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Sunday, 13 March 2016

Shockwave Approaching – The Return of the Ugly German

What has been predicted for the past months has now happened. At today’s regional elections in three federal states – Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Württemberg and Saxony Anhalt – the right-wing AfD party achieved staggering results and will now send members to three additional regional parliaments. Germany is witnessing a political earthquake and a fundamental change in its political party structure.

The AfD (Alternative für Deutschland = Alternative for Germany) has easily outperformed established parties such as the liberal FDP, the Green Party, as well as the left wing “Linke”. Even more: first results indicate that the AfD has even outperformed the SPD and the Linke in Saxony-Anhalt, becoming the second strongest party in the federal state in East Germany, just behind the conservative CDU. Last week’s local government elections in the federal state of Hesse already predicted strong results for the AfD, where it partly achieved two-digit results in several cities and municipalities. Just a week later, the AfD has arrived in wide bases of the German population, in the West as well as in the East.

The Refugee Crisis and the Effects of Cologne
Frankly speaking, the results for the AfD were not a true surprise as the ongoing refugee crisis and the long-term effects of the Cologne New Year’S Eve incidents have raised significant concerns in wide parts of the German population, in particular in the view of security, the social welfare system, and the presumable loss of national identity through a steady – what the AfD calls – “alienation” of the country. While the government on the federal, on the regional, and on the municipal level struggle to find solutions for the integration process of acknowledged refugees and had even enforced harsher rules for quicker deportation regulations for rejected asylum seekers, the AfD and many other right wing parties and groups have been riding on an emotional wave of fear, panic making and polemics. Obviously, a significant part of the population was very receptive towards these loudmouths.

Even though the CDU tried to change its previous open-door policy that had strongly been advocated by Chancellor Angela Merkel, it now has to be regarded as a vain attempt to pull potential AfD voters towards the CDU. On the contrary, the open rebellion of several CDU politicians against their party leader Angel Merkel and even of the top candidate for the Prime Minister’s post in Rhineland-Palatinate, Julia Klöckner, caused a loss of credibility for the CDU overall. On the other hand, the left wing parties such as Linke, Grüne and SPD were unable to make a profit of the CDU’s inner quarrels and instead lost the opportunity to defend the refugee policy.

Fear eats Brain – The Louder, the Better
The AfD had one very simple strategy: creating fear through the instrument of the “evil, raping, and greedy” refugee. This was the main agenda not only of the AfD, but of all right wing extremist parties running for the elections – including the neo-Nazi parties NPD and III. Weg (Third Way), as well as from the anti-Islamic PEGIDA-Movement (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes = Patriotic Europeans against Islamisation of the Occident). The initial overall welcoming-euphoria for refugees arriving in Germany last summer was almost completely wiped-out after the incidents of Cologne at New Year’s Eve, where thousands of presumable Arab and North African migrants have molested and robbed women. This image of the “sex hungry” refugee was the main image displayed on the AfD’s election wall papers, creating a picture of imminent threat and fear.

The message of the AfD’s policy agenda sent out was simple: enforce harsher asylum laws, deport illegal immigrants more quickly, and enforce national identity throughout society. Taking a closer look at the agenda, it becomes evident that the AfD is targeting a revisionist strategy towards German society: turning the country more restrictive towards all foreigners, elitarian in terms of taxation and social welfare (i.e. massively cutting the welfare system benefits, including withdrawing the voting rights for long-term unemployed people, introducing a flat-tax system from which only top earners will benefit), backwards-drawing in terms of society, i.e. enforcing so called traditional family images, or banning same-sex rights and privileges, and anti-European to the bone.

The Final Triumph of the Right?
Unlike other right wing parties, such as the infamous NPD, the AfD is rather well organized and achieved a stable voters’ base within a short period of time. What originally started up as a Euro-Scepticist, though liberal party has rapidly shifted into a populist right wing party with a strong xenophobic agenda setting under its new leader Frauke Petry. The AfD seems to have overcome the notorious dysfunctional and chaotic organisation of other right wing parties and is winning supporters not only in notorious right wing voters’ strongholds, such as in East Germany, but in West Germany as well.

If it is going to lead to a long-term success for the AfD, is hard to predict and needs still to be waited for, as it has to face parliamentary routine and daily real political life. In the past, other right wing parties that had achieved seats in regional parliaments, were unable to provide significant results in parliamentary work and failed to implement any significant results as opposition parties. Consequently, they could not repeat their previous electoral success and quickly dropped out of the parliaments at the following elections.

While this was specifically the case with the “Republikaner” (Republicans) in the 1980ies and the NPD in some East German states a few years ago, for the AfD it could be different, though. Having established a strong electoral base, and being intensively supported in East and West, it could become a part of parliamentary real life from now on – on the opposition’s bench, from now on. At the present time it is, fortunately, unlikely to become part of any government collation, as the party that is willing to set up any coalition with the AfD, needs still to be founded yet.

However, that is exactly what people thought of the NSDAP during the Weimar Republic, and the results are very well known.

A Repeat of History?
Germany is currently going through a phase of significant political changes where it needs to deal with an increasing sensitive electoral base, rapidly willing to shift to the extreme. If today’s elections were the beginning of a long-term change of voters’ preferences to extremism or just another act of short-term protest vote, has yet to be determined. Past elections with a strong tendency to protest votes have shown that it was rather a temporary rejection of the government’s current politics rather than a permanent shift of preferences. A reason why this time it could be different has to be found in the development of the AfD until now. At the 2013’s general elections, the AfD achieved 4.8 percent of the votes – just slightly missing the 5 percent minimum requirement to access to the parliament in Berlin. In previous votes, the votes have increased and as for now, the AfD is not only represented in the European Parliament, but will also have seats in 7 out of 16 regional parliaments in Germany.

If this tendency continues, the AfD is very likely to win votes in the Federal Parliament in Berlin at next year’s general elections. This will most definitely lead to a political earthquake and fundamentally reshape the political life of Germany. Winning votes through loud emotional protest and a strong revisionist policy agenda was the agenda that made the NSDAP strong.
Although analysts and political scientists anticipate the support for the AfD to drop once the refugee crisis has been solved – in which way ever, it has to be determined yet if it will also be linked to the voters’ behaviour, or if the AfD will be a strong party by then.

Will the German people at least learn the lessons from the past this time, or repeat their mistakes once again? The numbers of right wingers’ protests are increasing and their high volume is over-shouting every sensible argument – on the streets and in political discussions throughout all media channels.

The shockwaves are approaching, and they are thundering in fast and loud.

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