Category Archives: AfD

How the Berlin Christmas market terror attack affects Chancellor Merkel and Europe

Image 20170103 18679 1fols96.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1Italian police at a press conference after Berlin attacker was killed in Italy.
AP Photo/Luca Bruno

Johanna Schuster-Craig, Michigan State University

Germany is recovering from one of the most deadly terrorist attacks since the 1980 bombing at Munich’s Oktoberfest.

On Dec. 19, 12 people were killed when Anis Amri, a Tunisian citizen who had claimed allegiance to the Islamic State, killed a Polish truck driver and then drove his truck into a Christmas market in Berlin. Three days later, Italian police discovered Amri during a routine police search. When he was asked for identification he opened fire, and was killed by police.

In an age where radical Islamic terrorism is seen as a global threat, every attack can be used to make political arguments. As an American scholar of German studies with a focus on the political attention given to Muslim populations, I believe that the impact of the attack in Berlin will be felt in two political arenas. One is domestic: How will this most recent act of terror from a criminal asylum-seeker affect Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reelection campaign? The other is international: In the context of a divided Europe, how will Merkel’s European partners react?

Merkel’s open border policy

Merkel’s decision to open the borders in September 2015 to refugees trying to reach Germany has been both praised as a humanitarian gesture and widely criticized, even within her own party. Many on the right see refugee resettlement as a threat to German identity and security.

In the week after the Berlin attack, however, the Frankfurt General Newspaper published the results of a voter survey conducted by the Forsa Institute, a prominent polling firm. A majority of the Germans polled (68 percent) saw no relationship between Merkel’s refugee politics and the attack in Berlin. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed did believe, however, that terrorism and security would play a large role in this year’s upcoming federal elections, as Merkel is seeking a fourth term.

The far-right Alternative for Germany party lost no time pointing fingers at Merkel just minutes after the attack. Markus Pretzell, a representative of the group in the European Parliament, tweeted that the victims killed were “Merkel’s dead!”

Horst Seehofer, the head of the Christian Social Union in the province of Bavaria, struck a more tactful tone. Seehofer declared that “we owe it to the victims, to those affected and to the entire population to rethink and adjust our entire immigration and security policy.” Seehofer was quickly reprimanded for using a national tragedy to politicize Merkel’s decision in an op-ed from Peter Dausend in the weekly newspaper Die Zeit.

What effect will this event have on German politics? Various commentators suggest that most Germans are resistant to political panic. An article from Der Spiegel, published two days after the attack and widely circulated on social media, compared German, French and American responses to terrorist attacks. Americans, the authors argued, rebel against terror. The French remind themselves of their republicanism by singing the Marseillaise especially loudly. Berliners? They react as they always do: by showing themselves to be “completely unfazed.”

Merkel shines under pressure

German Chancellor Angela Merkel after her annual New Year’s speech.
AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, Pool

The same poll asked Germans if a debate about security would serve Merkel well in the coming elections. Only 17 percent said yes. And yet, it is in times of insecurity and uncertainty that Merkel appears most poised and most committed to both liberal democracy and a united Europe.

After the perpetrator of the Christmas attacks was caught, Merkel gave a five-minute press conference during which she thanked the Italian police and criminal justice system. She wished a speedy recovery to the Italian police officer who was shot by the terrorist. Finally, she also thanked all of the international partners who continue to work together and who helped bring the attacker to justice.

“Terrorism challenges all of us,” Merkel said. She added, “We feel the global solidarity of our friends across the world and you should know how deeply we also mourn your victims.” She reassured Italians and Poles that Germans mourn the life of the Italian woman killed in the attacks, as well as the life of the Polish truck driver. These statements were carefully crafted to position Germany as part of the European Union and as both dependent on and confident in European cooperation.

Not everyone shares Merkel’s vision of a united Europe. Challenges to the EU come from parties and politicians to Merkel’s right who position themselves against the European Union, such as the Alternative for Germany party. European politicians can also be quick to criticize the Schengen Agreement, which permits free movement across internal European borders, as insecure.

Various political camps in France have criticized Merkel’s decision to open the borders in light of the most recent attack. French Republican candidate for president Francois Fillon, for instance, reproached Merkel for having underestimated the threat of radical Islamists. This reproach – echoed by far-right leaders in France’s National Front – may be a way of deflecting embarrassment that Amri traveled through France without detection on his way to Italy.

