Olga Gulina
Olga Gulina
Director, Institute on Migration Policy
The Russian Question in German Elections

On the 24th of September, the elections to the German Federal Parliament took place and their results pose more questions to the country’s ruling elites than they provide the answers to. There are two questions that we deem to be the most interesting for ourselves: how very influential is the Russian-speaking electorate; and how important the future prospects of the relationship with Russia are.

As of today, there are 82.8 million people living in Germany, out of whom 61.5 million are entitled to the right to vote. According to the data of the Federal Statistical Agency of Germany, there are approximately 6.3 million of German citizens, who have migration roots (10.2% of all voters), out of which 3.2 million are comprised of women, and 3.1 million of whom are men. An average age range of a German voter, who has a migration origin in the past varies from 46 to 47 years of age that is on average five years younger than the age of the majority of the remaining part of the electorate population. There are three large population groups of German electorate that have migration roots – they are people from: Poland, Turkey, and also, they are the Russian – speaking voters from the countries of the post-Soviet states.

The Russian – speaking electorate in Germany is represented by the settlers (Aussidler), in other words, they are the so-called ethnic Germans; by the migrants of the Jewish – origin heritage line; and by those people, who had migrated to Germany, stayed there and obtained the citizenship of the country. Some of them came to the country in order to get a job there, some came over to study, and some of them got there in order to reunite with their families. That constitutes approximately 3-3.5 million citizens of modern Germany or 5% of the electoral voters of the country. This data is quite inaccurate and it very much is an ambiguous approximation, as it is problematic to calculate the exact number of those immigrants from the post-Soviet countries along with their family members, who have the right to vote in the election campaigns in Germany.

The predominant majority of the Russian – speaking electorate in Germany is comprised of a little bit more than 2.5 million ethnic Germans and the members of their families, who emigrated to their historical Motherland sometime in the years from 1991 to 2016, and became full fletched citizens of the FRG. Historically, it has happened so that throughout many years, the majority of the Russian Germans used to vote for the political alliance of the following two parties: the Christian Democratic Party and the Christian-Socialist Unions one (CDU / CSU). The reason behind that has been rooted in the policy of the government under the leadership of Helmut Kohl, which had enabled the facilitation of ethnic Germans’ resettlement in their historical Motherland.

The electoral preferences of the Russian-speaking population in Germany have never been the topic of some serious interest on behalf the other political parties in Germany. For the Left, Green and the Social Democrats parties, the Russian – speaking population of Germany has always been the “home base territory” that belonged to the interests of the Christian Democrats. That situation has changed before the commencement of the federal elections in the year of 2017. The right-wing radical party Alternative for Germany Party (AfG) has ensured that a special attention was paid to the Russian-speaking electorate, upon having realized what kind of conflict potential the Russian-speaking population of the country possessed, and have used it openly in their own interests. The Alternative party for Germany has done a great job and became the first political party, which has its representation branches in 8 out of the 16 parliaments of the lands, that has created a network of Russian – speaking canvassing electioneerers for the year of 2017 Federal Elections, prepared and began distributing posters and advertising campaign materials in Russian language, and, it also had the program of the AfG party translated into Russian as well.

Despite the fact that the CDU/CSU parties were the only ones that had mentioned the settlers from Russia in their political program of the year of 2017 as that one element “that makes Germany united”, one can say that the Christian Democrats had “slept through” their opportune chance to get the Russian-speaking electorate, and have only remembered about it when it became way too late. Decades of confident and stable support that has been lent by the Russian-speaking Germans to them, that the parties of the CDU/CSU have been enjoying throughout the years have turned into their own bad luck. They have hardly invested into any advertising campaign networking and pre-electoral advertising flyers/posters in Russian – the language of the preferred and predominant communication venue for the Russian – speaking electorate within the age range of 45-50-year-olds.

During the last Federal Elections in Germany 5% of the Russian-speaking electorate had a significant, but not a decisive vote. The voices of the Russian – speaking voters were not capable of changing the outcome of the elections significantly, although they have with a high degree of probability influenced the success rate and the number of mandates that were granted to this or to that party.

Similar thoughtful reflections are quite typical of the Alternative for Germany party. As for the AfG, which has failed to overcome the 5% barrier in the year of 2013 in order to get elected into the Bundestag, even some insignificant support if it were provided by some segment of the Russian-speaking electorate would have opened the doors to the federal Parliament for the AfG party.

The difficulty for the ruling coalition was not so much in the “migration” past of the German voters as it was in the age range of the voters. According to the calculations of the National Institute for the Population Studies – 3.6% of German voters are the citizens of the country within the age range of 18 to 21; 11.8% – range anywhere from 21 to 30 year old; 14.7% of voters – range within 40 to 50 years old; 20% – range from 50 to 60 years old; 15.4% – range from 60 to 70 years old; 20.7% are more than 70 years old. It happens so, that that every second voter, who came over to the polling station is more than 52.9 years old. The age of the voter and the increasing pursuit of conservative values have become the critical factors for the 2017 election campaign in Germany.

 The relations with Russia on the domestic political agenda

One should also seriously contest the perception that the relationship with Russia was an important issue of the pre – election campaign advertisement of the political parties in Germany. A plain comparison of the programs of the political parties, and the frequency of their bringing up the topic of the two countries, which have quite a significant representation of their diaspora in the country, namely: Russia and Turkey provides one with the testimony of quite the opposite effect. In the program documents of the German parties there is a correlated ratio of references made towards Turkey and Russia, and it does not favor the latter. The governmental party platform of the CSU / CDU has mentioned Turkey nine times, and it has mentioned Russia only three times; the program of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDPG) has made eleven references towards Turkey and only six made towards Russia; the program document of the party of Free Democrats (FDP) – has the ratio of 13 to 11; the Green Party – has the ratio of 15 to 4; and the Alternative for Germany Party, respectively has the ration of 13 to 3. This correlated ratio has only been disrupted in the program document of the Left Party where there are 11 references made towards Russia, as opposed to the 7 references made about Turkey.

During the last election campaign, the leaders of the majority of political parties, except for the Green Party, kept reiterating that: “order and security in Europe are impossible without Russia, and can only be attainable along with Russia.” Never the less, the issue of Russia and the relations with it has never particularly been the topic of any specific debates, either within the country, or among any representatives of the parties, and that includes both: the Left Party and the AfGP. And even the statements made by Christian Lindner, the leader of the Free Democrats party (FDP) on the topic of the Crimea [on the external policy agenda of Germany] that it must be taken off the table … and the commencement of re-building the relationship with Russia giving it a fresh2 new start should only be considered through the prism of attracting the electoral voters, including, among others those Russian-speaking ones.

The Free Democratic Party of Germany, which has lost its supporters and electorate in recent years, won only 4.8% of the vote in the last elections, and for the first time received no mandate in the Federal Parliament. It has been keenly interested in avoiding the repeat of its failure in the year of 2013. As the results for the year of 2017 indicate, the FDP has managed to return into the Federal Policy loop and got itself 10.7% of the votes, as well as received 80 seats in the Bundestag.

It is true that the “Russian map card with its influence, as well as the relationship with it” has been played in the course of this election race to a grander, or to a lesser degree of a successful outcome by almost all political parties. Nonetheless, Russia and the relations with it have been and continue to remain just one of the many issues on the agenda of the domestic political life of Germany, but not the central one.

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