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As Germany battles a second wave of COVID-19, a pattern is emerging: Many of the hardest hit locations are those with strong support for the far right. Coincidence?
“It is noticeable that the regions most affected are the regions with the highest AfD vote,” says Marco Wanderwitz, government commissioner for the former East German states.
Wanderwitz himself comes from Saxony, which had the highest incidence rate in Germany on Tuesday at 319 – well above the national average of 114, according to the disease control center of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).
The Anti-Muslim, Anti-Immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which is increasingly targeting government measures to contain the virus, achieved its highest share of the vote of 27 percent in the same state three years ago.
However, Saxony is not the only region with high infection rates and strong support for the right-wing extremist party.
“Strong statistical correlation”
A team from the Institute for Democracy and Civil Society in Jena has started a study on the “strong and very significant statistical correlation” between support for the AfD and the intensity of the pandemic, its director Matthias Quent said on Twitter.
“However, there could be factors that explain the high AfD results and at the same time the high incidence rates,” without the two necessarily being linked, the researcher warned.
The proportion of older people and large families, the presence of cross-border commuters, and the way the care system is organized differently between states could also affect the intensity of the pandemic, he said.
Nevertheless, the trend in Germany’s second wave is significant and more pronounced due to the broader general spread of the virus.
The COVID-19 situation in Saxony has become so critical that local authorities announced a series of stricter restrictions on Tuesday as schools, kindergartens and many shops will be closed from next week.
In cities like Görlitz and Bautzen, where more than one in four voters on the far right draws, the incidence rate is around 500.
In the gentrified state capital Leipzig, where the Greens win the race against the right-wing extremist party in opinion polls, the infection rate on Tuesday was 140, close to the national average.
Skepticism about the virus and the measures to contain it are widespread in Saxony, the birthplace of the Islamophobic Pegida movement – also among medical staff and economic decision-makers.
In Bautzen, the prominent entrepreneur Jörg Drews, who runs a local construction company, has put his profits into “alternative media”, according to the ARD broadcaster.
For example, the Bavarian rain on Tuesday had the highest incidence rate in Germany at 579. Three years ago, the AfD achieved the highest value in Bavaria with more than 16 percent.
In Gelsenkirchen, the largest AfD stronghold in the most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the incidence rate is three times higher than in the neighboring city of Münster (169 versus 56).
In the districts with the lowest infection rates, mainly in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein, the AfD vote is below eight percent.
“Burqas for everyone”
The AfD is the only German political party that has openly shown skepticism towards and restrictions on virus restrictions.
AfD lawmakers have spoken out against wearing masks in the lower house of the Bundestag, for example, and one calls them “burqa for everyone”.
According to a recent Forsa survey, more than half of AfD voters (56 percent) consider the German virus restrictions to be excessive.
The right-wing extremist party is also associated with the lateral thinkers or “lateral thinkers” movement, the umbrella organization for most of the sometimes violent anti-shutdown demonstrations in Germany since the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Almost a third of these demonstrators plan to vote for the AfD in national elections in 2021, according to a study by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
“The connection between the conspiracy theorists and the right-wing extremist scene is unfortunately logical as they share many theories,” Miro Dittrich, an Amadeu Antonio Foundation researcher on the fight against racism and extremism, told AFP.
“Both believe that a small elite is secretly controlling events to the detriment of the ‘Germans’,” he said.
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© 2020 AFP
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