Frightened Germans Turn to Anti-War Party Amid Wave of Political Violence

Frightened Germans Turn to Anti-War Party Amid Wave of Political Violence

Sahra Wagenknecht founded her own pro-Russia party in January and is draining support from the far-right AfD

Article content

(Bloomberg) — In the normally sleepy western German city of Saarbruecken near the French border, Sahra Wagenknecht is whipping up an eclectic crowd of several hundred at an election rally.

With her strident calls for more restrictive immigration policy and her pro-Russia rhetoric, the 54-year-old — who split from the hard-left Linke to found her own party in January — is targeting voters frustrated with the mainstream.

Advertisement 2

Story continues below

Article content

Ahead of Sunday’s European Parliament vote, polls show her Alliance Sahra Wagenknecht, or BSW, on about 7%, making it the 5th biggest party. But Wagenknecht is nevertheless set to have an outsized impact on the election and her emergence as a political force offers clues to the longer-term challenges for the struggling German chancellor, Olaf Scholz. 

In the short term, the surge in support for the startup party looks to have drained votes away from the Alternative for Germany, easing concerns about a breakthrough for the far right in Europe’s biggest economy. Looking further ahead, however, Wagenknecht’s success shows the depth of frustration with parties of the center as well as the complex politics Scholz has to navigate as he seeks to maintain support for Ukraine and revive his struggling economy. 

Like the AfD, which has also been hurt by controversies over ties to China and, especially, Russia, Wagenknecht’s support is about twice as strong in some of the former Communist eastern states, where many feel ignored by the federal government in Berlin.

Polls show the main opposition conservatives still have a comfortable lead on around 30%, with the AfD, Scholz’s Social Democrats and the Greens on about 15%, in a roughly three-way tie for second place.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Story continues below

Article content

“I promise you: If we perform strongly on June 9, if we really get a sensational result, it will be felt in Berlin and create pressure there,” Wagenknecht proclaimed at the May 27 rally, where some waved Palestinian flags and chanted anti-Israel slogans.

See also  How Credit Suisse has evolved over 167 years

She laid into Scholz’s three-party ruling coalition, blaming high energy prices on the government’s decision to stop buying Russian oil and gas. The European Union and the Greens are also favored targets of scorn.

“We’re no longer allowed to buy the evil Russian gas, and instead we’re buying expensive fracking gas from the United States,” Wagenknecht said to cheers. “Suddenly environmental protection is irrelevant. And our purchasing power is curtailed. It’s all completely crazy.”

Turning to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Wagenknecht’s rhetoric was more nuanced. She called for immediate peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom she mostly spared from direct criticism.

“All politicians who start a war are in a way criminals,” she said. “But then that doesn’t only apply to Putin, but also to all the US presidents who started wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Advertisement 4

Story continues below

Article content

Wagenknecht, who was born in the eastern German city of Jena to an Iranian father and German mother, lives in a village close to Saarbruecken with her husband Oskar Lafontaine, a prominent former Social Democrat.Read More About the EU Elections:Scholz Visits Flood-Hit Zone With EU Parliament Vote LoomingEurope Election Will Show What Voters Really Think of Green DealA Stock Trader’s Guide to Navigating the EU Parliament Election

Lafontaine, 80, served as Saarland regional premier and was the SPD candidate for chancellor at the 1990 election, when he was trounced by Helmut Kohl.

He later became SPD chairman and briefly served as finance minister under former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder before they had a spectacular falling out. Lafontaine quit the government and the party and eventually ended up joining the Linke.

Speaking on the sidelines of the rally, Randolf Jobst, a trained electrician and baker, said he has known Lafontaine since his early days as Saarland premier in the 1980s. He now runs the BSW’s chapter in the region.

“Sahra embodies a new style of politics which is based on realism and justice,” said the 60-year-old, who leads about 30 local party members. “We will grow,” he added. “And we will be different from all other parties.”

See also  Fighting Inflation and Hurting Credit

Advertisement 5

Story continues below

Article content

Wagenknecht’s appeals for peace in Ukraine resonate with supporters fearful that the war there could spiral into another global conflict.

All the same, there was a slightly menacing atmosphere at the rally, in part because a group of vocal pro-Palestinian protesters crashed the event. It was also a reminder that tensions in the country have been rising in recent weeks.

Both Wagenknecht and Lafontaine singled out Christian Democrat Roderich Kiesewetter in their speeches, and called for action to be taken to halt his efforts to promote military support for the government in Kyiv.

“You have to stop people like that,” Wagenknecht said. “You can’t let them continue.”

Her husband told the crowd that “crazy people” like Kiesewetter should be put in jail. 

Five days after the rally, Kiesewetter, who served in the German armed forces, was attacked by a man at a campaign event in the south-western region of Baden-Wuerttemberg and sustained minor injuries.That assault was the latest in a string of violent incidents linked to politics. A 25-year-old Afghan-born man went on a rampage with a knife at a campaign event in Mannheim last week and injured six people, including a 29-year-old policeman who died from his injuries.

On Tuesday, an AfD politician was attacked with a knife in the West German city of Mannheim and suffered minor injuries. At the beginning of May, a politician from Scholz’s SPD was attacked by right-wing extremists in the east German city of Dresden. Lafontaine himself barely survived an assassination attempt in 1990, when he was stabbed at a campaign rally.

Scholz has vowed to stop the wave of political violence.

“We will fight terror,” Scholz said in a speech to lawmakers in Berlin on Thursday. “Without security there is nothing.”

—With assistance from Isobel Finkel.

Article content


Join the Conversation

This Week in Flyers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *