AfD Head Frauke Petry: 'The Immigration of Muslims Will Change Our Culture'
Frauke Petry, head of the populist Alternative for Germany, rejects the notion that her party is too far to the right. In a SPIEGEL interview, she speaks about patriotism, German history and her own childhood.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Petry, in an interview with the right-wing populist weekly Junge Freiheit, you once said: "Many voters want to avoid one thing above all: being associated with the 'right-wing'." Now, though, your party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), is a pretty far to the right, to put it politely.
SPIEGEL: Ok, then please help us out: How do you define right-wing?
Petry: I don't think in those kinds of categories. With our critique of the banks or our criticisms of the European currency system, we are very close to Sahra Wagenknecht (eds. note: the deputy chairperson of the far-left Left Party). Does that mean, by extension, that we are actually ultra-left?
SPIEGEL: Are you trying to say that the AfD is not a right-wing party?
Petry: I can clearly see that you need labels. If there wasn't this association with good and evil, then I would have no problem saying: Yes, the AfD is partly that which the Christian Democrats once were: a right-wing democratic party.
SPIEGEL: Your party's draft platform is full of dangers lurking everywhere: There is Islam, which is threatening us; there the EU, which is disenfranchising us; there is the government, which is lying to us. Why is the party so pessimistic and fearful?
Petry: I have not found AfD members to be downcast and fearful, on the contrary. It requires a lot of courage in Germany to stand up and express ideas that one knows are currently not being expressed by a majority of the populace.
SPIEGEL: Germany is a stable democracy with a broad spectrum of parties. All kinds of opinions are expressed in the media. Where is the problem?
Petry: When (the Left Party) is submitting a proposal to the CDU to form a coalition, there may be several parties on paper, but regarding content, there is not a broad party spectrum. Furthermore, people are seeing that they are no longer being taken seriously as the sovereign by the political establishment.
SPIEGEL: The world is globalized and Europe is united, but the AfD is focused on the term "nation." Why?
Petry: Germany's currency and migration policies are currently destroying European solidarity, and the return to the idea of one's own nation in all European countries is a natural corrective to Brussels centralization. We believe that a healthy patriotism should be natural in Germany. This stance includes taking responsibility for our history, but it also presupposes a healthy relationship to our identity, without which it's impossible to act in a forward-looking manner both domestically and externally. We think it's wrong that German politicians are exclusively wrapping themselves in the cloak of guilt.
SPIEGEL: What do you mean by the cloak of guilt?
Petry: Germany's past is used to justify all kinds of things. People say: We have to do this or that because we Germans have weighed ourselves down with a special kind of guilt. One hears that we need to merge Germany into a larger Europe so as to forever prevent the resurrection of German nationalism. But nationalism and patriotism are regularly thrown in the same pot. Even Germany's current, disastrous migration policy can't get by without references to Germany's past. Just a few weeks ago in Dresden, the former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, warned against equating guilt and responsibility, and encouraged us to have more values-based patriotism. The real responsibilities that we should draw from Germany's past are the preservation of democracy, freedom and the rule of law.
SPIEGEL: If the respect for other opinions is so important to you -- an attitude that presupposes a diverse society -- what do you have against immigration?
Petry: I'm not against immigration, but why do you think the respect for other opinions makes immigration a necessity? For decades, there has been a lack of an ideology-free debate on this issue. Yet such a debate is imperative because the economic and social consequences on both home and host countries are equally momentous, as Oxford economist Paul Collier described in his book "Exodus." One thing is clear: The immigration of so many Muslims will change our culture. If this change is desired, it must be the product of a democratic decision supported by a broad majority. But Ms. Merkel simply opened the borders and invited everybody in, without consulting the parliament or the people.
SPIEGEL: You have suggested using weapons at the border.
