Elsewhere there have been co-ruling right-wing populists for a long time. In Germany, the AfD broke through the dam of exclusion for the first time. Protests rained, not only for historical reasons – at the end with success.

The rise of the National Socialists in the 1930s led to the Second World War and the Holocaust, the worst civilization break in human history. This heavy legacy weighs on the Germans. The fear of relapse was never completely gone – also because former profiteers from the Nazi era were able to make a career again in post-war Germany. This later denounced the protest movement of the 68s, which protested, among other things, against cover-up and silence. Since then, an active culture of remembrance has been part of the state rationale, With the Christian Democrats (CDU), one of the two major people’s parties in the Federal Republic, the German conservatives committed themselves never to let a party arise again on their political right. That also worked – until the “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) entered the political stage.

Right-wing populists gradually managed to establish themselves politically from 2015. In the east, in particular, their election successes have become so high that majorities against them can only be found in unusually broad alliances, even with left-wing parties. And the two popular parties, the CDU and SPD, sometimes lost their approval dramatically.

An unsettled republic

In the eastern German states, the CDU has been brewing there for some time. Recently there have been repeated attempts from the parliaments to consider working with the AfD. Surveys showed that not all are averse. In general, the willingness to ally with left parties in the east is less than in the west. This also has to do with the historical experience of a left-wing GDR dictatorship, the end of which was just 30 years ago.

The events in Thuringia, therefore, encounter an already nervous and insecure republic. The party landscape is changing. A possible taboo break had therefore been in the air for some time. In Berlin, attempts were made to counteract this with bans: There would be no cooperation whatsoever with the right-wing populists, the Union leadership repeatedly said. But the new CDU party chairwoman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is more difficult to assert than Angela Merkel before. 

Even now it was Merkel who spoke a word of power from a trip abroad and demanded that the election in Thuringia be reversed. Shortly afterward, Prime Minister Thomas Kemmerich, elected at the lecture by AfD, announced his resignation. The reactions were assessed, said Kemmerich, and they did not want to work with the AfD.

Thuringia, of all Thuringia

The federal state of Thuringia, which is rather small with 2.2 million inhabitants, also made such headlines because there was already a historic taboo break there. In 1930 there was the first state government in Thuringia with the participation of the National Socialists, the NSDAP. This was pointed out by the now defeated candidate of the Left Party Bodo Ramelow. Ramelow quoted on Twitter Adolf Hitler, who on February 2, 1930, made “the greatest success in Thuringia” because “without our participation, no majority could be raised”.

Another reason: The AfD in Thuringia is considered a stronghold of the radicals within the AfD, the so-called national-national “wing”, whose chairman is Björn Höcke. The “wing” was founded in Thuringia, an internal party movement that opposes an overly moderate orientation of the AfD. In the meantime, the “wing” has assumed such a position of power in the entire party that it has a say in personnel and political content. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution classifies the wing as a test case that is suspected of having extreme right-wing endeavors.

Strengthening radicals in the AfD

The strategy to contain right-wing populists in alliances with conservative parties, as happened in Scandinavia or most recently in Austria, has been discussed in Germany. But many thought of more moderate state associations and not of the epicenter of the AfD radicals. In large West German cities like Hamburg, Höcke is seen as a red flag in the AfD there. But Höcke should now move even higher in the party’s internal power poker.

Germany l protests after the election of the prime minister in Thuringia l in Weimar (picture alliance / dpa / J. Krey)Protest demonstrations took place in many cities, such as here in Weimar

It can be doubted that the AfD in Thuringia would be interested in a constructive course. There it was said again and again that the CDU was to be replaced as a party. The publisher Götz Kubitschek, the influential pioneer for the AfD and friend of Höcke, wrote about an ordeal for the CDU: “Nobody has acted as constructively and destructively as Höcke out of this party. In Thuringia put someone on a chair that it cuts off the legs of another chair in Berlin: the AfD’s tactical arsenal is enriched by a subtle variant. “

It didn’t work out that way. Thuringia is heading for new elections. But it is open who could benefit from it – the AfD could be one of them. Because the taboo has broken – if only for a good 24 hours. 


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