The AfD’s appeal in East Germany, and a government crisis in Austria

As I’ve posted about here, in April I started a new reporting fellowship with the DC-based Institute of Current World Affairs. Over the next two years, I’ll continue my focus on the rise of right-wing populism in Germany as well as nearby in Austria, Hungary and Poland. My goal is both to better understand the appeal of such parties, as well as the historical context behind their rise.

For the first of my monthly ICWA newsletters, I traveled to the eastern German city of Cottbus, which is emblematic of the far-right Alternative for Germany’s particular strength in eastern Germany. There, I spoke with AfD politicians and supporters about their reasons for choosing the party, and in the process discovered the extent to which that support is tied to their identity and history as East Germans.

Last weekend’s European elections also showed the extent to which the AfD dominates in eastern Germany: it came in first in both Brandenburg, where Cottbus is located, and in Saxony. With elections in three eastern German states coming up this fall—including in both Brandenburg and Saxony, on Sept. 1—spending time in this part of the country is essential to understanding the AfD’s appeal.

For more on my experiences in Cottbus and an explanation of my research plans for my ICWA fellowship, you can read my newsletter here.

I’ll spend my next month focusing on Austria, where political chaos is unfolding after a leaked video scandal involving the populist far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). I wrote about the scandal for ICWA’s blog here — stay tuned for more from Vienna!

A view of the Altmarkt in Cottbus
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