Like most heads of state, Merkel gave a short televised New Year’s address on Dec. 31. She declared Islamic terrorism to be the most difficult test of contemporary society. But she also criticized the efforts of the far right across Europe to undermine liberal democracy. Questioning achievements like a united Europe or parliamentary democracy, as the far right does, creates “distorted images,” she said.

The ConversationShe called on Germans to strengthen democracy, admonishing those who believe that a “prosperous future” could ever be found in going it alone as a nation: “Where…Europe is challenged as a whole, Europe must also find answers as a whole – irrespective of how tedious and tough it is.”

Johanna Schuster-Craig, Assistant Professor of German and Global Studies, Michigan State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

“Will Trump victory make Angela Merkel leader of Free World?”

Johanna Schuster-Craig, Michigan State University

After the election of Donald Trump, commentators have argued that German Chancellor Angela Merkel may become the leader of the free world, a role typically played by the president of the United States.

After 11 years as chancellor and as the leader of the largest economy in Europe, Merkel is certainly one of the most experienced heads of state in office. On Nov. 20, after a long wait, Merkel finally announced that she would seek a fourth term in the federal elections next fall.

In the upcoming campaign, Merkel is in a difficult position. She must both live up to her reputation as a defender of liberal democracy, and also contain the right-wing populist streaks in the Alternative for Germany party in order to win reelection.

As an American scholar of German studies, I have blogged about how Merkel’s public appearances function as political theater. The chancellor changes her message depending on her audience. At home, she is much more likely to appear conservative.

But in anticipation of Trump taking office in 2017, Merkel is publicly setting clear boundaries. Trump not only criticized her open-doors refugee policy, but also may represent a threat to close international collaboration between Germany and the United States.

In between Trump and the German far right

Merkel is most likely to present herself as a defender of liberal values when appearing on the international stage. On Nov. 9, Merkel congratulated Trump on his new office at a press conference. In contrast to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s celebratory statements or Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s cautious well wishes, Merkel issued a warning: If Trump cannot respect “democracy, freedom, respect for the law and for human dignity independent of background, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political beliefs,” Merkel implied that Germany will need to reevaluate the terms of its partnership with the United States.

This warning to Trump has been praised by some in the American press for its defense of liberal, democratic values.

Many Germans see Trump’s racist and xenophobic comments as statements that would be illegal under current German law. His rhetoric echoes not only the racism and anti-Semitism of the Holocaust, but also shares similarities with the authoritarian doublespeak of East German communist politics.

However, in domestic appearances, Merkel is at times illiberal, choosing to accent her conservativism to pander to the xenophobic right wing. On Nov. 6, Merkel gave an acceptance speech after receiving the nomination of her party. The speech garnered widespread attention in the U.S., mostly for the moment when Merkel stated support for banning burqas – a move designed to attract voters on the right.

Merkel’s campaign begins

As the German public was anxiously awaiting Merkel’s decision to run for office, German journalists Matthias Geis, Tina Hildebrandt and Bernd Ulrich published a full-page article in the German newspaper Die Zeit about Merkel titled “Leader of the free world? Not that, too!”

In this article, they explain the difficulties facing Merkel’s reelection campaign. Merkel, they say, has never faced more pressure to lead. Europe isn’t pulling its weight. She doesn’t have unified support from her party. Finally, she doesn’t have the same polling numbers she used to. Despite these obstacles, they write:

“Merkel can sense that the arguments she could bring against her candidacy get weaker and weaker as the global situation becomes more and more dramatic.”

Merkel couches her decision to seek reelection in similar terms. When she announced her candidacy, Merkel said she needed to run because – after the U.S. election and in relationship to Russia – the world needed to be “sorted out.” Merkel repeated this phrase in her nomination speech:

“We are dealing with a world – especially after the American election – which first needs to be sorted out, especially with respect to things like NATO and the relationship to Russia. This poses the question: What is actually to be done?”

