‘Nazis back in the Reichstag’ claims minister

Protests last night: “Down with Nazis” says the slogan after the AfD’s success. © Getty

Germany’s foreign minister said this, but should we take him seriously? Last night Angela Merkel was elected for a fourth term while nationalists made a historic surge in federal elections.

Angela Merkel will continue as chancellor of Germany, but her status as the solid, sensible strongwoman of Europe was shattered as her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) underachieved in yesterday’s general election.

Having won 32.5% of the vote, her party remains the largest in the Reichstag. The Social Democratic Party (SPD) came a poor second with just 20% of the vote - a record low for Merkel’s centre-left, pro-EU coalition partners.

The SPD has refused to continue the coalition with Merkel’s party, leaving the country in political limbo. It could take months for Merkel to form a new government, likely to be a partnership with the liberal FDP (Free Democratic Party) and the Greens.

But the real story was the success of Alternative for Germany (AfD), which finished third with 13.5% of the vote. To put it mildly, AfD is the outlier party in the moderate, consensus-driven world of German politics.

The party was formed by eurosceptic economists in 2012, but quickly found there were votes to be won by adopting a hardline anti-Islam, anti-immigration stance. Merkel’s decision in 2015 to let in 1.2m refugees and migrants over two years only boosted the party’s support. It now advocates banning minarets and says Islam is “incompatible” with German culture.

Before the election foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said of AfD: “If we’re unlucky, then these people will send a signal of dissatisfaction that will have terrible consequences. Then we will have real Nazis in the German Reichstag for the first time since the end of WWII.”

And while the party goes to great pains to distance itself from the Nazis, AfD opposes what it sees as Germany’s “shame culture”: a reluctance to show national pride after the horrors of the 20th century.

Reacting to the result Alexander Gauland, a leading figure in AfD, struck a strident tone: “We will take back our country and our people.”

But many in Germany and abroad are fearful of the Reichstag’s newcomers. Is it fair to compare them with the Nazis?

Echoes of history

“This is a disgraceful smear tactic,” say some. AfD do not use violence to reach their goals. They do not goose-step down the streets. They simply object to mass immigration from the Muslim world — a view shared by millions of Europeans — while also daring to raise objections to the EU. The comparison is extremely lazy.

“We have seen this before,” warn others. As Sigmar Gabriel put it: “Everything that they are saying, I’ve already heard, just to be clear, from my own father, who was a Nazi to his last breath.” They use the language of the Nazis: “Volk” and “Fatherland”, while stirring up hatred against minorities. Be under no illusion: they are today’s Nazis.

You Decide

  1. Are the Germans in AfD Nazis?
  2. Who would you have voted for in the German election?

Activities

  1. In one minute, list as many European political parties as you can.
  2. Write 500 words answering the question: “Should Germans still feel guilty for the second world war?”

Some People Say...

“Nationalism can never be separated from the Nazis.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Angela Merkel has won a fourth term as chancellor of Germany, but she suffered disappointment at the polls yesterday, winning just 32% of the vote. She will now form a coalition government. The right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party came third with 13.5%. The party, which opposes the EU and mass immigration from the Muslim world, has been described as “neo-Nazi” by its opponents. The centre-left Social Democratic Party had a disastrous day, coming a distant second with 20% of the vote.
What do we not know?
Whether last night marks the high point for AfD, or whether the party will ever get close to government. Merkel has vowed to listen to AfD voters’ concerns, but it remains to be seen whether she can successfully win them over.

Word Watch

Reichstag
Germany’s parliament building in Berlin. The German parliament comprises the Bundestag (elected in yesterday's vote) and the Bundesrat, similar to an upper house like the UK House of Lords or US Senate. Reichstag was the name of the ceremonial parliament of Hitler's Nazi "third reich".
Partnership
The Bundestag has at least 598 members. Each German voter has two votes: one for a constituency MP and the other for a regional panel; further “overhang” seats may be awarded to make the parliament proportional. (The outgoing Bundestag has 630 seats.) This proportional representation means that AfD is likely to win over 80 seats. This system means that Germany is almost always governed by coalition, often between the two largest parties.
13.5%
AfD came second in the former East Germany winning 21% of the vote. This region is poorer than the rest of the country and has seen anti-immigration demonstrations in recent years.
1.2m refugees and migrants
AfD intends to hold a parliamentary inquiry on Merkel’s decision to allow them to settle in Germany.
Volk
The word, meaning “The People” has Nazi connotations.

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