Germany: Documentary examines right-wing AfD's growing popularity

by Ana Ribeiro

On Sunday, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern had its state parliamentary elections. As expected, it brought more seats for the AfD at the helm of German politics. A reporter and documentary filmmaker is setting out to try to discover why people in the northern state are voting for the right-wing party.

Made in Germany_900X600 Raphael Thelen and his team have been travelling through German states to take a deeper look into why right-wing, foreigner-excluding movements, such as the political party AfD, have been making such gains in the country presently. After Saxony, it is time to travel through Mecklenburg-Vorpommern for 30 days. (Photo: public domain)

The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), founded in 2013, considers both the eurozone and multiculturalism “attacks” on the German nation. The populist party has been associated in the public’s mind with the right-wing Pegida protest group, whose acronym stands for Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West).

But while Pegida has pursued a political marriage with the AfD, the party’s leader has declined the proposal.

Before turning the camera onto Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Zeitenspiegel reporter Raphael Thelen travelled with photographer Thomas Victor through the German state of Saxony. They set out to investigate the rise and popularity of Pegida, which began in Dresden about two and a half years ago and has since spread to other German cities and even abroad. As for the AfD, it managed to enter Saxony’s parliament already in 2014.

On the web page about their documentary journey, Thelen describes its catalyst. It came when he witnessed the rally marking the anniversary of Pegida in Dresden: “As I stood on a sidewalk after the rally, several skinheads stormed down the road. They beat a student next to me with a fist to the face, the impact threw him on the asphalt. I ran away.”

He wanted so much to understand the re-emergence of the right wing, in German states but also elsewhere in Europe, and the United States. The information he had been exposed to all his life had failed to explain what can cause this, and he became determined to do deeper research to seek out some answers:

Disturbed by the hatred and the violence being produced, I stared out the window on the way back [from the rally]. It took a bit, but then I realised it, as the impact of the skinheads had caught me as well: When it comes to Pegida, it is no longer about just Muslims. It is also about me and most people I know.”

Thelen’s last entry in the Saxony series, dated 3 July 2016 from the town of Aue, concludes that although the ones on the extreme right “are the loudest and therefore it is believed that they are the majority… they are a minority.” But the majority from the right wing felt they were not being represented and ended up finding in the vocal minority an outlet.

While Thelen spoke of hostility and fear for his safety – and people not worth arguing with due to their staunchness and hatred – he also spoke of some from the right wing who were open to dialogue with the documentary team.    

The filmmakers' attention is now on Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Three weeks after the last Saxony entry, Thelen launched a successful crowdfunding campaign for a documentary to try to understand the growing base of AfD supporters there.

For weeks, opinion reserach institutes predicted the AfD's success at the elections in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. And on Sunday, the party got into the state’s parliament by a comfortable margin over the 5 percent minimum required for entry - with 20,8 %. Gaining one fifth of the votes, the AfD even left well-established parties like the CDU behind.

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern became the ninth federal state in Germany in which the AfD has obtained parliamentary representation, out of the country’s 16. The more moderate stance of the AfD compared to the far-right nationalistic NPD had critically taken voters from the latter in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, according to post-election analyses. The NPD earned an insufficient 3 percent of the vote there, thus losing its last parliamentary seats in Germany.

ECPMF researcher Martin Hoffmann contributed to this report.

Keeping up with Thelen


CORRECT!V has posted on YouTube a preview of Thelen’s documentary, whose goal is to spend 30 days traveling through the northern state, “talking to fishermen, local reporters and analysts” alike. You can follow the progress of the documentary and AfD-related discussions under the Twitter hashtag #obenrechts.