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Recent polls have the CDU sagging further at 29 per cent, and the SPD neck and neck with the AfD at around 17 per cent. AfD keeps gaining sympathy and votes from Right and Left. I’m told in Chemnitz by an eclectic cross-section of people, “AfD is the only party which will listen to us.”

I’ve spent the better part of the last year travelling around Germany, including AfD stronghold Saxony, through cities and towns like Dresden and Leipzig, Meissen and Bautzen, Bischofswerda, Grimma, and Chemnitz. I’ve met with small-business owners and mayors, pastors and police, bookstore owners and bakers. One schoolteacher told me his vote for AfD was cast as a pure protest, so fed-up had he become with those sneering, condescending politicians in Berlin. A dentist in Dresden told me AfD won his support because he was anxious about Germany losing its culture to politically-correct multiculturalism. “But I’m not joining the party,” he added. “I don’t trust AfD’s  leadership.”

There are unsavoury elements. Bernd Höcke is one. This hard-core ideologue leads the AfD in Thuringia, and flagrantly employs rhetoric reminiscent of the Nazis.

When we finally meet in October I want to ask Saxon-Anhalt’s minister president Haseloff to help me to sort all this further. He says right-wing extremism is not just an East German phenomenon. Case in point, Höcke, a Wessi who had been a secondary school teacher in the western state of Hessen before he entered politics.

I also want to ask Haseloff about the concerns of my Dresden dentist who is worried about AfD duplicity. AfD insists it’s a national conservative party, to the clear Right of the CDU yet operating within democratic boundaries. Rough around the edges, outright vulgar at times, this seems to be the case until now. In the Chemnitz unrest something new emerged, however: credible indications that elements of AfD had been cooperating and coordinating with neo-Nazi groups involved in attacks on counter-protesters and police.

Two dilemmas loom. First, the CDU must close off space on the Right. This means taking conservative positions on issues of family, faith, nation and borders. Yet to do so will be a non-starter for the Social Democrats, who in such a case would certainly withdraw from the grand coalition and end CDU rule.

Second, since Chemnitz there have been growing calls from the Social Democrats and the Greens to put the AfD under surveillance. This might be warranted in some instances. Yet it is hard to think of a better way to fire up the AfD base, already enraged that Berlin elites dismiss them as Germany’s “deplorables.” Fuel this feeling, and parts of the country will explode.
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