Angela Merkel warns against east-west division over AfD rise

Chancellor Merkel has cautioned Germans against playing the blame game over the success of the AfD party in last week's election. Support for the far-right populists was strongest in the former communist East.

In her first video message since the election, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said pointing the finger at people in eastern Germany for the rise of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) was not helpful and far too simplistic.

The far-right populist party's success, which saw it claim 12.6 percent of the vote and 94 seats in the federal parliament, was the result of a sense of insecurity felt not only by people in the east but also in the west, Merkel said.

The AfD emerged as the third-largest political force nationwide in last Sunday's election, but in some eastern states it performed much better. In Saxony, for example, it placed first with 27 percent of the vote, just barely ahead of Merkel's Christian Democrats.

Read more: German elections: From Cologne to Dresden, deciphering Germany's vote

Infografik AfD Bundestagswahl 2017 Ost West Männer Frauen ENG

"I think to some extent it is fear of loss, when you have built up a lot and experienced many radical changes in your life," Merkel said, adding that it was not just problem for people in eastern Germany.

"Of course, we also have a growing AfD presence in western Germany," she said. "We see the same concerns about globalization, anonymity, and poor facilities also in the "old" states [of the former West]. And that is why there needs to be a Germany-wide approach."

Read more: Far-right AfD enters German parliament: What it means for German politics

Division ahead of unity celebration 

As Germany prepares to mark the 27th anniversary of its unification on October 3, the chancellor acknowledged that a very real divide in financial status and living conditions still exists between people in the east and west. "We'll have to find completely new solutions to make living conditions more equal," Merkel said.

The current commissioner for eastern German affairs, Iris Gleicke, has urged the future coalition government not to neglect the interests of citizens in the east.

Infografik DeutschlandTrend Einstellung zur AfD ENG

"This isn't just an issue to accompany the festivities on Unity Day. It's a task which should be on the agenda all year round," she told the German Press Agency on Saturday. "The fear of losing recently created prosperity is there — and immigration also plays a role here," she said.

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The rise of far-right populists in Germany

Gleicke also voiced concerns about a possible backlash against "Ossis" — an informal name for former citizens of the former East Germany — in the wake of the AfD election victory. She stressed that there was "a right-wing populist trend throughout Germany," and a very real chance that the party will keep making gains in the west as well as in the east.

The Day of German Unity celebrates the reunification of East and West Germany on October 3, 1990, following more than 40 years of separation.

nm/sms (AFP, dpa, epd, kna)


Siegbert Droese

The head of the AfD in Leipzig was the center of controversy in 2016 when newspapers reported that a car in his motor pool had the license plate: "AH 1818." "AH" are the initials of Adolf Hitler. 1 and 8, the first and eighth letters of the alphabet, are considered a code for Adolf Hitler among neo-Nazi groups.


Sebastian Münzenmaier

As the AfD's lead candidate in Rhineland-Palatinate, the 28-year-old Münzenmaier cruised to a seat in the Bundestag. Münzenmaier made headlines in October when he was convicted of being an accessory to assault in a case of football hooliganism. But because that's considered a minor offense, he is able to exercise his mandate.


Albrecht Glaser

The 75-year-old former CDU man is the AfD's choice for Bundestag vice-president, but members of the other parties say they won't approve his candidacy. Glaser once opined that Muslims shouldn't enjoy freedom of religion because Islam is a political ideology. Critics reject that view as unconstitutional.


Markus Frohnmaier

Frohnmaier is the chair of the party's youth organization, Junge Alternative. The 28-year-old wrote in August 2016 on Facebook that "our generation will suffer the most" from Merkel's decision to "flood this country with the shoddy proletariat from Africa and the Orient."


Martin Reichardt

The former soldier from Lower Saxony once told a journalist that he had no problem with "Germany for the Germans," a phrase that is often used by neo-Nazi groups. He has also collectively described the Green Party and The Left party as "constitutional enemy No. 1."


Wilhelm von Gottberg

The 77-year-old from Brandenburg was vice president of the Federation of Expellees (BdV) until 2012. He wrote in the newspaper "Ostpreussenblatt" in 2001 that he agreed with the statement that the Holocaust was a "myth" and an "effective instrument to criminalize the Germans and their history."


Jens Maier

In January, the Dresden judge railed against the "creation of mixed nationalities" that are "destroying national identity." He has also called for an end to Germany's "culture of guilt" surrounding the country's actions in the Second World War.


Beatrix von Storch

The AfD's vice-chair is an MP in the European parliament and is known for her hardline conservative views. In 2016, she replied affirmatively to a Facebook user who had asked her whether armed force should be used to stop women with children from illegally entering Germany. She later apologized for the comment.


Alexander Gauland

One of the AfD's top candidates, Gauland was widely criticized after suggesting that the German government's commissioner for integration, Aydan Özoguz, should be "disposed of" in Turkey because she had said that there was no specifically German culture beyond the German language.


Alice Weidel

The 38-year-old economist was the AfD's other top candidate. Despite living in Switzerland, Weidel ran for the Baden-Württemberg constituency of Bodensee. She drew criticism for describing Germany's integration commissioner Aydan Özoguz, who has Turkish roots, as a "stain" and a "disgrace." In a contested email attributed to Weidel, she called Angela Merkel's government "pigs" and "puppets."


Frauke Petry

For a long time Frauke Petry was the face of the AfD, and she's one of the more recognizable figures in the Bundestag. But she's no longer a member of the right-wing populist party. Petry quit shortly after the election after falling out with other leaders. Because she won her voting district outright, she still gets a Bundestag mandate, where she sits as an independent.