Many of us predicted that the refugee crisis would lead to unrest. Many of us knew there would be repercussions from it. Especially so in Germany.
This is excluding practical considerations such as welfare, healthcare and housing. It ignores the stigma of “rapefugees”, which is largely over-exaggerated incidentally. Rather, it was inevitable that letting in an unfettered surge of refugees into Europe would contribute to a rise in support for far-right political movements.
The widespread demonstrations and protests across Europe reveal this. Fiery opposition and pure contempt has rise towards German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ‘open borders’ policy; opening the floodgates to many refugees who are fleeing war-torn lands.
While it has provided many with a safe-haven, the discontent sparked by such a mass amount of new arrivals has allowed anti-immigration, far-right political parties to flourish. One could even say the refugee crisis has been politicized to an extent. Smaller movements have accumulated – a notable example being the anti-Islamist faction Pegida, which has sprouted in numerous locations across Europe; embodying the antagonism towards the new arrivals in Europe.
Germany is the center-ground of much of this frustration, as indicated in the above video. It would have been foolish to think otherwise, given that it is the largest recipient of refugees in Europe. Indeed the state elections on Sunday showed this, with the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party rejoicing in a great wave of success; even surpassing expectations placed on the party. Its most eminent victory came in the Saxony-Anhalt region, where it swept up 24.2% of the vote.
A relatively young party, AfD was founded in 2013 by Bernd Lucke. Much like the UK Independence Party (UKIP), it was motivated by one aim: opposition to the European Union. Its founding father Lucke was a moderate, who wanted to challenge the EU agenda, while promoting the restoration of German national sovereignty. Such a moderate party achieved equally moderate gains; the 2014 East Germany elections was perhaps the height of its success under Lucke’s premiership, where it amassed 10% of the vote. While a respectable achievement nonetheless, it is somewhat dwarfed by the success in Sunday’s elections.
Parallel to the founder of UKIP Alan Sked, Lucke eventually stepped down from the party he had created , due to feeling disillusioned with the extreme views that had began encumbering his party. Evidently, Lucke was overwhelmed by a wave of right-wing fanaticism. While Euroscepticism is not inherently interlinked with far-right views, the former does often attract for the latter.
It would be wrong to suggest that the AFD are still moderate and simply seeking to meet the wishes of the masses. Rather, the party has become somewhat of a demagogue. Frauke Petrie assumed power in 2015. Since then it shifted from its more restrained policies to adopting a harder anti-immigration stance. Clearly this change of allegiance was in-line with the proliferation of refugees in Europe. Petrie has indicated this in many of her comments; suggesting that shooting migrants might be a viable option: ‘I don’t want to do this, but the use of armed force is there as a last resort’ she said. While this will shock many readers, it shouldn’t come as a suprise that many Germans wouldn’t be deterred by such a draconian attitude, which would make UKIP’s Nigel Farage seem liberal on immigration. In fact, this type of stern attitude is precisely what many of them would have been awaiting – what they perceive as a pro-German messiah, to rescue them from Merkel’s destructive policies.
As established, this is the driving force behind support for AfD. Last year, 1.1 million refugees were settled into Germany. Such a drastic and abrupt shift in the fabric of society has clearly lead to the widespread discontent we can observe today, which AfD has capitalised on. Alexander Gauland, the party’s deputy chairman, attributes the recent success to this too, saying: “The people who voted for us voted against this refugee policy. We have a very clear position on the refugee issue: we do not want to take in any more refugees”.
Even if you vigorously disagree with Gauland’s position, he is undoubtedly correct when he implies that support for AfD stems from a defiance to Merkel’s lax refugee policy, and the perception that she is out of touch with the public. Her incumbent Christian Democratic Union (CDU) most certainly faces a pervasive challenge from the far-right now.
Which begs the question: will AfD be able to gain further political ground in the future? Who knows. Perhaps the party will be shut out by a coalition of Germany’s pro-establishment parties in the future, as was the case in France, when the Socialist and Republican party united to block out the Front National in the second round of last year’s regional elections.
If we look back to the French Revolution, the ‘Great Fear’ (1789) was partially instigated by the arrival of what French peasantry perceived as ‘outsiders’; who were perceived to be a threat to the availability of labour, food and housing. An antagonism towards outsiders arriving into a sovereign nation clearly can evoke much trepidation among the public of a highly sovereign nation.
In the 1920s, when many Germans felt disillusioned with the perceived weakness of their own government, people put their faith in extremist ideologies, such as Fascism and Marxism. Now desperation and fear about the refugee crisis has led to people turning in this direction again. This, I feel, is the repercussions from the refugee crisis; how an unbalanced policy can lead to public discontent – which only benefits far-right parties as a result.