The Spectator: The rise of the AfD in Germany explained
Katja Hoyer, an Anglo-German historian, offers an in-depth analysis of what drew most voters to the AfD and how Germany can move forward from here.
According to Katja Hoyer, an Anglo-German historian, recent trips she took to Germany have shed light on why widespread sentiments of unhappiness in Germany may have led to the rise and popularity of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD).
According to a report she wrote in The Spectator, the existing status quo appears to have enraged and disillusioned entire populations.
Earlier, at the end of May, a poll published by the Bild revealed that support for the AfD party has increased its popular base to a five-year high amid growing distrust towards the Greens.
Hoyer detailed to The Spectator that more Germans are now abandoning conventional politics. Recent polls demonstrate that the ruling coalition of Social Democrats (SPD), Greens, and Liberals (FDP) would presently receive only 38% of the vote, while the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) would take 19% on its own, more than any of the three existing ruling parties, including chancellor Olaf Scholz's SPD.
This is the highest the AfD has ever scored at the federal level in its ten-year history. Sunday's municipal elections in Sonneberg, a district of only 56,000 people in the eastern state of Thuringia, demonstrated how readily ideology may be translated into genuine political power.
Germany’s AfD party wins historic victory in local elections
In Sonneberg, Thuringia, Robert Sesselmann made the central state the first to be run by the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party after he came on top in a runoff vote for district administrator.
Located near the border of Bavaria, the district became a landmark according to AfD co-chief Alice Weidel, who wrote on Twitter that "Robert Sesselmann has made history."
Sesselmann managed to acquire 52.8% of the votes, the electoral office reported, despite the continued appeals to voters by mainstream parties to reaffirm their support for CDU incumbent candidate Joergen Koepper.
According to the author, instead of investigating why voters are seeking alternative answers to the issues they see – or what these problems are in the first place – the argument has focused on who is to blame for the AfD's success.
The ruling coalition, according to Dorothee Bär of the Christian Social Union (CSU), is mostly to blame, and notably the Greens, for their "badly drafted proposals." Ulrich von Alemann, a political scientist, pointed to the media and their 'campaigns' against the coalition. According to Michael Strempel, a political journalist for the German public network ARD, the main opposition is too weak to absorb the disappointment caused by their own 'inner-party struggle for direction.'
Hoyer states that while split parties do not win elections, it would be a mistake to believe that anger in Germany is only the result of infighting. The fact that over a fifth of people are now prepared to vote for a relatively new party with numerous far-right extremists demonstrates their lack of faith in the old political spectrum, in its capacity, and even desire to handle today's significant concerns.
All too frequently, displays of such worries - whether it's the growing number of public rallies in Germany, voting for fringe parties, or not voting at all - have been dismissed by the traditional parties. It was even considered an issue unique to the territories that comprised East Germany before the reunification in 1990.
True, the AfD is especially popular in the eastern states, where it presently polls as the most powerful political party and utilizes targeted slogans like 'The East Rises Up!' This prompted politicians such as Marco Wanderwitz, previously Angela Merkel's State Secretary for East Germany, to rapidly identify the AfD as an East German disease with no remedy.
Mathias Döpfner, CEO of one of Europe's major media conglomerates, declared that East Germans were "either communists or fascists."
Hoyer explains that this dismissal was both incorrect and harmful. She notes that in elections held in East Germany in 1990, the great majority of voters supported centrist parties. It was what happened following their 'dictatorship experience' that drove many to turn against these parties. Some of the most public protests in the former East now employ chants from the 1989 revolution that helped bring down the communist state, such as 'We are the people.' Many of the people who are upset today were upset in 1989.
A party for the people?
Hoyer adds that the rapid stride of the AfD could be because people feel it is the only way to exercise their democratic right "to make their voices heard."
Speaking to Nico, a 27-year-old carpenter from Storkow, the author details that he does not even see the party as right-wing. ‘They are a party for the people, for us as a nation. They want to change things and we need that. I mean child poverty, old people whose pension isn’t enough even though they worked hard for decades, and high crime rates that never seem to get addressed. The AfD should be in parliament because it’s against current politics, which clearly aren’t working.’
A friend of Nico's, Sven, reiterated that the party was not extremist even if they had policies he "did not like."
Hoyer notes that for some like Sigrid, a 65-year-old, populism is indeed the reason they like the party. She expressed concern regarding "mistakes in the country’s refugee policy’ and a government "that doesn’t care about Germany."
She also expressed discontent about the state's control. "They tell us how to live, which cars we should drive, what we should eat, and how we should heat our homes."
The AfD is not the source of, but rather a manifestation of, the broad sense of crisis. Hoyer concludes that finding ways to ban, or exclude the AfD from government, do not address the issues that drew a big proportion of the voters to them. As painful as it may be for lawmakers from Germany's major parties to listen to a fifth of the electorate who are now on course to vote for the AfD, they must. Assuming the electorate is incorrect betrays the values upon which democracies are founded.