Oct 142018
 

90 minutes after closing time, the exit polls and models are converging on a result for the AfD of about 11 per cent. The party has entered the 15th of 16 state parliament and is about to enter the final one (Hesse) in two weeks’ time. Predictably, the party is presenting this as a huge success, claiming that they have come from nowhere (“aus dem Stand”) and gone double-digit, first try. And, equally predictably, the media are repeating this narrative.

But after five years in politics, and a four-year string of successes in state politics, the AfD is no longer an unknown quantity. More importantly, they were operating in a nearly optimal scenario. The CSU, in its desperate bid to out-AfD the AfD (I’m getting this trademarked very shortly), has relentlessly pushed the AfD’s one and only issue, immigration & asylum, back on the agenda for months and months. Moreover, Bavaria is famously conservative and right-leaning, and the state’s border with Austria was the setting for most of the disorderly arrivals in 2015.

 

And yet, even under these favourable conditions, the AfD managed to get just 11 per cent of the vote. That is roughly five per cent less than what they are polling nationally at the moment, less than what they got in the two (south)-Western states, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate in 2016 (15.1 and 12.6, respectively), and less what they achieved back in 2014 (!), when they were truly a new party, in the Eastern state of Brandenburg (12.2).

So we should put this into perspective. The Bavarian result is remarkably for a number of reasons including the heavy losses of the CSU (which is still the strongest party by far), the implosion of the SPD, the meteoric rise of the Greens (in Bavaria!), and the strong showing of the “Free Voters”, for many intents and purposes as CSU-breakaway. In this context, a result of 11 per cent for the AfD is not particularly remarkable but a mere fact of political life in Germany. The AfD came fourth. It should be treated accordingly.

 

Oct 132018
 

Probably it’s never been away. Equally probably, I’m overgeneralising from personal experience (can you see what I’m doing here?): within less than 48 hours:

 

 

 

Image credit: Elisa Riva via Pixabay

Oct 052018
 

Back in August, Franziska Schreiber made quite a splash with her memoir of the four years she spent inside Germany’s not-so-new-anymore Radical Right party. Schreiber was in her mid-twenties when she joined only weeks after the party was founded. She helped building up the AfD’s youth organisation – controversial even within the party – in the key state of Saxony and became a confidant of Frauke Petry, the former party leader. Appalled by the AfD’s radicalisation (to which she has contributed, albeit on a small scale), Schreiber left the party just before the 2017 federal election. Reviews of her inside story were mixed, but hey, does this sound like the perfect complement to a long day on the beach? Turns out the book is light and short reading, so here are my five random observations to cap off the day.

  1. Cheap opening shot: confidants were allowed to call Petry “little star” (a common term of affection in German). Yes, you read that right. A few pages later, we learn that Schreiber had a bit of a crush on Petry. No big surprise here.
  2. Schreiber estimates that in 2017, Neo-Nazis made up 15 per cent of the membership, whereas” liberals” comprised 50 per cent. The first number looks a bit off to me while the second number seems way too high. But she’s the insider, right?
  3. Schreiber mostly writes about individuals, and from the point of view of one of many warring factions. That makes for juicy bits and potentially dodgy analyses. But she’s adamant that the rank-and-file’s continous shift to the right has forced various people within the leadership to become ever more radical, lest they lose their credibility with the party faithful.
  4. She also claims that many in the AfD now aim for a revolutionary transformation, something that seems more plausible now than it did before the Chemnitz events.
  5. Schreiber (who apparently has some background in Political/Social Science) describes her own trajectory like an induction into a cult – the alienation from family and former friends, the confirmation biases, the gradual shifting of what is considered normal – it’s all there. This perspective may provide her current self with a very convenient excuse for things she did in the past and now regrets, but it’s nonetheless credible. She also highlights the importance of internal & external communication via social media, and the force of negative emotions, and something that squares with the motives of the AfD’s voters.
  6. And yes, there is the famous claim that the now former boss of Germany’s secret service advised Petry as to how to avoid the attention of his people.

So, all in all, this book provides some interesting background on persons and events, but nothing that is exactly new.

Sep 072018
 

The other day, an American journalist wanted to talk about the Sweden Democrat’s role in the upcoming Swedish election. Being no country specialist, I tried to deflect the request, but he sent me some more specific questions anyway, which I tried to answer to the best of my abilities.

