Refugee policy: The mainstream rears its head | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 14.10.2015
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Refugee policy: The mainstream rears its head

For a while, it seemed like they were a thing of the past. But now, nationalist groups and right-wing political parties are gaining ground in mainstream politics as a consequence of Germany's massive refugee influx.

Autumn offensive: The term reminiscent of military jargon is the AfD's latest buzzword. Just a few months ago, it seemed as though an internal party divide would bring about the AfD's demise but now, it is experiencing an upswing. Opinion polls conducted by Germany's Forsa research institute have put public support at seven percent on a national level, nine percent in Bavaria and even 13 percent in Saxony. The right-wing splinter group of the AfD, which now makes separate public appearances using the same abbreviation, is gaining force.

One of the leading AfD politicians, Alexander Gauland, who is also the head of the AfD in the state of Brandenburg, cuts a good figure in public speeches with his subtle play on a Merkel quote: He says, "We don't want to do it," instead of, "We can do it." The party's base agrees with Gauland, especially in eastern Germany, where it openly advocates anti-immigrant policies and where anti-refugee cries are growing louder. The AfD's autumn offensive intends to step up demonstrations against Berlin's refugee quagmire. In March of 2016, Germany will see state polls in Saxony-Anhalt, Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wurttemberg, where the refugee crisis will certainly become one of the main election issues.

Fear on the streets

In fact, the current mood may take a turn for the worse. The much-touted welcoming culture is slowing turning into a culture of rejection. Infratest dimap, an electoral research company, found in a recent survey that 51 percent of respondents were alarmed by the mass influx of refugees. Merkel's policies are also being criticized in a much coarser manner these days. "Please flee somewhere else," is one of the more harmless demands heard on the streets.

Deutschland Dresden Pegida Demonstration

The banner reads: Those who sleep in a democracy, wake up in an EU dictatorship

Hajo Funke, a retired professor of political science at Berlin's Free University now speaks of "everyday mob rule ". He is refering to the city of Meissen in eastern Germany where the line between openly right-wing extremists and the middle-class mainstream is becoming blurred.

The domestic intelligence service in the state of Saxony-Anhalt has also observed that many people are shedding their shyness towards right-wing extremism. Heinz Bude, professor for sociology at Germany's Kassel University, calls this part of society the "embittered milieu". It is characterized by envy of the refugees, who seem to be getting all the support they need from the state, while the local population thinks it got a raw deal. People of this opinion are actually normal, middle-class citizens who are even well-educated, says Bude.

Angry service proletariat

This part of society consists of people over the age of 50 who feel destined for greater things than they have actually accomplished in their careers. Bude speaks of a "service proletariat": badly paid workers who have only achieved moderate social recognition, which can be found, for example, in the growing parcel and letter delivery industry. This group potentially represents ten percent of German society.

The government in Berlin is also becoming all the more concerned about such findings. Insiders report that political party meetings are becoming more emotional. Politicians who warn against too much welcome culture have risen to speak more often in recent weeks. Christian Democrat (CDU) parliamentarians of Angela Merkel's ruling party are beginning to turn their backs on their leader. "We are scared of the people," admits a leading CDU member. He fears the enraged Germans.

Pegida has risen again

Dresden Pegida Demonstration Anti Merkel Plakat

'Merkel must go' reads the sign held by one protester

So no one is surprised that the nearly departed Pegida movement has come to life again. The ritualized Monday walks through Dresden and other cities had actually became a thing of the past, but on Monday, October 11, 9,000 people joined the walk in Saxony's capital. There, Merkel was called a traitor and asylum seekers were "cattle". Monday, October 19, marks the first anniversary of Pegida's evening walks. This political climate has nurtured the NPD, the far-right political party. If elections were to take place today, the party would easily take the five percent hurdle of votes needed to enter parliament. It is likely that the NPD has won over many sympathizers in the middle class.

Pressure on domestic affairs specialists

Germany has been oscillating between self-confidence ("We can do it") and an identity neurosis ("The boat is full"). Social scientist Naika Fodoutan, who runs a research project on Islam-related issues in Germany (JUNITED) at Berlin's Humboldt University, sees Germany as a "deeply divided" society on immigration issues. German President Joachim Gauck is trying to prevent a rift in society. "Our hearts are great," he says on the one hand, "but our capabilities are finite," he has cautioned.

Behind the scenes, however, rumors are running rampant. The pressure is on domestic affairs politicians in Merkel's CDU parliamentary group. Apparently, sparks were flying behind closed doors yesterday. Specialists for interior policies apparently hurled harsh words at their chairman – this shows the gravity of the situation and a change of spirit at the expense of the refugees. Nonetheless, the chancellor seems to be standing on firm ground, says Timo Lochocki, a political scientist at Berlin's Humboldt University. He thinks that Merkel's acceptance in the population is slipping only marginally. Yet it is striking that Merkel's cabinet is gaining popularity. Her cabinet includes Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, the ministers curbing Merkel's open door policy.

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