Germany’s new far right party is facing itself and reality
The “AfD” (Alternative for Germany), Germany’s new far right party, is shifting its focus and beginning to split because of it.
When it was founded by a group of university professors to oppose one of the bailouts for Greece during the height of the Euro crisis (and then quickly shifted to being an anti-Euro party), it mostly attracted conservative, educated supporters, many of whom previously supported Angela Merkel’s party, but thought that the focus of German interests had been lost in her politics.
However, due to the rise of other movements in Germany opposing the European focus of German politics, the AfD quickly realised that one anti-establishment focus is not enough to include all the potential voters who are unhappy with the current political situation. Hence, other foci followed in quick succession. First it was a general criticism of the EU, then immigration became a topic, too. The spectrum of topics grew and grew until it included all those fears of the suburban worried citizen, who is in fear of change and, for whatever reason, unhappy with “those up there”, i.e. the established politicians.
Realising the potential of fear as a medium of politics, the AfD focussed more and more on fears instead of facts, and therefore, inevitably, one of the biggest topics became immigration. With its xenophobic and nationalistic approach, it appealed to more and more far-right voters.
With mass immigration hitting Germany over the course of the last year, more people have begun to worry – not necessarily about the migrants per se, but also about the focus of politics, while they felt that their needs had been ignored. Together with those that opposed immigration because of a nationalistic fear of lost heritage, they formed a power that could not have been overlooked and, as the AfD began reached a lot of voters who were previously lost by established parties, they managed to get elected into 8 of 16 regional parliaments and are at around 10% in opinion polls for the national parliament.
However, their success was not as positive for the party as you would expect. Not only did they lose one of their founders, who, together with a group of the original professors, founded another movement concentrating on economic anti-establishment politics, they also began to clash internally. Those internal struggles uncover the true dynamic of a party, which based their politics on fears.
A good example of this has been the newly elected regional parliament of Baden-Württemberg, where the AfD won 15% of the seats, making them the 3rd strongest party, without ever having contested before. However, immediately after having been elected, their unity started to break down as soon as the members of parliament of the AfD realised that apart from one or two shared fears, they do not share a great similarity of political ideas. It went as far as that they split up into two factions, as a moderate group of MPs would not tolerate the anti-Semitic comments of others. Now there is the “Alternative For Germany” party, with 8 seats, and the yet to be officially approved “Alternative for Baden-Württemberg” with possibly 13 seats in this regional parliament – an alternative to the Alternative has been founded.
Not as extreme, but similar movements have been observed throughout the regional parliaments and even on a national level within the party. With political responsibility the clash between reality and populistic, fear-orientated politics becomes unavoidable and threatens the unity of the party. Some regional groups realised that their claims and demands were too far removed from reality as soon as they joined a parliament and have been forced to change their tactic to a more moderate party-line, while others, especially those who originally joined from a more moderate background, began to realise the political views of the new membership was incompatible with their own and began to distance themselves from the extreme xenophobia.
In the future it will be interesting to observe how an anti-establishment party is facing the transition into the establishment and how a populistic party is facing reality. It will show if the shared fears are enough to form political unity.
From a personal perspective, one can only hope that those moderate voters realise what they have joined into, and that fear is not a basis for policy. However, if the process of self-destruction continues, it would not only be a vital lesson but also a successful test for Germany’s democracy; it would show that short periods of fear cannot catapult populism to permanent power.
However, regardless of the outcome of the development of this party, Germany’s established parties have to learn that leaving people behind politically is dangerous to them and to the whole state.