Blog posts on the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)

The Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD for short, is a new-ish far-right party in Germany. The Extreme Right in Europe is one of my main research interests, and for many years, there had been no (successful) party in Germany to occupy this place in the political spectrum. I have published an article on the Alternative für Deutschland in West European Politics, and I'm currently working on another research paper on their use of Facebook. In the meantime, I blog on current developments and controversies within the party.

Mar 152017
 

Almost exactly four years ago, the “Alternative für Deutschland” party (AfD) began its life as a moderately eurosceptic outfit that brought together right-wingers of various stripes. Even back in 2014, the party did not qualify as radical right-wing populist. Quite to the contrary: The leadership went to great lengths to present a “civic” front of professors, business persons, and concerned citizens. However, their 2015 de facto split was a critical juncture in the young party’s history. The part’s most prominent face, economist and former CDU member Bernd Lucke, and many of his supporters left the party.

The AfD’s central command is very active on Facebook, and so a quantitative analysis of their posts is a reasonable means for tracking their ideological trajectory. For a presentation I gave last week, I have updated and somewhat streamlined my 2015 analysis of their social media activities. I’m only looking at posts by the AfD on their own (federal) fan page. Over the last four years, the party has accumulated no less that 3482 of them. Their text is lightly normalised and stemmed, and I’m looking for substrings pertaining to four issues: Europe and the Euro, Greece, Islam/Muslims, and Migration/Refugees. Obviously, a post can refer to two or more of these issues, so the numbers may sum up to more than 100%. The result is this:

issues.png

It’s quite clear that in 2013 and early 2014 (think European elections), a large chunk of their posts made reference to the Euro, the EU, and so forth. In the first half of 2015, Greece (remember the long nights and that funny finance minister) and Euroscepticism were back on the agenda. But when the economic liberals left the AfD around June and the refugees emerged as a dominant issue in European politics later that year, Greece was forgotten. In 2016, the AfD was all about migrants, refugees, and Muslims. I really need to find the time to dig deeper into this.

Feb 152017
 

Seven months before the election, what’s up with the Alternative für Deutschland?

I’ve kept repeating this since the Alternative für Deutschland’s ascendancy in the polls began in late 2015: the AfD’s electoral popularity depends on a) steering away from open right-wing extremism, which has frustrated previous attempts to establish a right-wing populist party in Germany, and b) presenting a united front. With the beginning of the (long) campaign, the party is not doing too well on both counts. Let’s have a look at seven of my favourite conflicts within the party.

Putsch in the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)?

The AfD and Bruce Springsteen. You would have to ask @BDStanley what it means.

#1 Right-wing extremism in Saarland – not a problem, really

The Saarland (always with the article) is a small state in the West with an interesting history and a relatively lively right-wing scene. The AfD state party is so closely involved with said right-wing extremists that the Alternative’s national executive – not normally given to anti-fascist activism – voted to disband the state party back in March 2016. However, the national executive lost a legal battle with the state party leadership, and the state party could continue. The executive then asked the state party not to field any candidates in the upcoming 2017 federal election. The state party politely declined this request. Incidentally, the state party’s number three was caught on camera selling Nazi devotionalia in his shop.

#2 Anti-Semitism in Baden-Württemberg

Shortly after the March 2016 state election in Baden-Württemberg, it emerged that Wolfgang Gedeon, one of the freshly minted MPs for the Alternative für Deutschland is an anti-Semite and conspiracy theorist. Jörg Meuthen – party leader in Baden-Württemberg, head of the parliamentary party in the Baden-Württemberg state parliament and one of the party’s two national “speakers” – , who is usually typecast as one of the remaining economic liberal/socially conservative characters in the AfD, unsuccessfully tried to expel Gedeon from the parliamentary party. As a result, the parliamentary party split in two in July. Legal and political chaos ensued. Meuthen’s co-leader Frauke Petry arrived on the scene, allegedly trying to make peace, but most observers agreed that this intervention was part of the ongoing power struggle between Petry and Meuthen. Finally, after three months of strife, the two factions re-united under Meuthen’s leadership.