Petry: I would hope that you would know better than that! But I'll happily explain one more time: In response to numerous questions, and after listing off various options for securing the border, I mentioned that the use of armed force in the case of an emergency is consistent with German law, a step which I personally, explicitly do not want. To turn that into an alleged proposal for a "firing order" takes a significant amount of desire for a faux scandal. Or, to put it another way, apparently people wanted to willfully misunderstand me.
SPIEGEL: If it was really a misunderstanding, you didn't clear it up for two days. And then you stood by as Deputy AfD Chair Beatrix von Storch went even further, answering "yes" to a question on Facebook as to whether armed force should also be used to prevent women and children from crossing the border.
Petry: It was not a misunderstanding. My original interview was clear.
SPIEGEL: One could interpret your sentence as seeking to trivialize violence.
Petry: Not if you read the original interview.
SPIEGEL: When one confronts you with outrageous statements by members of your own party, like Björn Höcke, AfD head in the state of Thuringia, who has spoken about the reproductive behavior of other cultures, you excuse them as being regrettable exceptions.
Petry: I view some of the statements that come from our ranks as being harmful, regardless of political viewpoint. But Björn Höcke did something that other politicians don't, such as Ms. Roth (eds. note: Green Party politician Claudia Roth) who took part in a demonstration where people shouted, "Germany, you miserable piece of shit." He apologized.
SPIEGEL: How damaging were Höcke's statements to your party?
Petry: Certain statements remain in the public consciousness, and I need to accept that as head of the party. The only way to deal with it is to solidify the party and ultimately make it clear through the party's election platform where we stand in terms of policy.
SPIEGEL: Would you have liked to have parted ways from more of your members?
Petry: Several members left the party when they realized that they don't fit well with us.
SPIEGEL: Where are the limits of what you will tolerate and what not?
Petry: The principles of freedom and democracy are the foundation on which the AfD, like all other democratic parties, stand.
SPIEGEL: Not many parties need to ask their audience at public events to refrain from displaying unconstitutional symbols. But the AfD does.
Petry: You are surely referring to the reading of the rules of assembly. This is a general requirement imposed by the authorities who approve demonstrations in Germany. You surely don't intend to use our compliance with this police ordinance as an indictment of the AfD.
SPIEGEL: Let's imagine for a moment the Greens asked their supporters at events to observe the ban on obscuring their faces and bringing dangerous items. Would you consider that to be normal?
Petry: Yes, I expect exactly that, since the official conditions apply to all protests in Germany. You are constantly demanding that we draw clear boundaries. When we then do so by asking people, who come to our demonstrations for whatever reason, to behave in a manner consistent with our constitution, then that's not good enough either. Perhaps the Greens don't provide their own demonstrators with sufficient instruction. But perhaps they should do so when you look at what is happening in the Green-anarcho scene.
SPIEGEL: When you commend the courage of those who take to the streets to fight for issues important to them, do you also include Pegida demonstrators who wish to see the chancellor hanging from a noose, of whom many have voted for the AfD?
Petry: The Pegida of early 2015 is not the same as the Pegida of today. We are currently seeing a radicalization at the top of the leadership. A year ago, we made sure to speak with the people who join the Monday protests in Dresden, and I still think that was the right thing to do. But we believe that the solution for our country can't be found on the street.
SPIEGEL: You were born in Dresden
Petry: in St. Joseph-Stift Hospital. My mother drove to Dresden for the delivery. Back then, my parents lived in Schwarzheide.
SPIEGEL: How were politics discussed in your family home?
Petry: For us, the table in the corner of the kitchen was where my parents straightened out the political distortions with my sister and I after school. The second place where it was possible to speak openly was the church. I went to religion classes from the age of six, as one of just two children in the entire class. I grew up with this discrepancy.
SPIEGEL: What did you think you would become in East Germany?
Petry: Interestingly, I grew up with the awareness that I would not spend my life in the GDR. My parents always wanted to leave the country because they been identified as regime critics, especially my father. As we later found out, 26 informants for the Ministry for State Security (Stasi) had been assigned to our family, which included people in our very close circle.
