Coronavirus and the far right

We are living through unprecedented times here in Germany and across the globe: The coronavirus outbreak has driven all of us inside our homes and paralyzed entire economies and societies until the virus is contained.

For far-right leaders currently in power, like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, the crisis has provided an opportunity to push through new authoritarian measures. But for those in opposition, like Germany’s AfD, the coronavirus has taken away the political spotlight they so depend on—and has made them, at least for the time being, somewhat irrelevant in the political discussion.

This comes, ironically, in spite of the fact that such parties have (temporarily) seen some of their wildest policy dreams come true in recent weeks: The return of borders within Europe, and the increased influence of nation-states seeking to protect their own citizens.

As Berlin-based political consultant Johannes Hillje told me: “This crisis is not like the other crises that the AfD has benefited from, the euro crisis and the refugee crisis. Both crises had an enemy which was an outsider … but now it’s a virus, and it’s spreading from within. The default populist narrative—us versus them, insiders versus outsiders—doesn’t work anymore.”

I wrote about this in a dispatch for Foreign Policy, which you can read here. And late last month, as we were just settling into lockdowns across Europe and much of the world, I explored similar topics for ICWA.