Apr 192019
 

Update April 19, 2019

The prosecutor for Berlin is investigating the AfD’s treasurer over support the party received from the association-for-whatnot (see #6 below). Printing and distributing newspapers that are essentially campaign material amounts to making a donation, the prosecutor thinks – a donation that the party failed to declare in two consecutive years. The services donated were worth a “low six-digit figure”.

Update April 16, 2019

The Bundestag’s central administration, which is charge of state funding for parties, has ordered the AfD to pay a fine of €402,900, i.e. three times the value of the services received by Meuthen (see point #3 below) and Reil (point #5). It is likely that the party will also be fined over the donations to Weidel. The AfD had set aside a million Euros to cover for fines.

What is the matter with Alternative for Germany’s finances?

Just in time for the upcoming European elections, new details on Alternative for Germany’s donation scandals emerge. Yes, scandals is in the plural, and the wailing sound in the background is the of “fake news!” from the party’s faithful. So what is the matter?

The AfD loves to talk about the “Altparteien” (the old parties, i.e. the establishment, the spent forces etc.). This is in itself a nice show of political mimicry: “Altparteien” is what the Greens used to call the trinity of Social Democrats, Christian Democrats, and Liberals, when they rose as a radical alternative to politics as usual in the 1990s.

Money and the AfD

Follow the money

In the 1980s and 1990s, the latter two parties executed bypassing rules on party financing to near-perfection. As a reaction to this, rules for transparency have been somewhat tightened, and more importantly, enforcement has become a bit stricter.

Now the “Alternative” has taken a whole bunch of leaves from the old parties’ playbook. For your edification and because I’m losing track, here is a list of the top-seven financial scandals in which the party is currently involved.

7 8 financial scandals in which Alternative for Germany is currently involved

  1. Alice Weidel, the co-leader of the AfD’s parliamentary group in the Bundestag, is under investigation for receiving 150,000 Euros in 18 neat tranches from a company in Switzerland, which would be illegal under German law. Extraordinarily, the company claims that they merely provided a facade for illegal cash flows originating in Germany. As you do. Both Swiss and German authorities are on the case.
  2. Under a similar scheme, the AfD state party in North Rhine-Westphalia has received about 50,000 Euros from a dubious Dutch foundation. The party claims that they have returned the money later but failed to inform the authorities within the prescribed time-frame.
  3. There is another Swiss connection, involving co-leader and Spitzenkandidat for the EP election Jörg Meuthen. Back in 2016, “Goal”, a Swiss agency, has provided advertisements, flyers, design, and whatnot worth a cool 90,000 Euros. Meuthen claims that he only gave permission to use his likeness and was in no way part of the advertising campaign, which was paid for by 10 benefactors. In other words: no collusion.
  4. Last year, Meuthen finally presented a list of the alleged benefactors. This week, at least two of these have now come out claiming that they did not give any money but rather accepted a 1,000 Euro bribe for their name to appear on the official record.
  5. The AfD’s number two for the EP election, Guido Reil, also benefitted from services provided by “Goal” worth 50,000 Euros. The prosecution service has opened an investigation this week. Bummer.
  6. Then there is the long-running story of an obscure “association for the rule of law and the protection of civil liberties”, which has spent big time on advertising for the “Alternative” but claims to be independent of the party. If co-ordination between the organisation can be proven, the AfD would be fined heavily. It goes without saying that the association is also connected to “Goal”.
  7. Finally, it has emerged that Alexander Gauland is being investigated over his tax returns. While there is no Swiss connection and while this is primarily a private, not a party matter, it nicely caps of the list.
  8. Update: On March 28 2019, it emerged that Weidel seems to have received money from the same group of straw donors.

It is not easy running a law & order party. Especially the “law” part seems to be very tricky. Stay tuned.

