Queen's Policy Engagement

It is grim and not a fairytale: Mutti Merkel and ‘the Alternative for Germany’

Angela Merkel was able to hold ground for another term as chancellor but it may be difficult for her to stay in government following the rise of the AfD says Dr Ulrike Vieten.

It is grim and not a fairytale: Mutti Merkel and ‘the Alternative for Germany’

Mutti Merkel – mother Merkel – that’s how some Germans call her. ‘Voll muttiviert’ – (absolutely motivated) and by this playing on the word ‘motiviert’ similar to the English word ‘motivated’ –  the Christian Democratic Union election campaign used this slogan to support Angela Merkel in her campaign. True, Dr Angela Merkel was able to hold ground for another term as chancellor. But with a more fragmented society and a range of smaller political parties in Germany it will be very difficult for her to stay in governance. The Social Democrats announced quickly after the first results showed up that they are not available to build another ‘Grand Coalition’, and the new/ old chancellor now depends on finding new coalition partners.

The 21st century rise of far right populist parties, internationally and across Europe has reached the German Bundestag: following the 24 September election there is now a far right party, AfD (The Alternative for Germany), with 94 MPs sitting in the Berlin parliament. With close to 13 % (12.6%) of the electoral votes and thus claiming victory as the third strongest party this is also a rupture to the centre left (SPD) and centre right parties (CDU/ CSU); both parties faced dramatic losses.

Writing a couple of days after the election it is not even certain that the two of three other smaller parties, the liberal FDP (Freiheitliche Demokratische Partei; Free and Democratic Party) and the liberal –ecological, Bündnis 90/ die Grünen (the Green) party might agree on a so called ‘Jamaica’ coalition. Why should they sustain Merkel’s power? They might eventually, in order to prevent a worse scenario: Germany having a centre right and a far–right coalition. But Merkel is not May, who accepted the DUP to keep the power of the Tories, and nothing like the Dutch Prime Minister, Rutte, who accepted the far right PVV (Geert Wilders) to ‘tolerate’ his centre right minority government in 2010. Though this lasted not as long.

THIS kind of proposal would be a big breach of taboo in Germany. I am pretty sure Angie won’t offer the AFD (Alternative for Germany) any deal like this despite having the image of being flexible and pragmatic.

The other more radical left, socialist small party ‘Die Linke’ (The Left) will stay put and in opposition as they have been for years. What has to be said is that the Social Democrats missed a historical chance in 2013: for ideological reasons and to distant themselves from the post-communist and socialist party they did not engage with the idea to build a coalition with ‘Die Linke’ (also possibly joined by the Green party). At that time there was an electoral vote rather leaning to the left; now in 2017, the majority shifted to the far right.

Yes, it is shocking, indeed, but as an academic researching gendered anti-Muslim racism, anti-migration rhetoric, classism and the lack of social integration in different countries and across Europe, I am hardly surprised by its result. But yes, it is shocking that the AfD as a relatively new party gained this huge success within only four years of its establishment.

According to the German Bundeszentrale fuer Politische Bildung (Centre for political education) the AfD was founded in 2013 to combat the EURO Rettungsschirm. To remind the readers: the European rescue fund addressed the difficult economic situation of some other € EU countries, asking the more prosperous ones to support with credit and therefore €750 million was activated.

Beyond any debate and controversy on this, which heated up with further credits necessary to stop a broke Greece later on, the AfD attacked the core of what intra-European solidarity might look like: to step in for others. It is somehow ironic that 2013 also was the year the EU focused on its citizens when announcing ‘The European Year of Citizens’ hoping to raise awareness about EU citizen rights and perspectives.

QUB colleague Prof Dagmar Schiek has just published a blog on how this German election result might or might not affect the EU-UK negotiations on Brexit. Beyond its economic and anti-EU solidarity goal, the AfD turned to a völkisch anti-immigration program in 2015. This coincided with Merkel’s and the German government’s decision to halt the Dublin Regulation and allow refugees from the Middle East, Syrians primarily, to enter the country in large numbers. However, we have to keep in mind that AfD along aside a far right populist street movement, PEGIDA (Patriots against the Islamisation of the Occident) emerged in the East German city of Dresden, in October 2014. They mushroomed with some outlets also in some West German cities, for example, Cologne, but by and large the strongholds in Germany remained in the East (Virchow 2016).

