Who's afraid of the AfD?
Yesterdays saw elections in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern return a 20.8% share of the vote for the AfD, allowing newspapers and media outlets to dust off and print various candid images of Angela Merkel looking stressed and/or defeated. Having seen so many of these images, I'm beginning to think Merkel should simply spend her time in public smiling and gurning like a maniac. This would at least insure when shit hits the fan she won't be subjected to front pages that appear to show her receiving news that her dog was run over with a steam roller.
What is the impact of the result? Well, essentially AfD remain outside the tent pissing in, but they do take up the position of opposition to the SPD who have taken 30.6% of the vote. Equally, analysts are suggesting that this might be an early indication of results in federal elections next year, with some going as far as to say that AfDs representation in the Bundestag is a forgone conclusion.
Furthermore, the CDU were left reeling from the result, having fallen behind the AfD with 19.0% of the vote, with journalists indicating that Merkel's open door policy with regard to refugees being to blame. Yet, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is a small state, despite being within Merkel's constituency and the percentage shifts are equally small. The question therefore is: why panic?
Well,there are a number of reasons, but perhaps not the ones the newspapers are running with. My biggest worry is that Mecklenburg-Vorpommern actually has a quite small amount of immigrants, suggesting that fear of immigration is becoming a more powerful weapon of the right than actual immigration. Equally, it appears that the traditional parties, of which I include the Greens and far left, seem to be failing to address these concerns in their rhetoric or even their polices. This is perhaps the biggest issue.
Ukip in Britain, despite winning some level of control in local government, only ever had one MP in parliament. It's leader, Nigel Farage only ever managed to gain a seat in the European parliament via elections that are notorious for there low voter turnout. What they did succeed in doing was motivating the Conservative party to look to it's right wing fringe and court votes by, among other policies, promising a EU referendum. Although I doubt the CDU and Merkel would consider offering this option to the electorate, we should be concerned that she may look to placate the more radical right, often represented by the sister party of the CDU, the CSU in Bavaria by offering concessions.
It is also clear the Frauke Petry and the AfD are following the political blue print of UKIP, trying to present an acceptable face of the right wing and capture the votes of people who are scared of immigration and fearful of their culture. If I was German, I would be very concerned by this, especially considering the impact Farage and Ukip had on the recent referendum, the lies and xenophobia they used and the apparent willingness to jump ship once the cracks began to appear in the the hull of HMS Brexit. Fears might also be further compounded by the fact that Farage was more than happy to stand next to Donald Trump at the latter's rally in Mississippi, delivering a speech that displayed the lengths and breadths of ignorance and logical gymnastics that are often required to vote for someone as vile as Farage.
Petry certainly isn't Trump or Farage, but she could be similarly ruinous as them. Her dog whistle politics and desire to return Germany to an imagined past certainly sounds very similar. However, in comparison to her American and British contemporaries, her argumentation is more complex, yet still heavy handed. For example, her criticism of immigration and refugees by twisting Germany's relationship with its history. Suggesting that Islam in Germany is fragmenting Europe, requiring Germany to reignite a new level of patriotism as a check to both the Islam and EU centralisation. This is prevented by politicians who are “wrapping themselves in the cloak of guilt” over the past and making decisions out of a sense of duty to their guilt to welcome immigrants and grow closer to the EU. It is because of this that nationalism and patriotism is lumped together and criticised as the same thing. In an interview with Spiegel, Petry uses a statement by Charlotte Knobloch (former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany) who stated Germany should not be “equating guilt and responsibility”. Surely it's interesting, considering her point about German guilt, that Petry needs to use a Jewish leader to get her point across.
In my experience, Germany is not a country of guilt, but it does remember. Germany is the antidote to those countries who attempt to avoid the darker aspects of their histories. Having lived in the UK, much of the history we are taught in School and in museums glorifies our imperial past, ignoring the many darker aspects. America too spends far too much time revelling in it's supposed greatness and exceptionlism, while ignoring its past and present problems. Germany by contrast knows history, and confronts it and at the same time is strengthened by it.
If the AfD are to be defeated or at the least subdued, their opponents need to confront Petry and her colleagues head on. We avoided this in the UK and we paid the price. In the US they spend far too much time giving air time to objectionable views. I believe vehemently in freedom of speech, but to treat xenophobes and veiled racism as simply the other side of the argument is incorrect. We don't need to shake hands with the AfD, but we need to debate their points, in short the traditional parties need to start discussing immigration in an adult way. We need to use facts and information and prevent the twisting and lies that protégées of Farage and Trump will always try to use.