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Right-Wing Populism And The State Of German Unity

02/10/2017 12:32

Germany is celebrating the 27th anniversary of her reunification on Tuesday. After the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, the East and the West merged into one country on October 3, 1990.

Ever since, October 3 is Germany's national holiday, German Unity Day.

As most Germans have a day off work, there's time to contemplate and recapitulate. A look from the outside could make you think everything was fine and dandy in prosperous Germany.

Yes, Germany as a whole is doing well economically and her standing in the world seems to be good. Steadfast Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to begin another four years in office after the general election on September 24.

However, the vote also put a dampener on the general mood: For the first time since the Second World War, a right-wing party will be sitting in parliament in force, some of it's members having openly aired racist and historically revisionist views.

The Alternative for Germany (AfD) got 12.6 percent of the national vote and now is the third strongest party in parliament (94 0f 709 seats), after the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) both lost many voters.

Infographic: Far-Right Makes Biggest Gains | Statista You will find more statistics at Statista

Alexander Gauland, one of the AfD's leading figures, argued Germans should be able to be proud of the achievements of German soldiers in two world wars. He has also said a German politician with Turkish roots would be "disposed of" in Anatolia.

The electoral outcome can also be read as an indicator that, even after a quarter of a century, German reunification still hasn't been completed. While the AfD was also voted for in the West, it got its best results by far in Eastern Germany.

While former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who oversaw the initial reunification process, had promised there would soon be "flourishing landscapes" in the East, the reality after more than 25 years looks different. Most eastern federal states are doing less well economically than the western ones.

There's a German word for those who haven't profited from reunification, they're somewhat patronisingly called "Wendeverlierer", those left out by the transition. Now, those left behind have thrown a spanner in the works, just like the disgruntled did voting for Brexit in Britain and Donald Trump in the United States in 2016.

On the other hand, some observers put the AfD's success in the East down to this part of Germany directly transitioning from one authoritarian regime, under the Nazis, to the next non-democratic rule, under state socialism from 1945 to 1990.

East Germany has a quarter of a century less democratic culture to show for than the western part of the country, so the argument goes.

Under the socialist regime in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) Nazism was an outright evil, just like in the West. However, Germany's darkest history was rather put away with by command of the state than really dealt with by the people themselves.

In the West, the bad past was suppressed too. But then there were the student revolts of 1968, a counter-culture emerged that openly challenged the views and ways of the older generations. The young wanted them to be held accountable for the horrors of World War Two.

Germany saw reunification in 1990 and for a long time everybody was overwhelmed by the peaceful revolution that brought down the regime in the East. However, it quickly became clear that Kohl's "flourishing landscapes" were utopian. Resentment started festering underneath the surface.

Then came 2015 and the refugee crisis. Chancellor Merkel did what she had to do to avert a humanitarian catastrophe and Germany took in more than a million refugees. While some Germans cheered on refugees arriving at train stations others grew frightened and frustrated.

Protest movements, such as the self-proclaimed Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident (PEGIDA), marched through German towns. The refugee crisis also turned the AfD from what was originally an Eurosceptic party into a vessel for those who feared the new times and ages.

There are underlying reasons for the AfD moving into parliament, such as the remnants of authoritarianism. There are also immediate causes, such as many people feeling left behind. And there are culminating points, such as the refugee crisis. These factors help to explain the emergence of Germany's own brand of far-right populism.

While some are up in arms because of the AfD's success, integrating fringe parties into mainstream politics is the best method of moderation. The alternative to the AfD would be having resentment further fester in the dark and then exploding onto the scene in other more violent ways.

Populists who talk loud and provokative during election campaigns often seem rather toothless when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of everyday politics. Just like Donald Trump was good at talking the talk but now looks incapable of switching from loudmouthed showmanship to really getting things done.

The AfD's success hints at the belated pains of reunification. The process almost seemed too easy to be true. Then again, the AfD is not a purely East German phenomenon either. People in the West also voted for the AfD, albeit in fewer numbers.

To comment on what Gauland said about feeling proud of German soldiers in two world wars: It's much more satisfying being proud of Germany's achievements since this country started to pursue its goals by peaceful means, as a respected part of the international community.

There's so much more strength and courage in that. Aggressive nationalism is the ideology of the weak and fearful. And, after all, 87.4 percent of Germans, with the election turnout standing at more than 75 percent, didn't vote for the AfD.

Infographic: The Steadfast German Chancellor | Statista You will find more statistics at Statista

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