For the First Time in Over Six Decades, the Far Right Returns to German Politics

September 27, 2017 | James Kirchick
About the author: James Kirchick is the assistant editor of The New Republic and a Phillips Foundation journalism fellow.

The national elections in Germany last Sunday unsurprisingly resulted in a victory for the current chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. But there were also less expected results: both the center-right Christian Democrats and their major rival, the center-left Social Democrats, garnered many fewer votes than in previous elections, while the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) came in third, with 13 percent of the votes. This will be the first time since the 1950s that a hard-right party has sat in the Bundestag. James Kirchick comments:

The decline of the two [major political parties] has coincided with a movement toward the extremes, with voters flocking to the AfD and the post-Communist [and virulently anti-Israel] Left party. . . .

Initially founded by a group of conservative economists wanting to pull Germany out of the Eurozone, the AfD didn’t even clear the 5-percent threshold required to enter the Bundestag at the last federal election in 2013. Its appeal broadened, however, in the wake of the 2015-2016 refugee crisis, particularly after Merkel opened Germany’s borders to some one million mostly Muslim migrants. A series of highly-publicized crimes involving migrants, most notably a mass sexual assault in Cologne and a terrorist attack in Berlin last Christmas, led to a transformation of the AfD from a party mainly focused on bringing back the Deutschemark into [an] ethno-nationalist bloc. . . .

While the AfD’s main scapegoats are Muslims, Jews aren’t far behind. This being Germany, however, AfD leaders must couch their anti-Semitism in ways that skillfully skirt the country’s stringent hate-speech laws. Their anti-Semitism has thus taken the form of historical revisionism and attacks on Germany’s remembrance culture. The most fearsome example was a speech delivered by a regional party leader earlier this year. . . . “Until now, our mental state continues to be that of a totally defeated people. We Germans are the only people in the world that have planted a monument of shame in the heart of their capital,” he said, referring to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, which occupies an entire city block in central Berlin.

Another AfD member set to enter parliament, Martin Hohmann, was expelled from the Christian Democrats in 2003 after delivering a speech wherein he disputed the notion that Germany is a “nation of perpetrators” by arguing that one could say the same about the Jews, who, after all, played a disproportionate role in the Bolshevik revolution. Earlier this month, [the] party leader Alexander Gauland . . . declared that “we have a right to be proud of the achievements of German soldiers in two world wars.” . . . . To top it off, the party is anti-American, anti-NATO, and pro-Putin.

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