BERLIN — The nationalistic right wing made a stunning breakthrough into mainstream German politics Sunday in two state elections, commandeering a powerful protest vote against Chancellor Helmut Kohl's immigration policies.
Gaining entry into the state legislatures of Baden-Wurttemberg and Schleswig-Holstein, the radical right tapped into popular fears that an unchecked wave of asylum-seekers and the spiraling costs of unification will chip away at German affluence.
"This was a protest vote," declared Defense Minister Volker Ruehe, general secretary of Kohl's conservative Christian Democratic Union.
"The losers are the big parties and democracy," he said. "Voters feel the big parties are not solving the problems."
About 9 million voters were eligible to cast ballots in the last significant test of German public opinion before national and European elections are held in 1994. Turnout appeared to be around 70%.
Kohl did not immediately respond to the setback, which cost his party control of Baden-Wurttemberg, the last western German state it governed with an absolute majority. The far-right Republicans scored 10.9% of the vote in that state, leaving the Christian Democrats to find a coalition partner or face new elections.
In Schleswig-Holstein, the far-right German People's Union won a place in Parliament with a surprising 6.3% of the vote, likewise stripping the opposition Social Democrats of their majority.
"We are not prepared to hand out German tax money to sham asylum-seekers," Gerhard Frey, founder-chairman of the People's Union, said after his victory.
Hundreds of demonstrators quickly gathered outside Parliament in the state capital of Kiel, waving banners with such slogans as "Never again fascism!" A smaller, spontaneous anti-fascist demonstration was also reported by police in the Baden-Wurttemberg capital of Stuttgart.
At least 5% of the vote is needed to gain parliamentary representation, and half of the seats plus one are needed to govern with a majority. The state elections have national impact not only as litmus tests of party strength, but because state legislatures determine the makeup of the country's upper house of Parliament, or Bundesrat.
Earlier setbacks in state elections had already cost Kohl's party its Bundesrat majority.
The disillusionment with Kohl's government reflected by Sunday's results is a sharp contrast to the wild popularity and deep confidence he enjoyed two years ago as he fashioned a united Germany.
But the end of the Cold War also opened the floodgates to a tide of refugees from Eastern Europe, and Germany's liberal immigration policy and generous welfare system drew asylum-seekers by the hundreds of thousands.
At the same time, the staggering costs of rebuilding what once was Communist East Germany began to chew away at Germany's enviably strong economy.
Computer projections late Sunday gave the Christian Democrats 39.6% of the vote in Baden-Wurttemberg, with exit polls indicating that about 170,000 votes were lost to the Republicans. The Social Democrats won 29.4%, while the environmental Greens took 9.5% and the liberal Free Democrats got 5.9%.
In Schleswig-Holstein, the Social Democrats polled 46.2%, followed by the Christian Democrats with 33.8%, the German People's Union with 6.3%, the Free Democrats with 5.6% and the Greens with 4.9%.