The Thuringian Prime Minister fought for a long time against stricter corona measures. But suddenly the lockdown can’t be hard enough for him. Is there a will-o’-the-wisp – or is he just consistent?
It is not uncommon for politicians to change their minds from time to time. When the public mood turns around. Or when reality changes. Sometimes politicians just get smarter.
But there is one thing politicians actually avoid whenever possible: admitting mistakes. Because in doing so they make themselves vulnerable. And who wants that in an aggressive political establishment.
For this reason alone, the case of the Thuringian Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow in this corona crisis is exceptional. The devout left-wing politician suddenly not only shows repentance and asks for forgiveness. While he was once one of the most prominent brakemen when it came to tightening the situation during the Corona crisis, he is now even at the forefront of those who are calling for an even tougher lockdown.
That is more than extraordinary. And begs the question: what happened there?
The conductor of the don’t panic orchestra
The miraculous transformation of Bodo Ramelow can best be illustrated with two statements. One is from the end of October, the other is only a few days old. And if you didn’t know better, you might think they came from two different people from two different federal states. At least.
At the end of October there is an important conference of prime ministers coming up. It is becoming apparent that there could be a “breakwater lockdown”, with significantly more restrictions. But the October Ramelow doesn’t like that at all.
Even before the Prime Ministers get together with Chancellor Angela Merkel, he sets the tone with a high public profile. “Don’t panic, please!” He says of further restrictions. Above all, the ever-warning Merkel is obviously getting on his nerves with her advances. He rages: “I am not a subordinate authority of the Chancellery.”
A lockdown? He will not agree to this for Thuringia for “fundamental reasons”. In the end, after some back and forth, he does so largely, but he has successfully set the direction of the debate: just not too much, just not too hard.
Ramelow, the conductor of the don’t panic orchestra.
“The Chancellor was right and I was wrong”
Most of them have now realized that there was far too little panic at the end of October. And while other prime ministers are looking for excuses why they couldn’t do the way they should have back then, Ramelow is simply reinventing himself.
“The Chancellor was right and I was wrong,” said January Ramelow of the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung” and then sat down with Markus Lanz on television to be on the safe side. He is annoyed that he was not ready to use December with its many public holidays for a nationwide break.
“We finally have to go into a real lockdown,” he now even demands, shortly after he and his colleagues not only extended the lockdown, but also tightened it. He appeals to the economy to refrain from doing anything that is not necessary.
The only thing missing is that he quotes Greta Thunberg: “I want you to panic!”
It’s going uphill steeply – with the corona numbers
He himself offers an important explanation for the change from October Ramelow to January Ramelow, even if it is probably not the only one: “I notice that my hut is on fire in Thuringia.” The so-called 7-day incidence in Thuringia has been climbing inexorably since October. It is the autumn wave of the pandemic that does not come as a surprise because many experts have been warning about it since spring. But their dimensions in Thuringia are enormous.
At the end of October there were around 50 infections per 100,000 inhabitants and week in the country, which was considered a critical warning value at the time. At the beginning of December there were already 166 in Thuringia, meanwhile the Free State has torn the 300 mark. The values are only topped by Saxony. At the same time, Thuringia does worse than almost any other country in the Robert Koch Institute’s vaccination statistics with only 10,790 vaccinations.
Ramelow suspects that the autumn wave was triggered not least by Czech border traffic and day commuters. But the Thuringian opposition primarily identified the agile Prime Minister himself as the driver of the pandemic.
“Every day a new demand”
“Making a new demand every day does not help,” said the Thuringian CDU parliamentary group leader Mario Voigt t-online. “Bodo Ramelow’s continuous zigzag course unsettles the citizens. It has to stop.” Shutting down the economy now is completely unrealistic. Instead, the state government should concentrate on “finally giving up the red lantern when vaccinating”.
The parliamentary manager of the Thuringian FDP parliamentary group, Robert-Martin Montag, sees it similarly. The prime minister has “more hooks than a brown hare on the run,” he tells t-online. “He’s been causing chaos with his communication for months.” Ramelow only seemed credible when he admitted that at the beginning of the pandemic he was convinced that the virus might simply avoid Thuringia. But that was “tantamount to a declaration of bankruptcy by the head of government”.
It is a criticism one hears more often of Bodo Ramelow. The Prime Minister is saying one thing today with full verve, but tomorrow, when in doubt, the opposite. He doesn’t always take the details that seriously. Which doesn’t necessarily differentiate him from other prime ministers. It is only noticed more often with Ramelow because he has a pronounced urge to communicate.
A particularly bad mix in the Corona crisis, says Carsten Schneider. He is the parliamentary managing director of the Federal SPD, but he is watching Thuringia closely as an Erfurt native. Ramelow had “sent the wrong signals from the top of the state,” he told t-online, and thus ensured that the population’s awareness of health protection was reduced. “Everyone in Thuringia must now cope with the effects. He first of all.”
At least on the left, Ramelow is given high credit for his honesty across national borders. “A prime minister who can openly and honestly admit and correct errors is better than one who wants to be right, no matter what the facts are,” says the parliamentary group leader of the Berlin Left, Carsten Schatz, t-online. And the Thuringian Greens, Ramelow’s coalition partner, praise his admission.
In order to avoid new chaos and increased risk of infection, the Greens are now aggressively pushing to postpone the state election in Thuringia, which is scheduled for the end of April. In the current situation, this is “a matter of reason,” says Greens parliamentary group leader Astrid Rothe-Beinlich. The Prime Minister has already signaled his openness.
It would be a clear signal. So typically Ramelow.