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WORLD NEWS | A German county sparks concern as it elects far-right candidate for first time since Nazi era

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SONNEBERG, Germany, July 8 (AP) — Mike Knoth is excited as a candidate for a far-right populist party recently won a county seat in his native rural eastern Germany , for the first time since the Nazi era.

Gardener despises the country’s established political parties, he doesn’t trust the media, and he feels the country has too many immigrants.

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He hopes the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party will improve what he sees as not going so well in Sonnberg in southeastern Thuringia.

“I think the fact that so many people voted for the AfD has given it legitimacy,” North, 50, said in an interview this week as he walked his dog along the town’s deserted main shopping street. walk.

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But some in Sonneberg were not persuaded by the AfD’s nationalist and anti-democratic rhetoric.

Margret Sturm, an optometrist whose family has been selling eyeglasses in Sonneberg for almost 60 years, said in an interview with a public television station Concerns over an AfD victory.

“I told them I don’t think it’s a good thing to vote for the AfD. Whoever votes for the AfD has to know they have Nazis,” Sturm told The Associated Press in an interview at her shop. .

Sturm could barely comprehend what happened after the interview aired last week.

“We’re getting hate mail, threatening phone calls every minute. We’re being insulted by people we don’t even know, who don’t know us, who don’t understand the industry.”

Because the threats were so relentless, Sturm’s husband installed surveillance cameras inside the store.

But Sturm, 60, said she would not let anyone silence her.

“People here are afraid to take a stand against the AfD and that worries us more than anything else.”

Other residents who opposed the AfD no longer wanted to air their criticisms publicly, she said.

“This is exactly the kind of intimidation that is basically generated by mechanisms of hate and incitement, and then sadly spreads. It really worries me,” said Stephen Kramer, head of Thuringia’s domestic intelligence service, in the state capital Eyre. Ford’s office told The Associated Press.

Kramer has warned for years that the AfD’s Thuringian branch is particularly radical and placed it under official surveillance as a “recognized right-wing extremist” group more than two years ago.

North is not bothered that the AfD is being monitored by the domestic state intelligence service in Thuringia because of its close ties to far-right extremists.

“It was democratically elected and I don’t think there’s anything offensive about it,” he said.

North expects the AfD to introduce policing measures to curb immigration and keep Germany safe.

Tackling immigration or fighting crime is hardly the remit of local county administrators, but the campaign of Robert Sesselmann around these themes by the AfD has proven successful.

Sesselmann faced off center-right rival Jürgen Kopper in last month’s runoff in Sonneberg county. Official figures show Sesselman winning 52.8 percent to 47.2 percent.

Sonneberg has a relatively small population of 56,800, but the victory is a symbolic milestone for the AfD.

Unemployed Radoslaw Schneider, 39, also expects things to improve under Sesselmann.

He said the AfD “believes that Germans need to do something too” and that foreigners should no longer be given preferential treatment – which he believes will happen when the AfD comes to power.

The Alternative for Germany party first entered the national parliament in 2017 after it launched an anti-immigration campaign in response to the influx of refugees into Europe.

The decade-old party has been enjoying record support in national polls, with support between 18% and 20%.

Meanwhile, centre-left Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s governing coalition with the environmentalist Greens and business-friendly Free Democrats faces stiff headwinds from high immigration, plans to replace the heating systems of millions of homes and a reputation for infighting , while inflation remains high.

Björn Höcke, the Thuringia leader of the Alternative for Germany party, espouses a revisionist view of Germany’s Nazi history. In 2018, he called Berlin’s Holocaust memorial a “monument of shame” and called for a “180-degree shift” in the way Germany remembers its past.

In the early 1930s, Thuringia was one of the first power bases of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Party.

Today, the AfD especially attracts people from former communist countries such as Thuringia and less prosperous eastern states.

The coronavirus pandemic, Russia’s war in Ukraine and the influx of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees into Germany are also reasons for the AfD’s campaign, Katharina Koenig-Pruss, a member of the Thuringian Left Party, said in an interview in the state parliament. successfully contributed. in Erfurt.

She said the party had been blaming immigrants or the national government for many of its problems.

“I would say that a great deal of racist rhetoric, which is completely incompatible with reality, is now prevalent among large sections of the East German population,” said Koenig-Pruss, a member of the Alternative for Germany party, one of the most outspoken critics. , and received multiple death threats.

Scholz sought to downplay the recent rise of far-right populists.

“Germany has long been a strong democracy since World War II,” Scholz told reporters in Berlin last week when he was asked what he was doing 77 years after Hitler’s fall to prevent a resurgence of fascism.

The Nazi rule in Germany, which resulted in the murder of 6 million European Jews and others and more than 60 million deaths in World War II, kept Kramer awake at night.

“When I look at the development of Germany, a country where industrialized mass murder has been pushed to perfection, I see that it’s different from all other countries,” he said.

In autumn 2024, state elections will be held in Thuringia. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party leads the polls with support above 30%.

Kramer, who is Jewish, would leave the country with his family if the AfD party, which is still shunned by all other mainstream parties in Germany, becomes part of the state government.

“We’ve seen historically where this can lead to. I have to be honest, I don’t want to wait for it to happen again,” he said. (Associated Press)

(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a syndicated news feed, the latest staff may not have modified or edited the body of content)


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