“Satire cannot have any consequences,” argued Martin Sonneborn in his masters thesis in 1994. Almost by accident, he has proved himself wrong. Die Partei (“The Party”), the elaborate joke of a party he heads, won 0.62% of the German vote in the elections for the European Parliament in May. That was enough for Mr Sonneborn to win a seat (actually, two seats: the legislature meets in Brussels and Strasbourg).
The Party mimics the grandiosity of the Nazi and East German communist parties. Its much longer official name mentions animal rights and the “promotion of elites”. Mr Sonneborn is its GröVaZ (an acronym for “greatest chairman of all time”). The Party, he proclaims, is “always right”.
Its platform has evolved since its founding in 2004. Early on it advocated a war of aggression against Liechtenstein and the rebuilding of the Berlin Wall. Lately it has become less bellicose. It wants to get rid of daylight-saving time while continuing to set the clocks back every autumn, giving Germans an extra hour of sleep. As a member of the European Parliament Mr Sonneborn plans to revive the EU’s infamous cucumber-curvature law (scrapped, after much ridicule, in 2009). But now it will apply to weapons exports and will promote curviness rather than discouraging it: every 10cm of gun or tank barrel will have to curve by 2cm.
The Party’s big theme, though, is “the transcendence of Inhalte”, a word which translates as “issues” or “content”. Mr Sonneborn campaigns for contentlessness before standing-room-only crowds at cabaret-style book launches and at rallies of faux-fanatical supporters.
That message has a particular resonance now, with Germany’s two biggest parties–Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party–governing together in a “grand coalition”. One calls itself centre-right, the other centre-left. Normally they are fierce rivals. But in moments of honesty and inebriation even their members admit they can no longer tell the difference. Mr Sonneborn celebrates this ideological and stylistic sameness. “We do modern turbo politics, by going in no direction much faster” than the mainstream parties, he says.
Mr Sonneborn’s American equivalent is Stephen Colbert of “The Colbert Report”, a mock-news show on a comedy channel. Both assume a political persona and rarely step out of it. Unlike Mr Sonneborn’s turbo-centrist, Mr Colbert’s on-screen character is a lovably deranged right-winger who would do well with the real-life audience of Fox News if he traded his irony for earnestness. “Satire is not comedy,” says Mr Sonneborn. “It has aggressive momentum.” In America, that means mocking partisanship. In Germany, the target is the featureless blob that passes for party politics.
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