Germany’s elections have proven once again that calm always precedes a storm. The Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far right party, has won an unprecedented seat in the Bundestag (German parliament).
The AfD is a refined pseudo nationalist party that ran on an anti-immigration ticket. But is this a win for the far right, or a loss for mainstream politics? In the past two years, Europe has been shaken up and stirred more than a James Bond martini in a London bar. If Brexit did not give an indication of what Europeans had in mind, the German elections solidified the old adage that business is not “as usual” in the Utopian European Union. A union self-proclaimed as somewhere between Pollyanna and a love festival; has ignored the slow growing tumor of electorate distrust, as it slowly and silently metastasized to a cancer of acute malcontent toward the political status quo. Social liberal parties that often run on activism rather than common sense lost big and directly or indirectly where responsible for the AfD seat-win. Angela Merkel’s proverbial wind was blown out of her sails when she allowed over a million immigrants, mostly north African and Muslim, to enter Germany; often placing them in make-shift shelters located in small villages unaccustomed to outsiders let alone foreigners. Merkel’s popularity as a hard-nosed politician that gave hard financial slapping to Greece, Spain, and Italy; rapidly shifted in opposite direction as alleged refugee incidents and radical Islamist terrorist attacks ripped through various German cities and towns.
AfD is an enigma. Top party dogs are Alexander Gauland, a former CDU colleague of Frau Merkel; and Alice Weidel, an open gay 38-year-old economist. An odd couple indeed. Alexander is a far-right die-hard nationalist touting traditional values, whereas Alice is a moderate social liberal woman who stepped out of the limelight after the election to have her fifth child. She is not exactly the poster child for far-right ideology. This unlikely synergy makes the party difficult to define. AfD stays away from the anti-immigration movement Pediga, and tries to disassociate itself from the National Democratic Party (NPD) (a re-branded neo-Nazi party) which for the past few years lost power, money, and legitimacy in main stream Germany. So why the angst? The nebulous AfD objective has raised red flags in Jewish communities throughout Germany. In a passionate Dresden speech to his supporters, Bjorn Hoecke, Thuringian’s AfD leader, stated unabashedly that it was about time Germany “moved on” from Shoah remembrance. Germany was being kept back and “crippled” by continual Holocaust shame, he bemoaned. Members of his party “tweeted” and “Facebooked” contempt in a futile attempt to distance themselves from his remarks. But alas, he has not been given the proverbial “auf wiedersehen” by his party.
AfD claims legitimate mainstream agendas besides immigration; but their traditionalist nationalist narrative is what gave them a “voice” in this election. Having lived in Germany for 30 plus years, I know that the majority of Germans have not shied away from their questionable past. They have managed to balance national pride with historic shame. Germans cannot afford a “safe space” from world opinion. This is obvious in places like Nuremberg, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Berlin, and the myriad of camps, memorials, and museums exposing the brazen German depravity of WW II and Nazism. We often forget that German Jews were the first victims of Deutschland Uber Alles! The Holocaust memorial in Berlin is a labyrinth of colorless silent stones reminding us of faceless horrors that defined the Holocaust. The museum next door makes a feeble attempt at giving the colorless stones voices and faces. Germans are not crippled by their past but strengthened in their resolve not to repeat it. Which is why they shy from any hint of Nationalism that might conjure up 1938 swastikas and hateful rhetoric. For 80 years, Germany has had to reconcile historic evil with tradition and culture. To be German in the 21st Century is to come to terms with the fact that your country committed mass premeditated murder on a scale beyond comprehension.
