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Opinion

Opinion: Stuttgart conference shows AfD staying power

Alternative for Germany's rivals were banking on an implosion in Stuttgart. But, DW's Kay-Alexander Scholz writes, the AfD has coalesced and intends to contend.

A quick recap:

Alternative for Germany

(AfD) was founded as the euro currency began to falter. Once this storm had settled somewhat - and after a split in the party - the AfD slipped in the polls, to approval ratings of just 3 or 4 percent. Back then, in the summer of 2015, it was very unclear whether the AfD would even survive.

Then came the refugees. The Christian Democrats (CDU), Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Left all got caught up in Germany's newfound welcome culture. However, many people did not want to welcome refugees and this catalyzed a mood of opposition to official policy that had fermented in certain circles for a long time. The AfD was able to capitalize on that, and its approval ratings went up again.

Kay-Alexander Scholz

DW's Kay-Alexander Scholz

Many politicians hoped the AfD would disappear of its own accord. Warnings from journalists and pollsters were ignored: That is the arrogance of power.

The phase of ignoring populist anti-refugee sentiment and the rise of the party that capitalized on it was followed by one of demonizing the AfD. Here, too, the effect was the opposite of the intent: The party acquired victim status, and its approval ratings continued to rise.

Continuing success

Now, the AfD seems to be cruising. Even a debate about ordering border guards to shoot at refugees did not cause a drop in support. In eastern schoolyards, the AfD now has an "outlaw" mystique; information about the party is covertly exchanged during break. There is a different mentality among parents and in the wider public. But forbidden fruit tastes especially sweet. It may be that we are seeing a young generation grow up socialized with the AfD, as was historically the case with the Greens.

Strategic mistakes were made in relation to political developments in recent years. A gap appeared on the right of the political spectrum, because the CDU and Bavaria's Christian Social Union (CSU) were focusing on the center. The AfD seized this opportunity to target conservatives, who are now proving fairly loyal to the party. For many, there is no alternative to the Alternative for Germany.

The AfD's rivals had anticipated that the party would shift right at this weekend's conference in Stuttgart, perhaps right off of the democratic spectrum, and/or that its leaders would tear each other apart. But there was no rebellion. Interestingly, it was the youth of the party that came out in favor of a still more radical course.

In many European countries, parties similar to the AfD are on the ascent. Conventional major parties, on the other hand, are losing support.

If things continue along these lines, in a few years there will be two new major parties in Germany: the Greens and the AfD. But perhaps the CDU/CSU and SPD still have some ideas up their sleeves about what to do next. One can always learn from one's mistakes.

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