Reading news reports, one gets the impression that being a member of the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) can put you in real trouble. Is this your feeling too? And does your personal experience confirm this?
Public authorities have been trying to have us put under surveillance by the internal secret service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, or BfV. The BfV is completely different from intelligence services in other countries. They do not investigate criminal behavior but they investigate your opinions, to check whether they are in line with liberal democracy.
In Germany, you can be a citizen who behaves according to the law but get into trouble with the domestic intelligence service anyway. On the other hand, you can break the law like Antifa activists do without getting into trouble with the BfV. However, our domestic intelligence service is not as powerful as in some other countries. What may cause some trouble to people are the reports on who the BfV has under surveillance. It depends on the social environment in which you live. As for myself, I come from East Germany where in the past every citizen had a file in the secret police, and people are used to it. So in my social environment, this is really not a problem. My father had a file for more or less the same opinions as I have myself, and being under surveillance does not cause people to turn their back on me or anything like that. But if you live in West Germany it is a little more difficult.
That gives the impression Germany has its own problems with democracy and the rule of law. Have you tried to raise the issue in the European Parliament, in particular after Germany’s BfV announced it would put the whole AfD party under close surveillance?
The BfV has actually been compelled by an administrative court in Cologne to suspend its surveillance of the AfD for the time being. So we are not being monitored at the moment. We could bring the matter to the European Parliament when we are put under surveillance again, but you know how the political majority looks like in the European Parliament. It is two steps more to the left than usual left-wing majorities in national parliaments. Here we have a collection of left-wingers who believe in a Brave New World.
Let us make one thing clear. The AfD is often described in the German mainstream media and also in international media as a far-right party which is pro-Putin, anti-NATO, anti-EU, and even has in its ranks some members with a past in neo-Nazi groups. Others describe it just as a liberal-conservative party. So where is the truth?
First of all, it has to be said that in Germany everyone who is to the right of Hillary Clinton is considered far-right. Angela Merkel is more or less the same as Hillary Clinton. So in Germany, if you are more right-wing than those two ladies, you are labeled far right. The AfD is a collection of different movements. We have national-conservatives, we have Christian-conservatives, we have libertarians. We tend to attract everyone who is to the right of Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel. So we are a very diverse party. It is true that we also have people who come from far-right groups, but I would always say that people have the right to evolve and to grow. Historically, the old Christian Democrat party said that there is no party on its right flank. At that time people like me had their place in the CDU. But then Angela Merkel shifted the CDU much to the left, and I became homeless.So I left the CDU, while some other conservatives, who are very brave and decent people, have never been within the CDU. This shift of the CDU to the left has created a historical chance to unite the right.
Once, a university professor told me: I’d never vote for the CDU, but I adore it for neutralizing people like you. At that time, I did not understand that. But now I do: as long as the right was divided, it was weak. The AfD makes it possible to unite those conservatives who used to be neutralized within the CDU and those who were marginalized outside it.
As far as I am concerned I am a pragmatist, but I would not define myself as a liberal-conservative. Liberalism has become somewhat outdated since Donald Trump’s presidency. We have learned that a completely free global economy destroys our middle class. Of course, I am not for a state economy either. I am in favor of a market economy of small and middle-size businesses. Being a conservative may have different meanings too. Obviously, in a way, I am a conservative. I am a Catholic and attend the Latin Mass every Sunday, but it is my personal lifestyle. Liberals believe in the individual and mankind, and I believe in the institutions in-between – the local community, the nation, and Europe – and I believe in tradition, culture, and roots.
Are your beliefs widely shared within the AfD?
As I have said, we are very diverse as we are a right-wing populist party, but what we have in common is our belief in common sense. When others claim there are 53 genders, we say: “No, there are only two sexes”. When they tell us it is somewhat racist that the German volleyball team is purely white, then we say Germany has a 95% Caucasian population. We all are against the leftist, ideologist denial of reality. We are a common-sense party. That is our basis, and then you will find in our party some conservative beliefs and also patriotism is something which is shared by the vast majority of our members, as well as the acceptance of Christian tradition, although we are not a Christian party. Generally speaking, we are basically a movement that tries to stop the destruction of the European and German society by the Woke Wave.
What made you leave the CDU for the AfD in 2016? Was it because of Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders to illegal immigrants?
Yes, it was exactly that. I was a member of the CDU but actually, the last time I had voted for them was in 2005, and I deeply regret that vote. We had the choice between the Social-Democrat Schröder and Merkel, but in many ways, Schröder was actually far more conservative than Merkel, and he was also more reliable and more patriotic. We have not seen a single conservative project enforced by Merkel since she took power in 2005.
