A history of in-fights

All through the party’s history severe infights have shaken the party but not severely damaged it. Party founder Bernd Lucke, who was the unchallenged leader…

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Chapter : A history of in-fights

All through the party’s history severe infights have shaken the party but not severely damaged it. Party founder Bernd Lucke, who was the unchallenged leader in the beginning, was toppled by a coalition of radical right activists and careerists at a party convention in Essen in July 2015.

He left the party shortly afterwards to create another party that plays no political role now. Frauke Petry who was heavily involved in the coup later faced a coalition of right-wingers led by Björn Höcke and Alexander Gauland from Thuringia and Brandenburg respectively who joined forces with Jörg Meuthen from Baden-Wurttemberg to isolate her in the party.

Like Lucke a professor of economics, Meuthen in the beginning was seen as more of a neoliberal than a right-wing hardliner. But, in the meantime, his statements and his unwillingness to kick-out open antisemites and racists from the parliamentary faction he heads in the Baden-Wurttemberg give doubt to this assessment.

The most recent national party convention in Cologne in April 2017 further marginalised Frauke Petry but gave rise to a duo of Jörg Meuthen and Alice Weidel as the party’s top candidates. Weidel, whom Meuthen had denied promising a place on the list of candidates in Baden-Wurttemberg shortly before, has become the alternative to Petry meanwhile. She is also from the business sector, comparatively young in a party dominated by old men, and with a clear neoliberal agenda.

The conflicts in the party are not just about careers but also about how quickly the party should be ready to enter a coalition with the conservative Christian Democrats.

While some in the party fear that doing so will undermine the party’s options to further play the role of the anti-establishment party, others hope that it would give the party more influence in decision-making procedures.

Björn Höcke

Furthermore, a wing of the party led by Höcke and Andrè Poggenburg – with a growing number of supporters throughout its regional branches – argues for the party to stay in a position of fundamental opposition. This includes mobilising for public rallies and reaching out to extreme right-wing groups like the Identitarian movement and the Institut für Staatspolitik that acts as an extreme right think-tank.

Höcke from Thuringia is one of the central points of conflict. He is highly provocative and the leading right-wing extremist in the party. In mid-January 2017, he spoke at an event in Dresden organised by the youth organisation of the AfD.

His statement that the German people is the only one that has built a monument of shame in the very heart of its capital and his claim that remembrance of the Holocaust should change fundamentally caused public uproar. Led by Frauke Petry, his opponents in the party demanded sanctions against him and his expulsion from the party.

In mid-February, the AfD’s federal executive board decided to initiate disciplinary steps but nothing has happened so far not least as this is a quite favourable situation for the party. On the one hand, it can argue that such a procedure has been started and that the party wants to get rid of such extreme right elements. On the other hand, the outcome of the procedure is anything but clear and will not come to an end before the national election, which also means that more radical voters can vote for the AfD.

Accordingly, Alexander Gauland, the party’s grey eminence, supported Höcke. As a result of Höcke’s Dresden speech, the deputy director of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation declared he would be barred from taking part in the annual International Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony. When Höcke tried to join the event nevertheless, he was excluded from the commemoration.

The right-wing of the party has two important and well-run platforms used to push particular candidates whenever there are elections within the party. Only very recently, there has been the foundation of the Alternative Centre – an attempt to bring together those presenting themselves as the more moderate members of the party.

Among them are Martin Schiller who had acted as the MC of a meeting of the European Parliament’s right-wing “Europe of Nations and Freedom” (ENF) faction in Koblenz early this year and, also, Günter Koch who had invited Björn Höcke to speak at a rally. Höcke himself has stayed aside in the last few weeks, waiting for the outcome of the national elections.


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