To the oh so many Americans in the United States, I beg you to take interest in the political developments that are occurring throughout the world. I know it may be hard to ignore the problems we currently have in our country, but understanding the world around us allows us to become informed global citizens. As we remain unaware in international developments, we are, therefore, complicit in their actions. Now—where was I?
We all know who the Nazis were. Fascist and anti-democratic in nature, they were a political party led by Adolf Hitler in Germany during the 1930s and the 1940s. Truly wicked acts were committed at the hands of the Nazis: genocide against Jews, Poles, Gypsies, and the disabled. Why is this relevant, you may ask? Well, a new political entity has emerged in Germany.
Alternative for Germany (AfD) is a far-right, populist party that has become the third largest party as of 2017 in Germany’s multi-party system. The AfD party has truly broken establishment politics within the country, taking much of the vote away from Germany’s traditional parties: the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the Left Party (LP).
Alternative for Germany explicitly takes influence from the Nazis, narrowing in on a specific type of nationalism: ethnonationalism. This ethnic-based nationalism is used by Alternative for Germany to portray both Germany and the German people as racially superior to other groups, namely Jews and Muslims.
Ethnonationalism is connected to the Nazi concept of the Volksgemeinschaft, or the ethnonational community. Both the Nazis and AfD assume existing groups stand as a direct threat to the Volksgemeinschaft. On Christmas Eve of 2015, AfD posted on Facebook for Germans to think about “shared values,” and how they have an important “responsibility for the Volksgemeinschaft” (AfD Sachsen-Anhalt). Alternative for Germany is attempting to destigmatize Nazi-era tactics. So, the parties depict their own enemies. For the Nazis, these enemies were the Jews. And for AfD, these enemies are immigrants, Muslims, and Jews.
Many of AfD’s election posters explicitly target Muslims and the Islamic religion as being fundamentally incompatible with the German way of life. The party has capitalized on the unpopularity of Chancellor Merkel’s 2015 decision to let many Syrian refugees into the country. Since then, much of right-wing politics in Germany has centered around anti-immigration sentiment. The explicitly racist attitudes directed towards Muslims and immigrants is crystal clear with the AfD party. A simple search on Google can direct you towards their campaign graphics.
Alternative for Germany’s anti-Semitism is bit trickier to pinpoint. This is because explicit anti-Jewish and Nazi-like speech isn’t protected under Germany’s freedom of speech laws. However, this hasn’t stopped AfD from creating loopholes in order to get their messages across. In 2017, AfD deputy leader Björn Höcke made a shocking statement about Berlin’s Holocaust memorial. Höcke asserted that the memorial is “shameful” to the country, further explaining how Germany must “no longer apologize for [their] past” (Höcke, “Holocaust Memorial”). Obviously, the past Höcke is referring to is that of the Nazi Reich.
As someone who is Jewish myself, I found these remarks to be quite disgusting. It is baffling to me how little coverage Alternative for Germany receives here in the United States. I mean for God’s sake; this is legitimate neo-Nazi group gaining significant amounts of power and prominence in Germany’s parliament. I think we’ve all heard a similar story before…
Not only is this worrisome for Jews, immigrants, and Muslims alike in Germany, but AfD’s political rise also poses a global threat. With the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, Germany will now be positioned as the economic powerhouse throughout Europe. If the party makes enough gains to control parliament, what would an AfD-led Europe look like? Would we see a re-emergence of fascism? A mass expulsion of Muslims? Another war-torn Europe? I’m not sure, but it sure is scary to imagine.
We’ve already seen a rise in violent far-right actions in Germany. The 2019 synagogue shooting in Halle on Yom Kippur and the 2020 shooting in Hanau against Muslims are just a few attacks to name.
In writing this open letter, in no way am I trying to portray Germany in a negative light by deeming them all as “Nazis.” In fact, I have a great deal of appreciation for Germany. I’ve studied German throughout high school and am continuing it in college. I even had the opportunity to attend school in Rosenheim in 2019.
However, I am just explaining my perspective on this issue and why people should be taking Alternative for Germany’s rise seriously. We’ve seen something similar to this before in the 1930s. No one back then believed the Nazis could ever hold so much power. We all know how that story ended. It is our responsibility as humane people to stop this any way we can. How can we do this? We can bring more attention to this issue to prevent any further far-right successes in Germany.
In America, we need to wake up. We are oftentimes ignorant in regard to other nations. For once, we must take off our “American lenses” and take a serious look at the world around us.
Thank you for reading,
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo
AfD’s comments on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=898617830252960&set=a.384418898339525.
Björn Höcke’s full speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AeF68PSgBkg.