#3 Candidate selection in NRW

With roughly the same population as the Netherlands, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) is the most populous federal state in Germany. In German Politics, NRW and its politicians are heavy-weights. The state will go to the polls in May 2017, and the result will be read as a bellwether for the federal election September. The AfD state party is lead by Marcus Pretzell, one of the two remaining MEPs for the AfD. Pretzell is controversial within “his” party. In November, he and his inner circle were accused of using undue methods to orchestrate the selection of candidates for the upcoming state election. In January, the state’s returning officer decided that although there had been irregularities, the process was deemed legal so that he would provisionally accept the list of candidates. The final decision will be made in May. While it looks unlikely at the moment, in theory the party could be barred from taking part in the election.

#4 Litigation in Schleswig-Holstein

The northern state of Schleswig-Holstein is also going to the polls in May. Thomas Tomsen, the former (until May 2016) leader of the state party has tried to sue his successor, Jörg Nobis. Tomsen claims that scores of his supporters were not invited to the assembly that elected Nobis. In January, Tomsen lost a court case on formal grounds: The judges ruled that Tomsen has to go through the internal system of party courts before he can appeal to a regular, public court. And so the former and the present leader will spend at least a part of the election campaign in court(s). The lawyer for the current leadership has defended NPD politicians in the past and is himself a well-known right-winger.

#5 Factions. More factions

In the past, the “Patriotic Platform” has brought together the right-wingers amongst the right-wingers in the AfD. But apparently, the PP has become too pussy-footed by the standards of some of their leading lights. The blick nach rechts blog reports that some former members of the PP’s federal executive are setting up the “Free Patriotic Alternative”. Judean People’s Front vs People’s Front of Judea, anyone?

#6 Höcke

Speaking of the Patriotic Platform and right-wingers, Björn Höcke, the leader of the state party in Thuringia, is the most visible amongst the ultra-right within the party. In his speeches/performances, he borrows heavily from the ideas, vocabulary, and style of the Weimar Republic’s anti-democratic right. In the past, he came under fire when he claimed that “not each and every member of the [right-wing extremist] NPD was an extremist”. Then-party leader Bernd Lucke tried to expel Höcke, but failed. Colleague Andreas Kemper has made it his life’s ambition to demonstrate that Höcke has published racist dribble in an NPD party paper pseudonymously. He is probably right. Höcke also made waves (and came close to being kicked out of the party once more) when he gave speech at an extremist think tank where he referred to Africans as a “different species” which pursues “an expansive pro-creational strategy”.

His latest exploit was a speech in which he said that the Holocaust memorial in Berlin was shameful, and that Germany’s approach to its past was seriously misguided and hence required a complete turnaround. The speech was given on the 75th anniversary of the infamous “Wannsee Conference”, where the organisational groundwork for the Holocaust was laid. The national executive made a move to expel Höcke in January but in the end left it at a formal censure. Last Monday, after much toing and froing behind the scenes, a large majority voted to start a protracted process that could possibly, but not necessarily, end with Höcke’s departure from the party.

#7 The nationalist international

Pretzell is a member of the ENF group in the European Parliament. Although the AfD’s official policy is to keep their distance from other right-wing populist parties in Europe, Pretzell organised a (highly publicised) ENF meeting in the German city of Koblenz on January 21. Amongst the attendees were Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Matteo Salvini and (drumroll) Frauke Petry, who had not sought a consensus with other members of the executive. At least the German public perceived the conference as an AfD event. There were not too many happy faces seen on the executive board.

It’s not (just) about extremism. It is (also) about The Leader and her Lover vs The Rest

As a relatively young party, the AfD has many leaders and leaderlings, and since Lucke’s departure the public tends to perceive the party through the lenses of their respective personas (how is that for a mixed and convoluted metaphor?). Much of the ongoing conflict within the AfD is about ideology, or rather about the party’s general public image as “conservative-liberal”, “national-consersavtive”, right-wing populist or even right-wing extremist. But personalities, personal ambitions, and personal animosities are at least as important.

