They make outrageous statements and then they say, ‘Oh, we didn’t mean it that way.’ This is a learned strategy.One reason for Germany’s relative immunity to strong radical-right parties was of course our history, which meant that any party that lacked a clear anti-Nazi position wouldn’t be able to gain much support. But that’s changing with the extreme right wing scene linked to AfD politician Björn Höcke. In contrast to large parts of the neo-Nazi NPD, he presents himself as a civil, middle-class person, but the differences in politics are not that big – take his comments about how Hitler wasn’t as bad as he is portrayed. But this is part of the tactics of the populist discourse. They make outrageous statements and then they say, “Oh, we didn’t mean it that way.” This is a learned strategy, applied over Europe, through which they intend to normalise extreme-right positions. The AfD is drifting further towards the far-right. I think that the main difference between Höcke and Frauke Petry is not political but strategic: Petry wants to form a coalition; Höcke wants to form a social movement. She clearly stated that they aim to enter the German government in the elections after next. Höcke and his bunch think they can have more political influence on the streets, and this strategy was vindicated by Merkel’s refugee policy U-turn. Of course the CDU never was an immigration-friendly party, and politicians like the CSU’s Horst Seehofer are basically saying the same thing as the AfD. But the party exerted huge pressure. And the risk is that, as Marine le Pen once said, when mainstream politicians start mimicking their political rhetoric, “people will prefer the original to the copycats”… And it’s more about rhetoric. They actually don’t have a coherent programme. In a leaked AfD strategy paper, it was agreed they wouldn’t talk about social issues because their opinions diverged too strongly. But we know from polls that voters don’t choose AfD for their programme, but because they are unlike the other parties. The AfD was able to claim that they’re the only party actually addressing the migration crisis coherently and responsibly; that’s what made them so popular. At this point, their popularity is greater than what their structure can handle. Look at the people that got jobs in the Saxony-Anhalt parliament… it’s really ridiculous. They’re incompetent! As for its leadership, I don’t see anyone strong or charismatic enough to bring the different wings together at this point. But in the context of global immigration, terrorism and crisis of the neo-liberal model, all factors that feed populist movements, I’m not optimistic that the AfD will go away by itself. I also see the danger that far-right activists like the NPD will be driven to even more violence. They have no parliamentary future in competition with the AfD, and so they may seek to reach their goals through more violent means – like we saw in Saxony with the terrorist group Bürgerwehr Freital. Right-wing violence, especially in the context of the migration crisis, is a huge problem.
Jena-based political scientist Matthias Quent believes you shouldn’t get confused by appearances: the AfD is drifting further right, and their electoral success could push the real neo-Nazis to become more violent.