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NUMERO 24 - 19/12/2018

 The emergence of a new cleavage in German political society and the rise of the 'Alternative für Deutschland' (AfD)

For a long while, radical right wing parties seemed to have no political future in Germany (see Minkenberg 1998). This was, of course, owed to Germany’s past. No party which put itself into the tradition of the NSDAP, or which was successfully put into this tradition, was accepted as a political fellow actor on the political stage, after the SRP (Sozialistische Reichspartei / Socialist Reich Party), a follow-up party of the NSDAP, had been forbidden by the Federal Constitutional Court in 1952. Instead, the CDU and CSU (Christian Democratic Union, Christian Social Union), with the CSU active only – and instead of the CDU – in Bavaria, and usually more “rightist” than the nation-wide CDU) boasted of leaving no political space between themselves and the right edge of the political spectrum. This gave significant stability to Germany’s political system, because after 1945 both were new and doubtlessly democratic parties, attracting likewise conservatives, Christian liberals, and adherents of catholic social thinking. Only in times of cultural or economic crises, like in the late 1960ies and in the 1990ies, right-wing radical and even extremist parties like the NPD (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands / National Democratic Party) and the DVU (Deutsche Volksunion / German People’s Union), or right wing populist parties like the “Republicans”, made it into some state parliaments. In most German länder, and on the federal level all the more, this remained true even during the decades after Europe’s “social democratic era”, when right-wing populist parties emerged, and developed more or less radicalizing dynamics, throughout Western and Northern Europe first, and then across Eastern Europe. Germany considered itself so much as an exception, immunized by history against right-wing seduction, and seemingly called to become Europe’s role model of a post-national, cosmopolitan, liberal, social and ecological society, that the CDU – the most rightist party among all democratic parties with a nation-wide electorate – felt no longer the need to actively integrate right-wing citizens. “Too rightist” party members got their political careers stopped and were, in some cases, even expelled from the party. At the same time, social democrats and Greens bluntly proclaimed that all democratically minded Germans had as their first political duty to line up “against the right”. In this situation, however, the so far inconceivable occurred, and it did so for plausible reasons in 2013 (see Amann 2018). A party run by liberal university professors, journalists, and former top lobbyists, being highly critical of how state budget problems in the Eurozone were handled by the German government outraged by the claim of chancellor Merkel that there was “no alternative” to her policies, became – over some years – aquite successful right-wing populist party under the name of AfD (Alternative für Deutschland / Alternative for Germany). This party understood itself in fact as offering a general programmatic, but not really detailed “alternative for Germany”, initially to Germany’s Eurozone policies, and later to the migration policy of chancellor Merkel. Since these policies were supported not only by the CDU and – to a much lesser degree – by the CSU and the liberal FDP, but even more so by the SPD and by the Greens and the Left (Die Linke, follow-up party tot the PDS / Party of Democratic Socialism, which had been the successor party of GDR’s communist party), there was no remarkable parliamentary opposition during those years (see Patzelt 2017). So the AfD started to act very much like a “the single opposition” on salient policy fields. In this role, ever more citizens showed sympathy for this “alternative party”, or even voted for it, with a weak period after the Federal elections in the fall of 2013 when the AfD failed to enter the Bundestag by a very small margin (Biber/Roßteutscher/Schwerer 2018, Kleinert 2018, Niedermayer/Hofrichter 2016). After 2016, the AfD was present in most German state legislatures. In 2017 it finally arrived in the Bundestag and, after the “grand coalition” between CDU/CSU and SPD had been formed in the spring of 2018, even was the largest opposition party. At present, the AfD threatens to become the strongest party in East Germany, and the second strongest party nation-wide. In this way, Germany has – compared to other European countries – become “normal” in the lamentable respect of no longer being a “white spot” on the map of European right-wing populism… (continues)

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