She has been called the German equivalent of Marine Le Pen and she certainly arouses the kind of left-wing hatred invoked by the French far right leader.
Frauke Petry was sitting in a cafe in the provincial town of Göttingen in May when six masked young men burst in. They overturned her table, pelted her with plastic bags filled with fruit juice and screamed “Nazis out!” before running off.
Ms Petry, was soaked, stained and furious. She described the attack as a “malicious assault on my right to freedom of speech” and demanded an immediate police investigation. Her assailants were never caught.
As the national spokeswoman for Germany’s Eurosceptic and increasingly xenophobic Alternative for Germany party (AfD) Ms Petry is used to such animosity. And she is prepared for more.
In pictures: Extremists in the EU
In pictures: Extremists in the EU
1/6 France: Marine le Pen
Marine Le Pen, 45, took over the Front National (FN), the party that her father founded, in 2011. He himself described her as “a big, healthy, blonde girl, an ideal physical specimen." She claims to have cleaned up the FN and succeeded in pushing her anti-European, anti-euro and anti-immigration agenda into the EU political mainstream
2/6 Germany: Udo Voigt
He will be the first German neo-Nazi to enter the European Parliament. The former army officer, born in 1952, was jailed in 1995 for inciting racial hatred. Formerly the leader of the far right National Democratic Party (NPD), Voigt was convicted in 2009 after he was caught handing out flyers at the World Cup which argued that a black player was not entitled to play for Germany, whose national team – the literature argued – should be made up only of white players.
3/6 Denmark: Morten Messerschmidt
Leader of the Danish People’s Party, which won 27 per cent of the vote. His party has rammed 20 laws relating to immigrants and asylum-seekers through the Danish parliament, giving it the most anti-foreigner legislation in Europe. His party calls Islam “a fascist ideology” and rails against “East European criminal gangs”. One party strategist said “blood ties” to Denmark should be required for citizenship, though the statement was quickly retracted.
4/6 Hungary: Krisztina Morvai
A senior member of Jobbik, the anti-Semitic and anti-Roma party on Hungary’s far right wing. In 2009, she attracted international publicity after declaring: “So-called proud Hungarian Jews should go back to playing with their little circumcised dicks.” In 2009, she cancelled an interview with a British newspaper, declaring in tones of outrage: “I am a decent politician and the mother of three children, yet you in the west keep portraying me as a Nazi and a Fascist.”
5/6 Italy: Mario Borghezio
MEP for Italy’s notoriously racist Northern League, he has relentlessly attacked the nation’s first black cabinet minister, Cecile Kyenge, minister for integration, claiming she would import ‘tribal traditions’ into the Italian government. Other elected members in the party called her “an orang-utan” and suggested that someone should rape her, so she would understand how the victims of Somali rapists felt. He attracted attention by lobbying for the creation of an EU archive of UFO sightings.
6/6 Greece: Eleftherios Synadinos
Fabulously mustachioed retired lieutenant-general in the Greek army, he was one of Golden Dawn’s top candidates in the European elections, at which the overtly neo-Nazi party obtained more than 9 per cent of the vote. With its black-shirted assault squads, the Hitler photos and the party’s swastika-inspired logo, it has been accused of being a criminal organisation. Its website declares: “We aren’t the quiet birds of peace time, we are birds of the storm and the hurricane.”
On Saturday she was elected the party’s undisputed leader, winning 68 per cent of the vote at an extraordinary congress of the AfD held in the industrial city of Essen. After months of internal party bickering, Ms Petry successfully ousted the party’s previous moderate chairman, the economics professor Bernd Lucke by securing a landslide victory in a battle for the party leadership.
“You remain the figurehead of the first AfD to be founded,” Ms Petry in a concession to Mr Lucke.
The AfD made big gains in regional elections in eastern Germany last year and now holds seats in five state parliaments. Ms Petry wants to see her party installed in Berlin as a right-wing antidote to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democratic party at the country’s 2017 general election.
Mr Lucke, who founded AfD in 2013 with the support of conservative, middle-class euro opponents, has tried to keep opposition to the currency as his central policy. But in last September’s east German state elections Ms Petry and others on the right of the AfD campaigned on an anti-immigration, and “more children for German families”, platform. Their arguments began winning votes.
Ms Petry’s policies were given a further boost with the subsequent arrival of the xenophobic “Patriotic Europeans Against Islamisation of the West” (Pegida) movement which attracted thousands to its rallies in the east German city of Dresden last year.
Mr Lucke called on his party to distance itself from Pegida because of fears that any links with the movement would alienate middle-class AfD members. But Ms Petry rejected the call and met Pegida supporters, saying she opposed a ban on contacts with the group. She insists that the “Pegida phenomenon must be seen in a differentiated manner”.
Since then Ms Petry and Mr Lucke have been at war. The outcome of the power struggle will be decided this weekend when the AfD membership votes on who to install as the party’s leader. The result will determine whether, under Ms Petry, Germany’s first new right-wing party in decades shifts further towards the right.
Things were already looking bad for Mr Lucke at the opening of the conference yesterday afternoon. In an atmosphere some compared to a football match, hundreds of Ms Petry’s supporters booed Mr Lucke as he tried to address delegates. Many flashed red cards.
Ms Petry, an East German who was born in Dresden 40 years ago but who lived in West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, is married to a Protestant vicar and has four children. She dismisses comparisons with Marine le Pen. “She is a right wing extremist, she simply goes too far,” Ms Petry says in what appears to be an entirely reasonable comment. However, her critics argue that she is well known for her knack of appearing entirely reasonable when she supports the xenophobic far right.
She recently attended an AfD campaign rally held in the run-up to Dresden city mayoral elections. The venue was a conference centre in the small town of Freital, south of the city. American-style pickup trucks were parked outside, some decorated with Confederate flags.
Inside, the meeting hall was packed with more than 150 AfD supporters, all of whom had come to see Ms Petry in person. It took only a matter of minutes for the assembly to degenerate into a session reminiscent of a British National Front meeting.
A red-faced man in a white T-shirt near the front suddenly stood up and addressed the meeting: “We all know what the AfD stands for,” he said, “It stands for the principle that illegal asylum seekers who take our money should be deported immediately.” His remarks were greeted with an eruption of applause.
Ms Petry seemed like an admonishing school teacher faced with a rowdy class, insisting that Germany had an obligation to accept genuine refugees. However, she then went on to demand tough immigration controls and finally agreed that failed asylum seekers should be deported.
At this point, the gathering became a free for all, with many of the audience shouting abuse about immigrants and referring to the town’s Hotel Leonardo, which has recently been converted into an asylum centre for refugees. Since the AfD’s visit, Freital’s hotel has become the target of nightly anti-immigrant protests.Reuse content