Friday, April 15, 2016

Germany Turns Right (VIDEO)

From Jan-Werner Müller, at the New York Review of Books, "Behind the New German Right":

Throughout its postwar history, Germany somehow managed to resist the temptations of right-wing populism. Not any longer. On March 13, the “Alternative for Germany” (AfD)—a party that has said it may be necessary to shoot at migrants trying to enter the country illegally and that has mooted the idea of banning mosques—scored double-digit results in elections in three German states; in one, Saxony-Anhalt, the party took almost a quarter of the vote. For some observers, the success of the AfD is just evidence of Germany’s further “normalization”: other major countries, such as France, have long had parties that oppose European integration and condemn the existing political establishment for failing properly to represent the people—why should Germany be an exception?

Such complacency is unjustified, for at least two reasons: the AfD has fed off and in turn encouraged a radical street movement, the “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West,” or Pegida, that has no equivalent elsewhere in Europe. And perhaps most important, the AfD’s warnings about the “slow cultural extinction” of Germany that supposedly will result from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcoming of more than a million refugees have been echoed by a number of prominent intellectuals. In fact, the conceptual underpinnings for what one AfD ideologue has called “avant-garde conservatism” can be found in the recent work of several mainstream German writers and philosophers. Never since the end of the Nazi era has a right-wing party enjoyed such broad cultural support. How did this happen?

The AfD was founded in 2013 by a group of perfectly respectable, deeply uncharismatic economics professors. Its very name, Alternative for Germany, was chosen to contest Angela Merkel’s claim that there was no alternative to her policies to address the eurocrisis.The professors opposed the euro, since, in their eyes, it placed excessive financial burdens on the German taxpayer and sowed discord among European states. But they did not demand the dissolution of the European Union itself in the way right-wing populists elsewhere in Europe have done. Still, Germany’s mainstream parties sought to tar them as “anti-European,” which reinforced among many voters the sense that the country’s political establishment made discussion of certain policy choices effectively taboo. Like other new parties, the AfD attracted all kinds of political adventurers. But it also provided a home for conservatives who thought that many of Merkel’s policies—ending nuclear energy and the military draft, endorsing same-sex unions, and raising the minimum wage—had moved her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) too far to the left. Since there was a mainstream conservative view opposing many of these decisions, the AfD could now occupy space to the right of the CDU without suspicion of being undemocratic or of harking back to the Nazi past.

The AfD narrowly failed to enter the German parliament in 2013, but managed to send seven deputies to Brussels after the 2014 elections to the European Parliament, where they joined an alliance of Euroskeptic parties led by Britain’s conservatives. With outward success came internal strife. Young right-wingers challenged the AfD’s professors with initiatives such as the “Patriotic Platform,” which appeared closer to the nationalist far right than an authentically conservative CDU. In summer 2015, most of the founders of the AfD walked away; one expressed his regret about having created a “monster.” The AfD seemed destined to follow the path of so many protest parties, brought down by infighting, a lack of professionalism, and the failure to nurture enough qualified personnel to do the day-to-day parliamentary politics it would have to engage in to become more than a flash in the pan.

And then the party was saved by Angela Merkel. Or so the AfD’s new, far more radical leaders have been saying ever since the chancellor announced her hugely controversial refugee policy last summer. At the time, her decision was widely endorsed, but in the months since, her support has declined precipitously—while the AfD’s has surged. Many fear that the German state is losing control of the situation, and blame Merkel for failing to negotiate a genuinely pan-European approach to the crisis. Alexander Gauland, a senior former CDU politician and now one of the most recognizable AfD leaders—he cultivates the appearance of a traditional British Tory, including tweed jackets and frequent references to Edmund Burke—has called the refugee crisis a “gift” for the AfD.

Others have gone further. Consider the statements of Beatrix von Storch, a countess from Lower Saxony who is one of the AfD’s deputies to the European Parliament, where she just joined the group that includes UKIP and the far right Sweden Democrats. A promoter of both free-market ideas and Christian fundamentalism she has gone on record as saying that border guards might have to use firearms against refugees trying illegally to cross the border—including women and children. After much criticism, she conceded that children might be exempted, but not women.

Such statements are meant to exploit what the AfD sees as a broadening fear among voters that the new arrivals pose a deep threat to German culture. The AfD will present a full-fledged political program after a conference at the very end of April, but early indications are that there will be a heavy emphasis on preventing what the party views as the Islamization of Germany. A draft version of the program contains phrases such as “We are and want to remain Germans”—and the real meaning of such platitudes is then made concrete with the call to prohibit the construction of minarets. It is here that the orientation of AfD and the far more strident, anti-Islam Pegida movement most clearly overlap...
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