Despite efforts to ban the party, support is surging
I was sitting in a beer garden in Fürstenwalde, southeast of Berlin, when the disturbing news alert about the deaths of six migrants in the Channel pinged up on my phone. I told my German friends about it and the small boats crisis in Britain, but didn’t get very far before one of them interrupted me: “You call that a crisis? It’s much worse here and our government doesn’t even pretend it cares!”
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The town of Fürstenwalde was embroiled in a bitter battle to stop a school’s sports hall from being turned into accommodation for migrants — an issue that united supporters of almost all political parties. But it is the far-Right Alternative for Germany (AfD) that stands to gain from such social conflicts.
Following reports that Germany is now considering banning the AfD, the party continues to attract controversy. Last week, prominent AfD politician Maximilian Krah told the Times that Germany’s “immigration-drunk establishment politicians” had lost control over who enters the country to a point where a breakdown of law and order is to be expected. He claimed Rotherham-style child sex abuse scandals “will happen without the AfD”.
It’s tempting to write Krah off as a swivel-eyed extremist. He openly uses Nazi terms like Umvolkung, the policy of deliberately replacing one population with another, which he sees as the main motive of former chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy. Right now, not many Germans subscribe to Krah’s views but his vitriol about “knife attacks” and “rape” going unpunished is hitting a raw nerve.
Take Fürstenwalde, a commuter town by the River Spree with a handful of shops, cobbled streets and a small cathedral. One of the topics in the beer garden revolved around a brutal stabbing that had taken place in the town a few days earlier. A 26-year-old from Syria had stabbed another man several times before fleeing the scene. After hours of searching, police tactical units eventually apprehended him. The fact that he is currently detained in a psychiatric hospital rather than custody has led to further speculation as to whether the police are treating this case seriously enough.
The suspicion that the authorities show no interest in protecting the interests of local communities doesn’t need ideology or politics to grow. When Fürstenwalde’s district was told to find housing for 1660 refugees, roughly the same as the total number of migrants that lived there 10 years ago, it was a huge challenge, on which many felt they weren’t consulted.
The headmaster of the school whose sports hall was to be requisitioned said he found out about these plans in the media. His students took to the streets to voice their protest, but stressed that they “do not want this associated with any kind of politics”. Local government rowed back but is still looking for other solutions in the local area. Chancellor Olaf Scholz said when he visited the region that he does not foresee a change in the way Germany manages its refugees.
Many local communities feel helpless. For instance, the mediaeval village of Schönberg, north of Berlin, has 250 inhabitants and is supposed to find housing for 80 refugees. The local government is looking to lease a plot of land from the parish, right in the village centre, to build a container settlement. Residents told the local press that “it’s too much for the village. We don’t have anything here, no infrastructure, nothing…They didn’t even consult us.”
The feeling of being ignored is leaving a void for the AfD to step into. The party is now polling as the second strongest at federal level (in the state of Brandenburg containing both Fürstenwalde and Schönberg, it is the strongest with 28%, the highest it has ever polled there). Politicians can no longer rely on excluding the AfD from government as a solution to its rising support. Their voters’ concerns are real. If they won’t talk to them, the AfD will.