Breaking Germany’s Taboo

Demonstrators protest against the party congress of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in Hannover, November 28, 2015.REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
Demonstrators protesting against the AFD in Hannover last November.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    For a long time, about 20 percent of Germans were seen as receptive to xenophobic, nationalistic and authoritarian offerings. But no party could turn this right-wing potential into political success — until now perhaps.

  • Facts


    • The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany, or AfD, has captured a nationalistic mood in Germany.
    • A January poll shows it would win 12.5 percent of the vote in a general election, making it the third biggest party.
    • It presents itself as a euro-skeptic, right wing party but has stayed away from openly anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi policies.
  • Audio


  • Pdf

For more than six decades, modern Germany’s taboo against rising right-wing populism held strong. But now it is broken.

For all that time, no party to the right of the Christian Democrat Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, was able to establish itself in German politics. But the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, already represented in three state governments, may soon manage to enter the country’s parliament. Not because it is so much more forceful than all the previous failed attempts, but because the conditions for a right-wing populist movement have not been this favorable.

The upheaval that the German state faces in the current refugee crisis very possibly constitutes the most far-reaching change in its history.

On one hand, it has mobilized an unforeseen readiness by Germans to help the refugees, along with an unprejudiced openness to something new. At the same time, it has awakened fears about the future, in addition to uncertainty and aggression. Any party that takes up and exacerbates this mood will find a place in the political structure.

If it were simply a matter of the AfD, there might not be particular reason to worry. But not only in the streets and on the Internet, but all the way to editorial columns of the established media, a rising anger is being voiced against impositions brought by the crisis — and against the chancellor who is held responsible for them.

Want to keep reading?

Subscribe now or log in to read our coverage of Europe’s leading economy.