This is a daunting fact; and part of the story is that this part of Germany is most homogenous in terms of the social fabric of society. Hatred of the Other, racism and xenophobia have been fuelled by images and discursively constructed imaginations of what Islam and Muslim look like as a threat. Recent terrorist attacks in Germany and elsewhere might have supported anxieties, but again, racism and xenophobia predate all these current events. Back in the early 1990s, black asylum seekers were attacked and killed, and in both parts of Germany murderous arson attacks on the homes of Turkish migrants led to several deaths of women and children. The NSU (National Socialist Underground) scandal of 2011 is going on as the Court is still dealing with this investigation.

One of the current narratives regarding Germany is to say it is a diverse and a multicultural society. It is not; and it is. It is certainly in more places than it used to be, but this is largely a repertoire of metropolitan and prosperous urban spaces, or regions that have seen immigration for centuries. The social-economic, but also cultural division that is splitting municipalities, Länder and city spaces underlines the lack of social cohesion and perspectives of a significant minority impacting differently on more impoverished and disadvantaged sections of the German Volk. I am writing this very consciously as we have to face up to a more general problem of various national democracies; who is allowed to vote, and who can voice ‘protest’?

Frustration is boiling for years: austerity, immigration policy and classism clash with pseudo-liberal gender ideals, stark (secular) Christian orientations and a republican notion of ‘native’ entitlements.

As I have argued elsewhere (2014; 2016) the normalisation of racism (e.g. Anti-Muslim) on the one hand, and queer rights (e.g. partnerships and marriages) on the other in contemporary European societies bring to the fore a dangerous paradox of pseudo-liberalism as for example, the female far right leader, Alice Weidel (AfD) happens to be a lesbian.

Gay people among the front leaders of far right parties is not a new phenomenon actually: in 2002, the Dutch and gay academic Pim Fortuyn said in an interview that ‘Islam is a backward culture’ and pushed his far right ‘Pim Fortuyn list’ to prominence. He was murdered in 2002 by an environmentalist, but the party became influential in Dutch politics and public debate making far right politics socially acceptable (‘salonfähig’). In terms of context this paved the way and discourse of what Geert Wilders and his PVV (Freedom Party) is renowned for now; there is no innocence left to what gender and sexuality difference might make to the mainstreaming of far right populism.

But back to the problem of political governance and how to go about the AfD now in the Bundestag? The AfD was previously successful in various German Länder parliaments, achieving highest percentages in Saxony with 20%, March 2016. What democrats have to be beware of is a strategy of intimidating critics, and also taking court action against people; professionals, judges, academics.

In Thüringen, for example, the AfD gained entry into the Länder parliament previously, too, and currently is blocking court procedures while calling into question judicial independence, and filing bias petitions (‘Befangenheitsantrag). This is not a new tactic, but was employed by German fascists in the 20th century and – some of you might recall this – also initiated as judicial tactic the second round of the presidential election in Austria. The latter though turned out in favour of the independent and Green-Left candidate von der Bellen.

That means, Germany’s political representatives do have already experience with AfD politicians and it is most important to not give in to their racist and nationalistic discourse; keeping the rules and regulations of the parliament.

It won’t be an easy task and we all have to be alarmed.


The featured image has been used courtesy of a Creative Commons license. 

Dr Ulrike M Vieten
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Dr Ulrike M Vieten is a Queen’s University Research Fellow at the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice. She is an expert in research on racism, gender (intersectionality), migration and more recently on far right populism. Her new chapter ‘New Year’s 2015/2016 public sexual violence debate in Germany: media discourse and gendered anti-Muslim racism’ is forthcoming (November 2017) in the book Media, Crime, Racism, co-edited by Monish Bhatia, Scott Poynting & Waqas Tufail, published with Palgrave Macmillan.

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