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.
Blog posts on the Alternative for Germany (AfD)
The Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD for short) is a new-ish far-right party in Germany. 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 their rise particularly intriguing for me.
In 2015, I have published an article in which I argue that the AfD was then not yet a populist radical right party. More recently, I have shown how how Alternative for Germany and their voters have changed from 2013-2017. They now fit very comfortably into the radical-right template.
I also have an article in German on the competition between Alternative for Germany and the LEFT party for the eastern German vote. Besides writing long-form articles on the party and their voters, I also blog (too much) about them. Here are my most recent posts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- #9 How the Extreme Right became the Radical Right
was published only a fortnight ago. It’s a short blog on the intellectual structure and development of European Radical Right studies, derived from my recent chapter on this topic.
- #8 Quick and Fancy Conference Posters with beamer/beamerposter
is another evergreen (from 2011). If you bite the LaTeX bullet, you can easily create wonderful conference posters from your graphs etc. Here is how.
- #7 I have updated the bibliography on the Extreme Right in Europe,
published in April 2018, summarises the main changes to the bibliography that I maintain.
- #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.
- #4 I looked up the AfD’s women’s organisation on Facebook. You will not believe what I found.
I wrote this one on December 30 2017. What can I say? Sometimes, reality imitates art. You will not believe it until you see what I saw.
- #3 nlcom and the Delta Method
is another oldie. Written in 2013, it explains how incredibly useful Stata’s nlcom command is if you need e.g. standard errors for ratios.
- #2 Me at the Margins: Average Marginal Effects, Marginal Effects at the Mean, and Stata’s margins command
This one turns nine years old next year, but it seems to be useful as people keep coming back to it.
- #1 Update: How the AfD ditched Euroscepticism and embraced immigration
This is an update on a high-level content analysis of what Germany’s new Radical Right party posts on Facebook. It shows how the salience of Europe declined and was replaced by nativism and islamophobia.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Why did the Italian President use a half-forgotten constitutional power to veto Paolo Savona’s appointment as finance minister? Here is why.
- FAZ: Russia paid 25,000 Euro charter for a private plane for former leader Petry & two other AfD politicians’ visit
- An unnamed EU official said that the UK’s Brexit negotiators are chasing a fantasy. Not exactly an Official Secret, eh?
- Three months before the September elections, the Radical Right Sweden Democrats are polling in the 20 per cent range, while the Social Democrat’s new hard line on immigration proves to be a hard sell. Will they ever learn?
Bonus track: Here is another demotivational quote from the Stata handbook:
Update February 5, 2018
In March 2017, I posted a graph which shows how the AfD’s Facebook posts moved away from euroscepticism and Greece-bashing towards immigration and Islamophobia. But trends can change, and local regression smoothers have a habit of behaving strangely at the borders. So I downloaded another year’s worth of Facebook posts and reran the scripts:
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the new graph confirms for 2017 what we have seen for 2016: Muslims and immigrants are all the rage, whereas the Euro crisis is so 2014. I leave the old graph/post below as is for comparison.
What’s the matter with Höcke?
A party tribunal in his home state of Thuringia has ruled that Björn Höcke has not violated the party’s fundamental principles in his so-called “Dresden speech“. In January 2017, Höcke had demanded a “U-turn” in German memory politics, which he deemed “stupid”. In the same speech, Höcke called the Berlin Holocaust memorial “a monument of shame” that Germans had installed in their capital. He later claimed that “shame” had been a reference to the Holocaust, not to the monument, although this interpretation would contradict everything else he said on this occasion.
The old party executive under Frauke Petry had asked for Höcke to be expelled on the grounds that his views were akin (“wesensverwandt”, a judicial term) to National Socialism, and that his behaviour had been harmful to the party. Even then, the motion was controversial and may have contributed to Petry’s downfall.
In theory, the national executive has four weeks to appeal the tribunal’s decision and take the case to the federal party court. In practice, this is not going to happen. Gauland, and Meuthen, the new party leaders, have come out to support Höcke in the past. The AfD’s hard right is well-represented in the new executive, and while his views may not (yet) be mainstream, Höcke’s ability to speak to the ultra right is widely seen as an asset. In all likelihood, the leadership will just keep shtum and let it lie. Both Lucke and Petry have tried and failed to oust Höcke, and Höcke was instrumental in bringing down both. The tribunal’s ruling formally confirms his ongoing role as an
evil spirit eminence grise.