Who Are The AfD? The First Radical Right Wing Party In Germany's Bundestag Since 1945

There's a 'real danger' their influence will grow.

Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) politicians sing the German anthem at the party’s events. For a country whose national identity is still tied to its shameful past, this is intended to break a taboo on nationalism.

The AfD aims to reach out to those fed up with that taboo.

In just four years, it has gone from a eurosceptic party, focussing on rolling back the Eurozone, to a fiercely anti-Islam one whose leader said, as hundreds of thousands of refugees arrived, that police should shoot migrants dead if they tried to cross the border.

It has campaigned in the German elections with posters declaring: “Islam does not belong to Germany.”

Bolstered by new voters who resent how Angela Merkel welcomed refugees, produced the biggest shock of Sunday’s elections, after a relatively staid, pedestrian campaign but one that guaranteed to return Merkel as chancellor.

The AfD is set to pick up its first seats in the Bundestag to become the first far right party to reach the national parliament since the defeat of the Nazis.

It looks set to be the third largest party, after Merkel’s CDU and the left-wing SDP, and win up to 90 of the 598 seats with 13 percent of the vote.

<strong>Nigel Farage meets Beatrix bon Storch, the AfD's deputy leader, on September 8</strong>
Nigel Farage meets Beatrix bon Storch, the AfD's deputy leader, on September 8
ODD ANDERSEN via Getty Images

It follows success in regional elections. Thirteen of the 16 regional parliaments now have AfD politicians and it is the second largest party in the Sachsen-Anhalt region.

In the words of Nigel Farage, the party is now on the verge of a “historic achievement”.

“For the first time in modern history, there will be a voice of opposition in German parliament,” he told a meeting of supporters when he visited earlier this month.

In the words of one expert, the AfD arriving in the Bundestag represents “a real danger”.

<strong>'Stop Islamisation. Vote AfD!' a poster in Berlin urges voters</strong>
'Stop Islamisation. Vote AfD!' a poster in Berlin urges voters
Sean Gallup via Getty Images

Julian Gopffarth, a researcher at the London School of Economics’ European Institute, says being in the Bundestag is more than a symbolic milestone.

“There’s a real danger they might have a real impact,” he told HuffPost.

“If you look at [potential AfD Bundestag members], it’s quite scary. Some people have associated with the radical extreme right. They could have a bigger impact on German debate, German policy.”

Gopffarth notes the AfD has already influenced German debate and language used in politics.

The term “Gutmensch” - which roughly translates as “Do Gooder” - was previously only used by the fringe right to denigrate people who are deemed to be naive liberals. Now it is used “by all the political players,” Gopffarth said.

He added that the party “thrives” among people who resent not being allowed to be patriotic.

“The AfD will have an impact by being present in the debates, by having the stage of the national parliament but also by influencing the other parties. You can already see the sheer fear of the AfD becoming so strong, many parties move slightly to the right,” he added.

<strong>'New Germans? Let's make them ourselves,' says an AfD poster, vandalised with the word 'Nazis'</strong>
'New Germans? Let's make them ourselves,' says an AfD poster, vandalised with the word 'Nazis'
JOHN MACDOUGALL via Getty Images

Like Ukip, the AfD began as a more academic eurosceptic movement, aiming to challenge how much the EU was spending to bail out the beleagured Greek economy. Its founder Bernd Lucke, a politician and economist, aimed to build pressure to ditch the Euro.

But, again like Ukip, it moved to appeal to populist anger. In 2015, Lucke left the party, distancing himself from its growing focus on Islam. He said he was also alarmed at the number of people within the party who sympathised with Russia when it annexed Crimea by force in 2014.

Despite its shift of focus to religion, the party still pledges to abandon the Euro and return to the Deutschmark.

The new stars of the party include Alice Weidel, a 38-year-old former investment banker, who has dismissed gay marriage, despite herself being gay.

She has said those who come to Germany as refugees are not qualified enough to be allowed in. She said: “We don’t need illiterate people.”

Another star is Alex Gauland, 76, who recently said Germans should be “proud” of what their soldiers did in both world wars.

Both are candidates for the Bundestag.

<strong>AfD bundestag candidates Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland at a press conference in Berlin last week</strong>
AfD bundestag candidates Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland at a press conference in Berlin last week
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Like the Front National in France, it has clashed with how its country remembers the Holocaust.

A regional party leader called Berlin’s memorial to Jews murdered in the Holocaust a “monument of shame” and called for Germany to stop atoning for its crimes so emphatically.

During the speech, delivered in a Dresden beer hall, supporters chanted “Germany! Germany!”

While the AfD riles up its supporters, other parties unite to block it. The AfD will be frozen out of any coalition negotiations after the vote.

Gopffarth points out many who vote for other parties are motivated by their opposition to the AfD and a coalition with it is, for now, unpalatable.

HuffPost Deutschland asked Germans why they vote and Stefan, a 30-year-old from the town of Halbsterstadt, said his priorities were climate change, helping refugees and “finally, stopping the AfD”.

<strong>Despite populist anger and the threat of the AfD, Angela Merkel is poised to be re-elected as chancellor</strong>
Despite populist anger and the threat of the AfD, Angela Merkel is poised to be re-elected as chancellor
Sean Gallup via Getty Images

Despite some predictions by Britain’s eurosceptic press, welcoming so many refugees did not bring down Merkel. Twelve years after taking on the job, she stands to be re-elected to an unprecedented fourth term.

The pro-EU consensus of the main parties continues and support for the bloc remains high despite the rise of populist, eurosceptic parties.

But the CDU remains nervous about the AfD’s rise. One senior official from Merkel’s party pleaded for AfD supporters to stay at home at not vote.

Journalist Hugo Müller-Vogg blogged on HuffPost that this showed the CDU “now stands helpless against its new competition”.

When asked whether the AfD could be included in coalitions years from now, Gopffarth said it was “not impossible”.

He said this could hinge on how “professional” the AfD were in the Bundestag, adding they had been “quite messy” in the regional parliaments.

But he adds there are people in the AfD who still have links to Merkel’s CDU, which has been willing to move to the right in response to the AfD.

In August, CDU members of the Sachsen-Anhalt Parliament backed an AfD call for a commission to investigate left-wing extremism, shocking some.

One Green member of the parliament tweeted: “You never agree with Nazis.”

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