Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), a far-right ring political group that has been steadily gaining momentum beat Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) party in elections on Saturday in the east German state of Thuringia. While taking 24 percent of the vote and doubling their previous standings, they still took second place behind Socialist party Die Linke and have no hopes of gaining power as other parties have refused to join a coalition with them. The occurrence nonetheless marks a worrisome rise in the populist, anti-immigrant party’s strength in eastern Germany. The AfD has already taken second place in both Saxony and Brandenburg in September.
When it was initially formed in 2014, AfD was situated as an anti-establishment party that was against the Euro. After the rise of conditions like the 2015 refugee crisis, the AfD has placed more emphasis on being against immigration as well as has sought to gain support in eastern Germany by appealing to east German’s citizens feelings of abandonment in the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The leader of the AfD in Thuringia, Björn Höcke, has been openly pleased with Saturday’s verdict. According to Al Jazeera, he is one of the most extreme figures in German politics whose anti-immigrant rhetoric can be compared to those of former Nazi leaders. He has described Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial as a “monument of shame,” has criticized Germany’s apologizing for the Holocaust, and has produced anti- Jewish rhetoric. Kai Arzheimer, professor of Political Science at the University of Mainze, told Jazeera, “When confronted with quotes from his [Höcke’s] latest book, other leading members famously could not say whether they had been written by Höcke or Hitler. The rhetoric is very, very similar.” The rise in the AfD, under his influence, is very worrisome.
Höcke is seen as contributing to the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany, as anti-Semitic offences increased by 20 percent last year, reports Al Jazeera. In light of the attack by a far-right gunman on a synagogue in Halle two weeks ago, the consequences of the rise of the AfD is very much felt and, in this case, deadly.
In response to the election, Höcke announced, “This is a clear sign from the people of Thuringia that things will not continue like this.” He went as far as calling the results a “small, party-political revolution.” In his mind, the success in Thuringia is not the final stop on his political goals’ train.
Other parties in Thuringia are now forced to form new coalitions in order to form a functional government. The classic center and the popular left might now need to consider working together in ways that haven’t been done before. It is either that or have a minority government of Die Linke, which would undoubtedly struggle to hold dominance.
The growing strength of the AfD should be a matter of concern, as it should be the case for every far-right group in every country. The AfD is especially note-worthy because of Germany’s past. Regardless, far-right groups often lead to the popularization of violence and racist offenses. Because of this, German politicians need to put serious effort in halting the growth of the AfD. A part of this is addressing the concerns that had pushed AfD supports in the direction of the far-right group in the first place. The most significant concern seems to be economic. East Germans have lower wages and pensions than those in the west. Also, west Germans are the ones that hold the most influential positions in government. These things combine to make East Germans feel like second-class citizens, swept under the rug after the wall fell. Politicians in the center and on the left need to consider new ways to meet the concerns of East Germans. If not, the AfD will continue to spread.
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