Petry was perceived as more radical than Lucke, yet representing something like a centrist position within the Lucke-less AfD. However, one important reason for ascendancy was that she seemed more willing to accept a modicum of collective leadership than Lucke – a perception that has now faded. Petry frequently tries to bypass the party structures. The party base, in turn, has denied her her wish to become the party’s sole “Spitzenkandidat” for the federal election.

Petry’s key ally is Pretzell, whom she married in December. Both are on record saying that refugees could be shot at the German border, which is not exactly the hallmark of a moderate. Pretzell was quick to blame the Berlin terror attack on refugees and Merkel, and Petry suggested that the word “völkisch” – the traditional self-description of German nationalists – should be seen as a positive term “again”. The last time this word had a positive connotation was during the Nazi era. Meuthen, who likes to give the impression that he is more liberal than Petry, failed to vet Gedeon before he was selected as a candidate. Meuthen also suggested that AfD MPs should not automatically vote against any proposal drafted by NPD in state parliaments, and voted against the motion to expel Höcke, whom he has supported on other occasions, too.

Four years after its inception, the AfD is still a very mixed bag of right-wingers, warring amongst each other for all sorts of reasons. And while I’m writing this, Der Tagesspiegel reports that not just his own people but also Alexander Gauland (another party heavy-weight and member of the national executive) and unspecified “supporters” are “urging” Höcke, the man under the gun, to run in the Bundestag election to challenge Petry. Höcke has previously ruled out any ambitions to leave Thuringia, but might now be tempted to stage a coup. I long to see how the politicking in the AfD will play out over the next seven months.

Jan 192017
 

Before Christmas, I had yet another chat with the journalist Yardena Schwartz, who covers Germany for various outlets in the US. Parts of our conversation re-surface in a piece she wrote for Politico on Germany’s Far Right:

She also published an article on how the Far Right tries to capitalise from the Berlin Christmas Market attack, again with a little bit of input from yours truly.

Jan 042017
 

The good folks over at the LSE (which, apart from running one of the most vibrant Political Science blogging sites on the planet also happens to host a university) have kindly asked me to look ahead at the likely outcome of the German Federal Election in September in general and the role of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in particular. I submitted my text early in December so that it could be published after Christmas. Following the terror attack on the Christmas market in Berlin, they offered me the opportunity to amend and slightly extend the text. I politely declined, because I thought that a horrific but fairly localised event such as this will not fundamentally affect the outcome of a still relatively distant election. I have been wrong before. Here is the link to the article on the EUROPP blog:

Dec 212016
 

I recently had a lengthy chat with Yardena Schwartz on the AfD’s significance for German politics, and their likely trajectory. One thing that came out of it is a CJR article on the (mis?)representation of the AfD and their voters in the German media. I don’t agree with everything she writes, but it is certainly an interesting read.

Dec 202016
 

Der rheinland-pfälzische Landtag wird in Zukunft die Pressemeldungen der Fraktionen nicht mehr auf seiner Homepage veröffentlichen. Hintergrund ist, die Landtagsverwaltung nicht für möglicherweise justiziable Aussagen der AfD in Mithaftung genommen werden möchte. Über diesen Vorgang habe ich gestern mit dem Trierischen Volksfreund gesprochen. Einige Einschätzungen zur Vokabel “Volksverrat” sind in diesen Artikel eingeflossen:

Dec 052016
 

For obvious reasons, books on the AfD are thin on the ground. It took me an unduly long time to review this one, not because there was anything wrong with the book but rather because something was wrong with my timekeeping and project mismanagement. Hopefully, the review should appear in one of the next issues of German Politics, but for the time being, I’m posting the author’s version here. And yes, most people who would be interested in the book would also be able to read the review in German. Odd. I know.

Alexander Häusler (Ed.): Die Alternative für Deutschland. Programmatik, Entwicklung und politische Verortung. Wiesbaden (VS), 2016, 251 pages, 29.99 Euros.

A party in transition

As an object of study, Germany’s new(-ish) Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD) is a moving target. Since its inception in early 2013, the party has gone from strength to strength and won parliamentary representation in the majority of the federal states and in the European Parliament. In all likelihood, the AfD will also enter the Bundestag, which would make it the first newcomer since 1990.

