East Germany's rightward lean
    AfD captures hearts and minds

    ANALYTICS  15 June 2024 - 14:15

    The European Parliament elections that concluded on June 9 proved to be phenomenal by many measures. On the one hand, the coalition led by Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz suffered a catastrophic defeat, while on the other hand, far-right parties achieved significant success. Particularly noteworthy is the achievement of "Alternative for Germany" (AfD), which surpassed Chancellor Scholz's ruling party in Germany.

    This occurred despite a powerful attack against AfD by governmental structures shortly before the elections. Additionally, AfD was expelled from the right-wing faction "Identity and Democracy" two weeks before June 6, when Marine Le Pen, leader of the French "National Rally" (previously allied with AfD), urgently called for the establishment of a "sanitary cordon" due to AfD's actions "from provocation to provocation." " Now it’s no longer time to distance ourselves, it’s time to make a clean break with this movement," she declared. Without delving into the details preceding this decision of the far-right faction, as the media extensively covered the background of what happened, we'll simply note that AfD found itself in a problematic situation.

    Nevertheless, the party captured its votes (proving incredibly popular among the youth), achieving quite serious results in local elections in Eastern federal states and in the European Parliament elections, where it placed second after the centre-right alliance CDU/CSU. Here emerges yet another phenomenal nuance of the ongoing situation (if one looks at the election results through the geographical distribution of seats in the European Parliament). AfD reached significant heights specifically in the eastern part of Germany, which raised questions among many foreign analysts.

    However, in this sequence of events, there isn't really any particular secret. Back in 2016, then Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel referred to AfD as a party of "deniers" who "always know what's wrong, where to say 'no,' point out shortcomings. But life doesn't get better from that." It's a superficial analysis, of course, but one that allows us to track the attitudes against this party within governmental structures.

    In general, AfD's stance on the migrant issue and its perspective on the Russo-Ukrainian war are well-known, particularly through openly expressing dissatisfaction with "spending budget funds on defence and arms supplies to Ukraine instead of using them for the benefit of the country's citizens." In January of this year, co-chair of the party Alice Weidel stated that AfD would advocate for reforms aimed at addressing the "deficit of democracy." If reforms cannot be implemented and there are no opportunities to revive the sovereignty of European countries, A. Weidel did not rule out considering the possibility of holding a referendum on Germany's exit from the EU (similar to Brexit). In other words, the political orientation of AfD's program is familiar to many.

    Regarding sympathy for AfD specifically in eastern Germany, initially, one might refer to information from Spiegel, according to which residents of the eastern states of the country radically differ from western Germans in their assessment of events in Ukraine. In 2022, on the occasion of the 32nd anniversary of the country's reunification, large-scale protests against EU anti-Russian sanctions and government policies took place throughout eastern Germany (in which members of local AfD branches participated).

    One of the reasons for the lesser sympathy towards Ukraine in the eastern regions of the country compared to its western part, according to the East German philosopher Frank Richter, is the "worldview of Saxons and Prussians," who feel themselves "part of the Central European space historically linked to Russia." It is also noted the absence of a strong attachment of Eastern Germans to Western neoliberal values.

    Furthermore, it is emphasized that during Germany's reunification, residents of the eastern states encountered a lasting shock from what they perceived as unjust privatization and a blow to industry, issues that continue to resonate today. They also fiercely reacted to appointments of West German origin to positions of responsibility. In line with this, observers note that negative sentiments in this geographic area of Germany are also fueled by skyrocketing gas and electricity prices, as well as the closure of both branches of the Nord Stream gas pipeline and the largest refinery in Schwedt, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs.

    It's also important to acknowledge the fixation of some observers on a certain ideological shift, particularly the lack of understanding in Western Germany of the "national German consciousness" of their eastern compatriots. Some digital indicators might reinforce this notion. For instance, a year ago, there was information citing data from the Federal Statistical Office that workers in Eastern Germany earn on average €13,000 less annually than their counterparts in the West. Commenting on this, Sören Pellmann, representative of the Left Party in Eastern Germany, stated, "If full-time employed workers in Eastern Germany earn on average €13,000 less per year than their colleagues in Western Germany, then no politician should be surprised by AfD's high ratings."

    Certainly, the facts mentioned above are sufficient to determine specific reasons for discontent among the population in the eastern states of Germany towards the ruling authorities. Against this backdrop, the position of AfD simply could not help but garner support from residents of this region.

    Therefore, it's not surprising that AfD achieved impressive results specifically in eastern Germany during the recent elections, despite all insinuations against the party by governmental structures. Although it's possible that the overt pressure on the party only fueled a greater desire among Eastern Germans to support AfD.

    Now, we can only wait for the first sessions of the newly elected European Parliament, where significant debates are expected on even the slightest of issues.

    By Teymur Atayev

    The views and opinions expressed by guest columnists in their articles may differ from the editorial board's position and do not always reflect its views.


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