Germany is in constant flux. As the war generation gradually dies out, younger Germans seem to develop a mindset not to be embarrassed by atoning and accepting shame for their country’s atrocities. This generation embraces open borders and are adamant in banishing WW II bigotry, racism, and supremacy. Merkel took a gamble when she welcomed over a million foreign refugees to her shores, primarily because she was banking on a legacy of a new softer Germany. A Germany that is still a world leader to reckon with, but also a bastion of compassion and acceptance. Unfortunately the honeymoon was cut short. Reports of young German women allegedly assaulted by foreign men of North African descent took the media and Germany by surprise. The alleged assaults made global headlines when on New Year’s Eve, 2015, approximately 2,000 immigrants allegedly surrounded a large group of German girls and sexually assaulted them during New Year’s celebrations in Cologne. Pandora’s Box was opened. Reports of similar alleged attacks started to emerge with an insidious conspiratorial twist. Law enforcement was said to have been urged to suppress public reporting for fear of retaliation or an escalation in bigotry against immigrants. True to form: the populace was ticked off. The assailants were not run-of-the mill “immigrants”. They had not gone through any entry or visa process. German hospitality and compassion was being exploited. Even Germany’s three million predominant Muslim migrant workers of Turkish descent, found the sudden influx of North African refugees unsettling. Turkish immigrants that had long settled in Germany as “guest workers” contributed to the German economy and were eager to integrate and assimilate. They live in cities, towns, and small villages as Muslims in a predominant Christian country without strife or conflict. The sudden emergence in Muslim terror attacks and assaults put an unwarranted and unwelcome spotlight on their communities. Thus, the electorate grievance against accepting a million and a half “immigrants” while disregarding public opinion, crossed all cultural boundaries of voting Germans.
The European Union has morphed into a self-gratifying quasi-oligarchy that arrogantly imposed immigration quotas on sovereign states and ignored the tax-paying electorate. For five years, southern countries and islands bordering the Mediterranean were forced to accept refugees with very little EU support. Those who opposed were of course labeled with the convenient avant-garde free-for-all “racist” card. Countries already in dire financial state found themselves inundated with thousands of extra citizens economically deficient and demanding assistance. Germany, under the leadership of Frau Merkel attempted to demonstrate compassion through hazy humanitarian tunnel vision. Was this “racial” redemption by Merkel’s government to atone for Germany’s past? Was it perhaps a subtle way for Germany to flex its EU muscles? After all it was Merkel who imposed Greek austerity. But Germany could not harness its nemesis, Great Britain, from leaving the EU. Historically, the British were never enamored of “the continent” or the EU’s penchant for dictating policy. Britain loves being European, but loves being autonomous even more. Britain would not settle for the Euro and it sure was not open to EU dictatorship. In a heated referendum that brought out the true British spirit; Britons told the EU to fly a kite! Immigration was the predominant reason for Brexit. Go figure!
So enters AfD into the electoral picture. Germans were not given a chance at a referendum on immigration, so they opted to vote against it instead. A vote for AfD was a vote against Merkel’s immigration stance. They gave mainstream politics a kick in the pants. They voted against the burden of unfettered entry, and gave Merkel and the EU a vote of non-confidence. What next?
AfD has an image problem. Those who voted for AfD zoned in on the one issue that ticked them off the most: immigration. AfD voters sent a similar message to the other parties that have for years monopolized German Bundestag coalitions. They dismissed the rest of the AfD crazy rhetoric in favor of curtailing immigration. All three major parties to include the “Greens” lost long-held seats and power. Mostly liberal or socialist in ideology, they are now perceived as more amiable toward activism than German concerns. Is AfD a flash in the pan or is Germany slowly moving toward protectionism?
Voting is a freedom fraught with responsibilities and consequences. Sending a message to politicians is one thing, but are we always prepared for the inevitable outcome? AfD leader Alexander Gauland has made disturbing statements very reminiscent of fascism. Sensible immigration policies and an end to EU bailouts are reasonable considerations; but encouraging holding camps for deportees elevates discourse to another level of nuts. The AfD is very popular in the former East German states where communism promised social justice and delivered misery. East German states are still far from equal to their western counterparts. Unemployment is higher than the west and salaries remain lower. Why has Germany opened its doors so eagerly to foreigners but allowed the east to remain the west’s poor relation? Eastern German voters asked that question and carried most of the votes for AfD.
Although AfD seems to be divided between moderates and far-right; the latter are the loudest and most predominant. They justify their quasi racist remarks with seemingly legitimate political stands on family values and traditions. They appeal to those Germans who have worked hard but reaped very little in Germany’s economic boom. Merkel has her work cut out for her. She must tread carefully through a labyrinth of political compromise between the three major parties: her own, the Social Democrats, and the new kid on the block, the AfD. Germany and the EU are in for very interesting times. The natives are restless. First Brexit, and now Germany. The EU is a three ring circus. Merkel in the center ring whipping and taming the Bundestag into submission. To the right is Britain juggling all the nuances of a gracious exit from the EU. While to the left and in a futile attempt at submission: the EU cajoles and begs with the participating countries to walk the line. The EU needs to remember Barnum & Bailey: even the Greatest Show on Earth went out of business!