It was more than a warning for Germany’s big-tent parties. For the first time since World War II, a party on the far right, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), succeeded in making the leap into the federal parliament. Nearly one in seven German citizens did not actually vote for the AfD full-heartedly, but protested the obfuscation strategy of a ponderous and tired government. In the refugee crisis and the seemingly never-ending euro-zone crisis, the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), who have been in a coalition for the past four years with the center-left Social Democrats, were never able to perceive, let alone understand, many people’s feelings. The AfD, like a vacuum cleaner, sucked away votes from the CDU/CSU and above all the SPD.
As of Sunday evening, the A in AfD no longer stands for Alternative, but for the German word “Aufstand” (revolt) in the polling booth. In the past, disgruntled voters vented their frustrations among friends and at their local pubs. On Sunday, they gave their resentment a vote in the Bundestag.
All those who will repeat again and again in the coming days that Germany has never been as well off as it is today are both right and wrong. Former German President Roman Herzog once said: “Let’s talk about people, because a living being is more valuable that all the treasures of this world.” You can come up with rosy statistics on growth, jobs and tax revenues if you like, but that’s not enough to soothe the anxieties many citizens feel as a result of immigration, fear of job loss due to technology, and more generally the sorry state the world is in.
People like AfD top candidates Alexander Gauland and Alice Weidel were not elected because of their anti-Semitic outbursts and xenophobic provocations, but in spite of these repugnant utterances. How many citizens had to overcome their own conscience to vote for a party that seeks to rewrite the dark history of both world wars with a stroke of the pen? Many did so despite their revulsion for the AfD.
The silent revolt of many citizens stems from the firm belief that the German parliament, the Bundestag, is no longer dominated merely by a mega-coalition of the CDU/CSU with the SPD, but that the Green Party and the Left Party are often also involved in that coalition. Many voters felt that their last resort was to strengthen the fringes, knowing full well what the consequences will be in the Bundestag in the next four years, when many AfD members of parliament allow their crude thoughts to flow freely at the lectern.
The established parties should not stop at their outrage over the AfD results on election night. In the next few years, the new administration will have to address the pressing questions anxious citizens ask. It will never be able to satisfy the agitators. The administration’s message to them must be unmistakable: This is as far you go.
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