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In Germany, the extreme right will govern a district for the first time since the war

The AfD party won the elections in the Sonneberg region, in the eastern state of Thuringia. Despite the fact that it is one of the smallest districts in the country, this victory confirms its boom in the polls, with between 18% and 20% of voting intentions at the national level, according to the latest polls.

A ‘sanitary cordon’ that did not work. Robert Sesselman, candidate of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, won a vote on Sunday June 25 to become leader of one of the 294 districts of Europe’s largest economy.

On their Twitter account, the party celebrated their victory: “Congratulations to our first Landrat (county leader), Robert Sesselmann. More will come. We are taking back our country!”


The AfD, which has been in existence for just over ten years, and the main German parties have officially refused to cooperate with it due to its radical views. This formation took control of the county of Sonneberg, of around 57,000 inhabitants, in the eastern state of Thuringia.

Robert Sesselmann prevailed with 52.8 of the votes against the outgoing president, Jürgen Köpper, a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who only obtained 47.2% of the vote despite the support of all other political parties that they had called for a ‘sanitary cordon’ against the extreme right in the second round.

Already a member of the Thuringian regional assembly, the 50-year-old lawyer campaigned in Sonneberg on national rather than local issues, with banners reading: “Stop the euro”, “Protect the borders” and “For negotiations of peace and against sanctions (on Russia)”.

An election campaign poster shows Robert Sesselmann of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) candidate who won a local vote in Sonneberg, Germany, June 26, 2023.
An election campaign poster shows Robert Sesselmann of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) candidate who won a local vote in Sonneberg, Germany, June 26, 2023. REUTERS – MAXIMILIAN SCHWARZ

The rise of the AfD in Germany

The AfD is currently experiencing a rebound in the polls, with between 18 and 20% of voting intentions nationwide, according to the latest studies.

Particularly strong in the former communist east, polls suggest the party could also win three regional votes in eastern states next year. The AfD even plans to field a candidate for chancellor in the 2025 federal elections.

AfD co-leader Tino Chrupalla, present alongside the winner on Sunday night, declared that his election was only “the beginning of a long series of successes.”

Tino Chrupalla, co-leader of the far-right German Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, attends a session in the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) in Berlin on March 16, 2023.
Tino Chrupalla, co-leader of the far-right German Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, attends a session in the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) in Berlin on March 16, 2023. AFP – ODD ANDERSEN

The far-right formation entered Parliament in 2017, after an anti-immigrant campaign in response to the influx of refugees to Europe that skyrocketed from 2015. It is now neck and neck with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, behind of the conservative CDU but well ahead of the Greens and the Liberals (FDP).

The AfD increased its popularity by criticizing the government’s climate measures, which it accuses of oppressing voters, and denies that human activity is one of the causes of climate change.

He also criticizes his immigration policy and the frequent internal crises in the tripartite coalition formed by the SPD, the Greens and the liberals of the FDP, which has governed the country since the end of 2021.

A “dangerous decision”

Although far-right parties have gained ground across Europe, the AfD’s strength is especially sensitive in Germany because of the country’s Nazi past.

Thuringia, where the Sonneberg district is located, was one of the first power bases for Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party, after he became part of the government in 1930.

Since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, it is the first time that a far-right party has won a local election.

The president of the Central Council of German Jews, Josef Schuster, expressed his deep shock. “This is a turning point that the democratic political forces in this country cannot simply accept,” he told RND. He also believes that “not all AfD voters are extremists, but this party and its candidate clearly are.”

Josef Schuster, Chairman of the Central Council of German Jews, addresses the press after visiting the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe on May 27, 2021 in Berlin, during the "Day of Action against Antisemitism" from the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.  John MACDOUGALL / AFP
Josef Schuster, Chairman of the Central Council of German Jews, addresses the press after visiting the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin on May 27, 2021, during the conservative party’s “Day of Action against Anti-Semitism”. Christian Democratic Union (CDU). John MACDOUGALL / AFP AFP – JOHN MACDOUGALL

For her part, Charlotte Knobloch, a Holocaust survivor and president of the Munich Jewish Community, said voters in Sonneberg had made “a dangerous decision,” but added that officials at the federal and state levels also bore responsibility for the outcome.

Reactions from the political world

The current governor of the state of Thuringia, Bodo Ramelow, of the Left party, said the AfD’s success in Sonneberg showed that the far-right populism seen in the United States, France and other European countries has also permeated Germany.

The CDU’s Friedrich Merz accused the environmentalist Greens party, which is part of Olaf Scholz’s federal government, of alienating voters by demanding tough action on climate change. Echoing the AfD’s speech, Merz said his party would focus its attacks on the Greens.

Protesters hold banners calling for an end to the "coalition madness" during a rally of far-right groups, including the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, against rising prices in Berlin on October 8, 2022
Protesters hold banners calling for an end to the “Coalition madness” during a rally of far-right groups, including the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, against rising prices in Berlin, on October 8, 2022. AFP – JOHN MACDOUGALL

Green party co-leader Ricarda Lang, for her part, warned against a “right-wing culture war.” “Now it will be the task of all democratic parties to prevent a normalization of the AfD, because it is clear that it remains a threat to democracy,” she declared.

As for the German government, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s spokesman declined to comment directly on the Sonneberg election result, but said Monday it was important to take people’s concerns seriously and engage in “civilized discussions.”

“Our country is made up of values ​​such as justice, tolerance, decency and respect,” Steffen Hebestreit told reporters in Berlin. “This must be cultivated and practiced over and over again.”

Under the surveillance of the intelligence services

The national intelligence agency said this month that far-right extremism posed the biggest threat to democracy in Germany and warned voters against backing the AfD.

The regional leader of the AfD in Thuringia, Bjorn Höcke, is part of the most radical wing of the AfD, and has been “under surveillance” since 2021 by the Regional Office for the Protection of the Constitution. The Office accuses her of “violations of the rule of law and democratic principles” and of “historical revisionism”.

With AP, Reuters and AFP



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Written by Editor TLN

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