German county elects far-right candidate for first time since Nazi era, raising concerns | Wagon Radio 720

SONNEBERG, Germany (AP) – Mike Noss couldn’t be more excited recently that a candidate from a far-right populist party won county government in his rural eastern hometown for the first time since the Nazi era.

Gardener despises the country’s political establishment, distrusts the media, and feels there are too many immigrants in the country. He hopes that the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party will fix everything that is going wrong in Sonneberg, in southeastern Thuringia.

“I think the fact that so many people voted for ‘An Alternative for Germany’ already gives it some legitimacy,” Knoss, 50, said this week in the deserted town’s main shopping mall. He said in an interview while walking his dog down the street.

But some in Sonneberg aren’t charmed by the AfD’s nationalistic and anti-democratic rhetoric.

Margret Sturm, an optometrist whose family has sold glasses in Sonneberg for nearly 60 years, expressed concern over the AfD’s victory in an interview with public television.

“I told them I don’t think it’s good to vote for the AfD, and anyone who votes for the AfD must know they have the Nazis in tow,” Sturm said. told the Associated Press in an interview inside the store.

Sturm has little idea what happened after last week’s interview aired.

“We got hate mail and threatening phone calls every minute.

The threats were so persistent that Ms Sturm’s husband installed surveillance cameras inside the store.

But Sturm, 60, said he wouldn’t let anyone shut him up.

“People here are afraid to go up against the AfD and that worries us more than anything else.”

She said other residents opposed to the AfD no longer wanted to publicly express their criticism.

“This is exactly the kind of intimidation that basically stems from the machinery of hatred and agitation and then sadly spreads. It really worries me,” said Stefan Cramer, Thuringia’s head of internal intelligence, in the state capital Erfurt. told the Associated Press at his office.

Kramer has long warned that the AfD’s Thuringian branch is particularly radical, and more than two years ago he brought it under official scrutiny as a “proven right-wing extremist” group.

Knoss doesn’t mind that the AfD is under surveillance by state intelligence agencies in Thuringia because of its close ties to far-right extremists.

“I’m democratically elected and I don’t feel bad about it,” he said.

Knoss hopes the AfD will take a law and order-based approach to curb immigration and keep Germany safe.

While tackling immigration and fighting crime are hardly subjects that belong in the job description of local county administrators, the AfD’s Robert Sesselmann’s campaign on these themes has proven successful.

In last month’s run-off election in Sonneberg County, Mr. Sesselmann and his center-right rival Jürgen Köpper went head-to-head. Official statistics showed Sesselmann winning 52.8% to 47.2%.

Although Sonneberg has a relatively small population of 56,800, the victory was a symbolic milestone for the AfD.

Radslaw Schneider, 39, and unemployed, also hopes things will improve with Sesselmann at the helm. He said the AfD “thinks it needs to do something for Germans as well” and that foreigners should no longer be favored, and that will be the case now that the AfD is in power. He thinks so.

Alternative for Germany entered parliament for the first time in 2017 after an anti-immigration campaign following the arrival of large numbers of refugees in Europe.

The party, now 10 years old, is doing record-breaking polls across the country, with approval ratings between 18% and 20%.

Meanwhile, a coalition government with the environmental group Green Party, led by center-left Prime Minister Olaf Scholz, and the pro-business Liberal Democrats, is facing high levels of inflation, mass immigration and the loss of millions of home heating systems. It faces strong headwinds over replacement plans, a reputation for infighting, and more.

AfD Thuringian party leader Björn Hecke supports a revisionist view of Germany’s Nazi past. In 2018, he called Berlin’s Holocaust memorial a “monument of shame” and called for a “180-degree turn” on how Germany remembers its past.

In the early 1930s, Thuringia was one of the first power bases of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party.

The AfD now appeals particularly to people in eastern states that were once communist and less prosperous, such as Thuringia.

The coronavirus pandemic, Russia’s war in Ukraine and the influx of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees into Germany have also contributed to the AfD’s success, said Katharina Koenigprous, a member of the Thuringian Left Party cantonal parliament. said in an interview. in Erfurt.

The party blames immigrants and the central government for many problems, she said.

One of the most outspoken critics, Koenig-Prouss, said, “It could be said that many racist narratives that do not correspond at all to reality are now accepted by a large portion of the GDR population.” . He is a member of the AfD and has received death threats several times.

Scholz has tried to downplay the recent rise of far-right populists.

Asked in Berlin last week what he was doing to prevent a return to fascism, 77 years after the fall of Hitler, Scholz said: “Germany has long been a strong democracy since World War II. It was a dictatorship,” he said.

What gave Kramer a sleepless night was the Nazi regime in Germany, which killed six million people, including European Jews, and killed more than 60 million in World War II.

“When you look at this development in Germany, a country in which industrial genocide was driven to perfection, this is unlike any other country,” he said.

State elections will be held in Thuringia in autumn 2024. Opinion polls show the AfD leading by more than 30%.

If the AfD, which is still shunned by other mainstream German parties today, becomes part of the state government, Kramer, who is Jewish, will leave the country with his family.

“We’ve seen in history what the consequences of that are,” he says. “I have to make an honest confession, but I’m not willing to wait for a relapse.” German county elects far-right candidate for first time since Nazi era, raising concerns | Wagon Radio 720

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