Blog posts on the Alternative for Germany (AfD)

The Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD for short) is a populist radical right party in Germany.

Back in 2015, I published an article in which I argue that the AfD was then not yet a populist radical right party. More recently, I have demonstrated how how Alternative for Germany and their voters have changed from 2013-2017. Now, both fit very comfortably into the radical-right template. In yet another contribution, I show how the AfD differs from older extreme right parties in Germany, and how the AfD's rise has affected the Germany polity. I also have an article in German on the competition between Alternative for Germany and the LEFT party for the eastern German vote

The Extreme/Radical 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 particular place in the political spectrum. This makes the AfD's rise particularly intriguing for me. Besides writing long-form articles on the party and their voters, I also blog (too much) about them. Here are my most recent posts.

Dec 022019
 

Mit Dietmar Neuerer vom Handelsblatt habe ich ein langes Gespräch über die Neuwahl des AfD-Bundesvorstands geführt. Dabei ging es auch um die Rolle Alexander Gaulands.

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Nov 292019
 
A vast majority of Germans sees the AfD as a right-wing extremist party

For the radical right in Europe, Alternative for Germany is an increasingly unusual case

In a recent paper published in JCMS, I argue that unlike other German far-right parties, the “Alternative for Germany party” (AfD) managed to avoid being associated with Nazism. The strong presence of establishment figures that previously were (or could have been) members of centre-right parties acted as what Elisabeth Ivarsflaten has once called a “reputational shield“. Without such a shield, a party will be branded “fringe” or extremist, and many voters will be reluctant to support it. Also, such parties will find it difficult to recruit competent and presentable would-be politicians – an argument that David Art makes and illustrates in his fabulous study of radical right party activists.

In the JCMS paper, I also look at the trajectory of the Alternative for Germany. The AfD started out as a socially conservative/market radical “professors’ party”, then, within just two years, developed into a (mostly) bog-standard Western European radical right party. What sets the “Alternative” apart from similar parties in Western Europe, however, is its desperate flirt with traditional German right-wing extremism.

Back to the future?

The Front National (now the Rassemblement) recently expelled its founder and long-time leader Jean-Marie Le Pen because the old man would not stop talking about the Holocaust. The Sweden Democrats gave up the uniforms, then had a real purge of the old guard. Other parties like the PVV never had any connection to the old inter-war Extreme Right. And this looked like the way forward for the last couple of decades or so.

In the AfD, regional leader Björn Höcke can publicly trot out racist tropesattack the culture of remembrance and use rhetoric and ideas straight from the 1930s playbook without getting as much as a slap on the wrist. Regional leader Andreas Kalbitz was a member of various right-wing extremist groups and the former “Republican” party. Kalbitz also attended a Greek Neo-Nazi rally in Athens and a festival for Fascists and Neo-Nazis in Belgium. Not a problem. National leader Alexander Gauland, who infamously called the rule of the Nazis “a spot of bird shit” in an otherwise glorious history, thinks that Höcke is “right in the middle” of the party, and that Kalbitz is a “good man”.

 

80 per cent of Germans are suspicious of the AfD

In the JCMS paper, I suggest that this trajectory, which is fueled by electoral successes in the East and intra-party outbidding for the most outrageous positions, could not just bring legal problems (the offices for the protection of the constitution seem to be set to heighten their scrutiny of the AfD) but also undermine its electoral appeal in the medium term. Lo and behold: in a (very rare) instance of not being completely out of touch with reality, I may have gauged the public mood just right. Today’s Politbarometer poll asked citizens how far right-wing extremist ideas have spread within the AfD. A cool 41 per cent said “far”, and further 39 per cent said “very far”. For comparison, 15 per cent thought these ideas have spread “not very far”, and just two (two!) per cent said that right-wing extremism within the party did not exist. In other words: 80 per cent see Alternative for Germany as a right-wing extremist party.

80 per cent believe right-wing extremists are have spread far or very far within the Alternative for Germany

This dovetails neatly with slightly older polls which show that notwithstanding its national electoral support of 10 to 15 per cent, the AfD is by far the least popular party in Germany. About 80 per cent of voters would never consider voting for them. So far, the main result of the AfD’s ongoing radicalisation is not a collapse of its support, but rather a segmentation of the German party system. If you want to see the future of Germany, look to Flanders (minus the excellent fatty food, the quirky beers, and, well minus Belgium).

Nov 152019
 

Mit Dietmar Neuerer vom Handelsblatt habe ich darüber gesprochen, warum die Abwahl Stephan Brandners überfällig war.

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Nov 052019
 

When former leader Frauke Petry left the AfD after the 2017 federal election, she kept her seats in the Bundestag and in Saxony’s regional parliament. These seats were meant to form the base for a new movement/party she quickly set up with friends and family.

The Blue Party is over

Image source: Wikipedia

The “Blue Party” was supposed to become a sort of respectable radical right party: a potential coalition partner for the Christian Democrats and an alternative to the Alternative for Germany that was veering to the right. To put it in github terms: like her predecessor Lucke, whom she had de facto ousted, Petry tried to fork a previous iteration of the original AfD project.

And like Lucke (and Poggenburg), she failed. In the EP 2019 election (where they might have stood a chance because there was no electoral threshold) they could not run because they failed to collect the required number of supporting signatures. In the Saxony (Petry’s home state), they won 0.4 per cent of the vote in the September election. Ten days ago, they won 0.1 per cent in the Thuringia election.