Apr 182019
 

Weltweit steht die liberale Demokratie unter Druck. Die politische Extremismusforschung hat dadurch eine traurige Bedeutung erlangt. Die politikwissenschaftliche Einstellungsforschung leistet einen wichtigen Beitrag zur Extremismusforschung. Sie untersucht Attitüden, die offen antidemokratisch oder für demokratische Gemeinwesen zumindest problematisch sind.

Für das von Thorsten Faas, Oscar Gabriel und Jürgen Maier herausgegebene Handbuch zur Einstellungs- und Verhaltensforschung habe ich vor geraumer Zeit einen Überblicksartikel zu extremistischen und Einstellungen und verwandten Konzepten geschrieben. Wie bei solchen Großprojekten nicht unüblich, steht das Erscheinen des Buches seit knapp zwei Jahren unmittelbar bevor. Wer möchte, kann sich die Wartezeit mit dem Preprint verkürzen.

extremismus photo

Apr 142019
 

On the day of the umpteenth Not-So-Special Brexit Council, the stunning image of a super-massive black hole was revealed. In unrelated news, I live with two teenagers. So when idly trying to catch up on the less-than-stellar proceedings in Brussels, the headlines collided in my poor head. For posterity, here is some exclusive coverage of the incident.

A meme of Brexit as a black hole

 Tagged with:
Mar 162019
 

Germany’s carnival is supposed to be funny and political. Usually it is neither. But sometimes, there is a glimpse.

Mocked at Mainz

This is a picture I took at the Rosenmontagszug in Mainz, a major parade that attracts hundreds of thousands of revellers. The front of the float shows a pretty realistic AfD election poster (I did not get my phone out in time to take a snap). This is the float’s backside. The sign reads “it’s difficult to conceal”.

Dissed at Düsseldorf

And here is another gem from Düsseldorf: AfD Hardliner Höcke as Göbbel’s baby.

Jan 252019
 

Last weekend, AfD leader Alexander Gauland gave a lecture at a “winter school” organised by the Institut für Staatspolitik (IfS). The IfS is a far-right think whose state aim it is to form the future elite of far-right leaders. If you think that leader of Germany’s biggest opposition party being part of such a thing is a big deal, you’re right. The story got little coverage in Germany and no coverage internationally, so I made a 90 second explainer video. If you like it, please share it.

Alexander Gauland, co-leader of the AfD, headlines a far-right "winter school"

 

Jan 162019
 

Andre Poggenburg, a prominent hardliner from Saxony-Anhalt, has left the AfD. He has already founded a new party. What does that mean for the AfD and German politics in general? I’ve made a short explainer video. Or, if you’re not the visual type, you can read an old-fashioned post on the latest breakaway from the AfD.

The AfD splits again. This is why you should care

Jan 122019
 
AfD: split, not purge

Yesterday, Andre Poggenburg, formerly the AfD’s head honcho in Saxony-Anhalt announced that he had left the AfD and launched a new party further to the right: the “Awakening of German Patriots”. Before his fall from grace, Poggenburg was one of the more visible members of the party’s ultra-nationalist “völkisch” wing, which is particularly strong in the East.

Today, German public radio interviewed Klaus-Peter Schöppner, a well-known pollster, who claimed that the party could benefit “from throwing out the extrepmists”. This is exactly the spin the AfD is trying to put on the whole affair. They claim that they are getting rid of a problematic, bumbling character who would take his few and equally deranged supporters with him.

Don't believe in the spin. It's a trap

When you recognise the framing for what it is

Nothing could be further from the truth. Other leading members of the vökisch wing had sidelined Poggenburg more than a year ago over his gaffes and petty affairs. And these guys show no inclination whatsoever to leave the party. On the contrary, they will continue to shape the AfD in their image.

