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In depth: Is Alternative for Germany becoming too extreme?
The populist AfD, founded in 2013 as an anti-Euro party, is known for views that run the gamut from job creation in deindustrialized areas to stricter caps on refugees. They provided a welcome change for many looking for an alternative to more radical National Party of Germany (NPD), which is known for being openly racist and only garnered a small percentage of votes, even in Saxony. Yet when Björn Höcke, the AfD leader in Thuringia, joined members of the far-right, anti-Islam group Pegida, during a march in the east German town of Chemnitz at the weekend, alarm bells sounded for many. The demonstration on Saturday was held following a series of protests in the town prompted by the death of a man, who was allegedly stabbed by two immigrants. The gathering, which was called by the AfD, was advertised as a silent march to remember the victim, Daniel H., 35. However, after pictures emerged of Höcke with Pegida founder Lutz Bachmann, politicians called for state surveillance of the party which they said was needed to ensure the safety of the German constitution. The Social Democrats (SPD)’ Thomas Opperman, vice president of the German Bundestag, said it was a “turning point” that shows “how the AfD and the neo-Nazis cooperate”. Later on Tuesday, the authorities in Saxony said they would not monitor the party. SEE ALSO: Should the AfD be spied on? What you need to know However, in a separate move, the youth wings of the AfD (Jung Alternative or JA) were put under surveillance in Bremen and Lower Saxony amid concerns over right wing extremism. The AfD said these youth associations are now being disbanded due to security concerns for the whole party – but does the latest bad press do any damage to the reputation of the party or will it escape unharmed?
‘AfD behaviour could be viewed as too extreme’ Pegida (which stands for Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West) is viewed by mainstream politicians as a thorn in the side of Germany since the group began protesting in Dresden against immigration in October 2014 every Monday. It quickly gained momentum, with some gatherings swelling in size to over 10,000 people. In the past, the AfD has sought to distance itself from the group, and far-right organizations like it. However, some AfD party members have acknowledged that both groups share a common cause because of their anti-immigrant stance. German political scientist Florian Hartleb, author of The Rise of Populism: Lessons for the European Union and the United States of America, said the AfD’s reputation might be damaged if the party is seen as too extreme. “The AfD has to be careful not to be too radical, or like the NPD.” Lawmakers in Germany have tried twice – unsuccessfully – to ban the NPD, on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.
Hartleb said the “only hope” for mainstream politicians was for voters to see the AfD’s behaviour in Chemnitz as “too much”. “People might feel shocked” about the pictures of neo-Nazis, Pegida members and extremists alongside AfD, and “that they (the AfD) have solidarity and are not showing any distance to the extremists,” added Hartleb.