In Magdeburg, an eastern city in Germany, supporters of AdD celebrated in loud raucous jubilation this past Sunday as voters sent a clear message rejecting Merkel’s policies.
"What an amazing evening," Andre Poggenburg, a party AfD leader from Saxony-Anhalt, said in an impassioned speech in the state capital Magdeburg, calling the result "brilliant".
"We fought like lions for your land," he said, stressing that Angela Merkel is "the worst chancellor in the history of Germany."
Originally formed to oppose euro zone bailouts in 2012, the AfD has taken up the fight against immigration over the past year. The Party kicked out its founder and started forming a broader party from Germans enraged over the record influx of migrants. By doing so, it created an alternative to disaffected members of Merkel's conservative base.
This past Sunday the AfD returns had its’ best day ever and won 24 percent of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt, giving it the new distinction of becoming the second-biggest party in the state parliament.
According to Joseph Nasr reporting for the news agency Reuters, “The AfD also performed better than polls predicted in two other states, winning nearly 15 percent in the prosperous southern region of Baden-Wuerttemberg and over 12 percent in Rhineland Palatinate, a western wine-making state.”
While exit polls indicated the AfD received most of its’ support from people previously without a party affiliation, it was clear it also drew thousands of voters from Merkel's conservatives, particularly in Baden-Wuerttemberg.
The win in Germany continues a trend in European politics where voters are seen increasingly moving to support anti-immigrant parties. Germany has been one of the more reluctant nations to embrace these populist policies largely because opposition to far-right ideologies runs deep because of the country's Nazi past. This so called form of “European white guilt” runs deep in Germany and has been mirrored in the USA as well, due to legalized slavery approximately a hundred and fifty years ago.
But just as a flood of illegal immigrants from south of the US border has galvanized Americans, the European migrant/refugee crisis has changed Germany sentiment as well. More than a million migrants entered Germany last year, and along with increased crime including reports of mass rapes and sexual assaults by Middle Easterners, fraudulent documents used to enter the EU illegally and increased economic pressure on German taxpayers the mood has changed, turning the AfD into a nationally potent political force.
"MERKEL MUST GO!"
In Magdeburg, local media reported that a large group of mainly middle-aged supporters “whistled, clapped and cheered: as results were projected onto a large screen. In Berlin, supporters were broadcasted chanting, "Merkel must go!"
"This is democracy. I am very, very happy," said Gerlach Holm, 67, who made the trip from Hamburg to Magdeburg to join in a celebration with like-minded friends. His shirt bore the inscription; "My heart beats for Germany"
In 2013, the AfD narrowly failed to achieve a five percent hurdle necessary to gain entry into the federal parliament, but this week’s elections have placed it in the state assemblies of half of Germany's 16 states.
Last year, a 40 year-old chemist, Frauke Petry, seized control of the AfD from party founder Bernd Lucke and immediately refocused the party to oppose immigration. Petry delivered, delivered impassioned speeches focusing blame for the migrant crisis on Chancellor Merkel. IN one of his more inflammatory speeches he called for German police to be given official sanction to shoot migrants at the border as a last resort.
"Mrs. Petry went far with those remarks but we are not against foreigners," said Holm. "We need foreigners because we have low birth rates and we are aging. But we need foreigners who integrate."
Despite its recent success, the party will not get to wield power over policy, since all of Germany's other parties have ruled out forming coalitions with the AfD.
"I did not vote AfD because I expect them to govern," said Thorsten, a 48-year-old sales manager who declined to give his family name fearing job retribution. "I voted AfD to protest the federal government's policies."
"I did not ask Mrs. Merkel to open Germany's borders to everybody. It is fine to let in people fleeing conflicts, but not everyone," he said with his wife by his side.
Meanwhile in other member nations of the EU, European voters are boosting anti-immigrant political parties and governments are closing their gates to new arrivals; building fences, calling up their armed forces and defying the open border policies in effect. Mainstream media, including the Associated Press have previously reported from a perspective of sympathy for migrants, is now saying, “The refrain of Europe's migrant crisis has changed from "welcome" to "enough already."
Europe has not turned callous nor are Europeans oblivious to legitimate needs of true refugees but fraud has been rampant and the open door policies have been exploited by masses of asylum seekers who are, in reality, economic migrants, simply seeking the richer lifestyle of many EU nations. Seeing the negative effects of unchecked migration, Europe is now seen as waking up to the reality that it has failed to collectively manage this influx of people ill-equipped for Western life.