But although I did not vote for the CDU anymore, I was still a member of the party. When Merkel opened the border in 2015 and let in over one million immigrants, who were mostly young men from the Middle-East, I was a delegate to the federal party assembly that was held in Karlsruhe in December 2015. I expected that we would discuss this issue. Instead, we had a 10-minute standing ovation for Angela Merkel. At that point, I felt I was at odds with my party in all aspects: immigration, the destruction of the family, the damaged relationship with Russia, the lack of economic reform… That was the moment I said, “It’s over, there is no hope”. So then I joined the AfD.
Let us talk about the European Parliament. During debates about the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary in Poland, being a lawyer you have pointed out several times that the European Parliament could as well have such a debate about Germany, where the judiciary is not really independent. So why then, according to you, do EU institutions target Poland and Hungary, and not Germany for example? Is it because of a double standard depending on whether you are a small country or a big player? Or is it politically or ideologically motivated, as both Poland and Hungary have conservative governments?
It is definitely ideological. Poland is a big country as well. Of all the CEE countries, it is the largest, with the biggest GDP. Those attacks are clearly ideologically motivated. When you sit in Brussels, it is real madness. When you hear some debates on issues like abortion, which they perceive as a human right, it makes you feel as if you were from Huxley’s dystopia in the Brave New World. Since Poland and Hungary have been trying to protect Europeanness in society and the nation, they are the enemy. Here in Brussels, they look for every opportunity to attack them.
In the case of Poland, there is also another aspect: that is the PO, the Civic Platform. This political party is in the opposition in Warsaw, but it is extremely influential in Brussels. The PO is strongly pro-American and transatlantic, and their politicians are mostly well-trained and well-educated. When Radek Sikorski came here, for example, he immediately became the chair of the official delegation of the European Parliament to the United States.
The PO has been using its influence to try and bring the internal Polish debate on the floor of the European Parliament, and to use the European Parliament in its own political struggle against the Polish government. This is why every month or every second month you have a “debate” on Poland, which is an attack on Poland. So, you then have all the Polish politicians on the Parliament’s floor, and you usually have an alliance of the PO with Mr. Biedroń and the Socialists, and they always depict Poland as something like Mordor, Mr. Morawiecki as Sauron, and Kaczyński as well.
PiS MEPs then try to counter-strike, and usually, the AfD is the only non-Polish party that participates in the debate taking sides with PiS. Other members of our Identity & Democracy group like the French National Rally will be on the Polish side if it comes to a vote, but the debate is usually between the Polish left and liberals on the one side, and Polish conservatives and one or two voices from the AfD on the other side, on behalf of our group.
I have heard from French RN MEPs that the Polish PiS does not even want to talk to them because they see them as too much in favor of Russia. Have you experienced the same attitude from PiS as a representative of the AfD?
No, I do not perceive such a problem, and we talk to each other. Of course, like a majority of Poles, PiS has an anti-Russian attitude. From my perspective, they are having a foreign policy that contradicts their domestic politics. If you look at the Biden administration and how they advocate wokeness globally, and if you read the statement of the Polish foreign minister about the Polish constitution that defines sex biologically and the fact that he had to discuss this with the American Secretary of State [Anthony Blinken], then you see how much the new American administration has taken on the task of propagating gender ideology. So, as long as Poland so much sticks to its transatlantic ties, it will expose itself to deep problems to preserve its traditional Catholic understanding of society. That is my personal opinion.
However, the AfD is not that close to Russia, and as a matter of fact we try to have a balanced policy. As for myself, I got my master’s degree in business administration from Columbia University, which is an American Ivy League university, and I am not anti-American. But it is true that our diverging positions towards Russia are something we would have to solve if we want to do something together. That said, however, if you look at Fidesz, they are completely like us. Hungary now has the best vaccination rate in the EU because they import the Russian and Chinese vaccines against Covid-19. Hungary is taking part in the New Silk Road project launched by Beijing and traditionally has good relations with Moscow. So in terms of foreign policy and geopolitics, the AfD is very close to Fidesz.
That is true, but Fidesz is committed to NATO and to being in the EU, which is not so clear in the case of the German AfD. So what would be your message to Poles and Hungarians as an AfD member, to calm their fears that an AfD-governed Germany would pull out of the EU and NATO and become a close ally of Russia? You must know that for historical reasons such a scenario is Central Europe’s nightmare…
Our commitment to NATO is stated in all our party manifestos and our statute. We also have it in our draft manifesto for the next federal elections. As far as the EU is concerned, we ask for fundamental reforms, and we say that if we cannot reform the EU, then we will have to discuss about leaving it. Poland benefits very much economically from being in the EU. As Germans, we do not have the same economic incentives to stay in the EU, but we have the political incentive of keeping the continent peaceful. But to do so, you do not need the gigantic bureaucracy that I see from here when I look out of my window. So we call for fundamental reforms, and we do not call for immediate Dexit.