Germany's far-right AfD has 'totalitarian echoes', says ex-leader

Joerg Meuthen quits party with warning it has become increasingly radical

The AfD won fewer votes at last year's election compared to its breakthrough year in 2017. AFP
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A former leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has quit the party altogether, saying it had taken on “clear totalitarian echoes”.

Joerg Meuthen, who left the leadership ranks last year, said the party had become increasingly radical, with some members showing contempt for the post-war democratic order.

Mr Meuthen was a moderate by the standards of the far-right party, hailing from its early days as an anti-eurozone movement, before it seized upon the 2015 refugee crisis and turned nationalism and anti-immigrant rhetoric into policy.

Mr Meuthen championed many of the AfD’s causes, including scepticism of climate change, but he distanced himself from an extreme-right faction whose activities put them on the radar of Germany's domestic intelligence services.

On Saturday he admitted defeat in a years-long battle for the direction of the party.

“There are people there who are at odds with parliamentary democracy,” Mr Meuthen told German broadcasters.

He said the party was in danger of becoming a regional-only faction in east Germany, where its support base is strongest and its members most radical.

“I hear quite clear totalitarian echoes there,” Mr Meuthen said.

Party leaders have often stirred controversy by toying with Nazi terminology and downplaying the darkest chapter of Germany’s history.

In the lead-up to last year’s election, Mr Meuthen lost a party debate about a German exit from the EU – an idea which he opposed but which the AfD eventually supported in its manifesto.

The AfD came fifth at the election, making slight losses compared to its breakthrough year in 2017. It won 83 seats in parliament.

Since the refugee controversy subsided, the AfD has sought to court critics of coronavirus measures, with leading figures joining anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown demonstrations.

AfD representatives have been admonished in parliament for not wearing their masks properly.

Mr Meuthen said something "cult-like" had developed around the AfD's coronavirus attitudes.

A member of the European Parliament, he denied that his resignation was linked to proceedings concerning him in the chamber.

There are moves to strip Mr Meuthen of his parliamentary immunity in connection with an investigation into illegal political donations.

Alice Weidel, one of the party’s current co-leaders, told German media she suspected a ploy by Mr Meuthen in this regard.

“Putting ideological reasons in the foreground and throwing mud at the party he led for a long time does not speak highly of his character,” she said.

But Mr Meuthen said the matter in the European Parliament was nothing to do with his resignation from the AfD.

His departure came after long reflection led him to conclude that leaving the party was “unavoidable, necessary and right”, he said.

Updated: February 01, 2022, 12:13 PM