While Germany has shown great solidarity towards refugees on the whole, a growing number of civic organizations have begun showing signs of hostility towards the situation. According to the Federal Criminal Office (BKA), 924 instances of violence against refugee shelters were recorded in 2015 itself. The number was 199 in 2014. In addition, a sudden rise in the popularity of anti-immigration groups can also be observed. Take the example of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The party obtained seven seats in the the European Parliament barely a year after its inception. Further, it also managed to obtain entry into three state parliaments.
AfD was created by a group of university professors and former politicians in February 2013. The party started with a strong anti-Euro agenda. The proposals of the eurosceptic party focused on a free market system, economic liberalism and ordoliberalism. However, it soon turned into a right-wing populist party with a strong anti-immigration agenda. The party also openly expressed their support for economic liberalism and ordoliberalism.
Titled ‘Manifesto For Germany,’ this publication by the AfD is the official document that details the ideology of the party. The document provides one with great insight into the party’s socio-political, economic and ideological agendas. It explicitly states that it is pro-democracy and liberty. However, the official stance of the party on matters such as, say abortion, tell another story altogether. In section 6 of the manifesto titled Families and Children, the party states that it is pro-life, i.e. anti-abortion, or against pro-choice.
In its section 8 on schooling, one can see bigotry becoming dangerously visible. The following is what the document has to say with respect to Muslim schools in the nation:
“As long as Islam has not been fundamentally reformed, we demand that Islamic qur’an schools should be closed with immediate effect, as it is likely that uncontrolled radical and unconstitutional indoctrination takes place there.”
In the following section of the document on Immigration and Asylum Seekers, AfD calls for a drastic paradigm shift in asylum immigration. AfD voters tend to focus on three main issues: immigration, social security and a stable currency, with immigration being the most decisive issue. The party thus has an incentive in placing more emphasis on this policy area. The following statement illuminates the AfD’s stance on refugees in Germany.
“The AfD wishes to prevent these cynically accepted consequences of misguided humanitarianism. We also want to prevent the looming risk of social and religious turmoil and the creeping extinction of European cultures.”
It should be noted that the preference for AfD has tripled in just over three years, from 5% in 2015 to 15% in 2018. One can clearly see that this dangerous trend which begun in September 2015 correlated directly with the beginning of Germany’s refugee crisis. The poll number stabilized till the 2017 federal elections, following which they again saw a rise. This may be indicative of civic approval of the party’s work in the Parliament.
While the party was started by upper-class high-wage earners, there has been a prominent shift in its support base. Much of its support base now also comes from those belonging to lower socio-economic groups like the blue collar workers and the unemployed. Many of these are men from East Germany. This may be cited as one of the reasons for the AfD to avert its major campaign away from its economic proposals and instead focus on an issue that may unify its support base, that of anti-immigration.
The AfD entered the national parliament for the first time in 2017 with a 12.6% vote share. In the last elections held in 2013, it polled 4.7%. The AfD has been transformed in the last four years. What began as a party of professors worried about the future of the Euro has now been transformed into a place for right-wing opposition. With a decline in the euro crisis, the party found the perfect agenda in opposition to Angela Merkel’s open-door policy that emerged out of the refugee crisis.
If one were to look for the single biggest reason for the rise of right-wing populism in contemporary times, perhaps the fear of the other could be seen as the dominant reason. The term xenophobia is an amalgamation of two Greek words – ‘xenos’ implying foreign and ‘phobia’ meaning fear. Thus, it is seen as the deep-rooted prejudice against towards someone seen as a foreigner; it is the fear of the unfamiliar. We see this manifested in Trump with Mexico, Orban with Muslim refugees, and even in Modi’s India with all “non-Hindus.”
According to Meredith W. Watts, and her work on United Germany, xenophobia does not necessarily move into to the political arena. Political “repression” is not produced when the number of foreigners is relatively small. The small number of foreigners may be seen as a threat only if and when they have a major role to play in the territory’s finances and political activities.
Watts argues that political xenophobia is not a manifestation of any existing ideology. Instead, it is a result of a perceived and heightened sense of threat that is then provided a voice by the right-wing, along with a framework and vocabulary. She further argues that xenophobia stems not out of racism but instead due to the perceived instrumentality of a group, i.e. the way the “others” are made to feel responsible for broader social problems.
The idea of the us and the other was also politically relevant in Germany during the rise of the Nazi Party – when Hitler appropriated Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of the Übermensch to cite mass anti-semitism which eventually led to the Holocaust. The idea, which appeared in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, was used by the Nazis to further their own idea of the Aryan race being biologically superior, and thus, the master race.
This concept also fueled their notion of a people inferior to them, or Untermenschen – the Jews – who must either be dominated or enslaved. It should be noted that Nietzsche was against the ideology of the Nazi Party and his view of the overman had nothing to do with anti-semitism. Instead, the overman, Zarathustra, to him was one who would risk everything for the enhancement of all humanity.