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<. And finally, here is a paper on a href="">why the AfD is much more successful in the East.

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.

Jan 302016
Everyone is excited this morning,  because AfD leader Frauke Petry suggested that German police officers should shoot refugees at the border if necessary (what ever that means). With the usual qualifications and rhetorical back doors, the party is happily channeling the vigilante spirit that has grabbed parts of the German public. Disgust and free headlines aside, Petry’s partner and political ally,  NRW leader Marcus Pretzell,  came up with the same clever idea exactly three months ago. Hearing these words from the AfD’s top officer may have a new quality,  but mostly, it’s sad old news.

Update February 2, 2016: Here is an English-language source for the backstory (Politico)

Dec 182015
Last weekend, a video of a speech that Björn Höcke had given at a New Right think tank in November was put online (gone now, but google it – there must be copies). In that speech, Höcke (originally trained as a history teacher), using a lot of jargon from biology, talked about African and European “species” of humans, who allegedly pursue different reproductive strategies. For the anoraks, that was nothing terribly new, but the general public was appalled by what boils down to pretty old-fashioned racism.
Just now, Der Tagesspiegel reports that party leader Petry tried to kick Höcke out of the party but failed to win a majority in the executive committee for such a motion. The irony is of course that Petry’s predecessor Lucke tried to get rid of Höcke a long time ago. That was before he was ousted by Petry, whose ascendancy was supposed to signal a shift to the right.
Dec 032015
Guest blogging at the IASGP: The state of the AfD 1
This week, I’m moonlighting at the International Association for the Study of German Politics (that is quite a mouthful). Click on the link below for the full text.

“However, it is still difficult to assess what kind of party the AfD
wants to be, and what they stand for. From its beginnings, the AfD has
brought together a heterogeneous coalition of right-wingers united
chiefly by their despise of the moderate right. While Lucke and his
associates represented a brand of social and economic conservatism
that was not too far removed from the CDU mainstream before Merkel
moved the party to the centre, Christian fundamentalism and the
interests of the formerly landed aristocracy (von Storch) and
UKIP-style euroscepticism (Pretzell) had their place in the party,
too. Moreover, the AfD proved predictably attractive to former members
of the NPD, the Republicans, and other extreme right parties, although
the party tried to enforce a ban on these. State level leaders such as
Höcke (Thuringia), Poggenburg (Saxony-Anhalt), and, more recently,
Gauland (Brandenburg) have re-discovered the rhetoric of the 19th
century Völkische Bewegung that pre-dated the Nazis, and are building
bridges to Germany’s New Right “think-tanks” as well as to Pegida and
other anti-refugee and islamophobic groups. In his stronghold in
Erfurt, Höcke has even adopted Pegida’s weekly night-time rallies in a
central square, where he and thousands of supporters group-chant
demands the government’s immediate resignation.”

Source: Kai Arzheimer- Germany’s new AfD party: state of play

Photo by Dirk Förster Guest blogging at the IASGP: The state of the AfD 2

Nov 302015
West European Politics has released a virtual special issue on (European) populist parties.

The collection brings together a host of articles that were published in the journal over the last 20 years or so, including some evergreens by Paul Taggart, Cas Mudde, David Art, Sarah de Lange, and other chums.

Disclaimer: My own article on the AfD is included, too, which makes me feel unreasonably good. Here is the link again:

Nov 282015
AfD party conference votes down exec's proposal on asylum, adopts more radical resolution 4
Following the meeting in July that led to a split of the party, the AfD is holding another party conference this weekend. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung


reports that the assembly has just voted down a position paper on asylum drafted by the national exec and backed by the new leader. Internally, the paper was seen as moderate. In its stead, the conference approved another paper that calls for what would amount to an end of the right to asylum. More internal strife lies ahead.

Nov 012015
Markus Pretzell, UKIP Fan, AfD supremo in NRW and newly minted sweetheart of the newly minted party leader, has a bright idea. In a public speech last week, he suggested to deter refugees at the German border by all means necessary, including the use of firearms. He has now repeated that statement in an interview with a major news agency. Here is the link.

Oct 222015
This week’s Pegida-style AfD march in Erfurt was a bit underwhelming, but Björn Höcke had a much bigger stage when he appeared in a popular talk show. It was probably the first time that a national audience was exposed to the more radical streams within the AfD. It was also the first time that Frauke Petry, the new leader, semi-publicly criticised Höcke (in an email she sent to all party members) and asked (ordered?) the man whom her predecessor wanted to remove from the party to take down his rhetoric a few notches. Höcke’s patriotic platform (whose support was instrumental for Petry’s election) has now launched a counter attack. Time for another putsch?
Oct 202015
A year after the “Pegida” marches in Dresden began, German politicians have come full circle. After first ignoring the (then tiny and distinctly local) group, they either branded them as neo-Nazis (Greens, most of the Left, most of the SPD), tried to engage in listening exercises (some of the CDU and SPD), tried to co-opt them (the local AfD), or, much later, to emulate them (the AfD in Thuringia). Then Pegida all but collapsed, and politics went back to normal. Media attention cycles moved on. protest march

