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Germany

Self-Indulgence on Ash Wednesday

The madness of carnival ended on Wednesday, and as tradition has it, German politicians lambasted each other on that day.

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"I want to serve my fatherland"

Simple, carnival songs are still on everyone’s lips. Like "My Pig is Gone, My Pig is Gone" or "Let's Leave the Cathedral in Cologne, Because That's Where it Belongs". Many Germans are still nursing their hangovers.

The fun traditionally ends on Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Christian season of Lent. It is also traditionally the time for politicians to hold scathing speeches against their opponents.

Conservative chancellor candidate Edmund Stoiber came out with a barn storming speech in Passau, accusing Chancellor Gerhard Schröder for mismanaging the German economy and neglecting the impoverished eastern states.

Stoiber delighted the crowd of some 7,000 Bavarians with a marathon address that lasted more than 2-1/2 hours.

There are the typical buzz words which form the back-bone of Ash Wednesday speeches in Passau, like "Fatherland", and "Heimat" – "home" in German, but somehow meaning more than the home an Englishman calls his "castle".

"I want to serve my fatherland," Stoiber said, contrasting his desire to be chancellor with what he called Schröder's power obsession.

"I want to give all my experience, strength and political quality to my fatherland, just as I did in Bavaria."

The crowd loved it.

Piggy in the middle

Stoiber was picked in January to be the candidate for the conservative Christian Democrats. Bavaria's state premier sought to overcome northern German scepticism while at the same time reinforcing his support among Bavarian voters.

In the process, left and right have already become blurred in the fight for the political middle ground. But elections are won in the middle, so conventional wisdom presumes, and this is where the battle will be fought.

It means Germany is in for a far more interesting election campaign. It also means German politics is becoming more polarised.

Stoiber’s party has repeatedly refused government appeals to keep inflammatory issues like immigration out of the election.

But these topics are likely to focus heavily throughout the election campaign as the Bavarian bandwagon rolls through the other states. Whether any real problems get solved along the way remains to be seen.

Taking a dig

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of The Greens also used the opportunity to point the finger. But he took a more light-hearted approach to the traditional Ash Wednesday slagging match.

"Edmund Stoiber plans to speak for three hours in Passau," Mr. Fischer said. "I wonder what's up: Does he want to compete with Fidel Castro?"

Free Democratic Party, Guido Westerwelle, rounded on Schröder's government. His "cabinet contradicts all principles of mathematics: The total of zeroes cannot add up to a big number," Mr. Westerwelle said in his speech.

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