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Dubious Alliance: How Present Is the Far Right in Germany’s New Peace Movement?

  • March 01, 2023

Now, the question of Wagenknecht’s dubious alliances is once again front and center. Indeed, the same actors who emerged during the 2014 Peace Winter are now resurfacing behind Wagenknecht. They include Jürgen Elsässer, the editor in chief of the far-right magazine Compact, which promoted participation in Wagenknecht’s demonstration. Wagenknecht and Elsässer have known each other for years. In 1996, when Elsässer was still part of the left-wing spectrum, the two co-authored a book together.

Last week, when Elsässer appeared at a political comedy event for the annual carnival festival season in a town in the eastern state of Thuringia, some of the attendees had Reich flags – which has been co-opted by the far right – painted on their cheeks. Elsässer shouted to the crowd that a new Querdenker front had emerged, one that drew everyone from Björn Höcke, a right-wing extremist  in the AfD movement, to far-left figurehead Wagenknecht. “These forces must come together so that a resistance can be created,” Elsässer roared. “A united people can never be defeated.” He called on all to join the demos over the weekend in Berlin, saying friendship with Russia is possible. “We are people who understand Putin,” Elsässer shouted, prompting the hall to respond with chants of “druzhba,” Russian for “friendship.”

Wagenknecht’s close supporters include Diether Dehm, a music producer and former member of parliament with the Left Party who describes himself as a “conspiracy theorist.” Andrej Hunko, a member of parliament loyal to Wagenknecht, joined a protest in the streets with AfD politicians in the western city of Aachen a few weeks ago.

Wagenknecht Fans in the AfD

The national leadership of the AfD is particularly pleased with Wagenknecht’s involvement. The internal assessment by members of the extreme right is that the demonstration initiated by Wagenknecht and Schwarzer would be of enormous help to the AfD because the left has repeatedly distanced itself from Wagenknecht, and anyone still sharing her positions would have little choice but to vote for the AfD. Moreover, the AfD has long considered itself to be the most credible party when it comes to street protests. The AfD has nothing against joining forces with the far left on a number of issues. On the contrary, its members welcome anything that makes them stronger.

Wagenknecht has indeed always had a lot of fans within the AfD’s eastern chapters. A district association in the state of Saxony-Anhalt even used her likeness on a poster in 2021, an incident that prompted Wagenknecht to take legal action. Some AfD officials have begun realizing the dangers of associating too closely with Wagenknecht. People like Sahra Wagenknecht are “competitors of the AfD,” the head of the state party chapter in Saxony-Anhalt recently wrote to members in an email.

Even if her statements “seem worthy of approval or even sound as if they come from the AfD,” he wrote, one should not comment on or share any comments about them without reflection. Or it should at least be pointed out “that the statements are contrary to the program of the respective party,” and that anyone who “wants these policies has no choice but to vote for the AfD.”

Meanwhile, a fierce dispute is raging over the “manifesto” in the Left Party – still Wagenknecht’s political home for the time being. The party’s executive board recently asked to speak with her. But Wagenknecht left open the question of whether or not she wanted AfD representatives at Saturday’s demonstration. They were told only that she would not send them away.

For many on the left, distancing themselves from the right is a part of their identity. The state chapters in Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt, in particular, fear that a softening of the firewall to the AfD would only hurt them. How, after all, are they supposed to criticize the center-left CDU for voting on issues together with AfD members in the state parliament if their own members are joining the far-right at public demonstrations?

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