The events that took place in the small eastern German state of Thuringia gave rise to an enormous clamor. The whole political scene in Germany is at a boiling point. All of Europe is talking about this. As well they should be, because what is happening on the rightmost edges of German politics has effects that are more than just symbolic.
The election of Thomas Kemmerlich as president of the regional Parliament in Erfurt was the telling crack that came before an earthquake. Kemmerlich belongs to the Liberal Party—reborn from the ashes, having managed to overcome the 5% electoral threshold, if only barely—and won thanks to the votes of the Christian Democrats and the fascists of the AfD.
After a night of reflection and after meeting with FDP Secretary Linder, the newly elected president, whose election and tenure in office would have been entirely at the mercy of a party whose Thuringia branch is led by an openly avowed fascist, Björn Höcke, decided to resign from the position and push for a return to the polls.
It was not a novel phenomenon that the center-right parties in Thuringia didn’t turn up their noses at the assistance of the AfD—delivered in the most underhanded manner possible—with the aim of overthrowing the coalition government made up of Die Linke, the SPD and the Greens, led by Bodo Ramelow. However, in the past, the veto by the CDU/CSU and FDP leadership against any collaboration with the AfD was still effective, discouraging every form of shameful prevarication—something Kemmerlich himself tried at first, cheerfully accepting the “unsolicited” votes generously rained down on his head by the fascists.
Linder, the secretary of the FDP, who is now in a world of trouble, was also the most soft spoken when he needed to distance himself from this “conquest of Erfurt,” and is now forced to ask for his party’s vote of confidence once again, which has been clearly shaken. It is no coincidence that the breach took place within the most changeable and unstable of all German parties (liberal on occasion, but a strict conservative hawk whenever the winds of public opinion are blowing that way). Linder’s tone was very different from Angela Merkel’s condemnation, who immediately called the acceptance of an election result made possible by AfD votes “unforgivable.”
The only party who can claim a win here is the Alternative für Deutschland, which is being accused by the ones benefiting from its actions of having set a trap for them. This trap worked exceedingly well, bringing to light the contradictions that the centrist parties are wrestling with, facing a clear crisis of support, especially in the country’s east. Most importantly, it highlighted the fact that it will not be possible to eradicate the Left from the Eastern German states without the help of the AfD, while it is all too evident that this temptation keeps making the rounds among the centrist political class in those regions.
However, at the federal level, such an objective is not worth the risks of pursuing it. No one seriously thinks that Die Linke represents a line of continuity with the SED, the single party of the defunct DDR. But as long as Die Linke is lumped together with the fascists led by Gauland and Höcke in the same box labeled “opposite forms of extremism,” there are a number of circumstances in which the space for AfD’s presence will once again expand—and the centrist parties will have to reckon with the worst of impulses that are circulating within them.
The immediate reaction of a large part of the public opinion, the public mobilization in the squares of many cities, not only in the Eastern states and the immediate positions taken by politicians and the world of culture against the “coup d’état” in Thuringia tell a different story. Alternative für Deutschland’s compromise with the radical far right, the racist and authoritarian tendencies of this party and their denial of climate change are seen by the majority as the only real danger to German democracy.
The anti-fascist prejudice remains stronger here than in other European countries. However, the electoral growth of the AfD throughout the country remains a fact to be reckoned with, as does the suspicion that the Thuringia “trap” was not a mere accident, but a drift that the centrist parties have allowed to develop within themselves despite their repeated assurances to the contrary (this is the reproach that figures from the SPD are making to their allies in the Great Coalition).
After all, the takeover of a regional government with the contribution of the extreme right already has a precedent in Europe: namely, the coalition between the People’s Party, Ciudadanos and the neo-Francoists of Vox that is in government in Andalusia.