May 082020
 
On May the 8th 1945, the Wehrmacht surrendered, bringing the war in Europe and the terror reign of the Nazis to an end.1 40 years later, then-president Richard von Weizsäcker, himself a former officer of the Wehrmacht and a scion of the same Prussian gentry that for centuries has supplied the army with cadets, kicked a hornets’ nest by calling it “a day of liberation”.2 While the “liberation” angle seems rather obvious, it was revolutionary at the time, especially coming from a (liberal-minded) member of the CDU.

Since then, the debate in Germany’s editorials has never fully stopped. While “liberation” has been the dominant narrative for a while, there are still conservative holdouts that point to the military defeat and ensuing loss of territory.

An initiative to make May 8 a national holiday on its 75th anniversary has come to naught. In a statement that resonates with Trumpian “good people on both sides”, Alexander Gauland, the AfD’s godfather, pointed out that May 8 “is ambivalent. It was a day of liberation for the inmates of concentration camps. But it was also a day of utter defeat …”. Think about this, and the implications, for a second.

In 2020, 77 per cent of Germans see the end of the war as liberation, only five per cent think of it as defeat

Survey data (infratest dimap) on Germans’ views of the end of the war in Europe

Somewhat surprisingly, the general public has moved on from this stale debate a while ago. A survey by infratest dimap shows that like in 2005, more than 75 per cent of the population see May 8 as liberation, while a mere 5 per cent think of defeat, with the rest being ambivalent or not willing/able to answer the question.

The breakdown by party supporters is striking, but not really surprising: more than 30 per cent of the AfD’s supporters see the end of the war as a defeat, for all other parties, this number is in the low single figures. I leave the fact that the FDP has by far the highest number of ambivalents as an exercise for the reader.

Footnotes:

1Incidentally, it is also our wedding anniversary, but that is probably besides the point.

2Were it not inappropriate, you might even say he caught a lot of flack.

Apr 222020
 
A year ago, Sofia Porcarelli, a student at Occidental College, approached me because she was making a documentary movie about the far right in Germany. That’s way more interesting than a plain old thesis, right? Right. So I was very happy to be interviewed as one of her sources.

Today, I’m even happier to report that Sofia has shared the final product on youtube. Very chuffed, obviously.

Creating Fear: The Rise of the Right Wing in Germany
Watch this video on YouTube.

 

Mar 312020
 
MPs under investigation, dying in Germany, quanteda goes 2.0, and academic chapters: 4 links I liked 1
Germany’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution (i.e. the spooks) begins to build dossiers on 3 sitting MPs for the AfD. All of them are prominent members of the most radical faction within the party (in German)

In a landmark ruling, Germany’s highest court declares ban on assisted suicide unconstitutional. Judges say right to end one’s life is fundamental, so assistance can’t be illegal. Germany’s top court paves the way for assisted suicide. Neatly dovetails with my research on bioethical attitudes and legislative behaviour in Germany.

This looks great: version 2.0 of quanteda is ready.

Excellent advice: using social media and open access can radically improve the academic visibility of chapters in edited books.

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.

A vast majority of Germans sees the AfD as a right-wing extremist party 2

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 242019
 
California vs Russia, Ukrainian bribery, Mr P comes to Little Britain, false flag attack in Germany, and the fire-hose of anti-vaxx lies: 5 links I liked 3
Over at Crooked Timber, John Quiggin asks an odd yet interesting question: Would Republican voters rather live under a government like that of Russia, or one like that of California?

Barbara McQuade, an actual law professor and former US attorney, argues that what the testimonies from the impeachment hearings add up to bribery.

Still not sure if I really get how it works (there is always the original Gelman piece), but here is a useful primer to “Mr P” and its application to the upcoming General election in the UK

In Germany, a soldier who planned a (false flag) far-right terror attack is to stand trial. Just as scary as his plan is that the magistrate court wanted to dismiss his case. Thankfully, the federal prosecutor appealed to the high court, which ordered their colleagues further down the food chain to begin proceedings. This is very scary, and woefully under-reported.

Why do some political actors spout obvious lies? There is a Rand paper on Russian propaganda which claims that this is a deliberate strategy. And this article in the Guardian applies the idea to anti-vaxxers. Fun fact/bonus track: this is what I see in position 0 (i.e. before any hits) when I type “he spouts lies” into Google.

