Germany trembled last Wednesday. For the first time since World War II, traditional parties used the support of the extreme right to forge a majority. It happened in a regional Parliament, that of Thuringia, and there was no alliance or future plans with the ultras. 24 hours later, the political actors promised to reverse the situation. Even so, the election of a liberal candidate thanks to the votes of Alternative for Germany (AfD) pulverized the national consensus of isolation to the extreme right and scandalized the country, to the point of precipitating the fall of the favorite to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In its relationship with the extreme right, Germany is not just another European country. Due to its Nazi past, any type of collaboration, direct or indirect, with the extreme right awakens the darkest ghosts of National Socialism and the reflection of "is activated in political psychology.nie wieder", never more.
Last week, the photo of the AfD leader in Thuringia, Björn Höcke, shaking hands with Thomas Kemmerich, the liberal politician elected with the votes of the far right, made the front pages of the German national press. Protesters on the street and on social media immediately showed that photo alongside another: that of Adolf Hitler's handshake in 1933 after being appointed chancellor and Paul von Hindenburg, president during the Weimar Republic. The message, also defended by Bodo Ramelow, the candidate of Die Linke (The Left) who won the Thuringian elections, is that any cooperation with the AfD can become the prelude to a new fascism.
But not only history explains the isolation of the ultras in Germany. In the AfD, unlike other European ultra-nationalist parties, the more radical current is gaining ground, which has its highest representative in Thuringia, the state in which the Nazis first entered a government in 1929 and is now doing it again. jump the alarms. Der Flügel (The Wing), is the most extreme current of the AfD led from Erfurt, the state capital, by Höcke, a politician who relativizes the Holocaust in his speeches and generates rejection even within his own party for his extremism. Der Flügel has been in the sights of the German secret services for a long time.
Höcke sparked intense national debate three years ago when in a speech in Dresden he referred to the Berlin Holocaust memorial. According to Höcke, "we Germans are the only ones in the world who have built a memorial of shame in the center of the capital." Defending a revision of memory policies in Germany, and in general of a History that the AfD considers to be too focused on Nazi crimes and obvious positive episodes, is part of the party's DNA. They twist their language to avoid crossing red lines, but they effectively get their message across.
"Höcke's tone is a problem for many members of our party," admit AfD sources, who show concern at the strength of the radical wing, but also remember that Thuringia is a very special case and does not represent the AfD in the rest of the country. "There is a debate in the party about how to avoid a division and how to avoid losing votes in the West due to the presence of people like Höcke", explained the same sources shortly before the last elections in Thuringia.
Beyond extreme cases such as Höcke's, Gideon Botsch, an expert political scientist in extremism at the University of Potsdam explains that “at all levels of the party, from the executive to the militants, there are people who are or were part of extremist organizations of right-wing or even neo-Nazis. There is a nucleus of people who know each other for their past in extremist and marginal organizations in the eighties and nineties ”.
When the AfD was born in 2013 as a party against the euro, it was not clear what would be the evolution of a formation, which housed extremists, but also liberals and conservatives. But the more moderate figures came out of the AfD and it was immediately clear to the other parties that cooperation would be impossible. “AfD has been radicalizing very fast. Now the party is controlled by Der Flügel. Whoever is against them knows that they will not be eligible for a position in the party, "says Botsch.
Jürgen Falter, a political scientist at the University of Mainz, agrees with the analysis. “Höcke thinks in terms of race. That makes it very dangerous and makes them not like any other conservative or nationalist party. But inside there are proto-fascist elements, it's not just Höcke ”. For this reason, it is relatively frequent in the German press that documentary evidence of the participation of local AfD leaders in ultra-demonstrations or in camps or events of far-right groups appears regularly in the German press.
Knock down the wall
German parties are also concerned about the disruptive agenda of a party that does not hide its desire to destabilize the parliamentary system as we know it. Wende 2.0 was one of the slogans of the electoral campaign last fall in the East of the country. They were referring to the peaceful revolution that brought down the Berlin Wall in 1989 and inciting the population to a revolt that overturns current political consensus. “They do not accept parliamentary democracy. They advocate for an authoritarian plebiscitary regime that they label as true democracy and aspire to combine a strong power and with the participation of the people through popular consultations, ”adds Botsch.
The veteran political scientist Gero Neugebauer adds another element, to which some politicians have alluded in recent days and which has to do with the attack on the German Constitution. “This party destroys the German party system that adheres to the constitutional consensus, which in its first article declares that the dignity of the person is inviolable and that establishes equality for all people regardless of their origin or religion. AfD says it prefers Germans to outsiders, ”Neugebauer emphasizes.
For all these reasons, and some more, the twisting of the sanitary cordon last week in Thuringia worries a lot in Germany, where historical comparisons, even at the risk of becoming inaccurate, have become a central element of the analysis. The editorial of Der Spiegel last weekend gave an idea of the alarm generated. "Democracies do not die overnight (…) and sometimes, as in Thuringia, Democratic politicians play a role in bringing down the system they represent." And he continued: “The representatives of our system ally with their enemies just to maintain their power. This is how it happened in the Weimar Republic, where Hitler would have had no chance without the collaboration of the conservatives (…) they thought they could use Hitler, but in reality he used them ”. Finally, they recognize that comparisons like the one above are imperfect, but can be effective as "a preventive measure."
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