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Germany

The AfD's Alexander Gauland: From conservative to nationalist

Alexander Gauland is one of two candidates leading the far-right, nationalist AfD into Germany's federal election this September - and he's known for his controversial, headline-grabbing statements.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) is gaining ground in Germany. Less than six weeks before the federal election, pollsters are predicting it could be the party with the third-most votes, after Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the other big party, the Social Democrats (SPD). According to polling institute Insa, the AfD is poised to win 10 percent of the vote on September 24.

Alexander Gauland is one half of the AfD's top federal candidate duo together with economist Alice Weidel.

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Who are the AfD's top candidates?

While Weidel is relatively new to the AfD leadership, 76-year-old Gauland was a co-founder of the party back in 2013. Back then, the party's central issue was euro-skepticism and the rejection of the EU's common currency; now it's anti-refugee and anti-migrant sentiments.

Known for anti-Islamic statements

In an interview with Deutsche Welle (DW) on Wednesday, Gauland stated that Islam as a cultural and religious entity was not part of Germany.

During last year's Euro 2016 football tournament, he famously said that Germans valued national player Jerome Boateng - whose father is from Ghana - as a sportsman but "would not want to live next door to someone like him."

After the public outcry - and criticism from Angela Merkel - that followed, the AfD was forced to apologize for the statement.

And in March 2017, Gauland called for a travel ban on Muslims similar to the one President Donald Trump has been trying to instate in the US, and in 2016 he said that "not everyone who holds a German passport is German," referring to people with non-German roots.

An inner-German 'refugee'

Born in the eastern city of Chemnitz in 1941, Gauland would flee the German Democratic Republic at the age of 18 to study law and political science at the Philipps University in Marburg. However, as large numbers of displaced people sought asylum in Germany in 2015 and 2016, Gauland was quick to say that his own experience had not been that of a refugee.

Alexander Gauland in DW studio (DW/R. Oberhammer)

Gauland tells DW it's not Germany's job to provide refugees with a better life

"That is something else: I'm German," Gauland said. "And I went from Germany to Germany. It is quite different when someone comes from Eritrea or Sudan. He has no right to the support of a foreigner."

Gauland began his political career as a member of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) in 1970, working at the parliament press office in the central city of Bonn, then the capital of West Germany. From 1974 to 1975, he worked in Edinburgh, Scotland, as a press officer at Germany's general consulate.

It was most likely here that Gauland discovered his affinity for the green tweed jackets that are commonly associated with the aristocrats and landowners of Britain's past - and that have also become something of a trademark for him.

Second career in the literary world

Upon returning to Germany, Gauland became the right-hand man of the CDU's Walter Wallmann, the mayor of Frankfurt at the time. Through the years Gauland built up a reputation as one of the conservative minds of the CDU. He is also a liberal in the economic sense, believing in minimal state intervention.

In 1991, Gauland began his second career as a publicist and became editor of the cross-regional daily Märkische Allgemeine in Potsdam, where he stayed until 2005.

It was arguably his published books on conservatism, in which his tone became increasingly gloomy and pessimistic, that are most emblematic of his shift to the right and his eventual move to the AfD.

'German dominant culture'

In his best-known book from 2002 "Anleitung zum Konservativsein" ("Instructions on how to be a Conservative"), Gauland bemoaned what he considered the diminished roles of concepts such as "Heimat" (homeland) and "deutsche Leitkultur" (German dominant culture) in political discourse. Railing against the "fun society," he also demanded a "deceleration" of technological progress.

But it would take another decade before Gauland jumped ship from Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU and joined the AfD.

Together with the publicist and journalist Konrad Adam and economist Bernd Lucke, Gauland founded the euroskeptic "Wahlalternative 2013" ("Election Alternative 2013"), which quickly became the AfD.

By February 2014, Gauland was elected regional chairman of AfD Brandenburg and led the party into the state parliament with 12.2 percent of the vote just seven months later. Now he has his sights set on surpassing the 5-percent threshold for the AfD, which is required to enter the German parliament in Berlin.

Seniority in the Bundestag

Current members of parliament have recently changed the rules to ensure that one of Gauland's fellow AfD members wouldn't assume the role of "Alterspräsident," or"Father of the House" of the Bundestag after the election. Before this summer, the cherished role automatically fell to the oldest parliament member. He or she opens the first session of the Bundestag and presides whenever the parliament's elected president and his deputies are unavailable.

Köln AfD Bundesparteitag Alice Weidel und Alexander Gauland (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Vennenbernd)

Gauland with co-chair Alice Weidel - both peddle nationalist views

After the coming elections, it is widely believed that the oldest parliament member will be 77-year-old Wilhelm von Gottberg, an AfD politician from the state of Lower Saxony who infamously said that the Holocaust was merely an effective tool for criminalizing Germans and their history.

But in June, parliament changed the rules. Now, the Father of the House will be the person who has served in parliament the longest, not whoever is oldest. Barring unexpected changes, that will be CDU politician and current finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

Gauland called the move a "purely political maneuver" when it was first brought up in April of this year. He mocked the established parties, saying "They must be really afraid of the AfD if they fall back on such trickery just to prevent that one of us becomes Father of the House in the next Bundestag."

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