By standing for reelection, Merkel answered her own question. Merkel sees herself as the person to “sort out” the new world order. In this narrative, the first thing to do is support her campaign. The second thing, visible in her comments about refugees and burqa bans, is to pander to voters who might abandon her party to vote for the right-wing Alternative for Germany party.

The Alternative for Germany party, which criticizes Merkel’s every move, later joked on social media that the CDU (Merkel’s party) had stolen their campaign platform.

The ConversationThe Alternative for Germany party was founded in 2013 and is a xenophobic, nationalist, right-wing party critical of the European Union. The AfD has been successful in gaining representation in local German elections. They will likely enter the national German parliament in the fall of 2017.

Johanna Schuster-Craig, Assistant Professor of German and Global Studies, Michigan State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Frauke Petry after President-Elect Donald Trump

“It’s telling that establishment politicians and journalists are selling a democratic election as the apocalypse”

Two days after the election, many in the United States and across the world feel like this is the apocalypse. The only reason Petry isn’t proclaiming the apocalypse is because the party she agrees with won. If Hilary had won, Petry surely would be declaring the end of the world.

I understand the apocalyptic sentiment, although I disagree that the world is about to end. I also disagree that the far-right is an American phenomenon: the rise of extreme right populism globally shows that nativism and racism are prevalent.

Whiteness and patriarchy are clutching to privilege , and let’s hope this is it’s last chance to maintain hegemonic power. About that, I am less hopeful: privilege reproduces privilege, and if there’s anything 500 years of imperial conquest has shown, it’s that whiteness and patriarchy are incredibly protean and adaptive. But the protest culture in US society is healthy – and must get healthier. BlackLivesMatter, NoDAPL, trans* agitation, and the access to quality, alternative journalism are just some of the signs that resistance is possible, probable and holds political potential.

One of the gaps in coverage about the far-right in both countries has been the occasional lack of inclusion of LGBTQI identities as a targeted identity by the far-right. While – rightly so – racial, immigrant and religious identities are frequently identified as the targets of Trump’s wrath, Vice President-elect Mike Pence has made gay conversion therapy part of his platform. Trump just appointed a staunchly anti-gay politician, Ken Blackwell, to head his domestic transition team. The attacks on so-called “Gender Mainstreaming” in the AfD party have also received remarkably little media attention, but are starting to emerge as an issue given more press time from the AfD.

On November 6, two days before the US election, Frauke Petry gave a speech in Pforzheim that queer.de called a “taste of the coming national parliamentary campaign.” In this speech, Petry declared that “normal” families needed to be protected from educational programs which are covered in “gender sauce.” She sowed factually inaccurate information, saying that parents of school children would be required to pay for gender courses (whatever that is). She denied that homophobia was a problem, and asked parents to stand up for their (cis, hetero) children. She also declared the “classical family” to be a valuable institution, because it provides the country with children. Earlier this summer, Petry declared that there were too many gays on television.

This kind of homophobic politicking is common for those of us who grew up in the US. I’ve seen versions of these arguments in German spaces before, especially in arguments about two-parent adoption and gay marriage. Beyond discussions of sexism directed against female candidates, we need to pay strict attention to the ways in which family structure and kinship networks are used to reflect images of the nation. This moves beyond discussion of homonationalism, where minorities are painted as homophobic and whites are painted as homophilic. Nationalistic groups in the US and Germany are hardly homophilic.

Call a spade a spade.

AfD Party Meeting in Stuttgart

Last weekend, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD/Alternative for Germany) party met in Stuttgart for their first national party meeting. This meeting was the focus of much attention for several reasons. First, the AfD is a new party, so what they decide at this meeting will shape both the party platform and the party’s ambitions. These ambitions are now clearly focused on national, rather than merely provincial, representation. Second, the party currently has two factions: the neoliberal-conservative group around Frauke Petry, and the nationalist-conservative group around Alexander Gauland, one of the founders of the party as a Euro-sceptic party. How the party will cope with dissent within its ranks is one of the questions political scientist Cas Mudde (UGA) tweeted the day before the meeting began. Given the warm welcome to racist-extremist Björn Höcke, it seems like the AfD will continue moving towards the right.

