Far-right party lever­ages Ber­lin ter­ror­ist at­tack

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY AUSTIN DAVIS

BER­LIN | Ger­many’s surg­ing far-right party has wasted no time seiz­ing on the po­lit­i­cal im­pact of the coun­try’s lat­est ter­ror­ist as­sault, mov­ing quickly to politi­cize the grief and out­rage af­ter a rad­i­cal­ized Tu­nisian asy­lum seeker hi­jacked a truck and drove it into a Ber­lin Christ­mas mar­ket.

Two days af­ter the Dec. 19 at­tack that left 12 dead and more than 50 in­jured, mem­bers of the Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many party marched on the Chan­cellery to honor the vic­tims — and to protest Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s de­ci­sion last year to per­mit roughly 1 mil­lion refugees to en­ter the coun­try.

With Bach play­ing on loud­speak­ers, the demon­stra­tors waved Ger­man flags and held up plac­ards

read­ing, “Merkel must go.”

At the cen­ter of the protests was Alexan­der Gauland, 75, a founder of the AfD and now its na­tional deputy chair­man.

“She made a de­ci­sion that was dis­as­trous for Ger­many,” said Mr. Gauland. “This is just one con­se­quence of that. She is com­plicit.”

The Christ­mas mar­ket at­tack could serve as fuel for the rise of the pop­ulist far-right party, in a coun­try that has tra­di­tion­ally re­pressed po­lit­i­cal move­ments hark­ing back to Ger­many’s trou­bled past.

The AfD is the Ger­man it­er­a­tion of the Euro­pean pop­ulist re­volt that has shaken the con­ti­nent’s po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment in re­cent years, in­clud­ing gains of anti-im­mi­grant par­ties in West­ern and Eastern Europe, the United King­dom’s Brexit vote to leave the Euro­pean Union and the near vic­tory of a far-right party can­di­date for Aus­tria’s pres­i­dency this year.

Mr. Gauland was born dur­ing World War II in Chem­nitz, a city that would be­come Karl-Marx-Stadt un­der East Ger­man com­mu­nist rule. He fled to West Ger­many in 1959, earned a doc­tor­ate in law and po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and rose quickly in Ms. Merkel’s cen­ter-right Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union. Later, he had a suc­cess­ful ca­reer as a lo­cal news­pa­per pub­lisher and his­to­rian.

The fis­cal and so­cial con­ser­va­tive’s faith in the CDU was shaken in 2010, how­ever, when Ger­many agreed to eu­ro­zone bailouts for Greece’s fail­ing econ­omy.

An­gered by the govern­ment’s ne­glect of in­ter­na­tional agree­ments and what he viewed as a be­trayal of Ger­many’s in­ter­ests, Mr. Gauland, along with politi­cian and econ­o­mist Bernd Lucke, cut ties with the Chris­tian Democrats af­ter 40 years of mem­ber­ship and in 2013 founded what would be­come the AfD.

“It had been de­ter­mined that there wouldn’t be any bailouts and that ev­ery coun­try would ad­here to pay­ing their own debts,” Mr. Gauland re­called dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion in his of­fice in Pots­dam, where he heads the party’s cau­cus in the Bran­den­burg state leg­is­la­ture. “That was es­sen­tially the point when I told my­self that this isn’t the party for me.”

Mr. Gauland and Mr. Lucke’s brain­child be­gan as a party op­posed to the in­creas­ing con­cen­tra­tion of power in Brus­sels, the cap­i­tal of the Euro­pean Union. But the group also has ea­gerly em­braced pol­icy stances that un­til re­cently were con­sid­ered taboo here, in­clud­ing con­demn­ing im­mi­gra­tion and la­bel­ing Is­lam as un-Ger­man.

“We are es­sen­tially the only party that con­cerns our­selves with is­sues that the other par­ties sim­ply ig­nore,” Mr. Gauland said.

The push­back has been sharp and hos­tile. The Ger­man main­stream me­dia and the lead­ing po­lit­i­cal forces have branded the party as xeno­pho­bic.

The AfD is “an or­ga­ni­za­tion which em­ploys un­re­strained dem­a­goguery to abuse ev­ery­thing that is ca­pa­ble of be­ing abused,” Wolf­gang Schaeu­ble, Ms. Merkel’s pow­er­ful fi­nance min­is­ter, said in 2014.

