By David Giacomini
For many people here in the United States paying attention to our own election cycle can seem like a massive headache. So it wouldn’t be surprising that only a few people here took notice of the recent German Parliamentary elections. It might be helpful to take a second to explain how the German government is laid out. Germany is based on a system where regions elect representatives to a parliament called the Bundestag. The Bundestag has 709 seats (our House of Representatives has 435) and is headed by a chancellor. On the surface, the election didn’t look out of the ordinary. Angela Merkel won a fourth term as Chancellor and there are still significant majorities of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party, so same old, same old.
But when you take a close look at the results you find something surprising. The Alternative for Germany Party (Alternative für Deutschland, or AfD) won 92 seats in parliament, capturing just over 12 percent of the vote nationwide. The AfD is a far-right wing political party that is based on a platform that is anti-European Union and anti-immigrant. Members of the party are mainly against Chancellor Merkel’s policies of opening Germany up to many Muslim immigrants and want more autonomy from the European Union.
Of course, in the wake of the elections, there have been immediate comparisons of the AfD to another far-right political party from Germany’s past. After the recent election some AfD headquarters were attacked and graffitied with such phrases as “hate Nazis.” It is wrong to believe that the people who voted for the AfD are Nazis, but they do have a strong nationalist sentiment. Some of the complaints of AfD supporters are the loss of traditional family values and nostalgia for the past. There is also fear regarding the increase of Muslim immigrants and the possible risk of terrorist attacks. Much of the AfD’s political support comes from manual workers or the unemployed, but there is also significant showings of professionals. It is also a very regional party with many of the votes coming from areas that used to be part of East Germany. That is another thing to remember. October 3 was German Reunification Day. On November 9, 1990 East and West Germany were reunited. However, it cannot be celebrated on this day because Kristallnacht took place on the same day in 1942. That’s right, modern Germany has only existed for twenty-seven years, and it has a very troubled past to deal with.
This recent election in Germany is just the latest example of a wave of nationalism that has swept through many Western countries. Nationalism played a role in the Brexit Vote in the United Kingdom, the rise of Marine Le Pen and the National Front during the 2017 French Presidential Election and even Donald Trump’s campaign here in the United States during the last presidential election. All of these movements prey upon fear from outside factors having adverse affects on the country. The growth of the AfD in Germany can be seen as a pushback against liberal policies put in place there. This piece is not meant to claim that Germany is slipping back into the control of a right-wing party or that the AfD are the next Nazis. It is meant to call attention to the fact that nationalism itself is on the rise, and it is up to the people to keep it from becoming excessive.
David is a senior History major and Photography minor.
Graphic by the author.