The cost of living is rising, people's worries are growing. This is good breeding ground for right-wing enemies of democracy, warns Greens parliamentary group leader Andreas Audretsch. At ntv.de. the member of parliament explains how the AfD and others from the New Right are playing into Putin's hands.
ntv.de: Mr. Audretsch, in the past you have repeatedly dealt with the New Right in Germany and Europe. In view of the skyrocketing cost of living, you warn of a new tailwind for this anti-democratic movement. What are we threatening?
Andreas Audretsch: Vladimir Putin is trying to destabilize Germany and Europe with two levers. One lever is energy prices, the other is propaganda. When combined, both can be extremely powerful. We saw that in France, where right-wing extremists managed to stir up large parts of the population. The yellow vest movement in France at one point tipped very far to the right, aligning itself in parts with Marine Le Pen. Le Pen, on the other hand, maintains close ties to Russia and has repeatedly placed himself alongside Vladimir Putin. Parts of the unions in France have drifted to the extreme right camp. In comparison, Germany is still a very stable country.
The danger is also very real in Germany. Vladimir Putin despises our liberal democracy, freedom of the press, human rights, protection of minorities. All of this should be discredited. And he does so in solidarity with the New Right.
Because, like Le Pen in France or Salvini in Italy, there are also AfD ties to Moscow?
These are connections of the New Right as a whole, including the AfD. Connections to Moscow are cultivated in various contexts, for example through a Christian, ultra-conservative milieu. There is the AfD politician Beatrix von Storch, who, with her entire family in the background, maintains contacts with Russia through family ties and aristocratic connections, for example with the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev, who organizes protests such as the so-called "Demo for All" in Europe and funded. Organizations such as the "Society for the Protection of Tradition, Family and Private Property" are run in Beatrix von Storch's family, which belongs to a large network of ultra-Catholic actors who also have close ties to the organizers of the "Demo for All". - just like the Russian fundamentalist-Orthodox activist Aleksey Komov. The gang are diverse and widely networked.
Do you have any other examples?
A second track runs through a number of Russian Germans and Russia friends in the AfD, such as the Berlin MP Gunnar Lindemann, who has traveled several times to Crimea and the Russian-occupied areas in eastern Ukraine, maintains contacts there and is one to one in Germany one that spreads Russian propaganda. Another example - outside of the AfD, but also part of the New Right - is Jürgen Elsässer's "Compact" magazine, which spreads Russian propaganda via Telegram channels with tens of thousands of subscribers. Some videos aim to convey that one only needs to understand Putin to find and take his positions well, while others stir up fears of a cold winter and job losses. Then both levers - prices and propaganda - come together again.
In fact, the AfD continues to be deeply divided about how to deal with Russia. Is the New Right really that uniform?
No, that becomes clear in the overall European view: while the Lega in Italy is very much oriented towards Russia, Giorgia Meloni, the top candidate of the far-right Fratelli d'Italia, tends to keep his distance from Moscow and orients himself more towards Donald Trump and Steve Banner in the United States. Marine Le Pen has long supported Moscow, presenting herself as a strong leader alongside Trump, Putin and Indian President Narenda Modi. During the election campaign, she recently tried to distance herself from Putin. In Poland, on the other hand, the right-wing populist PiS government has traditionally kept its distance from Russia, but maintains links with the New Right in Europe.
And the AfD?
There are some who don't want such a close connection to Russia. But there are also very strong forces that very consciously show solidarity with Russia. It is very clear that party leader Tino Chrupalla was received by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow in December 2020. And Alexander Dugin, the right-wing extremist mastermind of the Russian war of aggression, whose daughter was recently killed in an attack, met Alexander Gauland, AfD honorary chairman, in 2015. These alliances are undeniable. And agreement can be expected that the New Right will try to take advantage of the situation in Germany, stir up people in winter and stir up feelings against our liberal, democratic system.
However, approval ratings for the AfD continue to stagnate. Do you still see signs that the opponents of sanctions are gaining momentum and that the popular uprisings mentioned by Annalena Baerbock are looming?
We can safely say that the New Right is trying to incite popular uprisings. To ignore that would be naïve and a big mistake. How successful they will be is also in our hands, those with political responsibility. First, we must ensure that people do not fall into the abyss in winter. Second, people must not feel that they have to cut back while others fill their pockets. With a crisis policy that focuses primarily on justice, we not only secure social peace, we also secure our liberal democracy. The vast majority are willing to do their part, even if those with a lot of money, who have a lot, do their part. But if the feeling of a joint effort is lost, we run the risk that people will turn away from our democratic system.
On the issue of redistribution, you and the SPD have your small coalition partner, the FDP, against you. To what extent do the FDP and the Greens agree in their concern for democracy?
The FDP is a partner that stands for a liberal democracy. There is no doubt about that, there is a lot of agreement with us Greens. We have dissent on the question of how much distributive justice is needed to secure this democracy. I am of the opinion that social peace is a central requirement for this and that federal politics has the task of ensuring fair distribution. People need to be able to pay their bills. Just the fear of slipping is a problem. When people no longer have the feeling that their children will be better off one day, and instead fear of social decline becomes the dominant feeling, a society is destroyed from within.
From redistribution to new taxes for the wealthy or at least one-off payments to a reform of the debt brake, the FDP says no to all red-green proposals. Will that change in autumn?
The coming third relief package must clearly address social issues. The proposal by Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner is not appropriate to the current situation. Anyone with 20,000 euros in taxable income would be relieved of 115 euros. People with 200,000 euros would pay 479 euros less. Nothing against fighting cold progression, but when the finance minister emphasizes that we are short of cash, that is the wrong priority. That is why we advocate direct payments to people with low and medium incomes. That means: increasing child benefit, raising the rate of basic security for the unemployed and the elderly, housing benefit and flat-rate energy prices. This must be of a height that is appropriate to the challenges of winter. There are many different ways of financing this. We Greens consider the excess profit tax to be a good instrument. It generates funds that we need now and would show people that politics is willing and able to right injustices.
Even if the traffic light coalition can agree on comprehensive aid and redistribution, people across the board will foreseeably feel a loss of prosperity. But anyone who says "I don't want to accept that, why does the war in Ukraine have to do with me?" must quickly be accused of lacking solidarity or even being a Putin sympathizer. How can opponents of Western Russia policy be included if all decision-makers think they are wrong?
We will have to have these discussions again and again. You have to listen to these positions, but also make it clear what the situation is. First, it needs to be clear who initiated the aggression: a fascist dictator named Vladimir Putin. Secondly, of course, everyone wants a peace solution, which in the end can only be achieved diplomatically. But for that you need a negotiating partner who is willing to engage in real talks and who does not demand a dictated peace. Anyone who has doubts must be able to express them, but also deal with the reactions to them.
This rejection is particularly strong in the eastern federal states, although politicians and the media have been trying to explain the situation for more than six months. Politicians are obviously reaching their limits, while it is not the job of the news media to teach people new things every day. Who should mediate there?
I wouldn't reduce that to the East. Even fewer than in previous decades, certain large groups are facing off in blocs, not East against West, not churches against women's groups or trade unions against environmental groups. We are now finding forces in all parts of society that want to fight together for liberal democracy. In these different groups there must be an awareness that we liberal democrats and progressives are everywhere and that we also have to be everywhere to face the discussions. We must grow together into great alliances across social groups. Then a mediation can succeed that counters Putin's general attack on the whole breadth of society.
Sebastian Huld spoke to Andreas Audretsch
(This article was first published on Tuesday, August 30, 2022.)