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Germany

Frauke Petry's AfD: Worried or xenophobic citizens?

Frauke Petry, leader of the Alternative for Germany, caters to the population's concerns about uncontrolled mass immigration. She says there is no correlation between her policies and anti-migration violence in Germany.

Watch video 26:04

Frauke Petry on Conflict Zone

Not all Germans support Chancellor Merkel's open-door policy. After three successful regional elections last week, the anti-mass-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is now in eight out of 16 regional parliaments.

The party leader, Frauke Petry, says there is no correlation between her political policies and anti-migrant violence, like arson attacks against refugee shelters, on Germany's streets.

In an interview with DW's Conflict Zone, Petry says her party was never "in any way collaborating" with Pegida ("Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the Occident"), the organization of "worried citizens" who are demonstrating against the influx of refugees and Chancellor Merkel's asylum policies.

Common ground with Pegida?

Back in January 2015 however, Petry told journalists that AfD and Pegida had a "considerable overlap" in their priorities and had agreed to "explore cooperation". Petry told DW's Tim Sebastian the demonstrators needed to be taken seriously.

She also accused other German parties of closing their eyes and ears to the concerns of Pegida demonstrators: "Nobody else from any other party even wanted to talk to [these] people and we thought, in a democratic society this is not a good idea."

After an internal power struggle in July 2015, Petry took over the party's political leadership. The AfD has since shifted its focus from euroscepticism to migration and the refugee crisis. There are indeed concerns by former members that the AfD has become too radical.

Bernd Lucke, the co-founder and former leader of the party who preferred economic over migration issues, was forced out in June 2015 and subsequently stated the party had fallen into the "wrong hands," claiming anti-Islamic and xenophobic views were becoming too prevalent.

When Tim Sebastian asked Petry whether she recognized her party from Lucke's description, she said this was "rubbish": "When you leave a party that you didn't manage to govern yourself, what choices do you have? Leave it and tell the public that you failed, or leave it and try to destroy what you left behind? Those are the two possibilities you have and he chose the latter."

Petry, Gauland and Höcke - The saviors of democracy?

Many seem to endorse Petry's change of direction: at the recent regional elections on March 13th, the AfD won 24 percent of votes in Saxony-Anhalt, making it the second-largest party after the Christian Democrats. About two-thirds of those who voted for the AfD said they were angry with mainstream parties. "The AfD is made up of all sorts of German citizens and even people living abroad who think that democracy fails more often than not - not only in Germany, but also in Europe," says Petry of her supporters.

Anna Sauerbrey of the New York Times concluded that the AfD is successful because it's the only party to respond emotionally to people's fears. Arguments and reason alone won't dismantle the AfD: "You can't meet helplessness, fear and insecurity with argument. You can’t offer up to-do lists and expect people to watch you check items one at a time. You have to meet them with counter-emotion."

Playing with fear

Indeed, the AfD caters to the needs and concerns of angry, or rather, "worried citizens" who want to take a stand against Merkel's open-door policy on Middle Eastern migration. But the unofficial draft of the party's program, leaked by the nonprofit research group Collectiv, also considered "discriminating against handicapped children, single mothers, and the mentally ill." The "traditional family" is viewed as the only viable model, abortion should be banned and school teachers should stop focusing their history teaching solely on "the period of National Socialism."

Petry - when confronted with the party's line on the mentally ill ("Therapy-resistant alcoholics, drug addicts and psychologically ill perpetrators should not be kept in psychiatric hospitals, but be put under lock and key") - emphasized the document was an unofficial draft and quickly went on to criticize Tim Sebastian's line of questioning, complaining it wasn't helping to present her party correctly.

She said in general the mainstream media mixed commentary with hard news: "We are not looked at in a neutral way." But in an internal email she wrote her party needed provocative statements to get heard in the media. She reinforced this on Conflict Zone with Tim Sebastian: "Especially for a small party that finds it sometimes difficult to actually get coverage in the media to explain its ideas, [provocation] is necessary."

But how far is too far? Find out on Conflict Zone with Tim Sebastian on March 23.

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