Characterized by its anti-immigration politics, Islamophobia, and German nationalism, the 2017 election of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD, or English, Alternative for Germany) to the Bundestag brought to light the schisms in German society and politics regarding migration and multiculturalism.
Founded in 2013 during the height of the Eurozone crisis, the AfD gained prominence by capitalizing on discontent of Germany’s economic bailout of struggling EU states (See: Rightward Political Shift in Europe and EU Parliamentary Elections, 2014). Internal divisions in 2015 resulted in a rebranding of the party along racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric to capture voters who opposed Germany’s immigration policies and felt disenfranchised by mainstream politics. This shift in tactics turned out to be incredibly effective in mobilizing voters and garnering media coverage: support for the AfD grew rapidly as the party won seats in a majority of regional parliaments and AfD spokespeople were frequently guests on national media outlets. After winning nearly 13% of the national vote, the AfD became the third largest party in the parliament and the first far-right party in modern German history to enter the Bundestag.
Of particular concern after the party’s win was its record of controversial statements from prominent party members. In 2017, party leader Björn Höcke described the Berlin Holocaust Memorial as a monument of shame and called for Germany to be proud of its history and role during WWII. This followed a pattern of AfD politicians questioning established historical truths in an attempt to revise and glorify German history along nationalist lines. This tactic of the AfD, along with its conservative politics, made the party a favorite with right-wing movements such as PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), who regularly demonstrate against immigrants and Islam using hateful and incendiary language.
For their part, sections of civil society opposed the AfD through counter-demonstrations. Chancellor Angela Merkel repeatedly condemned the hate speech from AfD and stated the importance of getting the party out of parliament. Many parties within the Bundestag vowed to block any exclusionary policies proposed by the AfD. Viewed as pariahs within government, experts believed it unlikely that the AfD will achieve any significant legislation.
However, even if the AfD will not impact legislation, their presence in the government further legitimized their platform and provided them with a powerful soapbox within government committees and the media.