Both Putin’s poodle and China’s tool? The AfD had a terrible week, and more’s to come

Germany’s radical right AfD party is no stranger to scandals and strife, but this week has been remarkably bad, and there is no end in sight.

We know what they did last summer

The seeds of their current problems were planted last August when they drew up their list for the upcoming European elections. For a long time, the radicals within the AfD have struggled with the extremists, but the latter won out eventually, and this showed during the hustings. Most potential candidates ranted about “globalists”, “remigration”, and the “great replacement”, and a lot of those affiliated with the former “Flügel” faction were eventually selected.

European Union Flag

“European Union Flag” by theglobalpanorama is licensed under CC by-sa-2.0

Björn Höcke, the leader of this “wing” and arguably the most powerful man within the party, managed to place Maximilian Krah at the top of the list. Krah, a current MEP who is affectionately (by some) known as “Champagne Max”, had recently managed to get suspended from the ID faction over corruption allegations. Let that sink in for a second.

Like Höcke (who himself has been classified as a right-wing extremist by German authorities), Krah is closely affiliated with a network of extremists inside and outside the party. He is also known for his close ties with China and the Communist Party, which rub against the official party line.

Second on the list was Petr Bystron, who is currently an MP for the AfD. Bystron came to the attention of the authorities over his close relationship with the right-wing extremist “Identitarian Movement.” He is also one of many AfD politicians who admire Putin and Russia.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Both Krah and Bystron were controversial choices as front-runner candidates. Party members were particularly worried about Krah, but it was Bystron who first got in trouble. On March 28, the Czech newspaper Deník N broke a story about Bystron’s alleged involvement with “Voice of Europe”, a Russian propaganda network based in Prague at the time: Bystron, who was born in former Czechoslovakia, had been audio-taped and possibly filmed by the Czech secret service while counting money he accepted from Voice of Europe.


“Prague” by Ghetu Daniel is licensed under CC by-nc-2.0

Ever so slowly, new details about contacts and payments emerged, keeping the story alive for weeks. In early April 2024, the Public Prosecutor’s office launched a probe into Bystron’s behaviour.

Under European rules, Bystron can neither be removed from the list nor can he voluntarily step down before the election. The only possible attempt at a solution was that he would keep a very low profile, not taking part in any campaign activities. While the AfD’s national leadership was occupied with their attempts at damage limitation, Krah appeared rather smug about the whole affair.

China Crisis

Such was the state of play when on Monday (April 22), the Public Prosecutor arrested one of Krah’s parliamentary aides. The charges: spying on Chinese dissidents living in Germany and leaking documents and information on the proceedings in the European Parliament to China. This is not a good look.

Chinese flag

“Chinese flag” by Philip Jägenstedt is licensed under CC by-2.0

But things got even worse on Wednesday when it emerged that the Prosecutor had launched two probes into Krah’s behavior: one regarding alleged payments from China and a separate one regarding payments from Russia. While it is important to note that this is not yet a full-blown criminal investigation but rather a preliminary procedure that may or may not have further consequences, the political fallout is massive.

During a parliamentary debate on Thursday, MPs for the democratic parties accused the AfD of being a party of “traitors” and “false patriots.” Every last one of them (and all the journalists) had discovered that it should really nettle the AfD to be addressed as “Landesverräter” (people committing treason against the state), which is both a technical term and a brilliant insult that sounds almost like “Volksverräter”, a slur beloved both by the Nazis and by contemporary right-wingers. Media coverage is more or less 24/7.

From Russia, with love

And just when it looked like things could not get worse, another story broke on Friday:

Yes, you read that right: apparently the extremists need Moscow to write them a play book for their attacks on democracy. Just for the fun of it, I looked up the speech in question, which is indeed full of pro-Russian (and quite unhinged) tropes:

  • “Why do western politicians, media, international organisations, and civil society always pick on countries such as Russia, Hungary, and Serbia?”
  • “Russia and Germany are natural partners”, because “they have a similar national psychology”
  • Instead of working with Russia, “Germany is committing suicide at the behest of the Americans”
  • And finally, my favourite: “This rainbow empire with the USA as its core and the FRG as its most important bridgehead in Europe is the one that drives the destruction of the nation through mass immigration, the one that has declared war on man and woman …”

To recap, the gay American army supports Ukraine so that they can make our children trans. I see that how they needed a Russian consultant to gain that level of insight.

Doesn’t really matter

Will any of this stick? That’s a tough question.

AfD support in national polls has come down somewhat from the unprecedented heights it had reached in December. The party is currently polling between 16 and 18 per cent, which would still be a massive improvement on their 2021 result.

But even then, the party’s extremist connections and tendencies were relatively well known, and over the last two years, the AfD has done their utmost to burnish their pro-Russian credentials. And still, between a quarter and a third of their current supporters have not voted for them in 2021, but claim that they would do so in the next election.

So it is perhaps less than surprising that more than two-thirds of these current supporters are not at all fussed about the Russian and Chinese connections, whereas 75 percent of all respondents do. They may even support the AfD because they share their admiration for dictators.

On the other hand, this is still early days. The fieldwork for the Politbarometer poll was done on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday while the stories were still developing. Things might begin to slide next week. But then again, the AfD has survived all sorts of controversies, conflicts, and scandals. My hunch is that this will cost them a few points, max.

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