Baerbock and Habeck in the east: Greens travel to Saxony

The situation of the Greens in the east is precarious. In the Saxony tour of Habeck and Baerbock, however, there were no direct conflicts, despite protesting Nazis.

people in protective suits

Fear of contact: Green Ministers Habeck (left) and Baerbock visit the Dresden chip factory Photo: Sebastian Kahnert/dpa

DRESDEN/OTTENDORF-OKRILLA/CHEMNITZ taz | Annalena Baerbock becomes personal, as is often the case with her performances. She tells how, shortly after the Russian attack, young people from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine cried together and hugged each other at a meeting, “me too”. As a Ukrainian refugee child asked her to say to the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy: “I want my dad back.” The father is fighting in the war. And as the head of a Ukrainian orphanage told her that Russian soldiers had abducted children: “They just took nine children with them.”

Concrete examples with personal reference help to win over the audience, that’s part of the basics of political communication. And that this Friday evening will not be a home game for them, Baerbock should have assumed. Dressed in a white dress, the Green Foreign Minister is sitting on the stage at “Kraftverkehr”, an event center in Chemnitz. In the city in Saxony where in 2018, after right-wing extremist riots, a “silent march” by the AfD marched through the city, with everything from tough neo-Nazis to supposedly well-behaved citizens marching along.

Ex-boxing pro Wladimir Klitschko, whose brother Vitali is the mayor of Kiev, has taken a seat next to Baerbock. The regional newspaper free press has invited to the “reader debate”. The interest was huge, the newspaper said it raffled off the 280 places.

First question for Baerbock: How do you deal with the fact that skepticism about the Ukraine war is significantly greater in the East than in the West? The war is an emotional issue for everyone, says the minister. A few hours ago, on the German-Czech border, she was insulted as a “warmonger”. But: “Nobody wanted this war. Someone pulled him off the fence and every day we do everything we can to ensure that the people of Ukraine can live in peace again.” Most of the audience applauds.

This is how it goes. For an hour and a half no angry heckling, no whistling, no bullying. Instead applause. There are some viewers who demonstratively shake their heads and fold their arms in front of their chests. But they are silent. The few questions that the moderators allow from the audience remain factual. The first reader even says: “Forgive us that there are so many lunatics in this city walking around with Russian flags.” A lot of people in the hall applauded.

However, these “lunatics” are also at the door. According to the police, 400 people came to the demonstration of the far-right Freie Sachsen. “War monger” was also called from a small group of Free Saxons.

Klitschko and Baerbock in front of an interested audience

In the Ukraine corner: Baerbock in Chemnitz with ex-boxer Wladimir Klitschko Photo: Hendrik Schmidt/dpa

Baerbock is on a summer tour in Saxony for two days, as is Economics Minister Robert Habeck at the same time, which was not initially agreed. In the former Green Party dream team, everyone fights for themselves. After a joint visit to the chip manufacturer Infineon in Dresden, the first joint appointment of this kind since the Greens have been part of the government, they part ways. But Infineon’s success story, they both take it with them.

The plant in Dresden will be significantly expanded, from 2026 onwards power semiconductors are to be produced here, which are primarily used for decarbonization and digitization. That should bring thousands of new jobs, the federal government has promised 1 billion euros in funding.

The green tip wants to show more presence in the east. When the party celebrated the merger of Bündnis 90 with the Greens 30 years ago in Leipzig in May, the base called for local support. Not only Habeck and Baerbock are currently traveling through Saxony, Bundestag Vice President Katrin Göring-Eckardt is also on the road, and a visit from parliamentary group leader Katharina Dröge has been announced. The Greens’ approval ratings plummeted nationwide after the dispute over the heating law, and Habeck lost enormous popularity. In East Germany, however, where the Greens have always struggled, the situation is particularly precarious.

After Baerbock, the heating law has now turned Habeck into a hate figure in some places, the AfD has long marked the Greens as an enemy, not to mention the Free Saxons. The fact that CDU leader Friedrich Merz declared the party the main opponent and Saxony’s Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer (CDU) agreed with him, although he governs with the Greens, shouldn’t make things any better.

