The leader of Germany’s main right-wing anti-migrant party has caused political uproar by insisting that the country’s border police should be authorised to shoot at refugees trying to enter the country illegally.
Frauke Petry, the 40-year-old leader of Germany’s once merely Eurosceptic but now increasingly xenophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, made her controversial demands after addressing a political meeting in Hanover at the weekend.
“Police must stop migrants crossing illegally from Austria,” Ms Petry told the Mannheimer Morgen newspaper. “And, if necessary, use firearms. That is what the law says.” She added: “I don’t want this either, but the use of armed force is there as a last resort.”
Her remarks were the most extreme political response so far by a substantial political figure to mounting public dissatisfaction with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “open door” refugee policy and growing anxiety at the unprecedented influx of refugees and other migrants.
More than 1.1 million migrants entered Germany in 2015 – the majority arriving since September. A poll issued last week showed that 40 per cent of Germans now wanted Ms Merkel to resign.
The AfD is attracting growing support for its vitriolic anti-migrant stance. It has already won seats in five of Germany’s state parliaments and, in elections next month, is also on course to win seats in the state parliaments of Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony Anhalt, where polls suggest the party could win 15 per cent of the vote.
Ms Merkel has flatly refused to close Germany’s borders or accede to demands from within her own party to cap the influx. At the weekend she tried to placate her critics by insisting that asylum seekers from Syria and Iraq would return home once the conflicts there had ended.
Germany’s mainstream parties swiftly condemned Ms Petry’s demand for what some compared to Cold War border police practices last used when the Berlin Wall still stood. Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s Social Democrat Vice-Chancellor, demanded that the AfD be put under permanent domestic intelligence surveillance. “There is massive doubt that the AfD stands by the free democratic principles of our republic,” he told Bild newspaper.
The police trade union also condemned the suggestion, saying officers would never shoot at refugees and accusing Ms Petry of having a “radical and inhuman” mindset.
Ms Petry, who has a degree from the University of Reading, was elected party leader in an internal putsch last July which ousted its middle-class and academic former leaders, who were mostly concerned with opposing the euro. Since then she and other populist right-wingers have rebranded it as an anti-migrant party and have capitalised on events such as the New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne by predominantly Moroccan and Algerian immigrants.
The party warns that German culture and identity will be destroyed by migrants. Its most popular slogan is “Merkel must go”. An opinion poll published yesterday found that it would win 12 per cent of the vote in a national election – which would make it Germany’s third most powerful political party after Ms Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and her Social Democrat coalition partners.
Ms Petry helped the AfD win seats in the east German state of Saxony in 2014 by advocating mildly anti-immigrant policies. She is seen as the acceptable face of the party’s right wing. But she is now being pulled further to the right by more radical and xenophobic figures within the party, whose stance appears to have increased AfD’s popularity among voters. “Petry can’t get her way; she is just being used as a stepping stone by the right wing,” said Professor Hajo Funke, an expert on the German extreme right.
The AfD leader risks being eclipsed by colleagues such as Björn Höcke, the party’s outspoken leader in the eastern state of Thuringia, whose speeches have been compared to those of Hitler’s propagandist, Joseph Goebbels. Mr Höcke, who regularly draws crowds of up to 8,000 supporters, recently appeared on a popular chat show brandishing a German flag. “For decades its seemed as if the rise of a politician like Björn Höcke was impossible,” wrote Die Welt newspaper. “In the meantime, the impossible has become possible.”
At an AfD rally in the eastern city of Magdeburg last week Mr Höcke regaled the party faithful with an apocalyptic vision of what was in store for the German “volk” and “kultur” unless the refugee influx was stopped. The migrants were a threat to “1,000 years of Germany”. He talked darkly of terrified German women aid workers who were too afraid “to wear makeup” because they felt intimidated by Muslim migrants.
“I am afraid for my country. This is what it feels like to be a foreigner in your own land! This catastrophic development has to be stopped,” he bellowed into a microphone at the rally. His entranced AfD supporters responded with loud cheers.
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