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We are the People: The Rise of the AfD in Germany

We are the People: The Rise of the AfD in Germany

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We are the People: The Rise of the AfD in Germany

88 pages
1 heure
Aug 15, 2020


Recent years have seen a surge of populism across the Western world, exposing the vulnerabilities of liberal democracy and driving the international political agenda to the right. In Germany in 2017 the recently founded far-right populist party—the Alternative for Germany (AfD)—swept into the Bundestag, claiming to be the voice of the people against a corrupt liberal elite and overturning the delicate postwar political consensus in Germany.

We are the People analyzes the sudden growth and radicalization of the AfD, from its Euroskeptic beginnings in 2013 to its increasing extremism. Penny Bochum shows us how the leaders’ use of inflammatory, xenophobic, and even Nazi-era language mirrors that of emerging far-right forces across much of the Western world. At the same time, through a lucid examination of the group’s ideology, Bochum shows how their brand of populism is distinct and based on German experiences and history.
Aug 15, 2020

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We are the People - Penny Bochum

About the Author

Penny Bochum is a political researcher and writer working in Berlin and London. She has worked for Labour MPs and the SPD-Bundestagsfraktion and contributed to a range of publications including Can Labour Win? The Hard Road to Power.

First published by Haus Publishing in 2020

4 Cinnamon Row

London SW11 3TW


Copyright © 2020 Penny Bochum

The right of the author to be identified as the author

of this work has been asserted in accordance with

the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

A CIP catalogue record for this book is

available from the British Library

Print ISBN: 978-1-912208-92-0

Ebook ISBN: 978-1-912208-93-7

Typeset in Garamond by MacGuru Ltd

Printed in Czech Republic

All rights reserved



1Introduction: The past rears its head

2A worldwide populist wave

3From eurosceptic beginnings to the birth of the radicals

4Evolution into far-right populists

5The rise of the radicals

6‘Cumulative radicalisation’: The Flügel flexes its muscles

7New politics in a changing landscape

8Political fallout

9Containing the AfD: The centre can hold




I would like to thank my husband, Ulrich Bochum, whose knowledge of the political scene in Germany has been invaluable and who has also read and commented on drafts of the manuscript. Thank you also to Giles Radice for his helpful comments on the draft and to the Haus team, Harry Hall and Alice Horne, who have provided wonderful editorial support.


Introduction: The past rears its head

The murder of a conservative politician in the summer of 2019 sent shock waves through German society. Walter Libcke, president of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the district of Kassel in Hesse, had been receiving death threats for several years because of his support for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s pro-refugee immigration policy. On 2 June 2019, he was shot in the head at close range; shortly afterwards, a right-wing extremist was arrested. Two months later, another armed right-wing extremist livestreamed his attack on a synagogue where people were marking Yom Kippur in the east German town of Halle, killing two people on the street outside.

In the aftermath of Lübcke’s murder, as the police investigated the extreme-right scene in Kassel, accusations flew around the political arena. Senior politicians denounced the far-right populists, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), arguing that they bore some responsibility for the murder. The CDU’s general secretary, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (known as AKK), said that hatred and hate speech as practised by the AfD and AfD leaders, lower inhibitions so that they evidently turn into pure violence, and her predecessor stated that AfD politicians were ‘complicit’ in the murder.¹ After the Halle synagogue attack, a Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician went further. He argued that the political arm of right-wing terrorism is sitting in the German Bundestag and in the state parliaments. And that is the AfD.²

The AfD burst onto the political scene in 2013 and swept into parliament as the third largest party in the 2017 national election. Its short history is a tale of factionalism, splits and radicalisation, and it has made waves with its provocative behaviour, a series of extremist statements and its rejection of the post-war political consensus. Beginning as a eurosceptic party, it rapidly evolved into a far-right populist party following a series of power struggles and now has a powerful extremist, nationalist wing. With a xenophobic, anti-establishment message, the party has positioned itself as the voice of the people against the established elite. It calls on ‘courageous citizens’ and ‘patriots’ to reject the current state of affairs in Germany, maintaining that the nation’s political system is illegitimate and arguing for the reinstatement of German Leitkultur (‘leading culture’).*

Shortly before the 2017 election, Germany’s foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said, If the AfD actually makes it into the Bundestag, Nazis will speak in the Reichstag for the first time in over 70 years.³ Since then, accusations of right-extremism have grown as the party’s momentum has gathered. In the summer of 2018, AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland provoked outrage with his comment that Hitler and the Nazis are just bird shit in more than 1,000 years of successful German history … Yes, we accept our responsibility for the 12 years … [but] we have a glorious history – and that, dear friends, lasted longer than the damn 12 years.⁴ Two months later, AfD members of parliament and top officials marched with xenophobic groups, hooligans and neo-Nazis in street protests in the east German towns of Chemnitz and Köthen. Demonstrators chanted racist slogans, gave Nazi salutes and reportedly ‘hunted’ foreigners in the streets. In Chemnitz, AfD leaders publicly associated themselves with Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West – the thuggish anti-Islam, far-right movement) for the first time.

Meanwhile, the political establishment has struggled to deal with the rise of the AfD. The party’s success has not only posed uncomfortable questions about Germany’s Vergangenheitsbewaltigung (how it copes with its past) but also fundamentally changed both the political agenda and the manner of debate. Thirty years after unification, the rise of the AfD has exposed a continuing divide between the east and west of the country. While the party receives support from all regions, it is far stronger in the east, which is also the bastion of the extreme wing of the party. With its slogan Vollende die Wende – meaning ‘finish unification’ – the party has appealed to discontented easterners who still feel that they are second-class citizens. The call ‘We are the People’, itself first

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