Carnival! A Time When German Dissent Shines

Leaders are lampooned, campaigns started

MILLIONS of Germans in the Rhineland region are recovering from Carnival - a six-day binge of raucous behavior - while many politicians gear up for what could turn into a political circus.

During Carnival - historically a time to fatten up before the Christian fasting period of Lent - modern-day mores are suspended. Normally reserved Germans put on costumes - clowns, ghosts, and even Uncle Sam - and let go of their inhibitions. Boisterous singing, marching bands, and dancing on tables are all standard features of Carnival.

But amid the revelry, by tradition there also has been an important political component to the celebrations in major cities along the Rhine River, including Bonn, Cologne, Dusseldorf, and Mainz.

In centuries past, Carnival was the only time of year that the region's rulers were permissive of expressions of political dissent. Of late, Carnival has been an occasion for people to satirize events and politicians. The Rose Monday parades this year were not an exception.

In Bonn, floats made stinging political statements, complaining about high taxes and the government's decision to move the nation's capital to Berlin.

One float depicted Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Finance Minister Theo Waigel wringing money out of a taxpayer. Another depicted Bonn Mayor Hans Daniels as a street musician, hinting that the city will be left destitute after the government transfers its offices to Berlin by 1999.

Though intended as satire, floats touching on the Berlin-move theme struck a sore spot among many Bonn residents, who are concerned about what will happen to the quiet university town once the politicians leave.

``I don't like Berlin and Berliners so much, and I don't like the way the government wants to spend a lot of money to make the move,'' said Bernd Loschneg, a university student.

According to estimates, the move to Berlin could cost billions of dollars at a time when the state budget is strained by the high price of Germany's reunification. The money needed to move the capital, many Germans say, could be better spent on maintaining the nation's social-welfare system, which is facing significant cutbacks.

The post-Carnival period in recent years has become a time for political parties to start formal campaigning. Campaigns this year promise to be hotly contested, as Germany holds 19 local, state, and national votes, culminating in federal parliamentary elections Oct. 16.

The Bavarian-based Christian Social Union and the Free Democratic Party - both junior partners in the governing coalition headed by Chancellor Kohl's Christian Democrats - were scheduled to hold campaign sessions on Feb. 16 in Bavaria. The opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) also planned a rally.

While the Carnival euphoria lingers, political parties ``hope that popular tolerance for politicians will return,'' said an editorial in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily on Feb. 15, commenting on the bevy of post-Carnival political events.

The Christian Democrats begin a four-day party congress in Hamburg on Feb. 20. Already party leaders indicate they will wage a no-holds-barred campaign against their main political challengers, the SPD.

Under the campaign strategy taking shape, Christian Democrat leaders will try to discredit leading Social Democrats and their policies. ``We must show the voters the SPD is no alternative to the current coalition,'' a leading Christian Democratic Party figure, Peter Hintze, told the Die Welt newspaper.

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