But the dispute over the heating law has not only cost the Greens percentages in polls, it has also contributed to the new impetus for the AfD. Nationwide, the extreme right-wing party has 20 percent of the votes and could become the strongest force in next year’s state elections in Saxony, but also in Thuringia and Brandenburg. The Saxon Greens got just 8.6 percent in the 2019 state election, that’s twelve seats.

“The debate about climate protection has become a topic of division, that’s how it was played,” says Habeck. “But that was different.” There was a broad consensus in the middle of the democratic parties that we had to go back.

Habeck wants to visit companies that are important for the transformation. Here in Saxony, the economically strongest of the East German states, in addition to Infineon, there is a roofing company and a machine builder, world market leader for wind turbine and gear parts. When Habeck’s convoy arrives there, it goes to a side entrance. Almost 20 demonstrators are standing in front of the main gate and yelling that the Free Saxons have also mobilized here. A talk with entrepreneurs at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce is also on Habeck’s agenda, but the press is not allowed to go there. A targeted civil dialogue falls flat due to lack of time.

In the companies it is about the heating law and high energy prices, about a lack of trainees and too much bureaucracy. The high approval ratings for the AfD are the elephant in the room that nobody addresses. Jochen Hanebeck, CEO of Infineon, emphasizes the great need for skilled workers for his company. When Habeck visits the mechanical engineering company Flender in Penig, he is immediately introduced to two employees from the Ukraine. And at the Dittrich roofing company in Ottendorf-Okrilla, the junior boss emphasizes that the company stands for “freedom, democracy and an open exchange of opinions”. The family business was founded in 1905 and survived the “GDR dictatorship”. He is now the fifth generation to run the family. All of this can probably also be understood as statements.

praise for Habeck

A little later, Habeck is in the apprentice workshop in front of a practice roof truss with a few clay tiles, which he can later try out. Next to him: Jörg Dittrich, the boss. The master roofer is also President of the Central Association of German Crafts. What he says is also relevant beyond his company. Dittrich calls for more appreciation for vocational training and that the federal government does not cut corners: “Roofers, one of 30 climate-relevant professions, 3.1 million people work in these professions in around 490,000 companies. All of these businesses need people.”

The mood is negative, society exhausted by the many crises. In addition, there would be major changes such as the Heating Act. “The time for discussion was too short,” the craft president continues. But he also says that he doesn’t blame one party and: “The result is acceptable for the trade.” Customers are still unsure, but he hopes this phase will soon be over. Then it’s the minister’s turn, he thanks profusely. The comments on the family history of the company were, and “I mean that with all my heart”, moving and also political, says Habeck quite habecklike. In this way they helped explain why social unrest and skepticism also arise from historical experience. He emphasizes that politicians have understood the importance of craftsmanship and promises to work towards pragmatic solutions.

Kassem Taher Saleh, civil engineer and member of the Bundestag for the Greens from Dresden, stands on the edge of the workshop. “Robert’s visit is huge,” he says. It is also very important that the others from the Green Top come to Saxony. “We have problems mobilizing the members.” 3,500 Saxons are with the Greens. That is good compared to the other East German state associations and is also due to Dresden and Leipzig, the big cities. But given the social mood, it’s difficult to find people who get involved, especially in rural areas. And who wants to run for office when there are posters on the lamppost that say “Hang the Greens”?

“People here notice that Robert referred to experiences from East Germany,” says Taher Saleh. He was born in Iraq and grew up in Plauen. During the federal election campaign he was threatened and pelted with eggs, and he was almost beaten twice. He doesn’t let that stop him. “We have to go full steam ahead and defend our positions with brutal determination,” he says. Of course there are prejudices, but if you approach people and talk to them, it often ends positively. “Two points are important: identification and pride. I am from here and I relate positively to it. When that is clarified, you can debate the content. Sometimes anyway.”

The entire leadership of the Greens, with the exception of Göring-Eckardt and Environment Minister Steffi Lemke, comes from the West.

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