Unsurprisingly, I provided too much detail, so my comments disappeared from the published piece. Since it is Friday afternoon and all the stuff is on file anyway, for your edification, here’s our virtual conversation:

Would you characterize the Sweden Democrats as a radical right party? How similar are they to other radical right parties in Europe? What is different about them?

Yes, I the Sweden Democrats fit well into the family of Radical Right parties that have emerged in most West European countries since the 1980s. The most unusual thing about the SD is perhaps that they started out as a pretty militant group, with uniforms reminiscent of the 1930s. Many modern European Radical Right parties have carefully avoided this association from the start.

It seems to me that the Sweden Democrats have done a lot of “soften” their image, with their flowery logo and the party leader’s choice of clothes. Is this something you would agree with? Is this something other radical right parties have adopted?

That’s correct. The new-ish leadership has banned the uniforms, purged the ranks of Neo Nazis, and replaced the fierce Viking warrior of their original logo with a flower. Their relatively moderate appeal is very much in line with other Radical Right parties.

How important is this election in Sweden in determining the future of the European Union?

For the time being, no other party will form a coalition with the SD, so their likely success will have no direct short-term impact on the EU. However, having a strong Radical Right party in the Swedish parliament will make it more difficult to form a stable government and will likely lead to Swedish mainstream parties adopting more nationalist and restrictive positions.

Do you think the Sweden Democrats are further evidence of a rising tide of nationalism across Europe? What is behind this rise? Immigration? Neo-liberal economic policies? Economic hardships? Changes in society?

Radical Right Parties that poll between 10 and 25 per cent are now a fact of political life in most West European countries, and in all likelihood, these parties will also do well in the 2019 EP elections, where the barriers to entry are particularly low. One important but often overlooked factor behind this rise is dealignment, i.e. the slow but steady decline of the long standing ties between large social groups such as workers, farmers, or religious groups on the one hand and traditional parties on the other. Through dealignment, voters have become available for new parties including, but not limited to, the Radical Right.

One second important point to note is that the Radical Right vote is driven by perceptions of migration as an economic and cultural threat. While these perceptions are by no means confined to the Radical Right’s electorate, they seem to constitute a necessary pre-condition for Radical Right support: unless someone is seriously worried about immigration, it is highly unlikely that they would ever vote for the Radical Right. Third, economic decline plays a role, but many Radical Right voters are relatively well of themselves. What worries them is a feeling that their native compatriots get less than they deserve, that the country is going into a negative direction because of immigration, and the (often irrational) fear that immigration might hurt their own economic prospects in the future. It is also worth noting that the Radical Right is particularly strong in the rich and stable countries of Scandinavia and in Austria and Switzerland, whereas it is surprisingly weak in crisis-hit Greece and nonexistent in Spain and Portugal.

Here’s a question unrelated to Sweden … How significant of a role do you think Steve Bannon can play in Europe?

Bannon plays no role whatsoever. Populist Radical Right Parties have thrived in Europe since the 1980s. International co-operation amongst them has proven difficult time and again because of their inherently nationalist agendas, but they were quite good at learning from each other and swapping ideas long before Bannon began his European tour. In my view, Bannon hugely overplays his influence in Europe, and American media sometimes fall for his spiel.

Jun 182018
 

Hey twitter, the CSU’s current anti-refugee line may be inspired by rise of AfD and upcoming elections, but it is hardly new. Lubbers et al. 2002 report (for the 1990s) that the CSU was responsible for Germany having one of the most restrictive “anti-immigrant climates” in Western Europe, that the CSU they were the most anti-immigrant Christian Democratic party in the sample, and that they outscored the Italian AN (then still a borderline case for Radical Right membership).

 

Lubbers, Marcel, Mérove Gijsberts, and Peer Scheepers. “Extreme Right-Wing Voting in Western Europe.” European Journal of Political Research 41 (2002): 345–378.

 

 

Jun 182018
 

I know that definitions are so 1996, but here are some that bear repeating:

Migrant
“A person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national” (UN Convention on the rights of Migrants)
Refugee
“someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence” (UNHCR)
Asylum seeker
someone who applies “to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance (UNHCR)

In short, asylum seekers are refugees who apply for formal recognition. If this status is granted, they may or may not become migrants. Words matter. Having said that, here are some links:

May 302018
 

Bonus track: Here is another demotivational  quote from the Stata handbook: