BERLIN (AFP) — Populist party “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) began life at the height of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis in 2013 on an anti-euro platform, but it has now firmly repositioned itself as a xenophobic group.
After fears over a potential euro collapse waned, the party turned its anger against a million asylum-seekers who arrived in Germany last year.
It has steadily gained popularity even though leading AfD members regularly sparked outrage over racist remarks — including one suggesting that a German team with fewer non-white players could have beaten France in the Euro 2016 semi-final.
Exit polls in Sunday’s regional elections in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania show support reaching around 21 percent for the party, unseating Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union from second place.
Merkel had urged voters to shun AfD, which she described as a party that offers no solutions to problems, and which is simply a protest platform espousing hate.
Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has compared the AfD to the Nazis.
Founded by economics professor Bernd Luecke, the party quickly struck a chord with voters disillusioned with the politics of Germany’s main parties, particularly Merkel’s CDU, and drew those who were horrified at having to bail out southern countries.
Although AfD fell short of getting a foothold in the national parliament in 2013 elections, garnering 4.7% rather than the 5% threshold necessary to capture seats, it quickly showed that it was here to stay.
In May 2014, it sent seven deputies to the European Parliament with 6.5% of the vote.
It continued to broaden its reach, capturing seats in the regional parliaments of Saxony, Brandenburg, Thuringia, Hamburg and Bremen.
But the AfD was soon riven by an internal rift between the moderate Luecke and the hardline Frauke Petry, which was tugging the party further right.
As Petry prevailed and took over as party chief in July 2015, the tone of the AfD lurched right, although it has also been careful to distance itself from neo-Nazi party NPD.
Petry’s ascent to power came just as Germany suddenly woke up to tens of thousands of asylum-seekers streaming into the country on a weekly basis.
Petry did not mince her words on her feelings towards migrants, unleashing a storm when she suggested that police should be allowed to shoot at migrants to stop them entering Germany.
“No policeman wants to fire on a refugee and I don’t want that either. But as a last resort there should be recourse to firearms,” said Petry, who has admitted employing provocation to make an impression.
Other members of the party have also drawn condemnation for making racist slurs, including against footballer Jerome Boateng, who was born in Berlin to a German mother and Ghanaian father.
AfD deputy leader Alexander Gauland had said in May that “people find him good as a footballer, but they don’t want to have a Boateng as a neighbor.”
Another deputy leader Beatrix von Storch also made a jibe at players with immigrant roots after Germany’s 2-0 defeat to France, writing on Twitter that “maybe next time the German NATIONAL TEAM should play again.”
The Times of Israel covers one of the most complicated, and contentious, parts of the world. Determined to keep readers fully informed and enable them to form and flesh out their own opinions, The Times of Israel has gradually established itself as the leading source of independent and fair-minded journalism on Israel, the region and the Jewish world.
We've achieved this by investing ever-greater resources in our journalism while keeping all of the content on our site free.
Unlike many other news sites, we have not put up a paywall. But we would like to invite readers who can afford to do so, and for whom The Times of Israel has become important, to help support our journalism by joining The Times of Israel Community. Join now and for as little as $6 a month you can both help ensure our ongoing investment in quality journalism, and enjoy special status and benefits as a Times of Israel Community member.