German politicians have long been lecturing Russia about what they think a real democracy looks like. Тever more so than recently. Now the German government has demonstrated dramatically how to combat the opposition with "democratic" methods, like counterintelligence engagement. Incidentally, this refers to Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (domestic counterintelligence).
Last week, the leading German media reported that this spy agency suspected the Alternative for Germany (AfD) opposition party of being extreme-rightist and hence began to keep an eye on it. The news came as a bombshell. After all, the AfD has the largest opposition faction in the Bundestag, with its deputies sitting in all the country's Landtags (federal state parliaments) without exception. Thus, in the Bundestag, the ruling CDU/CSU and the SPD have 246 and 152 seats respectively, and the next most numerous Alternative for Germany faction comprises 88 people. They are followed by the Free Democratic Party (80), the Left (69) and the Alliance 90/The Greens (67 deputies).
At the same time, the AfD is a standout in Germany's political framework as a pariah to other parliamentary parties that consider cooperation with it indecent. Why? An answer requires quoting the Deutsche Welle (DW) portal, which believes that no special services are needed to comprehend the Alternative for Germany's becoming increasingly extreme-rightist. In this party, those despising democracy proliferate, as well as authoritarian characters dreaming of power, freedom of speech adversaries, racists, anti-Semites, homophobes, misanthropists and neo-Nazis, DW claims.
Why did the AfD displease present-day Germany's top political circles that bad? Most notably, with its sharp criticism of Angela Merkel government's immigration policy, with its consistent protest against the influx of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa into the country. Another aspect causing great irritation with the German authorities is AfD's demand to bring relations with Russia back to normal and to lift anti-Russian sanctions imposed by the European Union. Among other things, party representatives visited Moscow in December and met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. It must be admitted, however, that someone from among the AfD elite has indulged in making unsavory statements that may be regarded as an attempt to whitewash the Wehrmacht and Germany's Nazi past. One of those has it that the mentioned period was brief and comparable to the "traces of bird droppings" in German history.
Is all of this enough to declare a major opposition party extreme-rightist and put it under "counterintelligence surveillance"? Highly doubtful. Therefore, the AfD leadership has immediately expressed its indignation over the developments, saying that it would take legal steps to push back against governmental agencies that violate constitutional rights of a political party, which got almost 5.9 million votes (approximately 12% of voters) in the latest Bundestag election of 2017. In the East of Germany, the AfD was supported by nearly 1.7 million people, with almost 4.2 million in the West.
At the same time, in the former GDR, the AfD enjoys stronger support from the population in percentage terms, although a large number of its supporters live in West Germany either, East Germany's MDR information portal notes. Thus, regional elections to the federal state Landtags witness the Alternative for Germany being consistently supported by more than 20% of voters. This certainly causes a lot of concern with the so-called "people's" parties – the CDU and the SPD, whose support is going south nationwide.
Apparently, the AfD's protest produced an effect, and by the end of last week, the Administrative Court in Cologne officially recognized it as legitimate and prohibited that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution suspect the AfD of being extreme-rightist and keep it under observation until the investigation is over. As a result, the German media was larded with headlines like "Court slaps counterintelligence". By the way, the court decision reads that such observation is an "unacceptable" interference in the competition of political parties, violating the parity of chances principle. The findings imply that the investigation into the AfD is underway but confidential, and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has leaked information, although had to prevent this.
With that in mind, the irony of AfD chairman Jörg Meuthen came as no surprise, when he said: "What's up with domestic counterintelligence, which cannot keep anything secret?" His co-chairman Tino Chrupalla called the incident a deliberate interference with the inter-party struggle via public tools in the run-up to the March 14 parliamentary elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, as well as the municipal election in Hessen. Altogether, this year Germany will hold regional parliamentary elections in six federal states, as well as a Bundestag election in September.
Sociologist from the Mönchengladbach University Prof. Dr. Beate Küpper commented upon how the investigation underway in the Administrative Court of Cologne about AfD's involvement in right-wing extremism and a possible nationwide introduction of surveillance over the party by domestic counterintelligence would affect voter disposition. She has been studying the political sentiment of East and West Germans for 20 years.
According to Prof. Küpper, the establishment of "state supervision" over AfD will unlikely affect the party in the former GDR, because "in the East, there is a widespread feeling that people were deceived during German reunification, which causes dissatisfaction with the state system, and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution is perceived as part of this system. Perhaps, many voters will by contrast get a new incentive to support the AfD." At the same time, the West may experience certain outflow of Alternative for Germany voters, with their views probably deemed "bourgeois conservative" out there, making any "overrun of democracy" extrinsic and dangerous, the professor believes.
Meanwhile, in case of an unfavorable turn of events in the Administrative Court of Cologne, the Alternative for Germany leadership intends to appeal to the Higher Administrative Court in Munster. In this case, its decision may be disclosed within a couple of weeks.