Extreme right racks up big vote totals in northern Germany

BERLIN – The Alternative für Deutschland, a political party that has called in the past for the shooting of immigrants who try to cross the border into Germany, racked up a shocking 21.9 percent of the vote Sept. 4 in the north German state of Mecklenberg.

The vote put the extreme right party in second place behind the Social Democrats, also beating out the nation’s Christian Democratic prime minister in her own home district.

Despite attempts at respectability, the AfD is far, far to the right. The party, although two of its leaders are women, opposes abortion rights and many of the rights women in Germany have won only after many years of struggle. It is describing Germany today as being literally under assault from Muslims and it opposes same sex marriage. The party demands cruel tightening of penal law, including for children and supports starting up of military conscription.

In a situation that parallels the rise of Trumpism in the United States, the Christian Democratic Party in Germany, like the Republicans in America, have laid the groundwork for making many of the extreme right positions acceptable.

Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party has long come out for strengthening the Bundeswehr, the armed forces of the nation. Ursula von Leyen, Merkel’s ambitious Minister of Defense, has been demanding more weapons with more advanced technology, and has gotten increasingly belligerent in both words and tactics.

She has been held back just a tad by some Social Democrats like Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier who is worried about party slippage in national polls. But the AfD, till now always ostracized by the others and with no immediate hopes of getting into any coalitions anywhere, says loudly what others may whisper. It demands that “the Bundeswehr make basic training more oriented toward war and foreign deployment … whenever German security interests are involved.”

The party is also demanding more financing for the German weapons industry. The only noticeable difference from today’s government policy of expansion of that industry is that the AfD speaks more belligerently and, recalling old-time nationalism, wants to weaken the close military ties with the United States. Germany must again lead the pack, economically and militarily, at least on this side of the Atlantic.

These issues are important on a national level for the 2017 elections, with Merkel, under constant attack from former allies, already weakening.

The main attacks on her are based on her previous support for bringing in refugees from the war-torn Middle East.

Although it has become more careful in choosing words and no longer demands the shooting of immigrants, including women and children who try to cross the border illegally, The AfD’s main attraction is still its hatred of all refugees, and especially Muslims.

Actually, the state of Mecklenburg,  like similar areas of Saxony upon which the extreme right wing has preyed, has one of the smallest number of immigrants and few real difficulties. But the AfD agitators, assisted by the media, have succeeded in arousing  fears of the “others.”

This development is especially dangerous because all leading parties but the LINKE (Left) have retreated in one way or another from that dramatic call by Merkel when she advocated bringing in hundreds of thousands of refugees.: “We can cope with this.”

Some still admire her words, but many don’t. For the first time her popularity has sunk below the 50 percent mark. She and her party were hit hard by the bitter defeat in Mecklenburg, getting only 19 percent.

Will the AfD continue its upward rise? In Berlin’s elections in two weeks it will get another good chance, and although it cannot get close to its Mecklenburg numbers, it will almost certainly get all too many seats in the Berlin legislature and in all twelve borough councils, thus winning many beachheads for future expansion.

One aspect of this is particularly worrisome and sad for me. Many of those voting for the AfD, in a very big turnout, were people who did not vote in past elections. They were less interested in an AfD program hyped to them in new, glowing flavors than in registering their disappointment and anger at the old parties, which seemed to be doing nothing to overcome abounding stagnation, lack of decent steady jobs, and a secure future for themselves and their progeny.

This is where the LINKE should be offering answers and pairing them with street actions, sit-ins and visible people-based moves for achievable improvement. At the same time it should be talking about what a better society would look like.

It is such methods, I believe, which brought huge gains and near-success to the remarkable campaign of Bernie Sanders in the U.S. and the enthusiasm similarly aroused by Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.

They called, with both facts and emotion, for resistance to the 1 percent who are getting ever more obscenely wealthy while poisoning the world with over-priced, dubious pharmacy goods, weed-killers, phony emission tricks and above all weapons for more and more wars and more and more refugees, from which they were the main profiteers.

The LINKE, as far as I know, has worked for local improvements whenever it had seats on a local or state council, but refrained from either calls to action or calls for a future, better society. It should have challenged all other major parties on this, because they all have betrayed their constituents and their promises. The gap they left open, which the LINKE should have filled, was stuffed instead by the loud-mouth, aggressive AfD, while the LINKE focused instead on joining up in more state coalition governments and, as a main aim, getting cabinet posts at the federal level in a Social Democratic-Green-LINKE coalition.

On the Berlin state level, after the coming elections on September 18, this combination seems quite attainable. But aiming at such goals means hurting no potential partner’s feelings, refraining from militancy, offering compromises, and thus losing any real reason for angry citizens to vote for the LINKE.

The LINKE is seen by some as being diluted into a slightly more leftish but much weaker version of the Social Democrats. So why vote for it?

And aside from Thuringia, where the rules may be different, every time the LINKE joined up in a state coalition it lost many voters and ended up far weaker than before. Will it make this same mistake after the Berlin election? Will it try for this same solution on the federal scale? And if so, what then?

Election Results: (In parentheses what they got 5 years ago)

SPD – 30.5 (35.6),

AfD – 20.8 (0.0),

CDU – 19.0 (23.0)

LINKE 13.2 – (18.4)

And, with no seats, since under 5 percent

Greens – 4.8 (8.7)

Free Dems 3.0 (2.8)

NPD 3.0 (6.0)

Photo: Head of far right Alternative for Germany, Frauke Petry, at a press conference in Berlin.  | Michael Sohn/AP


CONTRIBUTOR

Victor Grossman
Victor Grossman

Victor Grossman is a journalist from the U.S. now living in Berlin. He fled the U.S. in the 1950s in danger of reprisals for his left-wing activities at Harvard and in Buffalo, New York. He landed in the former German Democratic Republic (Socialist East Germany), studied journalism, founded a Paul Robeson Archive and became a freelance journalist and author. One of his books is available in English: "Crossing the River. A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany" (2003, University of Massachusetts Press).

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