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Opinion: The AfD has laid the foundations for disaster

December 17, 2021

In Germany, the past eight years have shown what the AfD is capable of, yet the other parties seem not to grasp the danger, says DW's Hans Pfeifer.

Deutschland | AfD Parteitag in Dresden
Image: Jens Schlueter/AFP/Getty Images

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) was established eight years ago in 2013. From the start, the idea was to change the country with right-wing populism. Launched as a campaign against the EU and the euro, the party has always been associated with racist agitators and nationalists. Yet — or, maybe, therefore? — the party continues to enjoy success. Today, it has seats in the German Bundestag, in all the state parliaments and in a number of local parliaments. In the eastern states, it has become a political force to be reckoned with.

The interior affairs committee, of all things!

Its success has brought it millions in public subsidies provided for political parties, but more importantly it has brought political influence. This week the Bundestag gave it the chance to field the chair for the key parliamentary committee on interior affairs. The interior affairs committee, of all things! The body responsible for asylum, fighting right-wing extremism and overseeing the work of the intelligence services.

The chair of the committee functions as the Bundestag's point of contact with the security agencies. Was this office really being offered to a lawmaker from a party that has itself been described as anti-constitutional by the same agencies?  A party which still has members who adhere to the ideas of Adolf Hitler and National Socialism? A party which harbors several elected officials who are no longer allowed to wear a police or army uniform, because their loyalty to the state is in question? It was grotesque! Anything but the expression of a robust democracy!

Elected parties have rights, regardless of their ideology: that is one of the rules of the game of democracy. It extends to the AfD. But it is politicians who decide who gets to occupy certain offices. The larger parties in parliament could have chosen to chair the committee themselves. They apparently did not even try to do that. In the end, 40 lawmakers rejected the AfD candidate for the position. This too is their right, but it will offer the party more ammunition to position itself as a victim.

The parties in the ruling coalition — the Social Democrats (SDP), the Greens and the liberal FDP — as well as the conservative CDU/CSU parties in opposition apparently preferred to focus on other positions. This is shocking! Hate and incitement to violence are not new in Germany. Nancy Faeser, the new interior minister, has rightly said that right-wing extremism is the biggest threat the country faces. Numerous far-right murders, hundreds of attacks on refugees, daily incidents of anti-Semitism: the statistics are alarming. The increasingly radical COVID-19 protests show how explosive political extremism is. But the democratic parties of Germany are faltering and failing to rise to the challenge.

In the debate about the AfD, people often accuse those who proffer arguments against the party of brandishing the "Nazi stick." They say that people are not necessarily Nazis, even if they are on the right. But the party does flirt with National Socialist ideology, with right-wing nationalism and hostility to democracy. This is a simple fact, which has been confirmed time and again by numerous researchers and journalists. Even by the party itself, astonishingly.

Survival of democracy

That is why it is so important that other political parties do not prioritize their own prospects when dealing with the AfD. They must not pander to the party for fear of losing votes. On the contrary, they should seek confrontation. This is about the survival of democracy. 

Were one of its members eventually to be elected, the AfD would no doubt revel in showing off its position as chair of the interior affairs committee. It is part of its grander strategy to play down the extent of its radicality under the guise of political responsibility.

The party's electoral successes have already changed Germany, particularly in the eastern regions, where many small clubs and associations lament the fact that hate and incitement to violence are on the rise in daily life. It is impossible to assess the full extent wrought by a scant eight years, but it is already clear that eight years suffice to lay the foundations for enormous damage.

This article was translated from German.

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Hans Pfeifer Hans Pfeifer is a DW reporter specializing in right-wing extremism.@Pfeiferha