Trump spouts lies

Nov 032019
 
For all its (perceived) shortcomings, to me the BBC remains the epitome of all that is good and great about public radio. This is why I always find it exciting, exhilarating and also slightly scary to talk to them.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to chat with Carolyn Quinn on the PM show about the city of Dresden declaring a “Nazi emergency”. If you can’t get enough of my dulcet voice, you can listen in below for the next 30 days (I’m on from 17:50). Or you can click here for a bootlegged excerpt of the interview that I preserved for eternity (or rather for as long as the lease for my server runs).

Oct 272019
 
5 quick hits on the state election in Thuringia 4

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 012019
 
Regional support (district level) for the AfD in the EP 2019 election
Today’s elections in Brandenburg & Saxony are sending a new set of shock waves through German politics. Here are some quick thoughts.

  1. The AfD polled about 28 per cent in Saxony, their best result yet. Saxony is truly the AfD’s heartland.
  2. The AfD did also well in Brandenburg. In both states, they are led and dominated by members of the “Flügel”, the most radical faction within an increasingly radical party. When the eastern states voted five years ago, it was not even clear that they were radical populists. Now, the links to right-wing extremist organisations and policies are becoming clearer and clearer
  3. Recall-question based models of voter flows are the work of the devil. But the estimates published by the big pollsters suggest that like in 2016, the AfD managed to mobilise a very large number of former no-voters ans hence benefitted from the massive increase in turnout. So that’s democracy at work, I guess.
  4. Even in their heartland, the AfD topped out below 30 per cent. I have zero hard evidence / strong theory for that, empirically, that seems to be about the maximum that these parties can achieve in Western Europe.
  5. Accordingly, they should not get more than a quarter of the total attention. So here is the other, totally underreported story of this election: for the Greens, the German East used to be a wasteland. But now they are in double digit territory and might well end up in government in both states.
  6. The SPD, on the other hand, made it barely beyond the threshold in Saxony. For once, I’m lost for words.
  7. The Left, formerly the eastern party, has also lost big in both states. And yet, if one counts the left parties as a bloc, there seems to be a left majority in Brandenburg that may form a coalition.
  8. In terms of electoral behaviour, the overall story is one of fragmentation and volatility. And for once, the East is the avant-garde: this is where Germany as a whole is headed.
  9. And yet in both states, the parties that have dominated them for the last three decades, the SPD in Brandenburg and the CDU in Saxony, came out top. Their support is much reduced and this might be their respective last hurrah, but still.
Jul 042019
 
Right-wing terrorism in Germany often goes unnoticed. Politicians, state agencies, the media, and the general public grossly underestimate the size of the problem. But after the murder of a centre-right politician, all of the sudden this is a big issue for German and international media. And so I got to talk to the BBC’s Newshour program at length. Tune in!

 

May 272019
 
Regional support for the
The AfD was founded near Germany’s financial centre of gravity (Frankfort) by members of the old western elites. But early on, the eastern states of Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thuringia became important for the further development of the party. It was here, during the 2014 state election season, that the AfD began to toy (very reluctantly at first) with anti-Muslim sentiment. And the ensuing radicalisation of the AfD was pushed by leaders from these three states (Gauland, Höcke, and Petry).

Lokale Hochburgen (Wahlbezirke) von AfD und Linkspartei, 2017

Lokale Hochburgen (Wahlbezirke) von AfD und Linkspartei, 2017. Click for larger version.

In the process, the south-east of the former GDR has become the AfD’s heartland. When Andre Poggenburg, another hardliner, broke away over the AfD’s alleged compromises (and his personal finances and conduct), he set up a new party for “Mitteldeutschland” – the ill-defined and sometimes ill-reputed part at the south-eastern edge of the country.

In the 2017 federal election, the AfD did extraordinarily well here. Most of the wards in which the AfD is the dominant party can be found in this corner of Germany.

Regional support (district level) for the AfD in the EP 2019 election

Regional AfD support in the EP 2019. Made with this excellent tool created by the electoral commission Click for larger version.

The results of yesterday’s European election are similarly revealing. While their national performance – almost two points below their 2017 national result – must look disappointing from their point of view, they polled up to 33 per cent in some of the south-eastern districts, making them by far the strongest party. And the next round of voting (and government formation) in Brandenburg, Saxony, and Thuringia will be interesting, to say the least. If the cordon sanitaire holds, it could result in truly awkward coalitions. And if it doesn’t, all bets are off.

But quite apart from these more practical consequences, such levels of disparity are quite something to behold.