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.
As (West) European election years go, 2017 was quite something. The French party system changed beyond recognition. The radical right entered Germany’s national parliament for the first time. UKIP was wiped out, but May still managed to lose a comfortable majority. And very high fragmentation resulted in a coalition that looks improbable even by Dutch standards.
Accordingly, my colleagues have written up reports for France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK, complete with beautiful maps. Who does not like maps?
But perhaps you’re pressed for time or not sure if you really want to read four (fairly short) reports? With the European Parliamentary elections on the horizon, I made a short explainer/teaser video about them to bring you up to speed in just over two minutes. I have a hunch that afterwards, you will want to read all four pieces.
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.
What is the “winter school” for Germany’s New Right?
This weekend, Alexander Gauland, co-leader of the AfD, will give a lecture at the annual “winter school”, a weekend seminar that is organised by the “Institut für Staatspolitik” (IfS). The IfS is a Wannabe-Nouvelle-Droite think tank based in Schnellroda, a tiny village in Saxony-Anhalt. Its mastermind is Götz Kubitschek, a far-right publisher, author and self-styled “New Right” intellectual.
Götz Kubitschek Metropolico.org [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Kubitschek believes in meta-politic: a conscious attempt to alter the meaning of words and establish new frames, to shift discourses and to form the minds of new generations, all in a bid to change the course of the nation. He and his associates borrowed this concept from the French Nouvelle Droite, who in turn got some ideas from the German “Konservative Revolution” of the 1920s and 1930s and mixed them, ironically, with a bit of Gramsci.
Their “winter school” is a crucial part of the meta-political strategy. It is run exclusively for people under the age of 35. Students pay just 60 € for two nights, including full board and access to all lectures. If they subscribe to “Sezession”, a highbrow right-wing magazine published by Kubitschek and the IfS, this is further discounted to 40 €. Getting to Schnellroda is definitively the most costly part of the weekend. But why is Gauland going to Schnellroda as a speaker? why is Gauland going to Schnellroda as a speaker? Click To Tweet
Schnellroda: Götz Kubitschek, the IfS, and the AfD
Kubitschek lives the Altdeutsch dream. More specifically, he lives in the local manor house, together his wife Ellen Kositza (also a far-right author) and their many children, who bear traditional Germanic names. We know all this from the newspapers. Kubitschek’s elite brand of far-right politics has attracted an unhealthy interest from mainstream journalists, who are occasionally allowed to visit the couple in exchange for half-gushy, half-disgusted home stories. Scientists are similarly intrigued, and there is a lot of research (in German) about the “New Right” networks Kubitschek and his ilk form. I sometimes wonder if his influence and importance are seriously overestimated.
Helmut Kellershohn: Das Institut für Staatspolitik und das jungkonservative Hegemonieprojekt. In: Stephan Braun, Alexander Geisler, Martin Gerster (Hrsg.): Strategien der extremen Rechten: Hintergründe – Analysen – Antworten. 2. aktualisierte und erweiterte Auflage, Springer Fachmedien, Wiesbaden 2015,
In the past, Kubitschek’s radicalism and elitism made for an uneasy relationship with the AfD. In 2015, when the party’s transformation from soft-eurosceptic to radical right came under way, he and Kositza applied for membership. They were initially accepted, but within days, the national executive, then still controlled by Bernd Lucke, intervened and rejected their applications. Nonetheless, Kubitschek is closely involved with the most radical Eastern circles in the party, whose members regularly attend events at Schnellroda. It was here, at an IfS meeting, that Höcke made his infamous speech about “Africans”, and it was Kubitschek who put a video of that speech online.
In his characteristically cringeworthy style, Höcke has praised the manor house as a sort of spiritual home for the AfD’s hardliners. In turn, Kubitschek and Kositza have attended conferences organised by the “Flügel”, the far-right network that is now under scrutiny by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), i.e. the secret service.
Leader of the opposition, leader of the AfD, keynote speaker at Schnellroda – all in a day’s work Original picture: Metropolico.org [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) via Wikimedia Commons
Kubitschek has also spoken at “Pegida” and “Legida” events. At the invitation of Matteo Salvini, he has attended a Lega conference, but he also has contacts to the neo-fascist Casa Pound and has even published a Casa-inspired book in translation. He is friends with Martin Sellner, one of the most prominent figures in the “Identitarian” movement, and works closely with Jürgen Elsässer, one of the most prominent figures of the German far-out-right. Kubitschek is no neo-Nazi – that would be far to vulgar. But he puts himself into the succession line of the “Konservative Revolution”, the young, revolutionary and above all anti-democratic movement that operated at the fringes of conservatism in the Weimar Republic and helped to pave the way for the real Nazis.
What is Gauland doing at the Schnellroda “Winter School”?
In short, the IfS’s “winter school” is a remarkable event for Gauland to attend, let alone to give a lecture. Gauland is by no means the first AfD politician to speak at Schnellroda, but as national co-leader and co-leader of the AfD’s caucus in the Bundestag, he is by far the most prominent one. Gauland has attended “Flügel” meetings in the past, and has repeatedly defended Höcke. But he is still widely seen as “bürgerlich”, because as a former high-ranking bureaucrat, CDU member and conservative journalist, he is a card-carrying member of the elite that has run this country for seven decades.
In a press conference this week, the BfV announced that they would put the Flügel under enhanced scrutiny, which can even include measures such as phone tapping. When a journalist asked whether this could also affect Gauland, the BfV’s president said that would depend on what kind of information they would come unearth in the coming weeks and months. In this situation, speaking at Schnellroda is either particularly brave or extraordinarily stupid. Either way, we have reached the point where, within a single week, we have learned that the leader of the biggest opposition party in the Bundestag a) may come under observation by the secret service and b) is the headline speaker at a notorious far-right gathering. What a time to be alive. the leader of the biggest opposition party in Germany is also the keynote speaker at a notorious far-right gathering Click To Tweet
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.
Das Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz hat sich entschieden, die Alternative für Deutschland als Prüf- und den “Flügel” sowie die Junge Alternative als Verdachtsfälle zu betrachten. Zu den politischen Reaktionen und wahrscheinlichen Folgen berichtet das Handelsblatt – mit etwas Input von mir zu den Auswirkungen auf die Wählerschaft und das Machtgleichgewicht innerhalb der AfD.
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.
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.
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.
The AfD and Bruce Springsteen. You would have to ask @BDStanley what it means.
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 Click To Tweet. 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, he Poggenburg kicked off 2019 by sending “patriotic well-wishes” to the “Volksgemeinschaft” Click To Tweet (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 he Poggenburg plans to out-AfD the AfD in the German East Click To Tweet 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.
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:
#10 Sampling from a Multinomial Distribution in Stata Who hasn’t found themselves in the situation where they want to sample from a multinomial distribution (IRONY KLAXON!)? It’s easily done in R. In Stata, you have to go through a few hoops. This short 2011 post is still reasonably popular, seven years down the line, because it tells you how you do it.
#6 A few thoughts on the framing of the AfD’s result in Bavaria In the Bavaria state election in October 2018, the AfD did actually less well than many had expected. But to the party’s immense delight, many journalists remained in full democratic-crisis mode. I disagree with that, for reasons.
#5 Three and a half Special Issues on (Right-Wing) populism. And then two more 2018 was a horrible year for the world, and hence a good year for Radical Right/Populism research. It showed early on, i.e. in January, with a number of special issues on the topic.
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.