The day after US President Donald Trump was inaugurated, the leaders of far-right parties in Europe convened in Koblentz, Germany.
Two days before their January 21 conference, one of the leaders of Germany’s far-right AfD party made clear why so many people fear the rise of nationalist forces in Europe.
Speaking at a rally in Dresden, Bjorn Hocke, AfD’s state leader in Thuringia, attacked the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. In his words, “Germans are the only people in the world who plant a monument of shame in the heart of the capital.”
Hocke likened German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Eric Honecker, the last leader of East Germany. The crowd responded by chanting, “Merkel must go!” Hocke insisted there must be a “180-degree turnaround” in the way Germany remembers its past. “This laughable policy of coming to terms with the past is crippling us,” he said.
Recalling the Allied bombing of Dresden, Hocke argued that Germany’s current policy claims that in World War II “there were no German victims, only German perpetrators.” This, he argued, is unjust.
Some of Hocke’s party colleagues criticized his remarks. But reported criticisms did not relate to the substance of what he said. Rather his fellow AfD leaders criticized him for making statements that could scare German voters away.
Frauke Petry, Hocke’s party leader, participated in the Koblentz conference. Sitting next to her fellow nationalist European leaders, Petry was the belle of the ball. Holland’s Geert Wilders, whose Freedom Party is expected to win the Dutch elections in March, and France’s Marine Le Pen, who is now leading national polls ahead of April’s presidential elections, both enthused that Petry is the future of Germany.
AfD enjoys the support of between 10%-15% percent of German voters. It is expected to gain seats in the Bundestag for the first time in September’s general elections.
The AfD’s rise has been sudden. It was formed in 2013 and in its short history it has siphoned off voters from nearly every party in Germany. In the 2014 elections for the European Parliament AfD shocked Germany’s political establishment when it won 7.1% of the vote.
In 2015 it won big victories in regional elections. In Merkel’s home state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania it outperformed the chancellor’s CDU party with 20.8% of the vote. It even won 14.2% of the vote in normally left-wing Berlin.
Like its European counterparts, whose leaders shared a stage in Koblentz with Petry on Saturday, AfD’s steady empowerment is based in large part on its stalwart opposition to Islamic immigration and its concomitant rejection of the intellectual constraints of political correctness and the cultural restraints of multiculturalism.
AfD’s barely disguised xenophobia and Nazi sympathies make its empowerment disconcerting.
It also points to the fact that not all far-right parties are the same.
Le Pen, for instance has taken drastic steps to separate her National Front party from the antisemitic and fascist roots her father Jean-Marie Le Pen planted.
Wilders has adopted a decidedly pro-American and pro-Israel platform and record.
In Germany, though, the situation is different.
There are many causes for the absence of a nationalist party in Germany that is bereft of Nazi sympathies. Two are particularly worth noting.
First there is Angela Merkel and the political establishment she represents. The AfD’s rise is a direct consequence of the German political establishment’s refusal to consider the wishes of German voters along a whole spectrum of issues. On immigration specifically, rather than listen to her critics Merkel and her allies denounce them as racists and treat them as criminals.
For instance, as Judith Bergman reported last week at the Gatestone Institution website, in July 2016, 30 people had their homes raided by German police for publishing anti-immigration posts online.
When thousands of German women were raped by Muslim immigrants during the public celebration of New Year’s Eve in Cologne last year, German authorities went to great lengths to cover up and deny what had happened. The Cologne police took several days to acknowledge or begin investigating what had happened. For four days, the German media delayed reporting what had happened.
In September 2015 Merkel was caught on a hot microphone excoriating Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for not erasing anti-immigration posts from Facebook fast enough.
If Merkel spent more time listening to her constituents and less time rejecting their right to their entirely rational opinions, the AfD would probably not be so powerful today. In all likelihood, AfD politicians wouldn’t be embarrassed when their colleague mouthed off about Holocaust memorials because their constituents wouldn’t include anyone who had a problem with people like Hocke.
Even if Merkel was willing to listen though, she would still have to worry about Germans that yearn for the glory days of Hitler and the Third Reich.
This then leads us to the second reason for the resonance of Nazi messaging in Germany and beyond.
In 1945 the Nazis were defeated and Nazism was outlawed in Germany and throughout Europe. But whereas the peoples of Europe were prohibited from denying the fact of the Holocaust, they were never required to conduct a true moral reckoning with what happened. Criminalizing Holocaust denial and outlawing Nazi parties, while reasonable on their own terms, mistook the symptoms of Nazism with the cause of Nazism.
Europeans have been schooled to view the Nazi period as a unique phenomenon unrelated to anything that happened either before 1933 or after 1945.
But the opposite is true.
Adolf Hitler and his Nazis and their collaborators throughout Europe didn’t spring from nothing. They were the natural outcome of centuries of European antisemitism. Their genocidal obsession with the Jewish people was a natural progression of a hatred that predated Christianity, and was an integral part of Europe’s development through the ages.
The way to block the Nazis from rising on the Right is to correct both Merkel’s mistake and the larger mistake of the leaders of Europe since 1945.
Merkel empowers Nazi forces by preventing liberal democracy, predicated on limited government, individual freedom and equal protection under the law, from developing in Germany. By demonizing and criminalizing her critics, she forces lawful citizens into the open arms of the political fringe, which resonates their concerns.
More generally, Europe itself facilitates the rise of antisemitism as a political force on the Right and Left by conflating European rejection of Jews with a more general, and less meaningful, problem of racism. You do not fight hatred of Jews by pretending away its significance and its roots that go back as far as European civilization itself. You do not block the resurgence of Nazism by pretending that European antisemitism was born the day Adolf Hitler came to power.
There is a tendency to believe that all nationalist movements are alike. But this is not true. Each nationalist movement is a reflection of the specific nation it represents. For European nationalists and globalists alike to avoid the fascism that captivated their grandparents, they need to embrace liberal values and meaningfully reject Jew hatred in all its forms.