Björn Höcke, the most prominent of them, was re-elected as leader in Thuringia less than two months ago and is the party’s frontrunner for the state election in October 2019. Andreas Kalbitz became Gauland’s successor as state party leader in Brandenburg. Last week, he was confirmed as the frontrunner for the state election in September 2019. Jens Maier, the former judge who tried to silence our colleague Steffen Kaillitz, is a sitting MP. Hans-Thomas Tillschneider is a state MP in Saxony and will likely be re-elected come September. And the list goes on.

 

They cultivate links to the Pegida movement and to the Identitarians. They attend seminars run by New Right pseudo-intellectuals and dream of a “meta-political” transformation of German society. They were a driving force behind the AfDs’s metamorphosis to a Radical Right party, and it is unlikely that they will stop at that.

Jan 112019
 
Putsch in the AfD?

Putsch in the AfD!

This morning, I woke up to the news that Andre Poggenburg, former leader of the AfD in Saxony-Anhalt and former chair of the AfD’s delegation in the state parliament is now also a former member of the AfD. And thanks to @TheDanHough, I quickly learned that he has already set up his own party: “Awakening of German Patriots – Central Germany” (AdP). In other words, they are playing our special song. Once more, with feeling.

Putsch in the AfD?

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

Who is Andre Poggenburg?

The AfD began its life as a moderately Eurosceptic party to the right of the Christian Democrats. During its first two years, the AfD’s public image was dominated by men (mostly) that could have been members, or had in fact been members, of the postwar German centre-right parties. The gradual radicalisation of the party became more visible in 2015. By the end of 2015, the AfD had become a bog-standard Radical Right party.

The AfD’s transformation was sped up by circles on the very right of the party, chiefly based in former East Germany. As leader in Saxony-Anhalt, Poggenburg was a relatively prominent representative of these forces, although he always played second fiddle to Björn Höcke, who leads the AfD in Thuringia. In 2016, Poggenburg led a state-level campaign that was unusually aggressive even by the new standards of the AfD, and won their best result ever (so far): 24.3 per cent of the vote.

While most European Populist Radical Right parties shy away from traditional right-wing extremism and draw a (sometimes thin) line between themselves and those who openly campaign against democratic values and principles, the Eastern chapters of the AfD are remarkably relaxed in this respect. As early as 2015, Höcke voiced sympathy for not just voters but also for members of the right-wing extremist NPD. On other occasions, he has shown thinly veiled support for biological racism and has demanded that Germany performs a “U-turn” with respect to its attempts to come to terms with the Nazi past. Whenever Höcke came under fire from more moderate characters in the party, Poggenburg rose to his defence.

Poggenburg’s political positions and style are hardly different from Höcke’s. For years, the two men were allies, and perhaps even friends. But more recently, Poggenburg became a bit of an embarrassment, and his political star began to sink. His power grabs, his iron-fist approach to intra-party opposition and his chaotic, undisciplined leadership put off many party members in Saxony-Anhalt. As early as 2016, it emerged that Poggenburg, who was a small business owner before becoming a full-time politician, had not paid back money that he owed and had hidden from the bailiffs on several occasions.  In 2017 Poggenburg was accused of nepotism when it became known that the AfD employs his girlfriend as a trainee. All in all, he is not exactly a model law-and-order politician.
And so Poggenburg lost first his influence within the Eastern right-wing circles, then his seat on the national executive (in 2017), and finally, in 2018, his leadership positions in Saxony-Anhalt.

Trump on Poggenburg (source: https://tenor.com/view/no-one-loves-aloser-unloveable-loser-donald-trump-our-cartoon-president-gif-11428270)

His real problem, however, is that he lacks Höcke’s air of pseudo-intellectualism and does neither understand the concept of (im)plausible deniability nor the need for tactical moderation. In various states and at the federal level, authorities are currently pondering the question whether the AfD is an extremist party and should hence come under surveillance by the secret service. Such a move would not just be inconvenient but would put off many voters and would probably lead to a mass exodus of members who fear for their careers. Because of this threat, the national leadership is consulting with constitutional lawyers and has compiled a list of words and phrases that should be avoided because they are too obviously beyond the democratic pale.

