By Nicolas Frank Böhmer*
The reasons to vote for right-wing AfD are the problems, not the AfD itself.
On one hand, the elections to the Bundestag on September 24 2017 in Germany were somewhat boring. The programmes of the parties in charge and designated parties, CDU and SPD, look similar. Too gibberish and far from facts were the appearances of Martin Schulz, designated candidate for chancellor of the social SPD.
Too “mum-like” and an encumbrance to people the statements of Angela Merkel. Most other parties were toothless. On the other hand, the “Alternative für Deutschland AfD” (Alternative for Germany) – a party at the far right – was able to attract the attention all the time. Politicians and even more the media picked up each deliberately or undeliberately failed statement from AfD, ripped it apart, attacked the sourcing politician of AfD and embarrassed them, issued opposing items and questioned the AfD in general. If foreign media were interested at all, they joined this round dance and supported the local media on giving the AfD a much larger platform and more airtime for distributing their programme, than it would have deserved taking its relevance in account.
Condemning, stereotyping and ignoring
The AfD was and will be denounced for its right-wing national and xenophobic statements. This image is created particularly by Alexander Gauland, and – after her withdrawal as leader and recent leaving of Frauke Petry – by Alice Weidel. In venturesome staggering walks along the cliff to criminal offenses, both agitators made the Media work for them.
The journalists appeared being the servants in the slightly random media tactics of AfD. The media boil the AfD down to the subjects Racism and Refugees and in immediate reflex cover merely these two topics. In parallel, the commentators and TV hosts tend to distort the subject under discussion with AfD, adding their own personal opinion on these subjects. It appears the bashing of AfD being some sort of substitutional to wipe off the guilt resting on the shoulders of the Germans after World War 2.
The throughout biased representation of the AfD in the media classifies the party in a fixed place and the politicians happily join in. In doing so, they ignore all those positions of the AfD that made the excellent 12.6% election result possible. The projections for AfD stated just 9.5%. However, a non-representative survey by the Counter Narco-Terror Alliance Germany unveiled just about 60% of the voters for AfD dared to confess openly in doing so. Therefore, our projections were between 11% and 15%.
Germany – a class society?
It seems worthwhile to approach the AfD in order to understand how this acceptance was accomplished – something the media neglected and they still neglect it. As soon as a hot topic was risen – such as the “left- behind” people – the media quickly execute surveys and cites studies, and based on this information they try to rectify the issue and to put the AfD’s position and statements into perspective. This happened and happens with lots of indignations and sound.
This is well known from Austria where the politicians and the media had chosen to apply this procedure against the right-wing national FPÖ and their former chairman Jörg Haider. The media and the politicians opened unhesitatingly the stage for them and tried to support the governing party by attacking the right-wing politicians. However, this proceeding didn’t serve the purpose – in contrast, the FPÖ, its politicians and their programme became well known among the voters.
Prior the elections to the Bundestag 2017 it was the liberal German-French thematic TV channel “arte” wanting to find the people in Germany left behind by the politicians and most media – if they exist at all. The verdict of the German-French media people as well as the numerous fates of people living in Germany are upsetting, just like the title of the broadcast: “Being poor in a rich country”. A similar perception of Germany was transmitted out of Switzerland. The Gini coefficient – it describes the wealth distribution in a country – issued by the Swiss bank Credit Suisse states unpretentious and mathematically a high wealth inequality in Germany. Many rich, a few very rich people and broad base of people with minimal to no wealth live in Germany. Similar to Argentina and Morocco – truly not a glorious chapter for a country with such a big self-conception in social and economic life. This, however, never was brought to the attention of the Germans and the parties packed it into set phrases such as “Time for more equity” („Zeit für mehr Gerechtigkeit“, SPD) without giving any idea how to materialise it.
The same applies to the poverty rate in Germany rising from an already high 14% (2006) to an even higher 15.7% (2016, source: Paritätischer Gesamtverband) – with a high number of unreported cases since particularly elderly people not applying for social welfare out of shame. This rating puts the highly praised country between two countries with a heavily struggling economy and therefore a comprehensible poverty rate: France and Spain. Associations bringing this issue out several times already were respected with minimal coverage.
“But the unemployment rate is at an all-time low for decades” politicians like to state. 5.5% truly is a low figure but looking behind the raw number might be sensible here as well. For instance, an increasing quantity of contracts are for temporary work, today close to one million of the 43 million employees have no permanent appointment. All of them not being able to plan ahead – e.g. to start a family – due to the uncertainty of their employment. Not to overlook the multitude of jobs with low salaries. In many cases, it includes job groups the citizens of Germany rely on, such as personnel in care, education, upbringing but also employees in middle- sized businesses and the industry. The grandparents had only one income and this was sufficient to feed the family, cover the cost for education and to build a house. Today, this is out of reach for a rising number of particularly young people, even with double-income. Quietly, a new class society has been established.
Export surplus and the workforce
In spring, Donald Trump approached Angela Merkel bluntly regarding the high export surplus of Germany. Infamous for his attacks, the Donald included some true word within his rumbling. The export surplus of Germany is respectable – and it hurts the United States as well as other countries and foremost Germany’s European partner countries. Angela Merkel often is perceived as the Chancellor or Economy, particularly for the automotive industry, and the whole economic engine Germany is running smoothly. But the close relation to the economy and the panic-fuelled “angst” of the loss of jobs seduces many politicians including Winfried Kretschmann of the Green Party to react extremely tolerant on the recent criminal activities of the industry. This proximity to the economy is perceived as distant to society by various organisations, some parties and the voters.
