AfD invoking 1989 slogans and spirit, German activists claim

Far-right party paints itself in poll campaign as heir to protests that brought down wall

Some 30 years ago they took to the streets and brought down a regime. Now former East German civil rights campaigners have sounded the alarm, fearing a hijack by the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) of slogans from 1989.

Ahead of three eastern German regional elections this autumn, polls suggest the six-year-old AfD will score record levels of support from protest voters in Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia.

To be sure of success, the party has fashioned an election campaign presenting itself as the true heirs to the 1989 protests that ended German division.

Posters with the slogans “Wir sind das Volk” (We are the people) and “Wende Vollenden” (Complete the transition) have appeared in three states, part of a wider campaign stylising a vote for the AfD as the only true protest vote for opposition and change.


“The east is rising” is another slogan being used to attract voters frustrated at high joblessness, ongoing structural problems and a frustration that mainstream politics has failed – or forgotten – them.

‘Ahistorical nonsense’

Civil rights figures from 1980s East Germany, many of whom joined mainstream German parties, have attacked the move as populism and "ahistorical nonsense". Not least because many of the eastern AfD leaders are western blow-ins.

At a recent rally in the eastern city of Cottbus, Björn Höcker told a crowd that the political atmosphere in Germany today "feels like 1989 again" – not mentioning that he grew up an hour south of Bonn, on the banks of the river Rhine, in West Germany.

Decrying in his eyes the substandard services and growing insecurity in eastern Germany, he shouted: “We didn’t push through the peaceful revolution for this.”

The AfD leader in Brandenburg is from Munich and only the AfD’s Saxon leader, Jörg Urban, is from the state where he is running.

But voters don’t seem to care either way: polls put the AfD either in first or second place in the three states to vote.

For Ehrhart Neubert, a theologian who tackled the East German dictatorship in the 1980s, the greatest frustration is watching the AfD using the opportunities democracy offers to push their extremist agenda.

Political division

“It’s terrible, as if one can’t protect one’s house from thieves,” he said to Spiegel Online.

The AfD campaign has highlighted once more the political division running through Germany, east and west, nearly three decades after the end of German division.

With support of up to 23-24 per cent, the eastern AfD is almost twice as popular as in western states. In addition the eastern AfD is pushing a more nationalist, anti-migration path and slowly taking up positions of influence within the party.

The western AfD is in fourth place on about 12 per cent – close to the national average – and is closer to the party’s conservative-liberal roots as an EU and bailout-sceptic party.

Besides its anti-establishment profile, the AfD is benefiting in the east from a dramatic collapse in support for more established parties.

In Saxony, where the AfD is strongest, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has slipped to just 9 per cent in polls.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin