28 January 2012

Two maps of Germany

For much of late 2011 the top news story in Germany was not the euro crisis, but the discovery of a small neo-Nazi terrorist cell which had murdered at least ten people over a period of several years. The case, along with the Breivik massacre in Norway, has focused attention on the threat of violent right-wing extremists in Europe.

In this context I found the following two maps illuminating. The first shows the distribution of votes for the NPD, Germany's most far-right political party, which is a good proxy for the distribution of extremist right-wing views in the population:

Notice how there are just six of Germany's sixteen states where the NPD gets over 2% support: the five states which formerly made up East Germany, plus Berlin (half of which was also part of East Germany). Although the far right in Europe largely defines itself by hostility to non-Western immigrants, these states are not, as you might think, the ones with the most immigrants; except for Berlin, they have the fewest, since most of the immigrants came before Germany was re-unified, and in any case immigrants head for the most prosperous areas because that's where the jobs are. Most Germans (and most Europeans) are unhappy at the presence of large immigrant populations, often for good reason -- but that doesn't lead most of them to extreme-right views.

So if it isn't the presence of immigrants that inflames extremism, what does?

Here's a map showing the distribution of recipients of government anti-poverty benefits -- that is, the darkest areas have the highest concentrations of poverty:

Aside from urban pockets in Bremen and the Ruhr, the same six eastern states stand out. It seems that poverty and joblessness (unemployment remains higher in the former East Germany than the rest of the country), and the anxiety and despair they bring, create an opening for extremists.

"Poverty" is of course a relative term. Germany is probably the most socialist of the major countries of the Western world; its economy is strong, inequality is far less extreme than in the US, and poverty is never so abject as what we routinely see in certain parts of the US.

Yet that just makes the implications all the clearer. If poverty and unemployment in a place like Germany fuel extremism, should we be surprised at what we see in some of the poorest parts of our own country, where low-quality education is also a factor? Our former Confederate states, like the former East German states above, suffer from lingering backwardness.

There are elements in our political class whose hopes for winning elections rest largely on the persistence of fringe-right and racist attitudes in much of our population. And those same political elements seem determined to obstruct any policies that would stimulate the economy or reduce inequality, and are constantly trying to sabotage education with crackpottery like creationism and abstinence-only indoctrination. Maybe they know what they're doing.


Blogger Andy said...

It's interesting to note that Prussia existed approxiamtely where East Germany was. Prussia was the most militant of the Germanic states (prior to Germany's unification in 1871) and not very democratic.

28 January, 2012 10:55  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Where central East Germany was, yes. Thüringen and Sachsen, the most densely populated of the five, were not part of Prussia, and neither was Mecklenburg. And Prussia extended west including Niedersachsen as well as east into the areas which are no longer part of Germany now. Given that the Nazis' strongest support came from Bayern and Austria, I'm not sure that Prussian authoritarianism accounts for much.

28 January, 2012 15:53  
Blogger LadyAtheist said...

Brilliant observations. Yes, I do think the poorer (and less educated) people are, the more susceptible they are to hateful propaganda.

I also think that it's easier to vilify people you don't actually meet. If they had contact with the immigrants they fear, they might find out that they're *gasp* human and *double gasp* nice people.

28 January, 2012 20:25  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

LA: Thanks. My guess is that we'd find the same pattern in many countries with ethnic tensions.

As to how people react to actually knowing immigrants, it depends on the immigrants. The majority of Third World immigrants in Europe are Muslim. Many are well assimilated and some have even left Islam, and most Europeans seem to accept them, but others remain fervent religious bigots similar to our Christian Right, sometimes violent, and in a very secular society they're understandably not popular.

29 January, 2012 02:29  

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