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Merkel warns against east-west divide over AfD

September 30, 2017

Chancellor Merkel has cautioned Germans against playing the blame game over the success of the AfD party in last week's election. Support for the far-right populists was strongest in the former communist East.

An AfD campaign flag - AfD
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K.-D. Gabbert

In her first video message since the election, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said pointing the finger at people in eastern Germany for the rise of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) was not helpful and far too simplistic.

The far-right populist party's success, which saw it claim 12.6 percent of the vote and 94 seats in the federal parliament, was the result of a sense of insecurity felt not only by people in the east but also in the west, Merkel said.

The AfD emerged as the third-largest political force nationwide in last Sunday's election, but in some eastern states it performed much better. In Saxony, for example, it placed first with 27 percent of the vote, just barely ahead of Merkel's Christian Democrats.

Read more: German elections: From Cologne to Dresden, deciphering Germany's vote

Infographic showing the percentage of the electorate who voted for the AfD

"I think to some extent it is fear of loss, when you have built up a lot and experienced many radical changes in your life," Merkel said, adding that it was not just problem for people in eastern Germany.

"Of course, we also have a growing AfD presence in western Germany," she said. "We see the same concerns about globalization, anonymity, and poor facilities also in the "old" states [of the former West]. And that is why there needs to be a Germany-wide approach."

Read more: Far-right AfD enters German parliament: What it means for German politics

Division ahead of unity celebration 

As Germany prepares to mark the 27th anniversary of its unification on October 3, the chancellor acknowledged that a very real divide in financial status and living conditions still exists between people in the east and west. "We'll have to find completely new solutions to make living conditions more equal," Merkel said.

The current commissioner for eastern German affairs, Iris Gleicke, has urged the future coalition government not to neglect the interests of citizens in the east.

Infografik DeutschlandTrend Einstellung zur AfD ENG

"This isn't just an issue to accompany the festivities on Unity Day. It's a task which should be on the agenda all year round," she told the German Press Agency on Saturday. "The fear of losing recently created prosperity is there — and immigration also plays a role here," she said.

The rise of far-right populists in Germany

Gleicke also voiced concerns about a possible backlash against "Ossis" — an informal name for former citizens of the former East Germany — in the wake of the AfD election victory. She stressed that there was "a right-wing populist trend throughout Germany," and a very real chance that the party will keep making gains in the west as well as in the east.

The Day of German Unity celebrates the reunification of East and West Germany on October 3, 1990, following more than 40 years of separation.

nm/sms (AFP, dpa, epd, kna)