The export surplus of Germany is made possible by the low salaries in relation to the cost of living of the majority of the society. This circumstance was denounced by the left media and left parties for some time now, but with no sign of change. The low salaries of a large part of the society shows the first signs of an erroneous trend: Due to the minimal salaries, many citizen can no longer build up a decent retirement pension plan. Even today, many pensioners have to live on 400 Euros per month – this is for one of the richest countries such as Germany simply shameful. Poverty among the elderly will struck more than 20% of the people, with an increasing trend. Particularly women are affected if they are a single mother, divorced women or if they do not live with their married partner – they slip from low income into poverty among the elderly.
The Unions fight and deal ever single year with the industries and employers to improve the situations of the employees. Given the noble goals, the results are eminently pitiful. For instance, last year the kindergarten teachers went on strike to get a reasonable rise of their salaries to cover the real cost of living. Today and depending on their wage bracket, they get not even 100 Euros more per month, with employees in part-time – the majority – not even being able to notice the difference at the end of the month. The improvement in their situation of living and appreciation of their work has been missed by far. The Unions like their power and this has caused several fights among competing Unions. For the kindergarten teachers the Union obtained a homeopathic rise of the salaries hesitatingly touching or even leaving out the real problems of the employees. If the Unions pursue proper solutions, the Unions afterwards would be needed for few cases only, thus their comprehensive power would fall apart. Therefore, the Unions in their inactivity mutate towards servants to the employers, on the expense of the employees and the future generations. The Unions faced an alarmingly insight after the Bundestagswahl: According to the Forschungsgruppe Wahlen (senior researches in the election) about 15% of the union members voted for the AfD – where they usually voted for SPD, and some for CDU. A verdict not being a surprise to political observers. The moaning of the IG Metall Union Head of Baden- Württemberg, Mr. Roman Zitzelsberger, unmasks much: „… it is frustrating to see the actual not so bad politics of the past years being punished so mercilessy” („… frustrierend zu sehen, dass die eigentlich nicht schlechte Politik der vergangenen vier Jahre so gnadenlos abgestraft wird“). How shortsighted such statements are still seem not to be within the scope of the guiding people, politicians and Unions. As a member of the AfD stated figuratively during the survey held by the Counter Narco-Terrorism Alliance: “They haven’t heard the shot yet”.
A society splitting itself
It’s a popular opinion xenophobia of the recent times in Germany being an invention by the AfD – but this is past the reality. With the Fall of the Wall and the reunion of the Germans, many East Germans faced the first time xenophobia. Despite the noble promises by the politicians and after the first euphoria, they were not welcome at all in many places. The history repeats itself today with the refugees coming from war zones. Angela Merkel stating „Wir schaffen das!” („We can make it!“) was good for the motivation and well said. But it is indisputably the government, the many voluntary workers and the society being massively overstrained by the rush of refugees. The terror attack on the Weihnachstmarkt in Berlin by Anis Amri was just the visible part of the failing of the government on many levels.
Even more dangerous are the nearly invisible tensions within the society not being related to refugees and terrorists – even if the real threat by refugees and terrorists are belittled by the government, the Verfassungschutz and the secret service in a negligent manner. It is the increasing trench in the society being the real danger. Noticeably those enjoying some wealth and/or occupying a hierarchical higher position fight with exertion for limiting those in lower positions. This has many causes and they neither are racist or xenophobic – but racism and xenophobia could become the symptoms of diverse causes in the medium term. Often, it is just the fear to loose status or coming close to poverty or even to slip into poverty. Furthermore, the German mentality – in contrast to many others – does not know “failure” or not “working”. The intensely believe in hierarchies, the strive to climb up and the circumvention of the ones in lower position/status in all areas of life are the objectives. The overestimation of the own values, the contemptuousness of other or foreign values and the low esteem towards others in general (not just towards certain jobs) doesn’t make it easy for the society to cope with the upcoming complex times. Such concepts will not work if digitization expands into all areas of our life, they will be knocked down.
This fight in defence for the own position and the own life in the German society is omnipresent, but not yet truly visible. The established parties face difficulties to sense these subjects and to adjust themselves to these pestering problems – in the contrary. Instead of fighting low salaries the call for a better rental price limitation and more social house building arose right before the Bundestagswahl. Such measures would be complex, though ineffective and would increase the split in the society and stigmatisation. This politics of symbolism conveys the message of helplessness; it brought the AfD many protesters votes. It also means many AfD voters are not right-wing by far. At the other hand, more than a few voters could be easily radicalized if their difficult personal situation and their social periphery continuously will be neglected. This latent instable condition of an increasing part of the society should force the elites in politics and economy to rethink and act accordingly. Terror doesn’t always come from the outside world, it of course can rise straight out of the middle of society. Moreover, this kind of terror is one of the toughest challenges for society and government. Germany faced it already once, about 40 years ago.
As of today, it is unclear what the AfD wants and can achieve for its voters when sitting in the opposition in the Bundestag. On one hand, the AfD must find itself after the leaving of some of its politicians. On the other hand, the government and the opposition have to consolidate first. Despite the indication the AfD moving to the right– based on the departure of some of its politicians –, the effect of “domestication” of the Bundestag should not be underestimated. Fuss and doing the right-wing rabble will not convince most of the moderate AfD voters. It is safe to say the previous flimsy consensus, waving through of resolutions and the numb debates will become more lively. The new government has the chance to discard the ignorance and lethargy of the past years and focus on the pestering issues lying ahead.
About the author:
*Nicolas Frank Böhmer, Co-Founder and Co-President of the Counter Narco-Terrorism Alliance Germany; consulting, research, communications specialist and entrepreneur; develops strategies and subsequent concepts for economy, communications and politics; information gathering; analyst, translator, writer and content developer; international experience in industry, technology, media tech, research and education institutes, governmental entities, politics, the UN and more.
This article was published at Modern Diplomacy