With rising numbers of asylum applications since the summer, Pegida has rebounded – a bit. Yesterday, on the anniversary of their first rally, they could muster 15,000 to 20,000 participants, by far the biggest number in months (with a somewhat smaller but still sizable number attending counter-protests in attendance). Since Sunday, various members of the federal government have come out with strongly worded statements, most notably the Home Affairs minister who described the Pegida organisers as “hard-core right-wing extremists” (are there any soft-core extremists?). SPD leader and vice chancellor Gabriel, who was in the past the Pegida-wise most visibly ambivalent figure within the SPD, was a bit late to the party with a statement to the effect that Pegida had radicalised and was now “right-wing populist with right-wing radical tendencies”. People who care about terminology may shudder, but the sub-text was clear: Gabriel that he had been right all along to (somewhat) engage with Pegida in the past, but now they were beyond the pale.1

Either way, everyone agrees now that they are radicalising, and so this is bound to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as fewer and fewer moderates will contemplate joining the rallies once the elites are united in their rejection. This is a classic social movement trajectory (see, e.g. Koopmans’ 1995 book on the New Social Movements). However, as Koopmans points out, the flip side of radicalisation and isolation is often the emergence of a moderate, integrated wing of the movement that is accepted by the elites. In my book, this development is the one to watch out for.


1Incidentally, The question of what Pegida is, or was, exactly, has not just split the public and the elites, but also the Dresden political science department.

Oct 132015
In Dresden, the style of political conflict has plunged to a new low yesterday night when Pegida marchers carried gallows “reserved for Merkel and [vice chancellor and SPD leader] Gabriel” – a classic extreme right prop that nicely complements the usual rallying cries of “lying press” and “traitors of the people”. At first I was a bit sceptical about the authenticity of the pictures on twitter, but this one was snapped by a journalist for public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, who retweeted it, together with the backstory. It’s now another case for the prosecutor (incitement, which carries a penalty of up to five years – still better than a high treason charge, I guess).

With all the excitement about Pegida (they are back to 8,000-10,000 marchers each Monday, still considerably lower than the 25,000 they could muster in January), it’s easy to overlook that Pegida is still is, and has mostly been confined to Dresden and the surrounding area, which has a disturbing history of extreme right mobilisation. Outside of (southern) Saxony, the various -gida branch organisations quickly collapsed.pegida

But remarkably, the AfD state party in Thuringia is hell-bent to become Pegida’s structural equivalent, with thousands sometimes violent protesters marching the streets of sleepy Erfurt on Monday nights (as always, the Blick nach Rechts blog has the juicy details). That just goes to show that the Lucke-less AfD is still a pretty heterogeneous bunch, with powerful, largely independent state-level leaders representing different brands of rightism. In the case of Thuringia, the local leader seems to be gunning for that tiny spot just to the left of traditional right-wing extremism.

To end on a more heart-warming note, Frauke Petry (boss of the state party in Saxony and newly minted national leader) has informed the party faithful that she and Marcus Pretzell (ally, leader in North Rhine-Westphalia, UKIP admirer and formerly one of Lucke’s bug bears) are now officially “more than just friends”. Yet, while there is such a thing as too much information, there is no such thing as an unmixed blessing: In an act of apparent revenge, Petry’s soon to be ex-husband has joined the CDU and began tweeting pro-refugee messages.

Oct 102015
seehofer photo

Photo by Merkel's got 99 problems, but a trial ain't one 5

Yesterday, the AfD has filed legal complaints against the chancellor with the public prosecutor, arguing that suspending the Dublin agreement violates the section of the penal code which bans human trafficking. As political PR stunts go, this is not a bad one: It cost the party exactly nothing (anyone can have a friendly chat with the prosecutor, no lawyer required, no legal fees), made for a couple of incredulous headlines and so far gained them 13,646 likes and 4,616 share on their Facebook page alone. The prosecutor will at least have to have a look before dropping the non-existent case in silent despair.

Obviously, the CSU’s dervish-in-chief, Horst Seehofer, felt the need to up the ante and mumbled something about Bavaria challenging Merkel’s policies in the Federal Constitutional Court. His rationale (if this is the right word) is that the refugee situation is undermining Bavaria’s ability to exercise the (partial) sovereignty German states enjoy under the federal constitution. None of this holds any water (if you read German, here is a beautifully written article on the legal/political questions involved) but at least, Seehofer’s threat made the evening news, displacing the earlier headlines. Not a bad result if your aim is to out-AfD the AfD.