Germany’s Post-Nazi Taboo Against the Far Right Has Been Shattered

Thomas Kemmerich, newly elected governor of Thuringia, arriving for a press conference on Thursday. Credit Getty Images
Thomas Kemmerich, newly elected governor of Thuringia, arriving for a press conference on Thursday. Credit Getty Images

Sometimes, it takes an earthquake to reveal what’s below the surface.

In the eastern German state of Thuringia this week a regional election displayed the disastrous state of Germany’s political center — and how far the country now stands from the anti-fascist consensus it proclaims to maintain.

On Wednesday, the state Parliament of Thuringia elected Thomas Kemmerich of the Free Democratic Party as the new governor. The only reason Mr. Kemmerich was able to win, though, was because he received the backing of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, known by its German initials AfD. The Free Democrats in Thuringia, along with members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, agreed to the deal to ensure Mr. Kemmerich took office.

In doing so, the center-right parties broke a taboo that has been in place in German politics since the end of the Nazi era. Mr. Kemmerich became the first high-ranking German politician since World War II to be elected by relying on votes from a far-right party.

The centrists’ decision to side with the far right is especially worrying in Thuringia, where the AfD is not only the second strongest party in the regional parliament, but also more extreme than in any other state. The AfD’s boss there, Björn Höcke, is the leader of a hard-line movement inside the party known as “Der Flügel” — The Wing. In a 2018 book, he warned of the “coming death of the nation through population replacement.” Last year, a court ruled that he could legally be termed a fascist.

The events in Thuringia have shaken German politics. Ms. Merkel called the outcome “unforgivable.” Lars Klingbeil, the secretary general of the Social Democrats, spoke of a “low point in Germany’s postwar history.” Even the conservative tabloid Bild called the result a “disgrace.” After a wave of public fury — including protests across the country — Mr. Kemmerich announced on Thursday that he would resign in order to allow new elections. (It’s far from clear that a new election wouldn’t produce even stronger results for the AfD, however.)

But what led to these shameful machinations goes far deeper: the increasing normalization of the radical right in German politics. Even if Germany’s conservatives and liberals have not previously entered into formal agreements with the far right at the federal level, and are unlikely to let the AfD into a future government, they have nonetheless helped it gain power and far too often set the agenda. That dynamic won’t disappear soon.

This was not the first time that centrists have collaborated with the AfD. There have been at least 18 cases in which Ms. Merkel’s party has cooperated with the AfD on a local level, it was reported last fall. In the state parliaments of Berlin and Brandenburg, for example, the two parties have voted together on legislation. Leading Christian Democrats from several states have declared their willingness to work with the far-right party. In Saxony-Anhalt, the two parties teamed up in 2017 on an “inquiry on left extremism.” And in the same state, two Christian Democratic members of Parliament wrote a position paper last year in which they considered a coalition with the AfD. “We must reconcile the social with the national,” they stated, echoing neo-Nazi rhetoric.

The AfD has grown consistently since its founding in 2013 and is now present in the parliaments of every one of Germany’s 16 states. The parties of the center, meanwhile, have all shifted rightward. Both the Free Democrats, under their leader Christian Lindner, and the Christian Democrats have moved their policy platforms in an anti-immigrant direction. Neither Ms. Merkel nor the party’s new leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, have created clear boundaries between their party and the far right. But many voters, especially in the east of Germany, would rather buy the original product than its copies.

How did it come to this? One major factor is the obsession of many German centrists with the so-called horseshoe theory of politics, where the far left and the far right are equivalent.

Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats have been guided by this theory. In an official resolution, the party stated that it will never enter coalition with either the Left Party or the AfD. In Thuringia, it was this unmovable opposition to the left — demonized in its entirety by conservatives and liberals, citing the Left Party’s history as successor to the East German Communist Party — that laid the groundwork for the latest scandal. To prevent a relatively moderate and highly popular Left Party politician, Bodo Ramelow, from taking power in a minority government, the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats instead colluded with the AfD.

One day after the disaster in Thuringia, Friedrich Merz, a Christian Democratic politician whom some believe could be the next chancellor, appeared on a late-night talk show. After condemning his party’s decision to collaborate with the AfD in Thuringia, Mr. Merz also felt the need to warn of the “left scene” in Berlin torching cars; he went on to equate the Left Party with the AfD. Should Mr. Merz really become Ms. Merkel’s successor, we can expect a red scare to become ever more part of the centrist program.

For the far right, this week has been an outstanding success. AfD’s leaders have long predicted — and hoped for — a convergence with centrist and conservative parties. On Wednesday, when shaking hands to congratulate the newly elected Thuringia governor, Mr. Höcke smiled. The scene reminded many Germans of a famous picture from 1933 in which Adolf Hitler greets Paul von Hindenburg, Germany’s president at the time.

Germany in 2020 is not Germany in 1933. But German politics have shifted in recent years in a disturbing way. Centrists and the far right share talking points on immigration. They share what they perceive as a common enemy in the left. And now, for the first time in decades, they even share a governor.

Lukas Hermsmeier is a co-editor of the political online magazine was wäre wenn and a contributor to Zeit Online, Der Tagesspiegel and The Nation.

Deja una respuesta

Tu dirección de correo electrónico no será publicada. Los campos obligatorios están marcados con *