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Germany

Activists try to sabotage AfD funding as populists rise in polls

Left-leaning activists have taken to the Internet to manipulate PayPal in a bid to make right-wing populists the AfD lose money. Despite the cash crunch, the euroskeptics were experiencing a boost in opinion polls.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party had, in some respects, a very bad week. On Friday, the Internet was buzzing about the attempts to undermine the new fundraising campaign of the country's right-wing euroskeptics. Just a week earlier, a new law cut out their main source of revenue, forcing them to depend on supporters' donations.

The scheme was cooked up by "The Party," a satirical apolitical party and several anti-fascist groups. The idea is simple: under online payment system PayPal's terms, a fee of between 0.9 and 1.9 percent is charged to the recipient, on top of a charge of between 25 to 35 cents. In theory that means small-change donations - up to 10 eurocents ($0.11) - would actually cost the AfD money.

The AfD, whose anti-mass-migration policies have

marked a rightward shift

in the political spectrum since ousting founder Bernd Lücke earlier this year shrugged the matter off. Spokesman Christian Lüth told DW "it's not a problem for us at all. We've already raised 700,000 euros. ($770,000) These anti-fascist groups had their joke, but it was relatively few donations and didn't do us any harm."

No more online gold

AfD's cash crunch came after a law put forward by the German government last week meant parties could no longer use "artificial profits," such as the gold-selling operation the AfD has used it the past to finance itself, to reach a revenue bracket that makes them eligible for 2 million euros ($2.2 million) in state funding.

In Germany, when a political party manages to hit the 2 million mark in donations from supporters, the government matches the amount. For larger, more established parties, this doesn't create a problem. But for the AfD, which only rose to prominence in 2013, it presented more of a challenge.

This prompted them to make up the difference with an online gold shop, encouraging supporters to pay slightly higher than bank rates for the precious metal, which the party saw as a safe alternative to financing the euro currency it seeks to abolish.

With that source of income gone, the party now needs to raise 2 million euros by the end of 2015.

Lüth told DW he believed the law was part of a concerted effort from the "bigger parties who want to keep everything for themselves" to "kick us out of government."

Rising in the east

While the AfD may have been hurting at the bank, that seems to have no effect on its polling numbers, which are in fact on the rise, particularly in their east German stronghold.

A survey released this week by the Forsa Institute showed that the populists had jumped two percentage points in a single week to bring support up to 16 percent in eastern Germany, and 10 percent in Bavaria.

The success of the AfD is "first and foremost because of the debate over the so-called 'refugee crisis'," Matthias Quent, an expert on right-wing movements with the University of Jena in eastern Germany, said in an interview with DW.

AfD Bundesparteitag

The Euroskeptics are highly critical of Merkel's open-door policy to refugees

"The AfD has made a high profile for themselves in comparison with the [ruling] CDU [Christian Democrats], which has been representing the conservative side of the political spectrum less and less,

particularly under Chancellor Merkel

, who is not representing traditional conservative values when it comes to refugees," said Quent.

Members of the AfD, like Björn Höcke, who leads the party's branch in the state of Thuringia in the former East, have positioned themselves against the prevailing political direction in Berlin by employing anti-refugee, nationalistic rhetoric. They have been known to use the anti-Islamization PEGIDA marches, concentrated in the eastern city of Dresden, as a platform for gaining support.

According to Johannes Radke, a journalist and long-term observer of right-wing politics, "racist mobilization in society is having a big run at the moment, we have refugee houses burning almost every second night, especially in east Germany."

"The AfD is very good at getting people who are on the streets [with PEGIDA] to go and vote for them," Radke told DW.

Pegida marschiert in Dresden

The AfD uses Dresden's anti-Islamization PEGIDA demonstrations to gain support

Sweeping up the remains

Another possible reason for the growth of the right-wing populists, according to Radke and Quent, could be the disintegration of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), as that organization faces the possibility of being legally banned by Germany's top court.

"The NPD has completely screwed up, many of their long-serving functionaries are in jail, many of them are gone…they try to join in racist marches [like PEGIDA] and get support, but it's not working that well," said Radke.

"The AfD on the other hand is gaining so many votes," from exploiting PEGIDA and similar movements, said Radke.

In March, the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe will decide if the NPD has violated Germany's strict laws against Nazi symbolism and rhetoric.

"If the NPD gets banned, then it is easy to imagine some members becoming even more radicalized, and other members will certainly go join the AfD," said Quent.

It seems that if the AfD should be worried about cash flow problems, the other political parties in Germany should be just as worried about the AfD, who don't seem to be going away any time soon.

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