German far-right invokes 1989 spirit to woo voters in the east

Access to the comments Comments
By Jona Kallgren and Natalie Huet
Andreas Kalbitz of Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Cottbus, Brandenburg
Andreas Kalbitz of Germany's far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Cottbus, Brandenburg   -  Copyright  REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

Two state elections this Sunday in Germany could bring big gains for the far-right and deal another blow to Chancellor Merkel's government.

In the former communist eastern states of Saxony and Brandenburg, three decades after the country's reunification, many voters still feel left behind – and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is now invoking the spirit of the 1989 revolution to try to win them over.

AfD leaders point to what they call "political correctness" and say that Germany today is as undemocratic as the East German dictatorship.

"You have to be careful when speaking to your neighbours, your colleagues, your children because they might repeat what you say. Many people who experienced life in East Germany say it’s as bad now as it was then," said Andreas Kalbitz, AfD leader and top candidate in the state of Brandenburg.

"Wende 2.0"

One of the AfD's slogans for these state elections is "Wende 2.0". Wende ("turnaround" in German) refers to the collapse of East German communism when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the country was reunified a year later.

Using that reference seems to be working, as recent opinion polls suggest the AfD could come ahead of the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats as the top party in both Saxony and Brandenburg.

Fueling its rise is widespread disappointment about how things panned out since reunification.

"After the demonstrations of 1989, many people had high hopes about reunification. They were going to get capitalism, and living standards were going to become the same as in the West. Instead, they got mass unemployment and depopulation," said political scientist Felix Rösel.

But some of the original protest leaders from 1989 are outraged by the AfD claiming the 1989 revolution as its own. They say the revolution was about openness, justice, and democracy – something the AfD has shown contempt for.

“I would like to ask AfD voters how many of them were actually on the streets in 1989 when it was really dangerous to protest. And how many of them just jumped on the bandwagon," said politician Gisela Kallenbach, one of the leaders of the 1989 uprising.

Additional sources • The Local Germany, Reuters