The Alternative for Germany (AfD), which sparked a political earthquake after becoming the first openly anti-immigration and Islamophobic party to win dozens of seats in parliament, has unleashed a debate on whether it can be called “far-right.”
Launched as a populist anti-euro party in 2013, the AfD has veered sharply to the right since and in the run-up to Sunday’s election campaigned with slogans such as “Bikinis Not Burkas” and “Stop Islamisation.”
But as its co-chief Frauke Petry made clear Monday, there is dissent within the AfD, especially between her and leading candidate Alexander Gauland.
Just hours after the results confirmed its 12.6 percent score, the simmering dispute exploded. Petry declared she would not join the AfD’s parliamentary group, and four state-level MPs also said they would form a regional splinter group.
Why doesn’t Germany call the AfD far-right?
In Germany, given its dark Nazi history, the label “far-right” carries heavy weight and automatically triggers monitoring by the BfV domestic intelligence agency.
Holocaust denial and the use of Nazi slogans and symbols such as the swastika are illegal.
The BfV agency monitors extremists — mostly neo-Nazis, the far-left and jihadis — and has long kept tabs on the extreme-right NPD, which has several locally elected officials.
The spy service says it does not monitor the AfD, but there have been calls for it to do so after several party leaders have made public comments widely condemned as racist or revisionist.
Why is the AfD controversial?
Petry, at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015, said German police should be allowed, as a last resort, to shoot illegal immigrants, evoking orders given to Cold War-era communist guards along the Berlin Wall.
The party’s Bjoern Hoecke has called Berlin’s Holocaust memorial a “monument of shame” and said Germany should take a 180-degree turn away from its guilt and atonement over World War II and the Holocaust.
Similarly, Gauland during the campaign said that Germans “have the right to reclaim not just our country, but also our past.”
“If the French are rightly proud of their emperor (Napoleon), and the British of (Admiral Horatio Lord) Nelson and (Prime Minister Winston) Churchill, then we have the right to be proud of the achievements of German soldiers in two world wars,” he said.
Gauland also sparked outrage when he said Germany’s integration commissioner Aydan Ozoguz should be “dumped in Anatolia,” suggesting that she will never be German because of her Turkish family roots.
Who has the leading voice in the party?
The AfD has had two co-chiefs — Petry, 42, and Joerg Meuthen, 56 — but also two top election candidates, who happen to be Petry’s bitter rivals — Gauland, 76, and Alice Weidel, 38.
Weidel has revealed that she and Gauland have not spoken to Petry “for months,” confirming discord between the party HQ and candidates, and raising questions over its wider organisation.
Highlighting the rift, Petry has distanced herself from Gauland’s comments that Germany should take pride in its veterans, warning that they would turn off many voters.
There are other contradictions. Gauland declared Monday that he “does not want to lose Germany to an invasion of foreign people from foreign cultures,” but Meuthen insisted that the AfD would “tolerate neither xenophobic nor racist positions.”
The “good cop, bad cop” dynamic has made it hard to pin down who has the final say in the party, which Petry has herself described as “anarchic.”
Is the AfD Germany’s National Front?
The party says no, although the AfD has reached out to Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front (FN) and other European anti-immigration groups.
Le Pen and Dutch anti-Muslim politician Geert Wilders saluted the election advance of the AfD on Sunday.
Britain’s former UKIP party leader Nigel Farage during the campaign rallied AfD supporters in Berlin, although he insisted he was there to support AfD candidate Beatrix von Storch rather than the party as a whole.
Gauland said Monday he is “always very skeptical” when comparisons are drawn with other countries’ parties.
The AfD only had close links with Austria’s far-right FPOe, he said, “out of a historical tradition, a common language and other considerations.”
“All others are nationalist in formulation as we are,” he said, but “I don’t see the similarities.”