Germany and the AfD shock

A right-wing populist party will enter the German Bundestag for the first time. With 12.6 percent of the vote, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) was the third-strongest force in the elections on September 24. Journalists speculate on what this will mean for German politics and ask who is responsible for the right-wing party's strong showing.

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The Washington Post (US) / 24 September 2017

Welcome to the club of the problem children

Now Germany must finally tackle the populism and right-wing extremism within its own borders, Anne Applebaum writes in delight in the Washington Post:

“Germany is no longer a saintly outlier - and maybe that's good. What had been Germany's expanding sense of moral superiority - toward France, Poland and other neighbors with raucous nationalist politicians; toward the United States with its dysfunctional White House - will rapidly diminish. Germany now becomes one of a team of countries fighting similar problems, rather than a disinterested outsider. … This is important, because German policy - on refugees, money and much else - is itself the source of some of these emotions, or at least that's how many perceive it. Finally, Germany will be forced to confront these issues at home.”

BNS (LT) / 26 September 2017

Moscow had a hand in the results

The Kremlin's influence in these elections wasn't particularly noticeable but it did yield results, British journalist Edward Lucas writes for BNS:

“In particular a large number of those who had previously voted for the Bavarian CSU were seduced by Moscow's mix of propaganda and other tactics. Roughly four million Russian Germans have now switched to the pro-Russian, far-right AfD camp. So the effort has paid off. ... Consequently Russia now has three parties it can influence in its favour, namely the weakened SPD, the pro-Russian Left, and the anti-Islamic AfD. Unfortunately to a certain extent one could also add the FDP to this list after it spoke out in favour of recognising Russia's annexation of Crimea.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) / 25 September 2017

Welcome to reality!

For the Tagesspiegel the AfD's entry into the Bundestag simply reflects emotions that have long been simmering in German society:

“The repressed emotions have been released, paving the way for a harsher democratic discourse. Up to now open racism and the relativising of history were a fringe phenomenon, but the hidden, hushed up form never was. Gone is the cosiness that was possible only because the ugliness was blanked out for so long. Gone are the complacency and self-deception that consisted in the belief that the world would automatically get better, without any resistance. Welcome to the reality! Welcome to an incomplete project! Welcome to a country in which not everyone will be welcomed by all!”

RTV Slovenija (SI) / 26 September 2017

The marginalised are easy prey for radicals

Journalist Matija Stepišnik sees the AfD's good showing in a larger context and writes in his column with RTV Slo:

“In the socially ruined regions of Europe there are more and more people who see no future for themselves in the dominant economic and social model of the (neo)liberal Europe. Inequality and social marginalisation are breeding grounds for political forces like the AfD that in reality have a far wider voter base, including among the more prosperous. The political elite's response to the refugees crisis and the insecurity it provoked was not convincing enough to allay the fears, abolish the prejudices and solve the dilemmas of these people. So the circle of those who are easy prey for the dangerous coalition of the radicals is growing ever larger.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) / 26 September 2017

Indignation over AfD a welcome distraction

Germany's political class should engage in self-criticism instead of just bashing the AfD, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung recommends:

“The three letters AfD are dominating the political discourse even though the newcomers to the Bundestag will barely have any direct influence on German policies. Journalists and leading politicians repeatedly came back to the spectre of the AfD in the first rounds of discussion. This is understandable from their point of view; it's a perfect topic for diverting attention from their own problems. But all the fuss about it won't do Germany much good. ... The established parties would do better to focus more on their own situation than the AfD scandal.”

Expressen (SE) / 25 September 2017

An end to the calm

Germany is no longer an anchor of political calm, Expressen writes:

“Angela Merkel's victory has a bitter aftertaste. Her policies have enabled a far right party to enter the German parliament and become the third-largest force. ... Her decision in 2015 to open the borders to a million refugees and migrants is what made it possible for the AfD to become so strong. ... Alexander Gauland, one of the AfD's leading figures, promised in his speech that his party would 'hound Merkel' and 'take back our country'. We are not used to hearing German politicians use such expressions. ... Many had complained about a boring German election campaign. The result, however, is anything but boring. Up to now the world was used to a stable political scene in Germany, without any major upsets. It looks like those times are over now.”

La Repubblica (IT) / 25 September 2017

A taboo has been broken

This is the first time a xenophobic party has entered the German parliament since the Second World War, La Repubblica comments:

“Even if we live in a different world today and Berlin is the heart of European democracy, this event inevitably brings back historical memories. ... Since the birth of the Federal Republic of Germany no political group that was further to the right than the CSU [the conservatives' Bavarian sister party] has been able to clear the five-percent hurdle for entering the Bundestag. But this taboo imposed by history has now been broken. This event is worrying for German democracy and can hardly leave Europe unmoved. Xenophobic movements and populists have long since emerged in the rest of Europe but the German exception was cherished because people thought it took fitting account of the past.”

The Guardian (GB) / 25 September 2017

Right-wing populists remain isolated

The AfD is still a long way off from playing a decisive role in German politics, The Guardian writes:

“Talk of Germany returning to the ghosts of the past would be overdone. Germany is a stable democracy. It is deeply committed to the European project. Its politics have not been upended by populist forces as has been the case in the US and the UK with Donald Trump and Brexit. The AfD will be in the parliament, but not in government. It will remain an anomaly - if a loud, obnoxious one. It will not be a defining factor for the country's policies on the European or global stages. ...The AfD remains politically isolated.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) / 25 September 2017

Demonising the AfD has backfired

The voters have punished the CDU/CSU and the SPD for various reasons, remarks Lidové noviny:

“Voters didn't want to make any changes to their prospering country - that's why Merkel won. But the figures show a more nuanced picture: the CDU won, but with its worst result since 1949. And the SPD's situation looks just as unfavourable. So the government was punished for its experiment with open borders, for the feeling among many that Germany is becoming a 'sparse nation'. But above all the grand coalition was punished for pushing its critics and opponents into a corner. The more it condemned critics as populists and extremists, the more points the latter were able to score with voters.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) / 24 September 2017

Battle against the enemies of democracy begins

Bartosz Wieliński, former Berlin correspondent for Gazeta Wyborcza, sees Germany's democratic politicians facing a tough battle:

“The AfD will divide the parliament into friends and foes (as the PiS has done here): into better and worse Germans, patriots and traitors. In this atmosphere there can be no discussion about finding a common denominator. The parties will have to fight, but the Germans are good at that. ... In all likelihood the AfD will now attack the liberal media, the judiciary and other democratic institutions. ... The politicians will have to defend them from day one. So in Germany a battle against the enemies of democracy has begun.”

Večernji list (HR) / 25 September 2017

What Merkel must do now

Angela Merkel needs to set five top priorities to prevent the AfD from becoming even stronger, urges Večernji list:

“First: deport 260,000 illegal immigrants. ... Second: ensure more stringent entry checks in Germany and the EU. ... Third: make a clear distinction between refugees and economic migrants. ... Fourth: prevent the gap between rich and poor from getting even wider. ... Five: reform the EU. ... Because if all that doesn't happen the radicals could take control of the Bundestag in the next elections”

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