Author: Tornike Peikrishvili
Recent public opinion polls have revealed a surge in far-right sentiments in Germany, with a particular focus on the “Alternative for Germany”(AfD) party. The party has undergone a resurgence, positioning itself as a growing threat to democracy. This blog offers a historical timeline of the party’s evolution, assesses AfD’s recent electoral successes, and delves into the current political scandal in the Bundesrepublik, involving a radical right-wing mass deportation plan targeting migrants.
In 2013, the “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) emerged on the German political stage after former members of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), whose ideological preferences did not align with the party’s center-right and pro-European course and deviated towards Euroscepticism and conservatism, left the union (CDU /CSU – Union) and formed a new political alliance. Since its foundation, AfD has been labeled as far-right and ideologically right-wing populist, characterized by anti-EU, anti-migrant, Islamophobic, ultraconservative and nationalist narratives.
In the federal elections of 2013, AfD received 4.7% of the votes, falling short of the 5% electoral threshold. At the national level, the party succeeded in the 2017 elections, securing 12.6% support and entering the Bundestag. This electoral achievement marked a peculiar precedent for the German political system, which is one of the most stable governing systems in Europe and the continent’s backbone of democracy and freedom. An anti-establishment movement and far-right political group found themselves in the Bundestag for the first time since World War II, and were given official opposition status following the formation of a coalition government by the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Subsequently, in the 2021 elections, the far-right lost more than a million votes, but managed to secure 10.3% of the votes on a proportional list, maintaining its status as a parliamentary party.
The rise of the AfD
Graph 1 – Dynamics of voter sentiments
The surge in AfD’s rating was particularly notable in 2023, coinciding with a decline in the ruling coalition’s popularity comprising the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Alliance 90/Greens (Grüne), and Free Democratic Party (FDP).
Chart 2 – If there was a federal election next week…
Surveys conducted between December 2023 and January 2024 indicate AfD’s approval rating ranging from 18-24%, with one in five voters expressing support. AfD has surpassed Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s SPD in the ranking, securing second place after the CDU, and achieving a record number of supporters in its history.
Notably, at the end of 2023, AfD’s endorsed candidate won the mayoral election in the city of Pirna (c. 40,000 inhabitants) in the eastern German federal state of Saxony, defeating the Christian Democrats’ nominee. Earlier in June, the far-right secured a victory in the district council elections in the Sonneberg district in the state of Thuringia (approx. 57,000 inhabitants).
While these victories occurred in sparsely populated areas, they should be generalized more broadly as symptomatic rather than as small local events. Taking into account that the Internal Intelligence Service has classified the party as an anti-constitutional extremist group in multiple federal territories, and given that other political parties are reluctant to engage with them, it is noteworthy that the party still effectively mobilizes voters in various constituencies. Since its establishment, the AfD has garnered substantial support in regions once under Soviet control before reunification. Despite the reunification, these areas exhibit lower economic development compared to West Germany, fostering a sense of social alienation and providing fertile ground for the reinforcement of right-wing narratives. Initially labeled as an East German phenomenon, recent studies suggest that the issue transcends regional boundaries, as the radical right’s influence is expanding not only within the former GDR, but across the entirety of Germany.
The “Secret Plan Against Germany”
As the right-wing party ratings soared, local politics became engulfed in scandal. “Secret Plan Against Germany” was the title of the journalistic investigation published by the German Correctiv. The report disclosed a meeting hosted by AfD members in a hotel near Potsdam with representatives of the Austrian ethno-nationalist and far-right Identitarian movement, followers of the nationalist student fraternity (Burschenschaft), two politicians from the CDU-affiliated conservative association (WerteUnion), wealthy right-wing elites, and others, who have been serving the right-wing ideology since the last century. They were united by one idea: A mass deportation plan based on racist criteria.
During the meeting, Martin Sellner, an Austrian far-right political activist, and leader of the Identitarian movement closely tied to AfD, presented the “master plan” for the migrant expulsion. The plan is an extension of Sellner’s 2023 book titled “Regime Change from the Right”. As the main theme of the book, Sellner points to the goal of the right-wing struggle to preserve integrity and ethno-cultural identity through a radical change in the current situation. To realize the envisioned objective, implementing a “remigration policy” entailing mass deportations is deemed crucial. In the course of the meeting, three distinct migrant groups were singled out: Asylum seekers, non-Germans with residence permits, and “non-assimilated” citizens. The occurrences at the hotel amounted to nothing short of discrimination and the segregation of individuals based on national origin, ethnicity, and skin color. This not only contravenes the rights of citizens, but also stands in direct contradiction to the principle of equality guaranteed by the German constitution—though that is not all.
The secret meeting also discussed the concept of a “model state” for expelled migrants in North Africa, where the extradited should be transferred, joined by everyone who lobbies on the issue of migrants. Martin Sellner’s neo-Nazi concept is reminiscent of the Nazis’ “Madagascar Plan” in 1940, which aimed to deport millions of Jews to the island.
The discussions at the secret conference also revolved around another fundamental topic – how to form a homogeneous ethnic community in Germany, mirroring Nazi ideologies. Additionally, the discussion touched upon turning the idea of migration into a political strategy, and forming an active political front by mobilizing public opinion and support around the radical right-wing forces through propaganda, reporting elections as illegitimate, attacking the Constitutional Court, and discrediting democratic institutions.
The article published by investigative journalists triggered a political scandal in Germany, angering the pro-democracy public and the political spectrum. Counterdemonstrations protesting AfD’s actions were held in Berlin, Potsdam, Hamburg, and other cities, on January 14. Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who condemned the incident, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock, who stated that “she and the gathered citizens stand together to defend democracy against old and new Nazism,” participated in a demonstration in front of the Brandenburg Gate. From January 19 to 21, 1.4 million demonstrators participated in protests held across 100 different locations nationwide. Simultaneously, discussions regarding the potential constitutional ban of the party resurfaced. Additionally, members of the Christian Democratic Party and the Social Democrats from Bundestag are lobbying a petition from civil society that garnered over 700,000 signatures for the highest legislative body.
In conclusion, AfD’s rising ratings and the far-right’s plan to deport migrants are a noteworthy precedent and a threat to Germany’s political landscape, especially as support for democratic political groups declines, as reflected in party ratings. We can draw a direct historical parallel with Nazi Germany, because Hitler came to power through free and fair elections. At this stage, I consider it impossible for the “Alternative for Germany” to become a “veto player” and determine the further course of the country’s development; however, policymakers must redirect the electorate toward a democratic political agenda, employ a clear strategy, avoid collaboration with neo-Nazi movements, and demonstrate moral superiority to safeguard democracy. It is crucial to thwart the new manifestation of Nazism and the resurgence of radical right-wing political groups seeking political destabilization and persecution on different grounds.