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2-9-2019 17:59:07

A far-right party just made big gains in the east of Germany days after reports one of its leaders marched with neo-Nazis in 2007

Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party made big gains in the eastern states of Brandenburg and Saxony in elections Sunday, while Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party and its coalition partner just clung on to diminishing pluralities. The AfD’s surge cements its strength in the former Communist East, where anti-immigrant sentiment, economic inequality, and a historical rift between East and West have thrown German politics into turmoil. This comes just days after German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that one of the party’s leaders, Brandenburg politician Andreas Kalbitz, participated in a neo-Nazi march in Greece in 2007. Kalbitz dismissed the reports and called critics’ claims that the AfD is an extremist party “hysterical.” The AfD rose to political prominence in 2017 on a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment following Merkel’s decision to welcome over a million refugees. It has since made xenophobic nationalism its central message. Notably, the AfD did remarkably well among young voters, winning a plurality of 18 to 30-year-olds in Saxony, and the second-most votes in that age group in Brandenburg. Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories. Germany’s far-right populist party made significant gains in elections in two eastern states on Sunday, as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party and her governing partners suffered losses but maintained pluralities. The surge of the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) cements its power in the former Communist East, where anti-immigrant sentiment, economic inequality, and a historical rift between East and West have thrown German politics into turmoil over the last several years. AfD’s electoral gains come just days after German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that one of the party’s leaders, Brandenburg politician Andreas Kalbitz, participated in a neo-Nazi march in Athens in 2007. Kalbitz, who previously admitted to attending a neo-Nazi camp in 2007, reportedly joined members of Germany’s extremist National Democratic Party in the Greek march. A German police report noted that the NPD marchers hung a swastika flag from the balcony of a hotel.Foto: Alternative for Germany (AfD) top candidate for the Brandenburg election Andreas Kalbitz reacts for the first exit polls for the Brandenburg state election in Werder, Germany, September 1, 2019.sourceReuters/Axel Schmidt Last week, German broadcaster RBB reported that Kalbitz, 46, also attended a neo-Nazi youth movement camp in 1993. Kalbitz dismissed the reports and called critics’ claims that the AfD is an extremist party “hysterical.” “The AfD is a democratic party and clearly distances itself – as I do – from right-wing extremism,” he said, according to Die Welt. “Everything else is the almost hysterical attempt of the political competition to cover up material deficits with an artificial enemy image.” The AfD rose to political power in 2017 on a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment following Merkel’s decision to welcome over a million refugees into the country in 2015. Serving as the main opposition in the federal parliament, the AfD has since made xenophobic nationalism its central message.Read more: Germany’s far-right populist party is poised to surge in the former Communist East 30 years after the fall of the Berlin WallFoto: FILE PHOTO: Election campaign of Germany’s far-right Alternative For Germany (AFD) in Dresden.sourceReuters The party doubled its share of the vote in Brandenburg on Sunday – jumping from 12% in the 2014 elections to 24%, and nearly tripled its support in Saxony – climbing from 10% to 28% of the vote amid a surge in voter turnout. Merkel’s Christian Democrat party (CDU) maintained its position as the most popular party in Saxony, but sunk nearly seven points from the 2014 elections. The party lost nearly eight points in Brandenburg, the largely rural state that surrounds the capital Berlin. And the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) eked out a plurality in Brandenburg with 26% of the vote – four points ahead of the AfD. Notably, the AfD did remarkably well among young voters. It beat out its competitors among voters under 30 in Saxony, and came in second – just a point behind the Green party – among 18 to 30-year-olds in Brandenburg. The Green party came in second in Saxony. The under-30 vote illustrated the broader movement of German voters away from the traditional centrist parties to the insurgent parties on the left and right. Foto: An Alternative for Germany Party tent reads, “Complete the revolution,” referring to the fall of the Iron Curtain.sourceEliza Relman/InsiderDespite its electoral surge, the AfD will be shut out of the governing coalitions in both states, as the major parties have refused to form a coalition with the right-wing group. Kalbitz and other AfD leaders celebrated the party’s gains on Sunday night. “Many said at the end of the election campaign, they are happy when this is over. Nothing is over. Now it really starts. We have done a good job. We have every reason to celebrate tonight,” Kalbitz told reporters. “We will form a very strong opposition.” Merkel’s party regroupsFoto: Saxony State Premier Michael Kretschmer with Chancellor Angela Merkel.sourceReuters The CDU state premier of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, expressed satisfaction with the night’s results as his supporters breathed a collective sigh of relief at the party’s election night celebration on the roof of the Saxony parliament building on Sunday evening. Still, several CDU supporters Insider spoke with at the event were alarmed at how well the AfD did in both states. “It’s a good day, but there’s a lot of work to do,” Carsten Schröter, who works for the Saxony government, told Insider. He added that the results are evidence of a deepening cultural and economic divide between East and West Germany. “When I speak with my friends and people I know in West Germany, they often don’t get the problems.” Jan Jassner, the general manager of German underwear company Bruno Banani, said Sunday’s election buys the CDU time. He put the surge in AfD support in the east of Germany down to Merkel’s immigration policy, rather than local issues, and said the party should work to convince voters that it still holds conservative positions on issues like national security. Jana Gratias, who works for a CDU member of parliament representing the eastern city of Chemnitz, said she was surprised by the AfD’s surge. Gratias argued the party’s supporters were motivated by exaggerated news reports and political rhetoric concerning immigration. She defended Merkel’s decision to welcome the wave of migrants and refugees in 2015 as a necessary move for humanitarian reasons. “In Saxony there is no problem – there aren’t many immigrants,” she said. “They just see it and hear it in the media and everybody’s pushing it.”The post A far-right party just made big gains in the east of Germany days after reports one of its leaders marched with neo-Nazis in 2007 appeared first on Business Insider Nederland.
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