Right-Wing Party Wins Historic Gains In German Election
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
We begin this hour in Berlin. We're going to say guten tag to our co-host, Rachel Martin, who is there reporting on the German elections.
RACHEL MARTIN: Guten morgen, Mary Louise. Indeed, Germans have gone to the polls, and they have elected Chancellor Angela Merkel to her fourth term in office. So in many ways this election was about stability, about staying the course, with one glaring exception. For the first time in 60 years, a right-wing political party will sit in Germany's Parliament. This is the nationalist immigration hardliners. They're called the AfD, stands for Alternative for Deutschland.
GEORG PAZDERSKI: I think not only upset. We - we think we have seen an earthquake today, political earthquake in Germany.
MARTIN: That's Georg Pazderski. He's the chair of the AfD Party here in Berlin, and I spoke to him last night not far from where we're broadcasting right now, right next to the Brandenburg Gate.
PAZDERSKI: In my opinion, we will have a huge impact because for the first time a real opposition party will join the Bundestag after a lot of years. We will name problems we have in Germany. It's a euro crisis, it's EU crisis, it's a migration crisis. And we will manage that Ms. Merkel has to answer the questions and that she has to do something. We will drive her.
MARTIN: We will drive her, he says, indicating that he will push her, his party will push Angela Merkel in the direction of their policies. Here with me now to talk about the repercussions of this, NPR's Berlin correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who joins me on this overcast Berlin - typically-Berlin day. Hi, Soraya.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: So we heard the AfD Berlin Party chair there describing this as a political earthquake. Is it?
SARHADDI NELSON: Well, it certainly shook things up. I mean, the AfD did siphon-off voters from Chancellor Merkel's conservative base, which had its worst showing in a federal election since 1949. And she and other mainstream politicians are now at each other's throats to try and reconnect with this German electorate that they feel have - that they've lost, that's apparently shifted to the right. But it's also to remember that exit polls show that this was largely a protest vote and that the AfD support could evaporate pretty quickly.
MARTIN: How has Merkel responded to the rise of the AfD now that they're in Parliament, have secured this foothold?
SARHADDI NELSON: Well, she has acknowledged that this is a very bittersweet victory, that she will be basically going after them with hard facts in - in harsh confrontations. And the AfD has been basically telling her bring it on. So it's going to be quite nasty, I think, at times in Parliament.
MARTIN: All right. We're going to bring in another voice into the conversation. She is Kubra Gumusay. She is a writer based in Hamburg, Germany. Her grandparents immigrated to Germany with a wave of Turkish workers in the 1960s. Kubra, thank you so much for being with us.
KUBRA GUMUSAY: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: What's your reaction to the election results?
GUMUSAY: Well, at first, we total expected the AfD to get into the Parliament, and also the number was not surprising. What was actually shocking and scary was the way the AfD politicians have been talking after their results were declared, and you could just see there was so much pride and so much anger as well. And the way they said that they will chase them, they will chase them and they will take the people back. The rhetoric basically just showed that what we're going to experience in the next four years is going to be worse than what we have been experiencing the last couple of months where the right-wing rhetoric basically dominated the mainstream narrative.
MARTIN: So what concerns you most? When you talk about things will get worse in the next four years, what is your concern?
GUMUSAY: Well, I think that many people will feel legitimized to actually also be violent on the streets because when - words have huge or immediate impact on the actions of people, and that is one fear I have.
MARTIN: You're talking about people who've been vocal against immigration, in particular, from Islamic countries.
GUMUSAY: And we also have seen a rise in how people have been attacked on the streets, and I think that might actually be another development that we have to have an eye on. But what also concerns me is all the other topics that basically will not be discussed now, and...
MARTIN: Like what?
GUMUSAY: For instance, how - for instance, education but also welfare. All of these topics are tangible to people, and they have immediate impact on their lives. But the right-wing populists have shaped our mainstream narrative in a way that we've only been talking about immigration, Islam, refugees. Seventy percent what has been discussed in the TV debate between Schulz and Merkel...
MARTIN: Schulz was the frontrunner for the SPD.
GUMUSAY: And Merkel the chancellor - basically was about these topics, completely neglecting all of the other topics that are important to us.
MARTIN: Well, let me ask you. You say that the AfD is one in that they have - they have shaped, they have framed this - this election and - and the debate of immigration. They say specifically - and I want to ask you about this - Muslims belong to Germany, Islam does not. How do you interpret that?
GUMUSAY: Well, this debate has been going on for many years, and I find it very destructive to even pose that question. Why would you question the belonging of a religion to a geographical space? And basically this shows that these destructive debates have basically shaped how we have been discussing immigrants in our country, how we've been discussing Muslims in our country and just the diversity. And responding to a question like does Islam belong to Germany, well, the answer could be no is destructive...
MARTIN: You think by bringing up the question...
MARTIN: ...It causes more danger.
GUMUSAY: We legitimize these questions by responding to them. And right-wing populists have been very effective in provoking the rest of the country and having all of us being appalled and then having all of these lengthy debates about their questions rather than actually posing our own agenda and talking about the topics that shape our lives and are important to us.
MARTIN: Kubra Gumusay is a blogger and a writer from Hamburg. She joined us here in our studios in Berlin talking about the election results here in Germany, where the AfD, the right-wing party, has secured enough votes to have a seat in Parliament, the first time a right-wing party will have achieved that in German history in the last 60 years. We also heard from NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.
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