On March 25, 2010, Angela Merkel delivered, from the center of the Bundestag, one of her most famous speeches, in which she declared that "there is no alternative to the aid to be decided for Greece to protect the stability of the Euro." The sentence "there is no alternative," a well-dosed cocktail of resignation and intimidation, was even then a Leitmotif of postdemocratic political communication not only in Germany but in all Western countries.
The flaunted lack of alternatives, propped up almost invariably by more or less interested "studies" and opinions of self-styled experts, constitutes an element at once striking and typical of the hegemonic political narratives in the so-called free world. From ecology to the ex nihilo creation of new rights, from weapons to be supplied in large numbers to Ukraine to the need to raise taxes, passing through the abolition of cash, the summary can almost always be summed up as: "There is no alternative."
Aside from whether a political system based on "there is no alternative" is a democracy and not rather something else, such blunt rhetorical artifice has been decisive for recent German political history. Precisely against the euro-rescue of Greece and, in essence, of the entire architecture of the European Union and the single currency, former World Bank adviser Bernd Lucke founded, on Feb. 6, 2013, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), whose name originated as a provocative rebuttal to Merkel's sentence.
There is an alternative
The newly formed AfD was very different from what it is now: rather than a conservative, national-identitarian populist party along the lines of its Italian, French, Polish, and Hungarian equivalents, the AfD dreamed up by Lucke wanted to represent a moderate yet euroskeptic electorate, similar to Nigel Farage's UKIP and the pro-Brexit factions of the British Tories. Lucke's dream stemmed from a fear of losing one's wallet more than one's national identity and was intended to embody the demands of strong, if minority, segment of those days' CDU, increasingly impatient with a chancellor who in the eyes of many appeared more socialist than Christian Democrat.
The virulent anti-Merkelism could not but also translate into a strong contestation of the devastating "open door" migration policy of that day's Grand Coalition government and unintentionally opened a loophole for those segments, widely present in German society but almost never represented, who saw a historic opportunity in the emergence of a party to the right of the CDU that nevertheless did not harken back to neo-Nazism (such as the NPD).
The moderate but euroskeptic faction within the CDU soon proved, against Lucke's hopes, to be nonexistent, while at the same time opening up wide avenues for a large part of the right-wing, sometimes even radical electorate that, until then, had either abstained or reluctantly supported the CDU. The soft underbelly of Merkel's big party turned out to be the former GDR, where the CDU had enjoyed broad support since the fall of the Wall, an ironic historical paradox of Protestant-cultured regions, meanwhile turned atheist, dominated by a Christian Democratic party with a Catholic vocation. Here AfD reaped its first electoral successes, which were almost always unforeseen, finding fertile shores in a number of local movements and citizens' committees with a blatant identitarian vocation (not least the notorious PEGIDA in Dresden) that until then had never managed to coalesce into a unified entity.
The right turn
After Lucke resigned in 2015, by then no longer master of his creature, and was replaced by chemical entrepreneur Frauke Petry (who would go on to the same end), AfD has since embarked on a slow but steady rightward turn, which has seen it undergo a long season of infighting between the more nationalist and identitarian current, called Der Flügel and headed by Thuringian Björn Höcke, and the more centrist one, more faithful to the party's original mission, called Alternative Mitte (Alternative Center).
This season of infighting, which actually characterized much of the party's short history, finally came to an end on June 19 with Der Flügel's victory at the Riesa congress, with Höcke's faction, bolstered by its electoral successes in the east of the country, monopolizing almost all of the party's offices.
The results are there for all to see: after years of stalemate, during which AfD always hovered around 10 to 11 percent of vote share at the federal level, support for the party has begun to grow again, thanks in part to the authoritarian pandemic policies of the Scholz government (and its hated health minister Karl Lauterbach), the Greens' ecological extremism and the suicidal pro-Ukrainian line of the ruling Ampelkoalition.
Peace and Ostpolitik
Having even the old-fashioned communists of the Linke entered the path of woke Westernism, AfD has remained the only German party, and one of the very few in Europe, to speak of the need for immediate peace and an agreement that is not a humiliation of Russian geopolitical ambitions. This position, widely majority in German public opinion but, exactly as in Italy, absolutely underrepresented at the institutional level, has opened up a prairie for AfD, whose support, according to polls, is traveling toward 17 percent, contending with the SPD for the rank of second national political force, ahead of Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock's Greens. An unprecedented success, also sealed by the very recent excellent result in the Land of Berlin, an unchallenged stronghold of the ultra-left since the days of Bismarck.
Whether and how this will endure remains a mystery, and the late-summer polls in Bavaria and Hesse will certainly be an important test in two wealthy western states that have historically been difficult for AfD. The fact, however, remains: keeping the bar straight on the promises made to their constituents and rejecting unprincipled and hypocritical moderation are being rewarded by voters. Simple political rule that should teach someone south of the Alps as well.