Germany election: Continuing popularity of far-right AfD takes root in east-west divide

Angela Merkel’s 16-year term as chancellor will end in Germany’s parliamentary elections on Sunday. He was the first person to rise to office from the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The performance of the populist radical right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD) is also eagerly awaited.

To date, the AfD has seen its best results in regions encompassing East Germany. It has a strong vote in the eastern regions and is ahead in the pre-election polls for Saxony. 26% of the vote. It looks like the party will further consolidate its position in the national parliament by repeating its successes in the last federal election, where it received 12% of the vote. The first radical right party in parliament since 1960, the AfD has managed to normalize radical right politics even though no other parliamentary party has worked with it.

The AfD’s strong performance in East Germany can be seen in part as a reaction against the imposition of the western fusion of capitalism and democracy after 1989. For many East Germans, this is change, deprivation, social disintegration and political home. Even today, many still second class citizens. Under these circumstances, distrust of the political establishment is widespread, and populist radical right parties hastily stepped in.

Since coming to power in 2005, Merkel has done a lot for Turkey. symbolic representation East Germans. But while some trust him After the financial crisis, austerity policies to hold the eurozone together had a disproportionate effect on the eastern regions. It was the argument that austerity was “not an alternative” that inspired the AfD’s name in the first place.

After the 2015 refugee crisis, the AfD radicalized and shifted from operating as a skeptical party towards Europe to a xenophobic party defined by Islamophobia. This movement was again shaped by eastern German forces, notably PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), a protest movement that emerged in Dresden and spread primarily to other cities in East Germany.

The AfD’s racism and xenophobia seem to be meeting less resistance in the east, where people have less experience with cultural diversity. Even in the early 1990s, radical right support in eastern Germany was deadly arson attacks About immigrants and refugees, mostly Muslims.

Older people in the region also grew up under authoritarian regimes rather than experiencing democracy in their youth. This may more easily convince them of the AfD’s populist and anti-elitist rhetoric than people in western Germany. Besides the effect of reunification, this Explain the AfD’s success in the region.

Memories of authoritarianism and transition continue to shape people’s identities and political attitudes. These memories are also passed on to new generations and have an impact beyond the regions encompassing East Germany. Research by talking to people who have immigrated from post-socialist countries.

Germany as a post-socialist nation

It is not only through immigration that post-socialism has played a role beyond East Germany. German national discourse distances itself from the fact that right-wing radicalism is a problem in all regions, by treating the rise of the radical right only as an East German problem caused by post-socialism.

In fact, West German narratives in which East Germans are described as lazy and poor have a lot in common with East Germans. German narratives about Muslims. This may lead East Germans to insist on their “Germanness” as opposed to “Muslim immigrants”. Thus, treating both Muslims and East Germans as social outcasts or “others” by West Germans may reinforce East German Islamophobia.

Indeed, the AfD is not just an east German phenomenon. Although the share of votes was highest in the former GDR regions, the AfD is now represented in all regions. 16 regional parliaments. The clearest indication of voting for the radical right on both sides of the country is this: nativism and xenophobia.

While only a few Germans have a consolidated radical right mentality, many agree. individual xenophobic, particularly Islamophobic statements when presented in surveys. Islamophobia also seems acceptable within mainstream political parties, including parts of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Armin Laschet, the CDU’s candidate in this election, said:Turkish Armin” after arguing by colleagues in his own party that immigration should be seen as “a chance and a challenge rather than a threat”.

A protest sign that reads 'FCK AFD'
An anti-AfD protest in the western city of Bielefeld.

Treating Islamophobia and xenophobia as a problem confined to the AfD and treating the AfD as a problem confined to East Germany is therefore a dangerous oversimplification. It shows how East Germans continue to be “marginalized”, that their memories and political attitudes are irrelevant to an understanding of Germany as a whole.

This is also evident in the common classification of Germany, which is not thought of as “Western Europe”, which in fact shares much of its recent history with Central and Eastern Europe. Understanding current political trends in Germany requires an understanding of how east and west intertwine.


Charlotte Galpin receives funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the European Union’s Erasmus+ programme.

Maren Rohe receives funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

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