In September of last year, just before the general elections, democratic parties and voters feared the radical right-wing ‘Alternative for Germany’ (‘Alternative für Deutschland’, AfD) might not only enter the Bundestag, but also become the strongest opposition party.
Those fears became reality. The radicals got 12.6 percent on September 24th, 2017. They moved into the federal parliament with 94 out of 709 seats, and they were stronger than any other opposition party. For decades, politicians had warned that grand coalitions would strengthen radicals on both the right and the left. And they were right regarding the right.
Now, a year later, things look even worse. According to two new polls quoted in German-language media, the AfD is at least as strong as the Social Democrats (SPD), who are the junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s shaky grand coalition. According to one of those polls, the AfD even overtook the SPD and is now the second-strongest party in Germany.
This aspect, which is shocking to everyone except for those who voted for that party, leads to several big questions. How strong will the AfD become? How can that trend be stopped and reversed? What kind of government coalitions will have to be formed in future, in order to make sure the AfD will not be part of them?
Questions of this kind are even more relevant today than they were months ago, because of the state Merkel’s coalition is in. It might implode at any moment, an event which would lead to early elections, because of countless problems:
> Forming this coalition took Merkel months. The liberal FDP suddenly pulled out of talks which had looked promising, while the SPD had intended to refrain from entering yet another grand coalition with Merkel. But they were forced to do so anyway, meaning this coalition was unwanted and unstable from the start.
> Within the coalition, especially between Merkel’s conservative CDU and its ultra-conservative sister party from Bavaria, CSU, there are frequent quarrels about the migration policy. A few weeks ago, one of those arguments almost destroyed the coalition.
> The governors (‘Ministerpräsidenten’) in several federal states, such as Bavaria and Hesse, but also three provinces in the eastern part of Germany, are getting nervous because of upcoming state elections. As the Bavarian example shows, some of them would do anything to increase their chances, including attacking Merkel. In the Bavarian case, this approach backfired.
> Recently, a big scandal and argument within the coalition erupted about Hans-Georg Maassen, the former director of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. The minute everyone thought the issue was settled, through a compromise between the coalition parties, it erupted yet again.
> Angela Merkel’s confidant, the CDU’s parliamentary group leader Volker Kauder, was voted out of office last week, even though Merkel had asked her party people at the Bundestag to support him. To many, the vote for Ralph Brinkhaus as the new chairman is the beginning of the end of Merkel’s political career.
> Nobody can predict what will happen during the CDU’s big party congress in December. There already are heretics within the party who are openly saying Mrs. Merkel should not run for the party chairmanship (or chairladyship) again.
All of the above shows how fragile the coalition is, and how close the AfD might be to actually becoming the second-strongest party in the Bundestag, with all implications. A formation of government would be challenging under these circumstances, to say the least.
The most shocking part is that, based on the latest polls, every sixth German voter seems to be ready to support the radicals, in spite of the fact that prominent AfD members have taken their masks off on several occasions. In Eastern Germany, the territory of the former GDR, the AfD already is the strongest party of them all.
One of the AfD’s two leaders in the Bundestag is Alice Weidel, a good looking lady, aged 39, who seems open-minded at first. The ‘ugly German’ in her comes to life when she starts talking, or writing e-mails. Democratic politicians, who are part of the federal government in Berlin, are “pigs” to her. “They are just puppets of the victorious powers of World War II”, she wrote to an acquaintance in 2013.
When that e-mail surfaced, the former management consultant Weidel said it was fake, while the receiver insisted it was not. Once the AfD lady noticed the scandalous content of that mail actually seemed to help the AfD in the polls, she stopped calling it fake.
Before the parliamentary elections, Weidel’s plan was to look moderate, while co-leader Alexander Gauland was supposed to collect votes in far-right quarters. Since that e-mail revealed the anti-democrat in her, things have changed. The e-mail scandal, along with Gauland’s scandalous quotes, has put the AfD into the drawer it belongs.
Alexander Gauland, a former CDU member, who is also one of the party’s two chairmen (on top of being co-chairman of the parliamentary group), did not even try to hide his basic convictions, at least before the 77-year-old lawyer from the former GDR joined the Bundestag. He said the Germans had to be allowed to be proud of what German soldiers “accomplished in the two world wars”.
Regarding the Third Reich, which lasted from 1933 to 1945, Gauland stated, those 12 years “can not be held against us anymore. They do not concern our identity anymore. Therefore we have the right to get our country back, but also our past”. Yes, the phrase “get our country back” has been heard before, by other right-wing extremists all over Europe. “Getting our past back” is pure Nazi talk.
Considering Germany started World War II by attacking Poland on September 1, 1939, considering 60 to 70 million people were killed, and taking into account that Nazi Germany committed the most atrocious war crimes ever, by murdering millions of Jews, and tens of thousands of Gypsies, homosexuals and opposition party members in concentration camps, it is no surprise that Gauland’s statements shocked German democrats.
In the past years, the so-called “alternative” was also voted into several regional parliaments within Germany. They found voters by spreading Nazi-like propaganda about refugees and certain minorities, such as Roma. The AfD kept on growing, and even overtook the NPD, a Nazi party which has been there a lot longer.
Of course leading AfD members like Gauland and Weidel keep on insisting their party was not radical right-wing and had nothing to do with Nazis. In reality, things look different. Prominent AfD members, including Björn Höcke who called the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin a “memorial of shame”, recently joined Nazi groups for protests in Chemnitz. Several AfD-MPs in provinces are known to be in contact with Nazi organizations.
Recently, in the Bundestag, the SPD’s Martin Schulz analyzed the AfD accurately. He said they would “reduce all political circumstances to one single subject, which is usually a minority in the country.” This was an approach taken by fascist regimes. The AfD blamed the migrants for everything, Schulz said. “A similar diction has been heard in this building before”, he stated, indirectly referring to the Hitler regime. MPs of several democratic parties in the parliament applauded.
For quite some time, Berlin has been discussing the right way to deal with the phenomenon of the returning ‘ugly German’. The more likely new elections become, the more desperate that discussion develops.
The FDP’s chairman Christian Lindner told the ‘Welt am Sonntag’ daily in an interview, most parties would react to the AfD only by denouncing their voters. This was a mistake.
When individuals with the CDU started talking about forming coalitions with the AfD, they caused outrage. Gauland himself told German-language media, he did want to form coalitions with the CDU. But most in Merkel’s party reject advances of this kind. Alexander Dobrindt, the chairman of the CSU’s regional faction in Berlin, said any cooperation with the AfD had been ruled out in a resolution the parliamentary group had voted for. “Whoever wants a different approach has a nut loose.”