Germany’s Embrace of Migrants Spawns Rise of Far-Right Leader

Alison Smale, New York Times, March 9, 2016

In the current tussle for the future of Germany, Frauke Petry is what you might call the anti-Angela Merkel.

Where Ms. Merkel, the chancellor, has welcomed refugees, Ms. Petry, a rising far-right leader, has said border guards might need to turn guns on anyone crossing a frontier illegally.

Where Ms. Merkel has urged tolerance, Ms. Petry has embraced the angry populism now running through Europe and the United States.

“The preachers of hatred” was how the news weekly Der Spiegel characterized the new German right on its cover last month, emblazoned with a portrait of the petite Ms. Petry.

But this brisk, garrulous 40-year-old is more than Ms. Merkel’s foil. She is a disruptive, new force on the German political scene.

She and her party, the Alternative for Germany, have ridden a wave of discontent over the chancellor’s embrace of more than one million refugees to their strongest poll ratings ever.

They are now roiling Germany’s placid, consensus-driven politics and threatening to alter its political landscape as insurgent parties have done in less stable or prosperous countries around Europe.

Not unlike Donald J. Trump in the United States, she is also breaking open a political dialogue and liberating a new and impolitic–critics say racist–language in the mainstream.

“The power of the established parties is crumbling,” a jubilant Ms. Petry told supporters after her party took 13.2 percent of the vote in normally sleepy local elections in the central state of Hesse last Sunday.

This Sunday is another test, with elections in three larger and more important states–one in the east and two in the west–that are being closely watched as a referendum on the chancellor’s refugee policies and a bellwether for the nation.

In the east, support for the Alternative for Germany now nears 20 percent–about double that in the west.

But even in the west, the far-right rebellion is chipping away at the chancellor’s conservative Christian Democrats, as well as its Social Democratic coalition partners, in a country where the Nazi past looms large.

The Alternative for Germany party has already elbowed its way into five state Parliaments, and is predicted to sail into three more with up to one-fifth of the vote on Sunday.

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Initially founded in 2013 as a protest against the euro, the Alternative for Germany shifted emphasis to protecting German identity as hundreds of thousands of migrants entered the country last year.

Ms. Petry and other nationalist-minded leaders ousted the more Europe-oriented founder of the party, then locked onto the identity issue as the embodiment of how Ms. Merkel and the German establishment were ruining the country and ignoring ordinary folk, said Hajo Funke, a politics professor at the Free University in Berlin.

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