The Frankfurt journalist Michel Friedman on the federal election in 2021, the dangers for democracy and his fear of the simplicity of people.
Michel Friedman is considered a critical political observer. In conversation with editor Thomas J. Schmidt, he analyzes the election campaign, the voters and the situation in the country.
Do you already know who to vote for?
Of course I do.
Is it so natural – with the candidates?
I analyze party programs. That is the business basis for my decision. Only then do I look at the candidates and the teams. What is amazing is that none of the candidates and parties present us with teams.
Laschet has now presented a team.
I wouldn’t call that a serious team. He introduced a group of advisors whose name has already been forgotten. Only Friedrich Merz is serious, and that could be a subsequent double occupation as with the Greens, Baerbock and Habeck. The SPD has only one person: Olaf Scholz, all others are hidden. But when I say I know who to choose, I focus on the content. Nevertheless, my voting decision is not final. Much can still change. It is primarily about the program and secondarily about people. When I say I know who to choose, I start with the content. It’s not about who is laughing and who is not laughing, who is wearing the wrong suits.
Michel Friedman on the 2021 federal election: Don’t just focus on the top candidates
But the majority of the population does not read the programs, they read the people who are familiar with them.
That is a shame and not politically well thought out. You don’t have to read the whole program, but maybe just a summary, at least a heading. We have been living in a turning point for over 20 years. The 21st century presents us with dramatic challenges. One should not concentrate on the top candidates alone, but on the concepts of the parties. As a reminder, we live in a party democracy and not in a presidential democracy.
Michel Friedman (65) is a lawyer, moderator and professor at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences (formerly known as Fachhochschule). Among other things, he teaches media law there.
Friedman has been a member of the CDU for almost 40 years – but he always kept a critical distance from its political establishment, criticized Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who resigned from the State Association of Hesse to join the CDU in Saarland. Friedman knows how to polarize, takes politicians apart in his talk shows. At the moment he is also introducing people who have interesting things to say on the world news channel in “Friedman looks”.
His political passion is the fight for democracy and against right-wing extremism. Friedman is one of the most prominent representatives of German Jewry.
What could the chance look like? Parties in which the strongest has perhaps 25 percent, how should governments be formed?
The current government also consists of three parties, CDU, CSU and SPD. We are not talking about a fragmentation in the five percent range, but in the 20 percent range. Tripartite coalitions will be the rule. We will experience more dynamism than in the encrusted past. I see an opportunity to learn how to pacify opposites and develop a common policy. Compromises are required.
I defend the compromise. When two parties come together who don’t know what they want, what comes out is what we call a lazy compromise. But if two or three parties, each with their own point of view, are looking for the common interfaces, then that is a serious intellectual, rational and emotional achievement. This compromise is constitutive for democracy. In order to achieve that, there has to be an argument. Arguments need to be exchanged. The dispute is the oxygen of democracy.
Federal election 2021 – “AfD does not recognize democracy and human dignity”
But we have enough arguments, think of the lateral thinkers, the AfD.
This is not an argument, these are aggressive monologues. This is hate. Arguing means being in dialogue. Arguing means listening. Arguing means recognizing the other. The AfD does not recognize democracy and human dignity.
Objection, there are many conflicts. I observe cancel culture and righteousness.
Cancel culture and righteousness are not a culture of debate. A culture of dispute thrives on the idea that the other could be right. A culture of dispute consists of doubt and self-doubt. A culture of argument means being able to admit that our opinions are different, but each other’s arguments are better. Cancel culture and shitstorms, on the other hand, are authoritarian, fear-inducing methods. They have nothing to do with a culture of argument. This is a threat. This is violence.
Are you dividing society?
A part of society is no longer in the democratic culture of debate. That is why society is not divided, because the vast majority of society is in a civilized arena. The fact that minorities are moving away from it does not mean that we are a divided society. In doing so, I want to admit that the risk that this will happen has increased. We should also take a look at the question of social justice.
Who will become Chancellor?
I am not a fortune teller. But the volatility and dynamism are particularly high and remarkable in this election campaign. The old idea of the regular voter has been eroding since many elections. For the first time, we have an election that does not include an incumbent. Everything is being reshuffled. New cards, new game. For the first time, we have three parties that had similarly high polls at the beginning of the election campaign. We also run the risk of the anti-democratic and inhuman AfD returning to parliament in this election.
Federal election 2021: can the AfD be equated with the left? Friedmann with a clear opinion
But that would be nothing new.
If the AfD is re-elected with ten percent, the hatred of people and democracy will be structurally represented in the Bundestag. Many have already got used to the AfD that the polls see them at around ten percent despite the corona pandemic. Eight years ago that would have mobilized us, shocked and horrified us. Then as now: Rightly so.
Isn’t it a sign of stability when the extremes are represented? The left on one side, the AfD on the other, and in the middle the sensible ones?
I’m very critical of the left, but I wouldn’t equate it with the AfD. The question is, as Hungary and Poland show, how quickly human contempt can gain the majority. It changes the political statics. I warn against accepting anti-democrats and racists. A party that tramples on Article 1 of the Basic Law is an anti-democratic, anti-constitutional party and WILL NOT BECOME A democratic one just because it is democratically elected. The democratic is coupled, the democratic is inseparable, determined and defined with human dignity and the recognition of human rights. I understand anyone who criticizes and demonstrates the pension policy or anything else. But please do not demonstrate with the lateral thinkers and please do not demonstrate with the AfD and certainly not vote them. Those who vote AfD vote for hatred and are responsible for the consequences.
How do you see the possibility of a red-red-green coalition?
The SPD and the Greens do not rule out a coalition with the left. We also need to talk about the fact that the left could end up in this spectrum of government too. If there is such a coalition, there will have to be a tough democratic debate. In terms of foreign policy, defense policy is, in my opinion, not eligible.
Aren’t the politicians good enough?
Please not this narrative. Everyone who is politically active in a democratic party deserves respect. There is no shame in being a politician and being a professional politician. Everyone who thinks they can do better should get involved. This cynicism and the contempt of politicians is so bad that many mayors no longer run. Violence, both verbally and physically, has also increased. A politician was murdered in Hesse. Those who despise politicians despise the democratic system.
Michel Friedman: “I don’t like hearing the word migration background anymore”
But the tasks are big: How should the energy supply be ensured when nuclear and coal-fired electricity cease to exist?
I am interested in the analysis of the culture of debate, the culture of content, and I am concerned with the analysis of political consciousness in our society. I am concerned with the question of indolence and arbitrariness. I lack the dynamic view – let’s design! Take Frankfurt. 50 percent of the citizens come from other countries. I don’t like hearing the word immigrant anymore. How many generations does it take to belong? There is also an attitude of mind connected with it.
We and the others …
The we consists of many I’s. And we also see the wealth of diversity in Frankfurt. I’ve never been afraid of diversity, just the simplicity of people. We need debate or we will suffocate at a standstill. (Interview: Thomas J. Schmidt)