Erfurt, Germany. February 5th, 2020. Four months after the State Elections, which saw the far-left party Die Linke receive the majority of the votes, but not enough votes to continue the Red-Red-Green Coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens, the chance for a minority government under incumbent Prime Minister, Bodo Ramelow was buried. The new Prime Minister is Thomas Kemmerich- from the FDP (Free Democrats). After five years of leftist governing, the State of Thuringia has taken the sharpest right possible, creating an earthquake that is being felt all the way to Berlin. And with that, one party is setting the stage for a potential upset in 2021, the year German Chancellor Angela Merkel steps down and elections for a new Chancellor will take place- namely the Alternative for Germany Party (AfD).
The far-right party has been making waves by entering the state parliament in each of the elections of 16 German states. Yet with Kemmerich as the new state minister, even though he comes from the FDP, the AfD effectively has entered unchartered waters, but whose history runs parallel to the events that brought down the Weimar Republic in 1933. Erfurt is swallowing another bitter pill- its second in a week’s time after its professional soccer team, Rot-Weiss-Erfurt folded due to lack of liquidity. But this pill is one that has the potential to be as deadly as the hemlock that Socrates was forced to drink as part of his death sentence.
In other words, Germany and its democracy are both starting to die. The pill was taken thanks to the AfD’s successful plot to bring an unknown person into power from a party that had just entered the parliament after achieving the 5% vote needed and had only four representatives in Erfurt after the elections on October 27th. How did this happen?
It was easy as this: Despite signing the agreement with the Left, SPD and Greens to continue with the coalition, a prime minister for Thuringia was needed, hence the in-house elections. Of the votes to be casted by 90 representatives, one must have the absolute majority of votes the first two of three rounds- meaning 46 out of 90. Ramelow got most of the votes in the first two rounds but was shy of the mark each time. In the third and decisive round, where the simple majority would’ve sufficed for Ramelow, the AfD, who had nominated a candidate of their own, threw their support behind Kemmerich instead, and together with the Christian Democrats (CDU), pulled off the most controversial upsets never seen since the Fall of the Weimar Republic. While Kemmerich has signaled no interest in a coalition with the AfD, thousands of demonstrators and politicians have cried foul play, with all but the AfD demanding an explanation- and new elections. Even authorities in the CDU in Berlin including party chair Annagret Kramp-Karrenbauer have turned on the Thuringian CDU for their plot with the AfD to oust Rammelow and have therefore demanded new elections. As of this post, Kemmerich has rejected calls for it.
Why is the AfD so dangerous? One name to answer: Björn Höcke, who heads the party in Thuringia. Many have dubbed him as Hitler 2.0 for his controversial remarks aimed at refugees, immigrants and the Jewish community. According to the BBC, Mr Höcke sparked an outcry when he condemned the decision to place the Holocaust memorial in the heart of Berlin, describing it as a “memorial of shame”. He, like his party colleagues, have pressed for restrictions on the freedom of speech and the elimination of foreign languages in favor of just German and would rather see a GEXIT, like it happened with Boris Johnson’s BREXIT out the EU, which will certainly mark the beginning of the end for the United Kingdom as Scotland prepares to campaign for independence and Northern Ireland ponders unification with Ireland, an EU member. Attempts to oust Höcke have failed, resulting in some members leaving the party. Yet with this victory in Erfurt, many in the AfD are making the point very clear: We are here and we will prevail, no matter how you isolate us.
Imagine what will happen in 2021, when Merkel leaves to enjoy her much-deserved retirement after having ruled Germany for as long as Helmut Kohl and Konrad Adenauer. The elections will take place and the majority of the voters put their ballots in favor of the AfD. It was bad enough that the party came in third in the 2017 national elections and in second in over a third of the elections in the German states. The damage caused by the concerted efforts by the AfD, FDP and CDU in Thuringia to bring Kemmerich into power as prime minister has raised some questions about the identity of the FDP and CDU and its potential to cozy up to the AfD and their far-right policies. Especially the hardest hit is the CDU for the party, with its center-right conservative mentality but is known for its tolerance towards foreigners living in Germany, as many voters, dissatisfied with Merkel’s policies, have left the party and taken refuge for the AfD, mistaken by their false sense of security. Even if the AfD was to finish in second, it will still find ways to collude with the CDU, FDP or other parties as a way of gaining power. Can you imagine the likes of Höcke, Alexander Gauland, Alice Weidel and Frauke Petry taking over Berlin and ruling over Germany?
If not, and thankfully, the majority has still learned from what happened under Hitler, then it is up to each and every single party who is opposed to the AfD to do something. The AfD is here to stay and we need to deal with it. The only way to do so is the following:
- Reinvent yourselves. Each party must break with tradition and find new platforms that counters the AfD’s but also appeals to each age group.
- Stay calm and be creative in countering any anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant and even anti-German comments and plans by the AfD or anyone the the party supports. Ripping up speeches in public after a president addresses the nation and throwing flowers on the ground at the feet of a newly elected prime minister are considered counterproductive. What is productive is what the party can do to outmanuver the AfD, regardless of themes being talked about on the state and national levels.
- Most importantly, find someone who has the capability to fill the shoes of Madame Chancellor at the quickest and most professional way. Having celebrity status to add to the political experience is an accessory compared to the most important element needed for Germany- public image. Without public image- appearance, eloquence and the ability to move the public, the candidate will be half the image. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Margaret Thacher were all successful because of the element that we seem to lack- public image.
In this day and age, looking at the current trend in the UK and USA, facts and figures are no longer enough. The right-wing virus is too strong for that. Complaining and mudslinging is a waste of time. This was something the Democrats in Washington have learned the hard way with Trump being acquitted of all charges in the impeachment hearings- the same day this debacle happened in Erfurt. What Germany needs very badly now is someone with the image and the iron fist to put an end to the dominance of the AfD and put it out of commission, once and for all. It starts in Berlin, in 2021. Once a prominent person is in place and restores order, the AfD will die off like the terrorist group, the RAF.
Like in the US with the Presidential elections this year, 2021 will be the year of decisions for the Bundesrepublik Deutschland. We’ve seen what happened in Erfurt. If nothing is done, we will see this happen again in Berlin with the federal elections. And we will end up rewriting history on how German democracy perished because of the likes of Gauland, Höcke, Weidel and Petry.