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German Anti-Immigrant Party Gaining Election Momentum

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German Anti-Immigrant Party Gaining Election Momentum

Europe

German Anti-Immigrant Party Gaining Election Momentum

German Anti-Immigrant Party Gaining Election Momentum

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The rise in hostile rhetoric against migrants in Germany is being linked to the country's new populist political party. The Alternative for Germany is expected to win pivotal elections on Sunday.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Tomorrow's elections in three German states are being watched as an indicator of Chancellor Angela Merkel's popularity. Her decision last year to welcome hundreds of thousands of refugees could lead to a voter backlash in this weekend's voter. And it could benefit an anti-immigrant political party that's been gaining support. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Berlin.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Many Germans don't take kindly to their government sending asylum-seekers to their cities and towns, and more and more of them are showing their displeasure. Recently, it was the residents of the eastern German town of Clausnitz who took to the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOUTING)

NELSON: About 100 of them, including members of the Alternative for Germany party came out to heckle 20 terrified Syrians who were moving into a local shelter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in German).

NELSON: The protesters chanted we are the people, a phrase associated with a popular uprising in the former East Germany against communism a quarter century ago. It's since become the battle cry of Germany's growing anti-immigrant movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRAUKE PETRY: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Party co-chair Frauke Petry later denounced the Clausnitz protest and told reporters she's against taking German frustration with the government out on migrants. Never mind that a month earlier, she had suggested that, if necessary, police should shoot migrants who illegally try to enter Germany. Petry claims she was misunderstood. She says the hostility toward refugees should be blamed on the German government for not listening to its constituents.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETRY: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Petry says officials may think they have the migrant situation under control, but that based on what she's heard from people across Germany, it's not true.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETRY: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Unlike the government's slogan for the migrant crisis that says we can do it, Petry says we can't do it. Some political scientists say it's that German fear of failure Petry and her populist party have capitalized on. In the two years since it was established, Alternative for Germany has gone from a fringe Euroskeptic party to an anti-immigrant force to be reckoned with - one that is expected to be voted into the next German Parliament in 2017.

Hans Vorlander is a political scientist at the Technical University in Dresden.

HANS VORLANDER: (Speaking German).

NELSON: He says none of Germany's established political parties criticize Merkel's migration politics enough to suit all of their constituents. And it's those disaffected people that Petry and her group are going after.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VORLANDER: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Alternative for Germany isn't expected to win a majority this weekend. But polls suggest the party will get enough votes to become a vocal minority in the three state's legislatures. It's the first time since the 1960s that right-wing populists are regaining a foothold in Germany. Back then, their rise was linked to neo-Nazi sympathies and harsh economic times.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETRY: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Petry, however, shuns any comparison of her party to Nazism, new or old. She doesn't even like the term right-wing and prefers to draw comparisons between her life and that of Chancellor Merkel. Both women were born in the former East Germany, and both are chemists-turned-politicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETRY: (Speaking German).

NELSON: Petry says - I imagine Mrs. Merkel as acting because of her Christian background. She's the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, and I'm the former wife of one. But she's confusing personal empathy with government action.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Angela Merkel was born in what was then West Germany, then as a child moved with her family to East Germany where her father was a Lutheran pastor.]

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Correction March 14, 2016

This story mistakenly says Angela Merkel was born in East Germany. In fact, Merkel was born in what was then West Germany; as a child, she moved with her family to East Germany, where her father was a Lutheran pastor. In addition, an earlier Web introduction to this story incorrectly referred to the Alternative for Germany party as the Alliance for Germany.

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