Finally, the party meeting itself was a controversial event, which inspired intense protest from left-autonomous groups and the preliminary arrests of 400-500 people. The Twitter feed from the German Association of Investigative Journalists posted a press release about crackdowns by police on the freedom of the press on May 2nd, when four photojournalists were arrested for participating in a sitting protest along the highway A8 and blocking traffic. Other charges included threatening behavior (Nötigung) and disturbing the peace. The press release details humiliation by police officers and that two of the journalists needed medical attention. It’s difficult to discern from the video below how extensive the protest was, but newspaper reports describe both protests near the convention center as well as a more peaceful protest in downtown Stuttgart.

 

My favorite use of technology as protest, however, was started by the satirical news broadcast extra-3 (the broadcast responsible for the recent Erdogan jokes). Deciding that the hashtag #AfD should really stand for “Aufmerksamkeit für Dackel” or “Attention to Dachshunds,” Twitter users started using the hashtag to tweet images of Dachshunds, making fun of the party and its approach to power.

The party meeting seems to have been largely symbolic – with a party program almost 80 pages long, the party meeting was hampered by organizational specifics and began late due to the protests. Of the more than 1,500 points to discuss, the party broached merely four. The “Islam Debate” was one of those four, and has caused the most uproar, with the Central Board of Jews in Germany and Green politician Volker Beck loudly condemning the AfD’s decision to include the statement that “Islam does not belong to Germany” in their program. (“Islam belongs to Germany” was a famous statement made by then-Federal President Christian Wulff in response to a racist polemic against Muslims published by Thilo Sarrazin in 2010, which monopolized the German newswaves for months.)

The best recap of the party meeting was by Lenz Jacobsen of Zeit Online, who summarized several important points:

  • Björn Höcke, the radical new right leader from Thüringen, who is infamous for making racist statements especially about Muslims, was the real star of the party. He showed up hours late, said nothing, but was greeted with so much applause that the person leading the meeting was clearly irritated and forced to stop the proceedings.
  • Albrecht Glaser is their candidate for federal president (a largely symbolic office), and was frequently addressed as “Mr. President-Elect.”
  • The provincial arm of the AfD in Saarland has been disbanded from the national AfD for working together with the NPD (Neonazi Party). Federal arbitrators are now the responsible party for the dispute.
  • Jacobsen rightly also points to the contradiction of the AfD and other groups like PEGIDA for hating foreigners who are Muslim, but praising white foreigners – like special guest Vaclav Klaus, former president of Czechia – who share their nationalistic approach. Indeed, for me, this transnational flow of right-wing ideas and collaboration across right-wing nationalistic parties is one of the most fascinating aspects of contemporary European nationalist-populism.

Finally, although the AfD has mostly been receiving press attention for their racist ideas towards Muslims and declarations by Beatrix von Storch that she would have border guards shoot refugees trying to enter Germany, queer.de published an important commentary on the heteronormative family biopolitics of the AfD called “Homophobia for Everyone!” The written goals of the AfD include elements of political struggles common to US audiences in the context of “culture wars”: no abortion, children should have two, opposite sex, traditional parents; Gender Studies should be abolished as a discipline; school curricula should not include mentions of homosexual behavior or transgendered folk; the German Christian heritage should be preserved. The ways in which this backlash would affect queer minorities can be intuited; what is important to remember is that backlash against queers extend negative effects to women and girls, single parents, divorced parents, step-families, infertile couples and single adults.

In reading through the program published by the AfD in advance of the meeting last weekend, what struck me is how the AfD party program reads like a textbook of the goals of the new right. There is an emphasis on promoting ethno-nationalist goals for Germany in order to strengthen the nation, all the while hoping to revert to some kind of mythical distant past in which there is no political union amongst European nations and no immigration. Immigrants are explicitly marked as criminal at several points in the program. Despite the prevalence of women at the top ranks of the party (Frauke Petry, Beatrix von Storch and Alice Weidel – who is romantically partnered with a woman), the platform is misogynist and homophobic – which are all part of the more basic repression in extremist movements to “close down the marketplace of ideas” (Lipset & Raab, 1970) and refuse to accept pluralism.

As the Green Party posted after the close of the party meeting:  “AFD: POLITICS FROM A DIFFERENT TIME. – Back to atomic energy, out of Europe, women in the kitchen . . . the program of the AfD is reactionary.”