At the same time, the party underwent a remarkable transformation. While the AfD attracted a motley collection of right-wingers from the beginning, its public image was initially shaped by middle-aged conservative men, who had been, or could have been, former members of the Christian Democrats or the FDP. In 2013, the party’s very short manifesto was almost exclusively concerned with the reform of the EU and the Euro system and carefully avoided populist language. To the casual observer, the AfD may have looked like a breakaway from the CDU.

Two years down the line, the AfD’s most visible figure, Bernd Lucke, and many of his allies in the leadership had left the party. At the height of the Euro crisis, the AfD all but ditched Euroscepticism (still not a very salient issue in Germany) and began instead to focus on the familiar themes of immigration, asylum, and Islam. In the process, the AfD has arguably become Germany’s first modern and nationally successful Radical Right-Wing Populist Party.

The AfD in 2015

By necessity, any book on the AfD can only hope to provide a snapshot of the party’s rapidly unfolding development. One such snapshot, that nonetheless offers some deep insights, is the volume edited by Alexander Häusler. The 14 chapters (complemented by a short introduction and a concise summary) began their lives as papers for a conference that the FORENA research centre organised in February 2015. They have been updated for the book publication, but their style and content clearly reflects the dynamic nature of their object.

Häusler has organised the contributions along the lines of six broad themes: the AfD’s ideological position within the larger party system, the party’s prospective foreign policies, their positions on gender and family issues, their relationship with Pegida and Islamophobia more generally, their position vis-a-vis Germany’s New Right (“Neue Rechte”), and finally, the organisational realities on the ground (a somewhat odd section as there is only a single contribution: a case study on Brandenburg in early 2015). Accordingly, the chapters vary considerably in terms of their scope, methods, and outlook. For instance, in his analysis of the AfD’s position within and potential effect on the German party system, Frank Decker relies on the standard tool kit of comparative party (system) studies and looks at the AfD’s history, party ideology, membership, affiliations, and voters. Similarly, Marcel Lewandowsky applies (qualitative) content analysis to a set of party documents (mostly manifestos) to compare the AfD’s stance on EU politics and International Relations more generally to those of the CSU, NPD, and the “Freie Wähler”. Felix Korsch, on the other hand, presents a detailed quantitative analysis of publicly accessible sources to uncover the degree of overlap between (prominent) members of Pegida, of the AfD, and of other parties and organisation. He complements his findings by pointing out how some of the claims and demands voiced by Pegida resemble those made by the AfD, while other authors offer very detailed insights into the microcosm of right-wing movements and organisations in Germany.

The AfD’s gender agenda

Perhaps the most interesting section is the one on gender and family issues. Christian fundamentalism is a niche issue in Germany. Politically, it has been mostly confined to micro parties such as the Partei Bibeltreuer Christen (PBC). But Andreas Kemper and Ulli Jentsch demonstrate in their respective chapters that there is again overlap between Germany’s small pro-life movement and other ’anti-emancipatory’ actors on the one hand and elite actors within the AfD on the other. As a corollary, Jasmin Siri’s qualitative analysis of party documents reveals the outlines of a highly traditional, if not anti-feminist agenda.

Conclusion

Reflecting its origins in a conference, and, more importantly, the rapid transformation of the AfD itself, the book can not hope to provide a single, coherent and definitive statement on the young party. But this is not a shortcoming: The authors and the editor present a useful, multi-faceted snapshot of a party in transition that can serve as a starting point for a whole host of future avenues for research.

Nov 282016
 

I had a lengthy chat with someone from Bloomberg on the AfD and their use of Social Media. The result is a short piece with some soundbites by me. If you want to know a little more about the AfD’s role in the darker corners of the German Interwebs, have a look at my APSA Paper on the AfD and Social Media (colourful pictures to be found towards the end of the PDF).

Nov 232016
 

Mit dem Handelsblatt habe ich darüber gesprochen, ob die AfD in Ostdeutschland zur Volkspartei wird.

Nov 112016
 

Im Gespräch mit dem Handelsblatt erkläre ich, warum ich nicht glaube, daß die AfD im großen Umfang von Trumps Wahlerfolg profitieren kann.