Germany’s Recent Election Results Are Not Surprising – and That’s Scary.
By: Avery Scope Crafts
On September 24th, federal elections were held to elect the members of the 19th Bundestag, Germany’s national parliament. The results of the election have caused a media frenzy, dominating news sources around the globe. Yet, the headlines do not focus on Angela Merkel winning her fourth term as German Chancellor, a remarkable achievement that merits great recognition. Rather, the spotlight shines bright on the country’s third biggest political force. Very rarely does the bronze medal winner get the attention, interview, and front-page portrait. But of course, this was no average third place finisher. This was the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), whose 12.6% vote share does not do the significance of this result justice.
Founded just four years ago, the AfD centered its campaign around Islam and immigration, not afraid to approach the line of appearing racist or xenophobic, or even blatantly cross it. One AfD ad shows women at a beach, the caption reading “Burkas? We prefer bikinis.” Another depicts a pregnant woman, accompanied by “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves.” One of the best-known figures of the AfD, Alexander Gauland, declared Germans should be “proud” of their soldiers in both World Wars. Björn Höcke, yet another top politician, condemned the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. As if that was not enough, the party brought back anti-establishment and anti-foreign terms prominent in the Nazi era.
As disturbing as the stances of the AfD are, they are hardly surprising in this day and age. And contrary to the many emotions the election of the rightest political group into parliament has evoked, shock should not be one of them. If there is only one thing that is taken away from this election, it is that the rise of the AfD was predictable given recent events elsewhere. It would be ignorant for anyone to simply shrug off the results because it took place in Germany, a country that will never fully escape its tortured past from the perspective of the outside world. This is no freakish lightning strike; there is reason and logic behind the rise of the AfD that makes this more equivalent to a meticulous and unrelenting thunderstorm. Indeed, German is merely another country in which the far-right is entering the respective political sphere with full force. Look no further than to its neighbors and the similarities are impossible to ignore.
Germany is surrounded by countries that are facing similar struggles with the far-right. Britain’s quest to exit the EU (Brexit) is a result of identical nationalistic sentiment. Over in France, the National Front is becoming a relevant political force. The same goes for the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and the Golden Dawn in Greece. Even so, this problem is not confined to Europe alone.
Arguably the most evident escalation of the far-right, due to the massive media exposure, is Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency in the United States and the ensuing aftermath. President Trump ran his campaign to appeal to the nationalists, and it worked. He too flirted with racism and nationalism, albeit less obvious than that of the AfD. Still, derogatory comments regarding people practicing Judaism and Islam, and of people of color were enough for him to get an endorsement from The Crusader, a newspaper affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan.
All of these extremist success stories are products of the same underlying variable that currently reigns prominent in the western countries: a feeling of general unease triggered by the state of the economy and overwhelming social situations. The working class feels overlooked and is tired of constantly worrying about making ends meet. Many believe the flow of immigrants into their home country will threaten their national identity and cultural heritage. Whether these opinions are rooted in falsehood or truth unfortunately does not matter. What does, however, is that this situation knows no geographical bounds and is near impossible to solve quickly. There is no snapping of fingers that levitates the world from a global recession, no educating the masses about the reality behind immigration, and certainly no bestowing upon them basic humanity. For the near future, at the very least, the power of the far-right looks set to increase.
Nonetheless, this is not to say traditional political groups are completely helpless against the rise of nationalist right-wingers. Far-right groups such as the AfD attract a substantial number of supporters that only align with the party because they are fed up with the usual political groups and are desperate for any exciting change, regardless of the direction. Jolanta Tiedemann, a German citizen living in Görlitz, where support for the AfD was one of the highest in the country, believes that "Many people voted for the AfD because the other parties did not care for them. . . I don't think that all people here are nationalists."
Building up to the next election cycles, the major parties must address this issue in order for there to be any hope of curbing the far-right’s growth. The obvious solution would be to revise their long-unchanged campaign strategies. Nationalistic groups attract voters with their confidence, boldness and use of innovative social media. It is no coincidence that the AfD employed U.S. firm Harris Media, which most notably worked with the Trump campaign.
Yet, it is not the reporting of these events that frightens me the most. If the international media deems the election of a rightist group into office a horrifying and newsworthy event, at least it can be assumed that this is not the norm for a world too sophisticated and evolved to be turning back to nationalistic roots. Rather, it is the day I come across similar election results void of any articles accompanying it declaring the atrocity that took place that I truly fear. For at that time, I will know that the frequency of such events has normalized the rise of the far-right. With Germany falling suit after the similar occurrences elsewhere, that day very well may soon be transformed from a nightmare into a reality.