Return of the Schleswig-Holstein Question!

Stefan Seidler celebrates his election to the Bundestag

In addition to the main parties mentioned earlier, it looks as though just one tiny party will make it into the Bundestag.

This is the ‘South Schleswig Voters’ Association’ (SSW), whose leader Stefan Seidler has won a seat, according to the preliminary results. This is the first time since the second Bundestag election in 1953 that a regionalist or national minority party has won a Bundestag seat. In those days the national minorities concerned were Germans who had been expelled from their homes in what had become Czech, Polish or even Russian territory, and had their own party – the All-German Bloc/League of Expellees and Deprived of Rights.

By contrast the SSW represents a small Danish-speaking minority who have lived in Germany from the creation of a united German state in 1871.

Obviously they didn’t pass the 5% threshold – they are a tiny regional party – and neither did they win a constituency. This party hadn’t even contested a federal election since 1961.

Waldemar Kraft (above, front row, far right) as a member of Konrad Adenauer’s cabinet in 1953. Kraft was the last leader of a regionalist / national minority party to be elected to the Bundestag, until Stefan Seidler’s election this week. Kraft’s party represented German refugees from several regions that had been taken over postwar by Czechs, Poles or Russians, leading to the expulsion of 12-15 million Germans from their homes.

There are 28 MPs in total elected from Schleswig-Holstein this time, 11 constituencies and 17 from the list. The SSW list polled 3.2% across Schleswig-Holstein, so that was just enough to get them one of those 28 seats, because as a party representing a ‘national minority’ they are exempt from the 5% threshold requirement.

Ideologically they are leftish-green, so I assume their MP would back the likely SPD-Green-FDP coalition.

But the reason they exist is to represent the Danish speaking population in Schleswig-Holstein, and the reason that exists is rooted in one of the most complex diplomatic disputes of the 19th century – the infamous ‘Schleswig-Holstein Question’.

Until 1871 Germany was divided into many different states/principalities/etc. that were a relic of the medieval age and the Holy Roman Empire: a patchwork of princes, dukes and dynastic traditions.

For centuries the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein (either side of the Holy Roman Empire’s northern border) had both been ruled by the Danish king, but with semi-independence as the Holstein part was German (and part of the Holy Roman Empire) and the Schleswig part was semi-German, semi-Danish.

Eventually there were two mid-19th century wars between Denmark and Prussia, one (1848-51) effectively won by Denmark; the second (1864) won by Prussia and its Austrian allies.

Denmark’s defeat at the Battle of Dybbøl in 1864 led to Schleswig-Holstein’s absorption into the new German state in 1871.

After the First World War, Germany lost the northern part of Schleswig to Denmark, but the southern part of Schleswig has remained German to this day, and is part of the German region of Schleswig-Holstein.

As with all these border disputes, a substantial community was stuck on the wrong side of the border, and since there was no IRA-type situation many of them stayed put, hence the need for a party representing their particular interests.

The British statesman Lord Palmerston, who was Foreign Secretary during the First Schleswig War and Prime Minister during the Second, famously said:
“Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business – the Prince Consort [i.e. Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert], who is dead – a German professor, who has gone mad – and I, who have forgotten all about it.”

More than 150 years later, the question has returned to contribute to the most divided German parliament since the Weimar Republic. But this time the Danes in Schleswig-Holstein are amongst the least troublesome of Germany’s ethnic minorities!

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