The far-right Alternative for Germany party celebrated another strong showing in the former Communist East in local elections.
The rise of fringe parties in the east does not come as a surprise to anybody who saw how Eastern Germany was handled by Chancellor Helmut Kohl in the beginning of the 1990s.
This October the party won 23.5% of the vote in Thuringia up from 10.6% in 2014. That left it in second place, behind the Left Party but ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian-Democrats. This is the fourth region after Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg where Alternative for Germany (AfD) became the second-largest political force in the region, all in Eastern Germany.
The AfD became the third-largest party in Germany after the 2017 federal election, winning 94 seats in the Bundestag.
The people of Thuringia have voted for a Turnaround 2.0, which means another change as rapid and deep as the fall of Communism. This taps to the lost chances and aspirations in the East that many of the Ossies (as they are called in the West) had 30 years ago.
The reason for the rise of AfD in the east are consequences of some of the misguided decisions made during reunification by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a leader of the Christian Democrats.
The AfD was founded as an anti-euro party by academics, who were tired of the mishandling of the Euro-zone crisis by the EU leadership. As a protest-party, they did not matter in internal politics but this changed when they took upon far-right rhetoric and dropped the academics.
In their anti-euro agenda is the key to why Eastern Germans vote for them. Helmut Kohl pushed for a monetary and economic union with the East against the advice of the Bundesbank in Frankfurt and the leadership of the falling communist regime. The prospect of the Deutschmark boosted eastern support for unification, especially at the one-for-one rate he engineered for wages, pensions and rents.
This forced up wages in the East, causing layoffs and encouraging migration to the West. Some economists say the East was tarnished by Kohl putting the political allure of currency union above core concerns such as economic prospects of the region.
Since 1991 GDP per capita in the East grew almost three-fold but it is still 25% lower than in the West and almost one-and-a-half the level of the Western GDP per capita in 1991. Convergence did not happen.
Helmut Kohl’s ghost haunts the political scene thanks to the long-lasting effects of his decisions during reunification.
However, these ghosts also resemble the ones that lit Europe on fire during WWII.