SPIEGEL: Then your father used a visit to the Rhineland in March 1989 as an opportunity to stay in the West.
Petry: In spring 1989, my sister was about to complete her high school education. When a parent fled from East Germany, you normally were kicked out of school. We could only prevent that by claiming ignorance. So we acted as though we knew nothing about it until she graduated. That wasn't easy, and a lot of people didn't believe us.
SPIEGEL: How did you experience the fall of the Wall?
Petry: It was an extremely happy experience. It was clear that it wouldn't be long before we could be reunited as a family.
SPIEGEL: "We are the people" was the slogan of the protests that took place in 1989 in Leipzig. Now the same phrase is frequently chanted at anti-refugee demonstrations. That's a pretty big perversion of that slogan, don't you think?
Petry: We agree that verbal and bodily violence against people of any origin or political orientation should be condemned. But when citizens peacefully protest against the government's migration policy, I have no problem if they adopt the slogans used in the peaceful revolution. I don't approve at all of dividing people into first- and second-class citizens, into decent ones and indecent ones, as (Social Democratic Party head) Sigmar Gabriel did when he spoke of (Pegida demonstrators as) a "pack." In my view, that divulges a deeply undemocratic point of view.
SPIEGEL: Sometimes clear language is necessary. Through appeasement and a surfeit of understanding, it is also possible to create a climate where some people think it's okay to throw Molotov cocktails.
Petry: Then I expect that politicians like Gabriel to also speak out clearly against attacks on competing politicians. If he finds all that to be so repugnant, then he must draw the same consequences on the other side of the political spectrum. But he doesn't.
SPIEGEL: Many of your supporters believe that editors-in-chief at German news outlets get their instructions from the Chancellery every morning and then act accordingly. Do you also believe that?
Petry: No and the majority of AfD members don't believe it either. That is a very caricatured and exaggerated portrayal of our criticism of the media.
SPIEGEL: We can agree that the reporting about the AfD has been primarily negative. We would say: for good reason. Has that hurt you, or perhaps even helped you?
Petry: You at SPIEGEL gave me the dubious honor of depicting me as Adolfina with a Leni Riefenstahl look. Many people thought that went too far and started thinking. But some less well-informed citizens, who are afraid of being called Nazis, might be tripped up by that. In that sense, such imputations damage us, of course. You would say: For good reason.
SPIEGEL: Your party is fighting for the strengthening of traditional marriage, but you yourself have decided for a less traditional model. How do aspiration and reality fit together there?
Petry: In can fight for the maintenance and fostering of traditional families even though I, for personal reasons, don't live that model. I continue to vouch for families and I lead a life with children, sometimes with four and sometimes with eight.
SPIEGEL: In your party's draft platform, it is written: "There is a steadily increasing number of children who are having to grow up without the presence and care of a father or mother. Many children experience the departure of a parent as a traumatic event." You allegedly told fellow party members that it didn't hurt you to have gone into a daycare at the age of eight weeks. You supposedly said: "Whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger."
Petry: You will certainly be able to tell me whether going to daycare at eight weeks hurt me or not.
SPIEGEL: You became head of AfD.
Petry: I first heard the term "Rabenmutter" ("uncaring mother") in the West. In 2002, I was described as a typical PISA failure by the German League for the Child, someone who could probably not read and write properly, and who for that reason has nothing better to do than put her child in daycare. That is just as misguided as telling mothers that they shouldn't decide to stay at home with their young children.
Petry: We don't have as much time as the Greens to mature. But so far we have shown that we learn relatively fast. I think that we will reach 25, 30 percent if we work hard and the other parties continue to make the same old mistakes. Then we will able to decide who to form a coalition with and who not. We know where we want to go. How the other parties might develop seems unclear to me at the moment.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Petry, we thank you for this interview.
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