A year later, the far right transformed German politics

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BERLIN, Germany (AFP) – A year after invading parliament, lawmakers from the far-right AfD party have turned the normally frozen world of German politics upside down, with provocations and insults now on the agenda of the venerable Bundestag.

Occupying 92 seats in the lower house of parliament, the country’s largest opposition party takes every opportunity to denounce immigration, Islam and especially Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The combative rhetoric, partly unthinkable until a few years ago, has at times stunned seasoned lawmakers. But the tactic seems to be paying off.

Recent polls suggest the AfD would win 18% of the vote if elections were held now, just behind Merkel’s center-right CDU, itself weakened by the rise of the far right.

“Parliamentary culture is now more confrontational,” said Paul Nolte, professor of history at the Free University of Berlin.

“The AfD is not considered a normal party, and in the Bundestag it does not act like a normal party,” he told AFP.

In what the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine called a “historic turning point”, the AfD won 12.6% of the vote in the September 24 elections to win its first seats in the national parliament.

Not bad for a party that started as an anti-euro group just four years earlier, before capitalizing on anger over Merkel’s decision in 2015 to open the borders at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis .

The success of the AfD sparked a political earthquake in Germany, where no far-right party had had a large-scale presence in the Bundestag since the end of World War II.

Member of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, Bernd Baumann speaks during the first session of the newly elected parliament on October 24, 2017 in the Bundestag (or lower house of parliament) in Berlin. (AFP PHOTO / STEFANIE LOOS)

Setting the tone in the first parliamentary session, the leader of the AfD parliamentary group, Bernd Baumann, said “a new era is beginning now”, and quickly sparked a row with a historic mistaken remark about the notorious Nazi Hermann Goering.

Since then, the once consensual mood in the Glass Dome Bundestag has given way to fierce debates interspersed with taunts and calls to order.

“They changed the daily discourse, including in the Bundestag, with words like ‘migrant knives’, ‘asylum flood’ and ‘asylum tourism’,” Green MEP Renate Kuenast told Frankfurter Allgemeine.

The growing public acceptance of such language and the far-right taboos being broken are “a bigger and more fundamental change than the changes brought about by the reunification of Germany,” she added. .

“Verbal provocations are certainly one of our characteristics,” AfD MP Rene Springer told AFP.

In June, an AfD lawmaker sparked outrage by using his allotted debate time to demand a minute’s silence for 14-year-old Susanna Feldmann, who was raped and murdered, allegedly by a claimant. Iraqi asylum rejected in a case that fueled anti-migrant sentiment. in Germany.

Other MPs accused the AfD of shamelessly politicizing death, while Bundestag President Wolfgang Schaeuble berated lawmakers for failing to follow procedure.

Rounding up his detractors, AfD MP Gottfried Curio recently described the party as a victim of “hatred and hunted down” by other parties.

The words deliberately echoed Merkel’s condemnation of last month’s far-right protests in Chemnitz, where she said foreigners had been “hunted down” during protests sparked by the deadly attack on a German, allegedly by asylum seekers.

When Social Democratic MP Johannes Kahrs called the presence of right-wing radicals in the Bundestag “unappetizing”, the entire parliamentary faction of the AfD came out in protest.

Protesters hold up placards showing portraits of refugee victims during a protest organized by the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party on September 1, 2018 in Chemnitz, eastern Germany. (AFP PHOTO / Jean MACDOUGALL)

Martin Schulz of the SPD, a former head of the European Parliament, stepped up the pressure even more in a scathing dismantling of the AfD this month in which he told far-right party co-leader Alexander Gauland that he belonged to “the dung of history”.

The remark referred to Gauland’s controversial description of the Nazi period as a mere “grain of bird poo” in 1,000 years of German history.

AfD MP Springer said, however, that German lawmakers tend to calm down away from the cameras when “the tone towards us becomes more subdued”.

But apart from the high-profile quarrels, the AfD has yet to make its mark when it comes to exercising legislative functions.

Several of its lawmakers “seem bored” and show little interest in the details of day-to-day parliamentary affairs, Marco Buschmann of the pro-business FDP party told the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

AfD MPs are also regularly criticized for their lack of political experience and poor understanding of political issues.

“There is potential for more professionalism,” admitted an AfD lawmaker.

Nonetheless, said Nolte, “the AfD parliamentary group has shown itself to be a little more stable, coherent and homogeneous than some had predicted.”

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