Media Misrepresents Bavaria’s New Prime Minister, Markus Söder
On March 16, the south German state of Bavaria elected a new Ministerpräsident (prime minister), the telegenic Dr. Markus Söder, whose enjoyment of the spotlight, penchant for costumed appearances, considerable ambition, and dissatisfaction with the status quo—above all on the migration issue—had emerged as established facts. A Lutheran in overwhelmingly Catholic Bavaria, he made scattered beer-hall remarks to the effect of defending Bavarian culture from the tides of foreign arrivals. These prompted several insidious characterizations in English-language media, including as “Germany’s Trump,” “the Merkel slayer,” and the man who “sparked uproar” over the installation of crosses in public buildings, all of which are possibly meant to imply a revitalized fascist tendency in the picturesque German Alps. Yet a more informed examination of his actual platform within various regional, national, and European contexts easily dispels such alarmist representations.
Bavaria (Bayern) is one of 16 Länder, or states within the Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1949–), bordering the Czech Republic and Austria. Its government consists of a state legislature that elects a prime minister who must be at least 40 years old. Elected to parliament in 1994, Söder set forth his government program “The Best for Bavaria” (Das Beste für Bayern) in his inaugural address on April 18. “The central question,” he poses to his colleagues, “is how can Bavaria successfully shape digitization and globalization while also preserving its independence and spirit?”
The 10 points “The Best for Bavaria” then unfolds frame the answer to that question not primarily in terms of Christianity versus secularism or Islam—as the media has suggested—but rather as a region determined to preserve its distinctive way of life amid the complexities of an interdependent global economy. “Modernity through digitization” (point 2), pioneering scientific research (point 3), and “apartments, property, and intelligent transport” (point 5) all concern the state-sponsored technological prerequisites of further economic development. A minister for digitization (Digitalisierung) has been created, one thousand more cellular towers are promised by 2020, research into car batteries will be intensified, and a highly ambitious housing program is initiated. The human economy receives equal attention in Söder’s platform. Childcare and education (point 6) will see the introduction of a family allowance, a legal right (Rechtsanspruch) to comprehensive daycare, and preservation of the Bavarian, Franconian, Swabian, and Alemannic dialects that global capitalism might otherwise eventually erode, while health care (point 7) promises more support for the villages that dot the countryside. Point 4 consists mainly of efforts to engage skilled workers, especially among those who cannot currently find employment, while point 8 concerns administrative efforts in agriculture and environmental preservation. All of these ideas conform to the Rechtstaat ideology of Söder’s Christian Social Union (CSU), which has ruled Bavaria since the Second World War and must be credited with having helped transform the native soil of Nazism into a subsequent pillar of the Christian and democratic world.
The state must, however, remain willing to employ the necessary coercion to preserve and defend such quality of life. Following Hobbes, his first point appropriately concerns state security, wherein the prime minister promises the introduction of a Bavarian border patrol, mounted police details, increased police presence generally, and a state asylum office to help process fresh arrivals, which all might be roughly compared to a governor of Texas or Arizona improving border security on his own authority. In his ninth and tenth points concerning respectively democratic renewal and preserving Bavarian identity, the prime minister explains that those who spread hate via the internet must be resisted, that mosques should lose their charitable status if financed largely through foreign contributions, and that the cross as a symbol of cultural identity ought to remain visible in public, all with a view to preserving the “Christian Western” (christlich-abend) character of Bavaria.
None of these points present any cause for alarm. In the first place, the thinking behind them is not unique to the prime minister but is rather in conformity to the Bavarian constitution of 1946, which while prohibiting a state church (142.1) establishes Christianity within the public schools (135) and protects its Sabbath and other holidays (147). The Christian Social Union, for its part, took shape in US-administered Bavaria to perpetuate this popular Christian settlement, and means to keep out Islamists just as it successfully guarded the borders against Marxist subversion during the Cold War. The German federal constitution, meanwhile, delegates church and state relationships to the regional level (137–39), which allows for explicitly Christian states such as the Saarland, Baden-Württemberg, or in this case Bavaria to unite with irreligious Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, or Berlin. With regard to the public display of crosses specifically, the 2007 manifesto of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) had already committed to that in an article (279) that furthermore argues the “major responsibility of the state” to “enforce” Christian belief. Such sacralization of politics as is displayed by the German Right may appear at variance with Anglo-American liberalism, but it is nothing new. Neither does it contradict any reputable interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights or European Union laws, to which Bavaria is constitutionally committed (3a) and which have little to no competence in such areas. Finally, the Schengen-Dublin free movement regimes—which were overwhelmed in 2015 and remain deeply compromised—in no sense prohibit a regional prime minister from raising and deploying more police.
In short, much of the available reporting on Bavaria’s new prime minister may not exactly be fake news (gefälschte Nachrichten), but it has ignored numerous vital contexts.
Mark R. Royce, PhD, is a political scientist and international relations scholar, author of The Political Theology of European Integration: Comparing the Influence of Religious Histories on European Policies (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). A founder of the Alexander Hamilton Society (2010–12), he was awarded (Oct. 10, 2017) an Associate Provost commendation for outstanding undergraduate teaching at George Mason University.
Photo Credit: Markus Söder in July 2016. By Michael Lucan, via Wikimedia Commons.