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Mainstream, VOL LV No 42 New Delhi October 7, 2017

German Far Right Befools Political Commentators

Monday 9 October 2017


by Sankar Ray

The German political scenario is amidst a seismic uncertainty with the ascendant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)’s entry into the Bundestag with a voting share of 12.6 per cent and 79 MPs. The racist temper, combined with Nazi mores, albeit covertly, was reflected in a pre-election speech by the founder of the AfD, Dr Alexander Gauland, a former member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, who gave a call for reviving aggressive nationalism: “We have the right not only to take back our country, but also our past.” For the xenophobic party, German identity is not characterised by the horrors of Nazi Germany but myths like Nibelungs of Wagner’s operas and the legend of Faust of Goethe. The AfD has edged out the CDU, Social Democratic Party (SPD) and pro-communist Die Linke in Saxony, the strongest East German state. It got 27 per cent of votes, slightly more than the CDU, while the SPD and Die Linke received 10.5 per cent and 16.1 per cent respectively there. This is stupefying to political analysts, as Saxony was a citadel of the Die Linke and CDU.

One of the catchy slogans of the AfD is “Dare it, Germany”. Things began to turn slowly but partially in favour of the party during the two-year interregnum between the Kyffhäuser conference (beneath the Kyffhäuser Memorial) dominated by Der Flügel, defenders of what they see as a lost legendary German greatness, and the latest parliamentary election. At the Kyffhäuser inaugural speech, Gauland called the Germans to be proud of the soldiers that fought for Germany in the First and Second World Wars, but tactically forbade them to build German identity on the Nazi model. The Nazi years “don’t concern our identity anymore. Which is why we have the right not only to take back our country, but also our past,” he quipped.

The choice of the venue meeting, the Kyffhäuser Memorial, was significant. It was built during a period of surging nationalism (1892- 1897). The AfD brass wanted the young Germans to go back to the regime of the first emperor of the second German empire, inseparably linked to the legend of Barbarossa, or Kaiser Frederick, a medieval emperor of the first German empire. The legend is Barbarossa lies asleep in the mountain under the memorial until the German empire is reborn. Despite the AfD’s professed negation of Nazism, one cannot forget that Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 was code-named Operation Barbarossa.

The AfD distorts German history and tradition but puts forward a coherent narrative of German identity outsmarting parties like the CDU and Social Democratic Party. The focus of the rejuvenated New Right is what they call “metapolitics”—a concept enunciated by the French New Right thinker, Alain de Benoist, in the 1970s, based on the Gramscian idea of cultural hegemony. Which is how the cultural norms are manipulated to make them fit into the mindset of the New Right intellectuals and help cultural hegemony evolve in the pre-political, cultural sphere through the brainwashed intellectuals’ engagement in civil society. The CDU, SPD, Greens and even the pro-communist Die Linke took kindly to the brick-by-brick built AfD and the two-year run-up to legally engineered gate-crash into the Bundestag, never having thought that it might occupy the third position. Roping in a number of scholars with Ph.D and university professors was not taken seriously, while the ultra-nationalist party did this to equip itself with a strong ideological base. The conviction of the AfD think-tanks is “endowed with legitimacy among conservative elites by drawing on Heideggerian metaphysics and ideas of national spirit. Little wonder, the culturalist approach has moulded many well-educated voters who apprehend that the German tradition is under threat from nihilism, commercialisation and alien culture of migrant communities, more so as the anti-European has a powerful academic back-up with a ‘rich New Right literature at its disposal’. It has successfully forged a mix of far Right populism and philosophical reasoning, no matter if it is ephemeral.

The AfD has a similarity with the far Right and neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement, committed against Sweden’s tradition of an open and tolerant society that has an anti-fascist history. The NRM too sought permit for demonstration on symbolic dates in Swedish society like May Day and the iconic Almedalen politics week in July on the Baltic island of Gotland.

The AfD’s aim was in the main demolition of the CDU, led by sixtythree-year-old Chancellor Angela Merkel (born as Angela Dorothea Kasner). The CDU’s voting percentage plummeted to an all-time low of less than 33 per cent An East German who did her Masters in Physics and doctorate in Quantum Chemistry from the Leipzig University, was pushed by the Stalinist regime towards the Right. In 1981, she applied for a position at an engineering school, but she was offered and employed by the Stasi secret police. She refused to accept the offer. In 1989, she joined the Centre-Right activist movement, Demokratischer Aufbruch (Democratic Awakening). Gradually, she rose to the top and later led the merger of the DA with the CDU, but some of her moves were more Centrist than Rightist such as her pro-immigrant policy that was cashed in on by the AfD. Moderate political analysts are critical of her for ‘tactlessness’ but disagree with those who blame Merkel for paving the way for the sharp climb of the AfD.

The Left , Die Linke, and the Greens gained but insignificantly—0.5 per cent and 0.6 per cent respectively, below nine per cent, although both the CDU and SPD did the worst in the post-Second World War years. Germans, who generally regard Nazism as discordant with German history, are worried over the rise of the AfD. They can’t forget the path of ascendance of the Nazis in terms of vote-share (percentage)—2.6 in 1928, 18.3 in 1932. Thriving on depression, the share crossed 30 per cent. The Nazis cashed in on dissatisfaction, anger and anti-Semitism, inciting people’s anger against Jews instead of the Krupps or Deutsche Bank millionaires. The AfD may look forward to the repetition of history. The world has to wait whether Marx’s hypothesis that history repeats itself ‘first as a tragedy and then as a farce’ turns out to be true.

Cleverly, the AfD directs the people’s anger, but sparingly, against the Jews. Instead, it incites anti-Muslim and anti-migrant sentiment, branding the latter as the “other people” who are allegedly pampered at the expense of the “good German” working people. They snap fingers at Merkel’s CDU and her coalition partners, specially the Social Democrats. This tactic paid dividend as more than a million CDU voters and nearly half a million SPD voters switched their allegiance by casting votes for the AfD.

But the German political scenario is incredibly nebulous even for the AfD, especially after the sudden exit of its co-chair, Frauke Petry, who played a key role in the gate-crashing performance of the party in climbing to the third position in the parliament Bundestag, securing 12.6 per cent of total votes counted at the national election. “After long deliberation, I have decided not be part of the AfD faction,” Petry said, stupefying her colleagues at the national meet. A dumbfounded co-chief, Jörg Meuthen, told the media: “This was not discussed with us. I can only apologise for that.” Petry, who had differences with Meuthen and his faction which disapproves of her insistence on a less-extremist tactical line to rope in ‘vacillating political functionaries’, has thrown the ‘openly nationalist, xenophobic, revisionist and anti-European political force’ into a tizzy, when she announced that she would not be part of the AfD’s parliamentary group. Petry’s vision that a less extreme course is preparatory for the AfD to march towards the goal of ruling the state arguing that ‘radicalism’ would “scare away too many voters” has been rejected. Petry, who has sizable followers, is likely to function as an independent member of the Bundestag.

The author, a senior journalist based in Kolkata, specialises in Left politics and history.

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