In Germany, the extremist right-wing party AfD (‘Alternative für Deutschland’) has conquered the Bundestag and all state parliaments. Now it might win its first elections in Brandenburg and Saxony. Many consider the AfD a danger to democracy itself, and they do have more than one point.
Germany’s constitution is based on the so-called Liberal Democratic Basic Order (‘freiheitlich-demokratische Grundordnung’). It describes the kind of democracy Germany is. Organizations which seem to intend to lever out that order will soon have the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) on their tails.
The “Examination Case”
In the case of the AfD, things turned out to be the other way around. In 2015, the BfV had called the extremist far-right party an “examination case”. That invented expression was supposed to say something like this: “Hey, we are investigating you because you might – or might not – pose a danger to your Liberal Democratic Basic Order.”
The AfD did not want the BfV to mess with it and had the case looked into by the Administrative Court in Cologne. And the party won. The verdict said the authority was not allowed to call the AfD an “examination case”. In other words, the court told the BfV to either investigate the AfD or to refrain from it, but not to label the party the way it did.
There is one thing democrats, meaning those who cherish and defend the kind of democracy we live in, have to concede: The AfD is very successful. It managed to enter the Berlin Bundestag and the parliaments in all 16 federal states within Germany. On September 1st, the party might win elections in Brandenburg and Saxony. And it managed to get there by mostly concentrating on one single subject, which is migration. Like all populist far-right parties in Europe, the AfD hates migration.
Danger to Democracy
Is this enough to give the AfD the label ‘radical right-wing’? It is not quite that simple. Indeed, the party promotes radical right-wing ideology by attacking rights, including those of asylum seekers, the freedom of the press and equality for all. These are extremist positions which have done damage already and which pose a big danger to democracy, many of the party’s critics believe.
On the other hand the AfD has not officially called for throwing democracy overboard or installing a regime of the kind the original Nazis had between 1933 and 1945. It has not said it wants to arrest or kill its foes or millions of members of Germany’s minorities or attack most neighboring countries again.
But there have been quotes by prominent AfD members which sounded like Nazi statements. Besides, AfD leaders and other members have teamed up with skinheads and other official Nazis in rallies, such as in Chemnitz half a year ago. And the AfD’s entire approach very much points in this dangerous direction, according to researchers.
“Traitors” and “Enemies of the People”
The language some AfD members are using is comparable to that of the Nazis, to say the least. Foes who have expressed criticism have been called “traitors” or “enemy of the people”. The expression “lying press”, and the entire concept of attempting to blame the press, for revealing the dangerous path those who use that expression are going, is very popular in Nazi circles, among dictators and those who want to be.
All in all, there are several elements which could be regarded as hostile to democracy. This includes the aspect of opposing the process of coming to terms with Germany’s terrible recent history. AfD leaders have said things which were clearly intended to downplay the Holocaust, another aspect modern day Nazis are known for as well.
Looking into what exactly the AfD is doing leads to another interesting impression. It seems this party uses populism to seem more harmless than it is. By suggesting it was a fresh force and a movement for the people which was fighting a political elite, the AfD seems to want to pretend it was actually the only party standing up for justice and the man on the street.
‘Racial Laws Light’
Another aspect shows how close the AfD seems to be to the kind of approach Adolf Hitler’s Nazis took. Especially in the so-called ‘völkisch’ wing within the party, the idea of a German people with certain biological and cultural traits has a high priority. The sum of known statements by members of that wing within the AfD suggests that, in their view, Germans need to have white skin and be part of what they define as “the German culture”.
To critics, this sounds like ‘racial laws light’. Björn Höcke, the AfD’s chairman in Thuringia, confirmed all suspicions when he said he was “against mixing the population with groups of people with a different skin color”. The original Nazis could not have said ‘better’.
While most prominent AfD members, maybe except for the most extremist ones, usually try to sound like sheep, their followers on social media do not. The prosecution in Bavaria is dealing with Facebook commentators of an AfD post, under which they left more than disgusting statements. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The AfD might be a product of these times, the party might be a symbol of today’s post-factual world and it might be populist. But it definitely poses a danger on top of it all, researchers are convinced. Also it obviously failed to effectively conceal the direction it is really going, thanks to people like Höcke and the fact that they never threw him out of the party.