BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel says that disillusionment and discontent with the German government don’t give people a “right to hatred,” an allusion to a far-right party’s strong recent election performance in eastern Germany.
Alternative for Germany, or AfD, has polled over 20 percent and finished second in state elections in Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia in the past two months. It is particularly strong in the ex-communist east, where many people still feel disadvantaged, 30 years after German reunification.
Asked about those election performances, Merkel acknowledged in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine published Tuesday that some people and regions in eastern Germany haven’t had it easy.
“But one must also say clearly 30 years later: Even if you are not satisfied with public transport, medical care, government action overall or your own life, that doesn’t lead to a right to hatred or disdain for other people or even violence,” she added.
Merkel, 65, herself grew up in East Germany, entering politics only in her mid-30s as communism crumbled. But disillusionment with her in recent years, fueled particularly by the influx of migrants in 2015, has perhaps been greatest in the east.
“We live in freedom — people can speak and vote accordingly,” Merkel said. She stressed that her job is to serve everyone in Germany — “so the assumption that I should take care primarily of the interests of eastern Germans is wrong but, if you follow it, it of course leads to disappointment.”
AfD has sought to claim the mantle of the 1989 rebellion against communist rule, urging eastern voters in recent election posters to “complete” that uprising.
In an apparent reference to some regional AfD leaders’ western origins, Merkel said: “What really isn’t OK from my point of view is when people with west German biographies go to the east and claim that our state actually isn’t better than [communist] East Germany.”
On Monday, Germany launched a week of festivities marking the three-decade anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Leaders of former Cold War powers will be absent from anniversary festivities, as Donald Trump’s America First, Britain’s Brexit and Russia’s resurgence put a strain on ties.
Gone, too, is the euphoric optimism for liberal democracy and freedom that characterized the momentous event on November 9, 1989, as Germany grapples with the surge in far-right support in its former communist states.
“The spirit of optimism” seen 30 years ago, or even five or 10 years ago, “is not perceivable” today, noted Berlin official Klaus Lederer, whose office spearheaded the festivities..
Issuing a warning against “the current situation in the world” as he launched the week of celebrations, Berlin mayor Michael Mueller said the German capital must show it stands for freedom. “We fight against all forms of exclusion.”
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the anniversary was also a chance to remind Europe it needs to stay united in the face of rising geopolitical tensions around the world.
“Exhortations from individual European capitals fall on deaf ears in Moscow, Beijing and, unfortunately, to an increasing extent also in Washington DC,” he wrote in an op-ed carried in newspapers across the EU on Saturday.
“It is only Europe’s voice that carries decisive weight. This is why unilateral action at the national level must finally be taboo in Europe.”