This sent 92 members of AfD to the German parliament (Bundestag), the first time since 1945 that a far-right party will have an organised group in the German assembly. On 24 October 2017, the 92 AfD MPs entered the Bundestag in Berlin,the building was rebuilt from the ruins of the Reichstag after German reunification by a British architect with a big glass dome symbolising transparency and democracy, on the very sight that saw the Nazis take over Germany in 1933 and that was later on destroyed by arson master minded by the Nazis.
As luck would have it, in 2017 the oldest member of the AfD MPs was also the oldest of all German parliamentarians. Parliamentary tradition normally called the eldest to do a short opening speech. For the first time since German democracy was introduced at the end of the nineteenth century all the parties (conservatives, leftists, greens, liberals), agreed not to allow this elderly MP to make his opening statement. Not only is he a member of AfD, but is also a well-known “revisionist” (claiming the “Holocaust” did not take place or, at least, was not of the amplitude accepted by most Historians). It is important to not generalize European right wing parties and narrow their beliefs to Neo-Nazism. Parties such as UKIP, although the furthest right party in the UK, does not echo these sentiments. From the moment a party accepts revisionists in their midst, especially in Germany, we move away from a traditional right wing conservative narrative and it opens an avenue for Neo-Nazism that is dangerous and, like in the 1930’s, gains momentum in times of economic struggle.
Many discovered that Germany too was joining this concerning trend across Europe of nationalist/populist parties successes. Why, of all places, could such monstrosity happen on the very site where Goring once said, “when I hear the word “culture” I pull out my gun”? In the words of Mark Twain, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”. These new parties are everything but new; they are old parties that are being re-packaged to fit a twenty first century rhetoric. New name and new branding does in no case equate to new ideas. This party may not be called National Socialist, and their flag might not hold a swastika and their ideas might be revamped to adhere to a twenty first century audience, but these ideas are far too familiar to German soil to be passed off as a harmless extremist right wing movement.
Reality and fairness call to say that Germany cannot be immune to what is occurring in so many European states. Seen from afar, Germany is a successful economy with budget surplus and successful industries. Yet if one takes a closer look, this macro-economic success has come at a cost. The massive reduction of social programs and the dramatic growth of so called “working poor”, with some earning less than €200 a month, have weakened the social unity of a country that rebuilt itself on a strong Cristian democratic/social democratic platform since 1945, to the point that this system was called Rhineland capitalism. Indeed, it was free market, but tempered by a strong welfare state.
The 1990s reforms led by SPD’s Gerhard Schroder and followed by CDU/CSU governments led by Angela Merkel have freed up and dismantled large components of the German social welfare. Where could that be felt more than in the former East German lands that formed the former German Democratic Republic? Derelict industry and a work force ill prepared to jump in a free market economy after dozens of years under communism were the first hit by the diminution of the German social welfare. It is, therefore, with no surprise that AfD’s best scores emerged from the former communist East Germany.
In addition, Mrs. Merkel’s friendly immigration policy towards migrants, “welcoming over 1 million refugees” from war torn parts of the Middle East, may have been perceived by some as generous (though the reasons for such policy may have as much to do with humanity as with Germany’s aging population and the need to import cheap,young workers). However, this generous gesture has been perceived by some as a threat to national identity in many parts of Europe and despite its history, Germany is not exempt from this phenomenon.
We should not forget that the generation that remembers the Second World War is rapidly disappearing. The last German chancellor that remembered war and Nazism was Helmut Kohl. Germany has reunited and in effect has resumed the course of its “normal” history. The great sense of guilt is vanishing, making it a country like any other. Feelings of social insecurity and perceived undermining of national identity are a poisonous combination that may ultimately lead to greater AfD victories. Alas, Germany is coming rather late in a long list of countries where far right/populist movements are growing and feeding on social and identity insecurity. This is true in Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Austria, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and France, so why not Germany? What is shocking is that this growth is occurring in the very country and very parliamentary chamber that witnessed the birth of National Socialism, which led to the deaths of millions of Europeans. It is crucial to remember this phenomenon is in no case new, that if we trade the 1929 stock market crash with the 2008 economic collapse, we can see strong parallels in the reaction of the population to these events. It is worth noting that this is the longest time that Europe has gone without a war, and these movements are a clear threat to the peace’s longevity. As November 11th approaches, we must remember all of those who fought, and honour their memory by making sure that the very movement that many died fighting against will not come back into power.
Edited by Phoebe Warren