Poggenburg baulked at this. He complained, without apparent irony, about a “lurch to the left” within the AfD. He began using a blue cornflower as his header image on social media, a symbol that was used by anti-semitic parties in Austria and Germany in the 19th century and became the shibboleth of the then-illegal Nazi party in pre-1938 Austria. And finally, Poggenburg kicked off 2019 by sending “patriotic well-wishes” to the “Volksgemeinschaft” (the community of the people)- a Nazi-era term that was used to legitimise first the exclusion, then the murder of Jews, socialists, communists, homosexuals, Roma, and anyone else who did not fit into the totalitarian vision of German society.

A couple of years ago, that might have been worth a half-hearted explanation (“I misstyped …”), but in the current climate, the national executive decided to ban Poggenburg from holding party offices for two years. And so the man left, then made his announcement, all just in time for a slow-news Friday and for the upcoming AfD party conference.

What are the likely consequences of this split?

Glad that you ask. The AfD has previous form for de-facto splits. In 2015 and 2017, the respective leaders left and went on to set-up their own parties: Lucke’s ALFA (now LKR) and Petry’s Blue Party. Ironically, both were self-styled moderates that broke with the AfD over its radicalisation (that they had furthered, up to a point). Poggenburg, on the other hand, is a true radical who leaves over the party’s alleged moderation.

Sometimes a flower is not just a flower

Three and a half year down the line, ALFA/LKR is dead in the water. The Blue Party looks pretty blue on the national level (could not resist – sorry), but may play a role in the upcoming election in Saxony, where it has a small parliamentary presence due to defections from the AfD. But by and large, there seems to be no demand for an entirely moderate AfD: voters can simply return to the centre-right, especially now that Merkel’s chancellorship is coming to a close.

Poggenburg’s AdP is a completely different proposition. He is aiming for East Germany (or Central Germany in his parlance) only, and heplans to out-AfD the AfD in the East German elections of 2019. That could work if Eastern voters were of the opinion that the AfD is indeed lurching to the left, selling out, etc., etc., etc. But so far, the AfD’s numbers in the polls look pretty solid. The Eastern state party chapters already operate to the right of most Western chapters. They have access to state funding that their parliamentary presence has earned them, they have party machines in place, and they have a cohort of reasonably seasoned politicians. Poggenburg, on the other hand, has all the experience of winning an election, then blowing it.

It’s early days still (the first day, actually), but so far, Poggenburg has only convinced two semi-prominent right-wingers to jump ship and join his new outfit. With this small team, he is mainly gunning for the small-ish group of voters that have previously supported the NPD. But even these voters might still find the AfD reasonably attractive and will be reluctant to potentially waste their vote. In 2019, the AfD is an established brand whereas the AdP, which has adopted the cornflower symbol, looks like a radicalised knock-off lead by a man who has previously overestimated his political capital by a considerable margin.

My colleague Hans Vorländer has speculated on public radio that Höcke might want to join the party (groan! enough with the puns!). Without doubt, that would be a game-changer.
But why would Höcke do such a thing? Höcke was instrumental in transforming the AfD. he division of labour between the AfD’s more respectable and its more radical/revolutionary wing has paid off handsomely for both, and the current national executive is willing to give Höcke and his associates considerable leeway. Not a single word of support for Poggenburg has come from Höcke in all of 2018. And so I think that this split will be as inconsequential as the last ones. But then again, I have been completely wrong before.

Dec 222018
 
10 most popular blogs 2018

A year ago, I wrote a slightly maudlin blog about the good and the not-so-good reasons for solo-blogging in this time and age. Good reasons or not, I kept up the good work with 35 blogs in 2018. That is a bit less than my long-term annual average, but Chapeau to my good self nonetheless.

But what were the most popular (used in a strictly relative sense) posts on the blog in 2018? Here is your handy guide:

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.