Germany: The far right makes history
German political life is “going to get ugly,” said Toralf Staud in Die Zeit. Angela Merkel won a fourth term as chancellor in national elections this week, but it was a glum victory. Support for her own center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) slumped, while the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) saw dramatic gains—it took a record 13 percent of the vote and will now enter the national legislature for the first time. The AfD ran its campaign around relentless opposition to immigrants in general and Muslim immigrants in particular. Its members now have a national platform on the floor of the Bundestag to spew their noxious views, including that German remembrance of the Holocaust has become a “cult of guilt,” that homosexuality is “disgusting,” and that race mixing will create a “mongrel” people. “Contempt, ugliness, and brutish language will become common in the Bundestag, but we can’t let it become normal.”
It would be easy to blame the rise of the far right solely on Merkel’s 2015 decision to open Germany’s borders and take in more than a million refugees, said Max Holscher in Spiegel.de. But the reality is more nuanced. While the two big centrist parties experienced a collapse in support, their voters fled to “many different parties.” Merkel’s CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, took 32.9 percent of the vote, down from 41.5 percent in 2013. They hemorrhaged about 1 million votes to the AfD, but they also lost 1.3 million to the pro-business Free Democrats, hardly an anti-immigrant party. Meanwhile, Merkel’s coalition partner in the previous government, the center-left Social Democratic Party, imploded, with a secondplace finish of just 20 percent— a postwar low—after losing votes to the AfD, the Left, the Greens, and other parties.
That’s why the Social Democrats won’t join the government this time around, said Georg Löwisch in Die Tageszeitung. They want to define themselves in opposition, if only so as not to cede opposition leadership to the AfD. The practical Merkel will now likely lead a “Jamaica coalition,” so called for the colors of the Jamaican flag: black for the CDU, yellow for the Free Democrats, and green for the Greens. It’s an alliance of pragmatism, not drama, but then Merkel knows that fighting the rise of the far right “demands not heat, but cool.” Let’s hope she pulls it off, said Heribert Prantl in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, because the rise of the AfD is “a huge step backward” for Germany. We can’t console ourselves by pointing to other European countries—Austria, Denmark, France, the Netherlands—that have long dealt with a far-right, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim party as the No. 3 or even No. 2 force in politics. Our situation is much more precarious, because of our unique historical crimes, and we cannot treat neo-Nazis like just another political party. “Germany is like an alcoholic” in recovery. If we drink of extremism, even a little bit, “things get dangerous.”