The ‘Refugee Crisis’ and Right-wing Populism in Germany: Narratives of Vulnerability and Deviance in the Party Communication of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)

Political Parties
Comparative Perspective
Josefin Graef
Hertie School of Governance
Josefin Graef
Hertie School of Governance

This paper is part of an extended research project on political narratives of vulnerability and deviance in context of the ‘refugee crisis’ in Germany and Sweden. It looks specifically at how the recently established right-wing populist party ‘Alternative für Deutschland’ (Alternative for Germany, AfD) draws on and develops such narratives to achieve particular goals. I argue that the party, based on its characteristic opposition-building between the ‘German people’ and ‘Others’, draws on these narratives in a very narrow and abstract manner, opposing refugees and asylum seekers as ‘cultural and violent invaders’ to the ‘German nation’. ‘Germans’, in the very narrow understanding of the AfD, are the vulnerable population, not asylum seekers. Consequently, political and civil society actors who support the rights of asylum seekers become deviants themselves and contribute further to the vulnerability of the ‘German people’. Based on an analysis of the party’s online and offline communication in 2015 and 2016, I show how the AfD – in contrast to other German parties – uses these narratives in order to simplify complex socio-political dynamics. It enables the AfD to construct the 'German people' as the victim, stylise itself as its protector and blame the ‘established parties’ for failing to take on this protective role. This, in turn, helps to mobilise in particular disenfranchised parts of the electorate. The final part of the paper also considers similar dynamics in other European countries and the US.

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"In all forms of Government the people is the true Legislator" - Edmund Burke

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