Friday,26 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1363, (5 - 11 October 2017)
Friday,26 April, 2019
Issue 1363, (5 - 11 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Are the Nazis back in town?

The extreme-right Alternative für Deutschland Party won a significant number of seats in the recent German parliamentary elections, bringing back very uncomfortable memories, writes Hany Ghoraba

Repeating historical mistakes is a common and costly error. But this was manifested in Germany in September 2017 when a significant section of German citizens voted for an extreme-right party to represent them in the German Bundestag, the nation’s parliament. 

This alarming event was the first of its kind to take place since the end of the Second World War, which witnessed the fall of the Nazi Party in Germany and the trials of its chief leaders at the Nuremberg Tribunal. Some Germans have wanted to wipe this history from the world’s memory, even attaining some success in that direction.  

In September 2017, German voters voted for the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) Party by 12.6 per cent of the vote, making this extreme-right party the third-biggest in the Bundestag after the ruling Christian Democratic Party (CDU) and Social Democratic Party (SPD). The AfD’s win of 94 seats in the Bundestag marks a historic comeback for the Neo-Nazis in Germany, and it is the first time since the fall of the German Third Reich that there have been extreme-right representatives in the Bundestag. 

AfD affiliations with Neo-Nazi rhetoric propagating ultra-German nationalism and anti-immigration policies are well-known. The party has also adopted an anti-Islamic stance and posted flyers in streets all over Germany inciting the rejection of Muslim immigrants and claiming that these will eventually “Islamise” the German state. The party has managed to ride the wave of alternative right parties gaining popularity in Europe, particularly in France, Hungary and Austria.   

Germany has a significant population of immigrant background, with about 20 per cent of its population, amounting to 16 million out of a total of 83 million, being of immigrant descent. In 2012, more than 92.5 per cent of Germany’s population had German citizenship, with the highest number of citizens of non-German ethnic background being from Turkey, Poland, Russia, Italy and Romania. 

These statistics have irked the extreme-right parties in Germany, which have capitalised on them politically to gain ground within the ranks of discontented Germans. Moreover, the terrorist attacks on German soil by the Islamic State (IS) group and its affiliates, along with the cancerous spread of radical Islamist and jihadist rhetoric, have helped the extreme right to gain further supporters who traditionally might have voted for the CDU but have now cast protest votes in favour of the AfD.

Despite the limited percentage of extreme-right representation in the new Bundestag, this is extremely disturbing as it signifies that a significant sector of German voters could risk repeating the nightmare scenario that resulted in the Second World War and ended in the near destruction of Germany and its division into two states. While circumstances are different from what they were in the 1930s during the rise of the Nazi Party, and there seems little likelihood of Germany’s becoming a Nazi state again, these gains may spread to other parts of Europe. 

The disgruntled citizens of the eastern part of Germany, especially in cities such as Leipzig and Dresden, may feel that they have been handed the short end of the stick as a result of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s economic and social policies that they believe have negatively impacted on their livelihoods and welfare. 

Open-door policies on immigration in Germany resulted in the entry of one million immigrants in 2015 from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, and these have laid the foundations for the rise of the ultra-nationalist ideas adopted by extreme-right parties such as the AfD. 

Despite being a native East German herself, Merkel’s popularity has plummeted in the past few years as a sign of discontent with her policies that many East Germans believe have caused huge rifts in economic and social conditions between them and their West German counterparts.

The Germans have struggled for decades to wipe away the horrific memories of the Second World War and the atrocities committed by the Nazi Party for which most of the world, including the Germans, have paid a hefty price that they are still paying today. In 2013, a survey carried out for the BBC polled 26,000 people in 25 countries in which the participants were asked to rate 16 countries and the European Union as a whole on whether their influence on the world was mainly positive or negative. 

Germany came at the top of the list as the world’s most popular country with 59 per cent of the votes being favourable. Such surveys may not always be accurate or scientific, yet this one was an indication of how Germany has managed to change its largely negative image to a positive one through seven decades of hard work and struggle. 

The Germans are among the most sophisticated, educated, industrious and cultured nations in the world, whose achievements in every area of life are recognised with respect. It is time for the Germans to be aware of the possible consequences of the recent election results on the country’s future and their possible ripple effect on Europe and the rest of the world.

History only repeats itself if nations allow it to do so, and the German nation still has the chance to stop history from happening again. 

The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.

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