The battle for fundamental freedoms: German nationalist party splits

The German nationalist party AfD is facing a civil war between its two national leaders: Frauke Petry (left) and Jörg Meuthen.

The German nationalist party AfD is facing a civil war between its two national leaders: Frauke Petry (left) and Jörg Meuthen.

During the past year Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany – AfD) has been the most successful and rapidly growing nationalist party in Europe.

In 2015 control of AfD passed from its founders – who were essentially a liberal version of UKIP, focused on reform of (not withdrawal from) the EU – to a more radical faction who spoke openly about the need to protect German identity from mass immigration.

Though ‘moderate’ factions (including most of the party’s MEPs) had argued that this ‘extremism’ would be electorally disastrous, AfD has in fact become stronger, consistently winning seats in Germany’s regional/state parliaments, or länder.

Now the party’s most liberal elements are attempting a coup against the new leadership: at stake is whether AfD’s de facto leader Frauke Petry will be its figurehead and candidate for Chancellor against Angela Merkel in next year’s federal elections (scheduled for August-September 2017).  The liberal faction would prefer Jörg Meuthen, who acts as co-spokesman with Frau Petry at national level, and was head of the AfD group in the state parliament of Baden-Württemberg.

A few weeks ago Herr Meuthen demanded the expulsion of one of his AfD colleagues in Baden-Württemberg, Wolfgang Gedeon, after it was found that Herr Gedeon had written a book four years ago (entitled Green Communism and the Dictatorship of Minorities) comparing the German state’s treatment of historians such as David Irving (and German writers such as the former leftist Horst Mahler) to the persecution of ‘dissidents’ by communist and other totalitarian regimes.

Showdown in the Baden-Württemberg state parliament between AfD regional leader Jörg Meuthen (left) and one of his own MPs, Wolfgang Gedeon (right).

Showdown in the Baden-Württemberg state parliament between AfD regional leader Jörg Meuthen (left) and one of his own MPs, Wolfgang Gedeon (right).

The book was denounced as ‘anti-semitic’, but when AfD’s group of Baden-Württemberg MPs met last week, the liberal faction was unable to secure the necessary two-thirds majority to expel Herr Gedeon.  Although Herr Gedeon resolved the matter a day later by resigning voluntarily, Herr Meuthen and his supporters used the dispute as a pretext to break away and form their own parliamentary group, registering themselves as Alternative für Baden-Württemberg.

They have now taken the matter to AfD’s national ruling executive, demanding that this new group be recognised as the official party affiliate.  In statements to the German press, the liberal faction have insisted: “I don’t know how you can be in two minds about this. Anyone who reads this can see it is clearly antisemitic.  … We are Alternative for Germany, the others are antisemites for Germany.”

Herr Meuthen is now using the issue to force a showdown with Frau Petry, demanding that she should be locked out of the party’s national headquarters, even though she is seen as effectively the AfD leader.

Unless the dispute is resolved decisively and quickly, the only winner will be Germany’s pro-immigration Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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