 

Beware the Alternatives

In the two-party governance system of the United States, graphs like these may seem confusing:

The state news channel ARD tweeted the results of an election poll yesterday with six viable parties, and another column in grey for all the rest. The Christian Democrats, Merkel’s party, lead with 35% of voters; followed by the moderate Social Democrats with 24%. Two left-wing parties, the Left and the Greens, have about 10% each. The neo-liberal Free Democratic Party is barely making the 5% threshold required to enter parliament. Then there’s the shocker: the far-right, nationalistic party called Alternative for Germany is pulling in a whopping 12%. According to the tweet under the image, it seems like AfD is mostly gaining voters who previously voted for the center-right Christian Democrats.

If you want to understand German politics right now, the AfD is probably the most prescient indicator of how the political mood in Germany is changing.

What’s also very important to understand is that this sea change has been gradual, and been in motion for much longer than the refugee crisis. AfD was founded in 2012 and first appeared in the 2013 federal elections, where they ran primarily on a platform of Euro-scepticism. The “Alternative” in their party name is understood as desiring a political alternative to the European Union and shared currency. They are doing well because Europe has started to teeter on the edge of political and economic collapse by being embroiled in two crises: one, the Greek economic crisis, and two, the refugee crisis. They are also doing well because they have managed, as a party, to oust all of their center-right founders. The far-right has taken control of the party.

Which brings me to the initial purpose of this post: the AfD has recently made some terrifying statements that can only be described as morally corrupt. Both the chairwoman of the party, Frauke Petry, and her representative, Beatrix von Storch, called for border guards to shoot refugees as a solution to the crisis in late January.  Von Storch was nothing less than clear in this FaceBook comments thread:

Hans Werner: That’s ridiculous. Are you going to limit access of women with children on the green meadows [border landscape] with armed force?

Beatrix von Storch: Yes.

Katharina König: Shoot at children? Beatrix von Storch, #AfD says “Yes” Does anyone else have questions about this party? #coldcountry

There has been a massive amount of press attention to these statements, as there well should be. Petry and von Storch are trying to distance themselves from their PR disaster, with little success. And yet – for those voters AfD continues to poach from moderate right parties – these statements clearly have appeal. The AfD is becoming the party PEGIDA is legally prevented from becoming. On the rest of the political spectrum – including the centrist and left-wing parties – there must be some serious scrambling going on to find alternatives to the Alternativ.

Cologne – The Facts We Have

A number of Americans have asked me about the events in Cologne this past week. A number of Germans who live in America are reporting that their communities are increasingly divided and agitated about what is happening. The events on News Year’s Eve at the Cologne central train station are a global event, and #koelnhbf is the next hashtag to follow #staddefrance – although the events are quite different in magnitude.

What is difficult about explaining the events in Cologne to a foreign audience is how murky the facts remain. As protests take place in front of the station today, including one by Pegida recently broken up by police, what is clear is that the events of New Year’s Eve have stoked resentments and exacerbated political tensions that have long been present. Reports of sexual violence are being instrumentalized to racialize Muslim populations and stoke xenophobic fears of “invasion.” At the same time, it has become clear that the police response to such a disturbance were ineffective – partly because of the style of criminal behavior. The Cologne Chief of Police has voluntarily entered early retirement – which means he effectively lost his job over his mishandling of the situation. Police initially reported a peaceful New Year’s Eve celebration – until tens of claims of theft and assault were filed, at which point the police created their own commission to handle the investigation.

The basic facts seem to be that a large number of drunk men were shooting off firecrackers in the crowded station, and were groping and encircling young women as a tactic to distract them from noticing that they were also being robbed. According to this article in Spiegel Online, this tactic is not new: they report that more than 11,000 people have been robbed using this tactic in the past three years. This kind of sexual harrassment is – I can well imagine – a successful diversionary tactic precisely because it is physically and emotionally violent.

A wide variety of sensationalist right-wing press attention has exaggerated these reports and attempted to create hysterical panic. Pegida leader Lutz Bachmann has posed in pictures wearing an offensive “rape-fugees not welcome” t-shirt. These stories often portray a violent mob of 1,000 migrants wantonly raping and attacking young women, like the narrative on the website Right Wing News. These reports are exaggerated, if not false. Numbers vary, but the number of rapes reported vacillates between 1 and 2; the number of men at the train station between 500 and 1,000. The state-run news media tagesschau emphasizes that we are not talking about 1,000 perpetrators; rather, the number represents the general size of the entire crowd.

The Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, a local Cologne paper, reported today that the number of reported crimes has risen from 170 to 379. About 40% of these offenses constitute sexualized crimes, like groping. The ethnicity of the perpetrators has been partially identified; an early police report erroneously called all of them “refugees.” According to the NYTimes:

The Interior Ministry identified the 31 suspects as nine Algerians, eight Moroccans, four Syrians, five Iranians, an Iraqi, a Serb, an American and two Germans. Most of the crimes they were accused of involved theft and violence, said a ministry spokesman, Tobias Plate, but at least three acts were considered sexual assaults.

According to WDR, a German state news station, the police had identified 32 suspects, with 29 “foreigners” in the group (the numbers are the same as the NYTimes, with the exception of having 3 Germans rather than 2). 22 of the suspects are supposely seeking asylum. Given the long duration of asylum proceedings, however, we have no information about how long any of these suspects have been in Germany.

According to criminologist Rita Steffens, the use of sexually-based tactics to commit theft is an emerging trend in criminal behavior that is not restricted to Cologne. The intensity and quantity of assaults are new.

In contrast to the attention being paid to determining what happened on New Year’s Eve, most of the press attention has started furiously circulating around questions of race, class, gender and integration. These debates are self-multiplying and prohibit the emergence of a reasoned response to the complex issues at hand. This press attention will be the subject of the next post.

 

 

It’s Not What it Looks Like

Tagesspiegel7.Okt.15

German news media have been having a rough week when it comes to images. Der Tagesspiegel printed a rather unfortunate front page with an image of Adolf Hitler (played by an actor for the upcoming film version of Timur Vermes’ novel Look who’s back) above a title about Merkel’s decision to make the head of the Kanzleramt (Altmaier) the coordinator for refugees. The insinuation: that the refugee crisis requires a dictator. They apologized with a sorry/notsorry-style tweet: “Oops, didn’t pay attention. Sorry! #wronglayout.”

Just a few days ago, on October 4th, the ARD television channel aired an episode of “Bericht aus Berlin,” their Sunday evening show about German politics. A discussion about refugees moderated by Rainald Becker took place against a backdrop of Angela Merkel wrapped in a black chador, posing in front of a Reichstag topped with minarets.

Merkel.BerichtausBerlin.4.Okt.2015ARD later issued a statement in which they stated that they hoped this “satirical” image would prompt discussion. Unfortunately, such images are all too common amongst the right-wing movement PEGIDA, which frequently defaces or photoshops images of the Chancellor, whom they would like to see resign. According to the ARD editors quoted in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the ARD is not too concerned about the resonance of their state-sponsored, public television graphic with the right-wing:  “We are pleased about the numerous criticisms of our graphic, and regret very much that some people are not in agreement with our representation of the Chancellor or have completely misunderstood it.”

The imagery in both of these examples, however, hints at long-standing criticisms of the German government, especially from conservative positions: if we swing too far left, and welcome (Muslim) refugees into our country, we run the risk of losing our identity. The position of the Muslim woman as a trope in this rhetoric of identity loss has been present for many decades (see the work of Fatima El-Tayeb, Yasemin Yildiz, Rita Chin, and Beverly M. Weber in English).  The identity loss, in this image, would also be drastic – and therein lies the potential for satire (which has missed the mark). For a stoic, East German CDU politician, who holds a doctorate in physical chemistry, to be swayed by the simple polemics of Salafism is more than unlikely, it is incredible. Furthermore, this image plays on racist stereotypes about the supposed submissiveness of Muslim women, and is also a way to punish Merkel for being a strong woman who is not yielding to the criticisms of some of her more conservative male colleagues in her party. Caricature is the direct outgrowth of ideological disagreement. What is bizarre about this caricature on the ARD network, however, is that this station – channel 1 – is supposed to provide dispassionate, public television broadcasting, not stoke the ideological flames of right-wing movements literally setting homes for Muslim asylum-seekers on fire.