The 2017 German election marked two milestones for me: (i) I could now vote, and (ii) the right-wing populist party AfD came into parliament with 13% of the votes!
Today, we face the aftermath of the recent Hanau attack: nine people killed. The murderer’s ideology was racist but AfD leaders deny these far-right roots – alledging the attack was associated with mental illness instead.
Despite issuing such statements, the AfD has been gaining popularity in 15 of 16 states. In some, the share of votes nearly reached 30%! How is this possible?
In 2014, the extremist NPD won their first European parliament seat, but they subsequently lost support because voters preferred the AfD which pretends to represent disadvantaged people. The 2015 refugee crisis helped them channel hate towards refugees, increasing the number of German far-right extremists up to 24,000 (2019).
How can a right-wing party gain so much support, especially in East Germany?
Although Germany has been unified since 1990, noticeable differences still remain between the East and the West. It was a difficult political and economic transition: some people felt left behind – compared to the more prosperous West. Since the mainstream parties have failed to acknowledge these concerns, populist parties catch attention with slogans offering mediocre solutions for complex problems.
The establishment’s reaction has been fatal: centrist politicians have officially condemned right-wing violence but practically ignored it, some even tried to accommodate parts of the AfD’s content, more moderately, as aspects of their own political agenda – a dangerous method!
Now, what do we do to improve overall awareness?
First, we must invest more in educating people about the holocaust and about xenophobia. Lowering the hurdle of feeling insecure while challenging populist opinions is itself a challenge – this can be done by countering missinformation with facts and reporting fake news! And secondly, there is the democratic duty of all citizens – vote! Together, we can make a difference.