Fri | May 25, 2018

Nationalists' triumph rooted in eastern discontent

Published:Tuesday | September 26, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Guests at an Alternative for Germany party, AfD, react to the first projections for the German election in Erfurt, Germany, Sunday.


The nationalist, anti-migrant Alternative for Germany swept into third place with a robust showing in the former communist East German states, where discontent is widespread over dim economic prospects and Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to open the country's doors to migrants has met with its greatest resistance.

The hilltop town of Bautzen, in Saxony near Germany's borders with the Czech Republic and Poland, has been a visible example of such disillusionment, with clashes breaking out in the streets last year between residents and asylum seekers.

In Sunday's election, voters in the town of 40,000 turned strongly to Alternative for Germany, known as AfD, ousting Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party from a seat it had held for more than 25 years.

"I've voted for the CDU for the last 40 years, and this was the first time I voted for a different party," said Jens Hamburger, a 72-year-old retiree. "It wasn't easy for me, but this woman should have got an even bigger knock over her head," he added, angrily poking his cane into the air as he talked about Merkel.

He said many eastern Germans felt that Merkel, who grew up in the former East Germany, had betrayed them by not doing more to improve living conditions in the east.

"She'd practised the politics of indifference toward us," Hamburger said. "I voted for AfD and I'm very content with the results."

AfD won 12.6 per cent of the vote overall, but captured 22.5 per cent in the east. Its success followed a campaign focused on criticism of the chancellor's decision to open the country's doors to more than one million asylum seekers over the past two years. In Saxony, where Bautzen is located, it narrowly topped Merkel's CDU to become the biggest party, with 27 per cent.