Po­tent elec­toral for­mula

But “we are nei­ther xeno­pho­bic nor hos­tile to­ward for­eign­ers,” Mr. Gauland

in­sisted. “Rather, we sim­ply pro­vide those who don’t want these changes with a way to ex­press them­selves.”

The per­spec­tive has proved po­lit­i­cally po­tent as the coun­try strug­gles to ab­sorb nearly 1 mil­lion refugees who flooded Ger­many af­ter Ms. Merkel re­fused to close the coun­try’s bor­ders in the wake of crises in Syria, Afghanistan and other global hot spots. The AfD now holds seats in 10 of Ger­many’s 16 pow­er­ful state leg­is­la­tures. Na­tion­ally, the party is polling at 15.5 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to an INSA sur­vey — up 2.5 per­cent­age points in the wake of the Christ­mas mar­ket truck at­tack and just 5 points be­hind the cen­ter-left So­cial Democrats, Ms. Merkel’s rul­ing coali­tion ju­nior part­ner.

If the party main­tains its pop­u­lar­ity rat­ings go­ing into elec­tions next year, the AfD would eas­ily en­ter Ger­many’s fed­eral par­lia­ment as a pow­er­ful force op­pos­ing the govern­ment’s agenda.

“Tak­ing part in a coali­tion is com­pletely out of the ques­tion,” Mr. Gauland said. “We want to work as an op­po­si­tional force to change the agenda of other par­ties.”

Mr. Gauland might be achiev­ing his

goals al­ready.

Ms. Merkel and her Chris­tian Democrats con­spic­u­ously shifted course at her party’s con­ven­tion this month, call­ing for in­creased de­por­ta­tions of vi­o­lent and sus­pi­cious im­mi­grants and for a ban on public dis­plays of the burqa, a veil worn by con­ser­va­tive Mus­lim women.

“That’s our suc­cess,” said Mr. Gauland. “I’m con­fi­dent that what played out at the CDU’s party con­ven­tion wasn’t a co­in­ci­dence. The CDU is afraid that it’s los­ing vot­ers … and we’ll con­tinue to fuel this fear.”

Par­ties across Europe and in the United States are fan­ning flames of dis­con­tent us­ing sim­i­lar tac­tics with in­creas­ing suc­cess.

France’s Na­tional Front and the Nether­lands’ Party for Free­dom are gear­ing up for their coun­tries’ elec­tions next year us­ing rhetoric largely con­demn­ing im­mi­gra­tion and Is­lam.

Mean­while, the Brexit ref­er­en­dum and the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion of Don­ald Trump in the U.S. have so­lid­i­fied the gains of con­ser­va­tive na­tion­al­ist move­ments tap­ping into anger over the sta­tus quo.

While Mr. Gauland is skep­ti­cal of draw­ing too many sim­i­lar­i­ties with Mr. Trump or with other right-wing par­ties on the con­ti­nent, he wel­comed the grow­ing re­jec­tion of tra­di­tional elite pol­i­tick­ing in fa­vor of a more di­rect, even brazen po­lit­i­cal style, a re­jec­tion of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness and the fear of ad­dress­ing real prob­lems hon­estly.

“In Ger­many in re­cent years — es­pe­cially re­gard­ing the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump or the Brexit ref­er­en­dum — we’ve seen that a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion is con­demned just be­cause it seems po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect,” he said, adding that democ­racy is about giv­ing voice to ev­ery­one’s views. “But that doesn’t have any­thing to do with pol­i­tics.”

As Ger­many’s po­lit­i­cal sea­son heats up, Mr. Gauland plans to con­tinue em­pha­siz­ing pol­icy dis­crep­an­cies and in­se­cu­ri­ties within Ger­many’s con­ser­va­tive voter base, es­pe­cially in the wake of an­other ter­ror­ist at­tack.

“If you don’t want more refugees in this coun­try, if you want these peo­ple to be de­ported, then you can­not vote CDU,” Mr. Gauland said. “They’re not re­li­able. You have to vote AfD.”


Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s Chris­tian Democrats have shifted course since the Ber­lin ter­ror­ist at­tack, but the ri­val Al­ter­na­tive for Ger­many party is gain­ing steam.

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