"It is not sustainable anymore that no one's playing a common game," said Yves Pascouau, a migration expert at the European Policy Center. "We need to fix this and really need to move ahead."
“But not all Europeans see this as a problem they must share. Worried about their own weak economies, concerned that their national values are eroding, many say war in the Middle East and poverty in Africa are someone else's responsibility. Compassion had the upper hand just six months ago, as the number of Syrian refugees soared and the photo of a dead 3-year-old on a Turkish beach galvanized volunteers. Border guards greeted weary travelers with a hearty "Welcome to Germany," and Chancellor Angela Merkel inspired other nations to do the same. Players on the Munich field promoted integration, holding hands with a refugee child on one side and a German child on the other,” according to a recent AP report.
But the refugees kept pouring in reaching a million and still they keep coming. What was supposed to be relief from war in Syria began a free for all with economic migrants from Senegal, people fleeing bad conditions in the Sudan, and many, many others that did not fit the initial rationale. Then authorities began to see terrorist infiltrating and violent extremists, who inflamed the angry young Muslim men whose families arrived a generation earlier and felt they had been denied full integration into European society.
Paris was attacked resulting in many dead. Public transportation was taken over by migrants insistent on being moved to Germany. Police were attacked and women were assaulted in Cologne and Finland causing attitudes to shift which in turn has been seen as a turning point in the crisis that has dominated Europe.
Now this resentment has driven support for the German nationalist party victory Sunday. But the movement against the immigrants is growing. Just recently, anti-immigrant youth in the French port of Calais torched tires and blocked migrants from the center of town this weekend, decrying a "veritable invasion." Sweden, which has taken in more migrants per capita than any other country, has suffered a spate of arson attacks on asylum centers and other sites after a young woman was killed viciously in an asylum center in the previously welcoming and peaceful Scandinavian nations seen by many as second only to Germany in it charitable view of mostly Muslim migrants.
"Europe is at a critical crossroads," said Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece, a key first stop for migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea or overland from Turkey.
Governments, once criticizing Hungary and others eastern EU members for cracking down too hard are now cracking down, too. The route hundreds of thousands of migrants have taken through the Balkans has been shut over the past few days as one nation after another shuts its borders. Thousands just tried to illegally leave Greece but were arrested in Macedonia and returned. Migrants are defying police, cutting through border fences, setting fires to their camps and openly revolting at illegal migrant camps in France. Over 40,000 people are stranded in an overwhelmed and financially weak Greece. Over 14,000 migrants are stuck in an open field near the border town of Idomeni.
While some in the press along with a few very liberal politicians continue to insist Europe should keep open borders, many European leaders are now saying a crack-down is the only way to show migrants that there is little chance of winning asylum. All the while smugglers continue to sell a false dream of easy prosperity and welcoming societies in Europe.
Even Merkel, who is seen by many as the politician who started this fiasco, is now saying she doesn’t want to let in the migrants who are waiting in Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia, Italy, Turkey and Greece. As her party continues to lose seats to those who support stopping what has been called “the insanity of open migration,” Merkel is seen as increasingly changing her approach.
"The policy of waving (people) through is over," German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere told ZDF television Thursday. "We want to reach solutions. And a solution is that we end these illegal ways to Europe, and so break the business model of the criminal smugglers."
This ongoing political battle in Europe should come as a warning to US leaders who, with the upcoming Presidential elections must justify their positions of easy immigration and asylum for illegal immigrants to voters in the USA who are equally as fed up as their European counterparts. This in large part is seen as the reason Donald Trump is dominating the field – he has promised to end illegal immigration and tighten border security before it reaches the crisis level of Europe.
His opponents say the US is “different than Europe,” but Trump has been insisting that is what Europeans thought just a few short months ago.
“We are not being smart letting so many un-vetted people into our country especially at a time when terrorists are using all means at their disposal to infiltrate our borders and threaten our way of life, this isn’t just politics, it’s survival of America and my supporters see that – they don’t want politically correct, they want correct, the front-running Trump said at a recent rally to thousands of cheering supporters.
In the meantime, anti-immigration politics continue to capture an ever growing share of voters and if trends continue it is only a matter of time until the balance of power shifts to the extent that inter-party alliances will not be necessary to form a governing majority even in Germany.