun 04  |  Europe


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