This weekend, the Blues have pulled the plug: they will shut down the party before the end of the year. Petry will continue to sit as an independent until 2021 and plans to end her political career there and then.

The bigger story here is of course that for the first time since the 1960s, the German radical/extreme right is electorally united. The NPD (which had gobbled up the DVU) is in tatters. The AfD breakaways are toast. Everything else are just sects. That is one scary perspective.

Oct 282019
 

Mit Dietmar Neuerer vom Handelsblatt habe ich ausführlich über die das Ergebnis der Thüringen-Wahl und die wahrscheinlichen Konsequenzen für die deutsche Politik gesprochen. In der Online-Ausgabe gibt es das Gespräch im vollen Wortlaut.

Oct 272019
 

LEFT30.4%
AfD23.5%
CDU22.1%
SPD8.1%
GREENS5.1%
FDP5.1%

Source: FGW projection, 8:10pm

Why waste my life writing lengthy books that no-one is going to read? Why go through the pain of peer review? Why, in fact, wait for the actual election results to come in? So here is my list on hot takes on the Thuringia state election.

  1. Everyone is talking about the AfD, but the real story of this election is the Left. Bodo Ramelow was the first member of the Left to become Minister President of a federal state. His red-red-green coalition was defeated, but only because his partners lost electoral support. The Left’s vote share actually increased a bit so that for the first time since 1990, the Left has become the strongest party in a Land election. Ramelow himself is even more popular than his party and may be able to continue, either as a caretaker/minority Minister President or at the helm of some new (and very complicated) coalition.
  2. Single-digit SPD results are almost normal now. The SPD has always struggled in Thuringia. Now, the SPD has once more dipped into single-digit territory (after Bavaria and Saxony). A few years ago, that would have been unthinkable. Now, it’s not really a huge surprise.
  3. Germany is not yet the Netherlands, but we are getting there. Journalists and pundits still talk about the “Volksparteien” – the CDU/CSU-SPD duopoly – as if this were the normal state of affairs in Germany. But it seems unlikely that were are going back to a two-dominant-and-some-minor-parties arrangement any time soon. If the FDP makes it past the electoral threshold, there will be six parties in the new state parliament. Just like in the Bundestag, the Bavarian state parliament, and the Landtag in Brandenburg, to name a few. For the time being, fragmentation and volatility are the new normal.
  4. The Green Wave has not reached Thuringia. Nationwide, the Greens are still the second party and poll between 20 and 25 per cent. They have made some inroads in the eastern states, where they have struggled for most of the last three decades. Opinion polls looked moderately good for them, but in reality, they came dangerously close to the threshold. In fact, it is still not clear whether they will make into parliament. This does not mean that the wave has ended today. Thuringia is a small state that is in no way representative and was always a difficult arena for them (think lots of wood and history, few universities/cities).
  5. The most extreme flavour of the AfD remains popular in the (south-)east. It’s not a secret that the AfD is much stronger in the eastern states than they are in the west. Currently, a result in the 20s seems to be normal in the southern part of the former GDR, with some pockets were they go even beyond 30 per cent. The result in Thuringia is well within that range. The interesting point is that the AfD in Thuringia is led by a man who pushes the envelope of being a right-wing populist, a man whose rhetoric, policies and associates are more in line with traditional German right-wing extremism. Höcke has voiced support for rank-and-file members of the NPD when the AfD was still a polite bunch of Eurosceptics. He has spread racist tropes about Africans, has marched with Neo-Nazis and campaigned for a U-turn in Germany’s approach to its traumatic past. He infamously called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin a “monument of shame in the heart of our capital”. And yet, only days after a Christchurch-style attack on a synagogue, Höcke’s AfD won about a quarter of the vote. Some may have cast their vote in spite of him (he was not exactly popular in pre-election surveys), but at least fraction must have known what they were doing. Which is a very scary notion.

Sep 212019
 

The ‘Institut für Staatspolitik’ is a well-known far-right ‘think tank’. Their self-stated meta-political mission is to educate the future nationalist. The long-term objective is to achieve a stealthy transformation of German society. They have been around for a while, and there are books and chapters about them, written by people who study right-wing extremism for a living.

Their head honcho is one Götz Kubitschek, a prominent right-wing publisher who is well connected within the more intellectual sector of the larger right-wing extremist movement. He is an associate of Björn Höcke, who in turn leads the right-most faction within the AfD.

Höcke says that he comes to the Institute to dose up on ‘intellectual sustenance’ (yes, that’s how he rolls). It was at the Institute that Höcke gave a speech in which he claimed that Africans were, quite literally, ‘a different breed’ – one of many statements that, amazingly, did not end his political career.

Alice Weidel is the co-leader of the AfD group in the Bundestag. Weidel used to be one of those legendary ‘economic liberals’. Most of whom left the party in 2015. In this role, she wanted Höcke expelled from the AfD for his outrageous statements as late as 2017.

Now Weidel followed the example of her co-leader Gauland by speaking at the Institute‘s ‘academy’ for future leaders. Rumour has it that Kubitschek brokered an agreement between Höcke and Weidel. In a video that is making the rounds she tells Kubitschek that ‘it feels great’ to be there. Once more, move on: nothing to see here.