′In the past it was Jews, and today it is refugees′ | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 10.09.2016

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'In the past it was Jews, and today it is refugees'

Support for the Alternative for Germany is growing despite the scandals involving leading AfD figures. That is typical for the right, the political scientist Hajo Funke tells DW.

DW: Professor Funke, Alternative for Germany (AfD) is growing and flourishing, yet it is constantly discrediting itself through internal party quarrels. Why is the AfD immune to its own scandals?

Funke: That is not unusual for right-wing populist parties. They just want to win, no matter how. The core of right-wing populism is not: We represent the people in terms of a definition. We have solutions, although we don't actually have any. We attack anyone we have identified as an enemy - like Islam, migrants, or in the past it was Jews and today it is refugees. It goes hand in hand with untenable chaos. There is no direction or specific platform except the identification of enemies. The climax of the AfD party congress was this message: Islam is our enemy, no ifs or buts. The party even says that Islam is immune to learning and AfD has no interest in enlightening the religion. That means they need Islam purely as an enemy to target. This type of logic will destroy community spirit in the long run.

The party now holds seats in European Parliament and nine state governments in Germany. How long will the boom continue?

One can say that CSU (Christian Social Union) has been systematically right-wing populist for a year and a day. (Party Chairman Horst) Seehofer has inspired the rise of the AfD. As long as his actions are not countered by the CDU (Christian Democrats), then we continue to have a one-two pass between the AfD leaders and Seehofer. Sometimes Seehofer will call in Hungarian Prime Minister Orban for endorsement. That creates a double threat of a dismissive and migrant-hostile populism.

What kind of ideological and intellectual background do AfD leaders have?

I would argue that the dynamic core, if you recall the party congress, is shaped by the radical wing. That means that one can see it in the fact that the party association from Saarland was not expelled for its contacts with right-wing extremists - the radical wing is obstinate. That means they are fighting for an ethnically pure German nation. Anyone who appears moderate is, to a certain extent, forced out of this dynamic center.

Hajo Funke

Funke focuses on right-wing extremism in his political science research

Officially, there are chairmen or people who serve in other management positions, but, as a party of movement, what happens in the dynamic agitation is much more important. And then we have von Höcke's racist speeches, which I have analyzed in 20 pages based on quotes. And then we see it at the party congress. The delegates were thrilled when someone from the state of Thuringia said "there are people with whom we can seek dialogue as Muslims." But that was booed. That means the party congress was in such an aggressive mood that any form of subtlety was ignored.

The focus of the new shift to the right is Islamophobia. Does AfD want to restrict religious freedom and thus violate the constitution?

The way you express it is, of course, unconstitutional. Then the party will reach its limits in the Federal Constitutional Court. If it went that far, the AfD would cause an escalation that would substantially threaten peaceful coexistence.

Polls have found that a stable 15 percent has stood behind the AfD for a long time. Have the established parties completely lost touch with parts of the population?

Yes, 15 percent has a weak relationship with them, to put it politely. Parties are obligated to analyze the motives of voters, and often they are disappointment and political alienation, which result in not voting. This "not-going-to-vote-anymore" then has obvious reasons.

For example, there is often a lack of social programs for regions, villages or the rural population. Too much has been centralized, as in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. There, regional reforms that have been implemented force a person to drive 60 kilometers (35 miles) to be given an advance health care directive. Something like that incites anger at the grassroots level. Then it is addressed by the AfD.

Hans-Joachim "Hajo" Funke is a German political scientist and retired professor. Between 1993 and 2010, he taught at the Institute of Political Science at the Freie Universität Berlin. He is considered to be one of the leading researchers in the field of right-wing extremism in Germany. His latest study, mainly about the AfD, is titled "On Enraged Citizens and Arsonists."

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