Analysis

Germany Election: What the Far-right's Meteoric Ascendance Portends for German Society

It's a safe bet that Alternative for Germany will make full use of its new parliamentary platform, and state funds, to push its hateful messages

Demonstrators protest against the nationalist Alternative for Germany Party, AfD, after parliament elections in Frankfurt, Germany, September, 24, 2017.  Banner reads: Frankfurt hates the AfD.
Andreas Arnold/AP

The bleak predictions have been borne out. Alternative for Germany, an extreme right-wing, racist and populist party that drips hatred and is full of contempt for “the system,” on Sunday became the third-largest party in the German parliament. For the first time in decades, the German parliament will be filled with dozens of representatives of a dark, scheming party, for which the rules of political correctness do not apply and whose base contains neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers.

It would not be a cliché to say that something serious has happened in the history of the new Germany that was built atop the ruins of 12 years of the Nazi regime.

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Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the world’s strongest and most popular leaders, will continue to lead Germany during the coming four years by preserving a moderate, stable and pragmatic line, as she has done with exceptional success since 2005.

But now “Mama Merkel” will be forced to lead from a weaker position, owing to the drop in support for her Christian Democrats party. At the same time, the collapse of her historic rival and coalition partner — the Social Democrats, which is headed by Martin Schulz — is also a harbinger of bad things to come for Merkel and for Germany as a whole. The German parliament’s two largest parties are weaker now than they have been in 60 years.

Alternative for Germany top candidates Alexander Gauland, left, Alice Weidel and co-chairman Joerg Meuthen, right, celebrate with supporters in Berlin after the polls closed, Sept. 24, 2017.
Martin Meissner/AP

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Against this background, the meteoric rise of Alternative for Germany, which will now be represented in the federal parliament in Berlin, in addition to the 13 state parliaments in which it already had a foothold, seems much more threatening.

It foreshadows a clear trend that will force German society to do some serious introspection as how so many Germans were able to give their vote to such a party. Was it the refugee crisis that turned off so many Germans, or was a general disgust with politics and the “elites,” as Merkel and her Bundestag colleagues are referred to by the extreme right, also part of it?

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The forecast is gloomy. The party that in 2017 won 13 percent of the vote and became the third-largest party in parliament could in 2021 do even better, and under certain circumstances could even climb out of the opposition.

This is the goal that the party’s exceedingly arrogant and self-confident leaders have set for themselves. They, who gloated at Merkel’s weakening, threatened to curb her and to chase her out of the Bundestag while paving their way into the government in the next elections.

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The next four years, therefore, are going to pose a difficult challenge for Merkel and all of German society. The dubious characters that AfD is going to send to parliament will make sure to exploit all the resources, budgets and platforms they will be given to continue to disseminate the party’s divisive and polarizing ideology.

During the coming weeks, months and years, we can expect to hear in the German parliament the kind of voices that have not been heard there for decades. The sky’s the limit for the party, whose members have signed on calls to stop feeling guilty for the Nazis’ crimes, to honor the memory of German soldiers who served in World War II and to examine the crimes of the “Jewish murderers” of the Russian Revolution. They have called cabinet ministers “pigs” and “enemies of the constitution,” they have likened refugees and asylum seekers to “invaders” and have expressed understanding for the mass murder committed by a right-wing nationalist in Norway.

It seems that coalition and opposition parties alike in the German parliament will have to work hard to present an alternative to Alternative for Germany.