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Here’s What The Rise Of Right-Wing AfD In Germany Tells Us About Anti-Immigration Politics

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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.

A banner held up during the Berlin Pride Celebration in 2018, translating to “CSD instead of AFD.” Berlin Pride is commonly referred to as CSD Berlin, CSD being an abbreviation for Christopher Street Day. (Photo: Sven Volkens/Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Hossam el-Hamalawy/Flickr.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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