Last Sunday’s electoral victory for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the state of Saxony-Anhalt in eastern Germany was reassuring for the main German centrist parties, but it also carried a current under What bothered them: Once pollsters gathered the numbers, it emerged that the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) came out on top among voters under 30. One in five voters born after 1991 voted for the AfD.
So what happened?
Kerstin VÃ¶lkl, political scientist and election researcher in Saxony-Anhalt’s largest city, Halle, noted that the AfD seemed to have a better strategy for younger voters. âThey tried to create a ‘benevolent’ image that they were trying to relate to youth issues,â she told DW.
She also noted that the AfD was the only party to send personalized letters to all first-time voters in the capital of Saxony-Anhalt, Magdeburg.
“Yes, it is true,” said Jan Wenzel Schmidt in his office in the state parliament of Saxony-Anhalt. “And you see he’s had some success,” he added with a smile.
Schmidt is the head of the AfD youth organization in Saxony-Anhalt, Junge Alternative, which helped shape the party’s electoral strategy. Despite its small staff of only 160, the group was keen to campaign loudly in the streets of Magdeburg in the final days of the campaign.
Schmidt represents the ambitious new generation of the AfD – and it is perhaps a sign of the importance the party has placed in people his age that the 29-year-old is now running for the Bundestag as one among the first on the party’s list of candidates. His visit to Berlin in September is almost certain.
Young people in Magdeburg, the capital of Saxony-Anhalt, have more leisure opportunities than those in less developed rural areas
But for now, Schmidt remains a local politician, and the Magdeburger native is convinced that the Saxony-Anhalt AfD did well last Sunday because they knew what had been bothering the youth of Saxony-Anhalt for a year: mainly , the restrictions on freedom imposed on a virus that many young people do not believe can harm them.
These restrictions have exacerbated the larger problem that plagues poor, sparsely populated regions: the chronic lack of infrastructure, especially public transport (there are villages in Saxony-Anhalt that only have two bus services a day). ) and what might be called âsocial infrastructureâ. Youth clubs, for example, once a staple of many communities in East Germany, are rare.
“The younger generation is at a fundamental disadvantage because a large part of the investments made no longer reach the young,” Schmidt said. “I saw it myself: when I grew up in Magdeburg in the 90s there were a lot of youth clubs, places for young people to go. They all disappeared.”
Young and disappointed
Although he and the AfD are political opponents, Johannes Walter of Kinder und Jugendring, the Saxony-Anhalt umbrella organization for dozens of youth support organizations, also complains. âSupport for local youth work in Saxony-Anhalt was massively reduced in 2014 and has not increased significantly since,â he told DW. “In the meantime, running costs and salaries have increased, so that all youth clubs have successively had to close.”
Observers have noted that the AfD has managed to present itself as the party that cares about this support network, although others who work with youth in Magdeburg believe the answer is much simpler: the party does does not need to present his platform in any way at all; voters are simply projecting their own discontent onto the party.
“All you have to do is look at the AfD campaign posters,” said David Begrich, of the anti-racist campaign group Miteinander (“Ensemble”). “It was just two red arrows pointing at posters of other parties, with the slogan: ‘You were 30 years old. This is not just any political program, it is just an expression of a emotion.”
The AfD took the campaign posters of other parties and added their slogan: “You had 30 years of time”
A generation in search of identity
This emotion is frustration, and it runs deep when there is nothing to do, you can’t afford a car, and there are only two buses a day. But there are also poor and frustrated young people in rural areas of western Germany – so why don’t they vote for the AfD in equal numbers?
Miteinander runs weekly school workshops with young people from eastern and western Germany and, according to Begrich, there is a significant difference in levels of self-confidence. âI see young Westerners as much more articulate and communicative, more confident when meeting strangers,â he said.
He believes that there is, even after 30 years of reunified Germany, a distinct East German identity inherited by the youngest – even those (or perhaps especially those) who have moved west to study and work, then returned in their twenties and thirties. .
“We see young people who are very strongly in search of identity,” added Begrich. “We have noticed that young people and young adults are turning more and more to the question of East Germany and East German identity. I see it in my own daughter; she is 18 years old, but she sees herself unlike the “West Germans”. ”
Lack of confidence also explains the devastating demographics of the former East Germany: Saxony-Anhalt has lost a quarter of its population since 1990, mostly from its rural areas, and those who have moved are the well-to-do young people. educated – among them many women.
The older generation has been left behind. âAnd young men with a lower level of education,â VÃ¶lkl said. “And they internalized that status – and they notice it, that they ended up on the losing side. It makes you more open to populist and authoritarian tones.”
Although East Germany is slowly catching up with the West through certain economic measures (GDP, average wages), this new prosperity is just that: new. It has not yet been accumulated. The average net worth of East Germans remains less than half that of West Germans, which means that young East Germans do not inherit what their Western counterparts are doing.
“Young people and young adults are increasingly turning to the question of East Germany and East German identity”, says David Begrich
In this economic context, the elephant in the room – the growing right-wing radicalism of the AfD – weighs less among voters.
âFirst of all, racism and right-wing extremism are just not so taboo in the East, and there is a different relationship with free speech,â Begrich said. “Students in school projects that I do often tell me, ‘I think Adolf Hitler was a great politician – he built the highway and gave a lot of workers to work – and that’s my opinion, and we let’s live in a free country and I can express my opinion. ‘”
So what do you do when a teenager says something like this to you? âWell, the main thing is to counter it with facts and express my belief that Hitler was a criminal,â he said. “Too often we see that far-right views are not being contradicted – instead, we see people saying, ‘Well, that’s just your opinion.’
Kerstin VÃ¶lkl of the University of Halle believes that young East Germans are less aware of the importance of democracy itself and the importance of a functioning civil society for democracy. “And then they fail to recognize the danger presented by far-right tendencies,” she said.
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