The success of Alternative for Germany in Sunday’s national election can be explained by a coalition of voters who have proved useful to rightwing insurgents in other western democracies.
The AfD won nearly 13 per cent of the popular vote. It appealed not just to the small number of extremists and racists, but also to socially conservative voters who oppose contemporary political causes such as same-sex marriage, and those who see themselves as the victims of globalisation.
Many of these “left behind” voters live in east Germany, where the AfD gained an average share of 22 per cent of the vote. Part of the explanation for this lies in the post-reunification experience of the formerly communist east. Thomas Krüger, president of the Federal Agency for Civic Education and an easterner, told the Berliner Zeitung that many east Germans have not been able to cope with the upheaval, having been thrown off track in the “neoliberal transformation process”.
Longstanding failures of inclusion, both social and political, along with economic precariousness, have driven these voters towards a party that translates feelings of socio-economic insecurity into ethnocentric nationalist aggression against scapegoats — whether immigrants or other outsider groups.
In east Germany, a tendency to categorise people and to view the socially disadvantaged as second-class citizens seems to have endured from the communist era. People are willing to embrace the politics of resentment served up by the AfD, which targets refugees and so-called foreigners.
In Saxony, where the AfD won 27 per cent, there is an established nationalist, even anti-democratic, tendency. More than 57 per cent of Saxons think that society is dangerously dominated by foreigners, according to the Saxon Monitor, a research group. Eighteen per cent believe that Germans are by nature superior to other peoples (the proportion of migrants in Saxony is 2.2 per cent), while 62 per cent want a strong party that embodies the national community.
The “prospering landscapes” promised by the late Helmut Kohl, dubbed the unification chancellor, and mainstream federal politicians feel alien to these disillusioned voters. The same is true of the dominance of western politicians and administrators in unified Germany, with some noted exceptions such as Angela Merkel, the chancellor.
Ms Merkel’s Christian Democrats must also bear some responsibility. In Saxony the CDU has fostered a national-conservative…