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Germans Head To The Polls On Sunday, Merkel Expected To Win Another Term


And I'm Rachel Martin in Berlin, Germany. We are overlooking the Brandenburg Gate and the Bundestag, the Parliament building. It is a beautiful day here in Berlin. A couple hundred people are on the square this morning, milling around. There's a lot of energy in the city because, this weekend, Germans will choose their next leader. And the current chancellor, Angela Merkel, is set to win a fourth term.


And, Rachel, how would you describe what she has done right?

MARTIN: Well, it's really about the world around her, David. As things have felt increasingly chaotic in Europe and around the world, Merkel has really been the definition of stability, a steady hand amidst all the chaos. She's been in office for 12 years. And during that time, the global recession obviously took a toll. The increased threat of terrorism is something she is dealing with. And she has been seen as steadiness and leadership in and around western democracies.

So even though she is expected to win - the polls suggest she is in a good position with her CDU party - there is a change happening here in the politics of the moment. The right-wing party - it's called the AfD - the party's positioned to win a place in Parliament for the first time, which would be challenging - could be challenging for Angela Merkel as she attempts to form a government and move forward.

GREENE: And as you dig into the support for that party and the support that's growing, what is attracting Germans to them?

MARTIN: You hear a lot of language about putting Germany first, putting German interests first. So similar to what we heard Donald Trump say on the campaign trail and as president. This party's taking a really hard line on immigration, also something familiar to Americans. Angela Merkel got a lot of flak for how she handled the refugee crisis, especially at its height in 2015 when she opened the borders to immigrants. And that has been a motivation for this party, the AfD. They have - see this as an opportunity. And I sat down with the Berlin chair of the party. His name is Georg Pazderski.

GEORG PAZDERSKI: I'm very confident, yeah - and because we are about to become the third-strongest party in Germany.

MARTIN: He says the other parties in Germany have moved to the left. And his party, the AfD, is filling the vacuum.

PAZDERSKI: We are patriots, yeah. We say, for instance, that we have to put German interests in front, not only international interests. This is that we say, oh, we want to have a traditional family which consists of father, mother, children. And this is that we say we want to give citizens more power. If they want to open their borders, and all these refugees and migrants can come to Germany, citizens should have the chance to say yes or no.

MARTIN: You brought up the migrant crisis. How do you view Angela Merkel's handling of that?

PAZDERSKI: I think it was a bad handling because she said everybody can stay in Germany. And she opened the borders, which means that we had up to 1.5 million migrants within two years in Germany. And German people are, yeah, overwhelmed by it. And crime rates are going up. Yeah, we had also a terrorist attack in Berlin. And people think this is the wrong way. We want to decide in advance who can come to our country. And this is also one point or one reason why the AfD is so successful - because we say we want to close the borders. We want to know who is in our country, who is coming to our country. And we want to do it like Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. or Canada. We want to decide in advance who can come to our country.

MARTIN: You talk about the economic impact and the security risk as you see it. Is there a cultural effect, as well?

PAZDERSKI: Certainly, there are cultural effects because what we can also see is that - we say Islam doesn't belong to Germany because it's not a part of history, of German history. But what we can see is that Islam is trying to get more and more influence in Germany. And we have a lot of of young women who are running around with headscarves. We have burqas and so on. So in certain areas of Germany, the picture of the cities is changing dramatically.

MARTIN: What do you say to critics of your party who point to your stance on immigration and say this is a party that is anti-immigration? Sure. But it's even more than that. There is a racist tendency in the messaging.

PAZDERSKI: No. We are not anti-immigration, as long as it serves our country. We made always very clear, said we certainly want to support refugees. But what we are currently experiencing is that we have a lot of migrants who are coming to Germany who want to have a better life. But they have no real reason to come to Germany.

MARTIN: A lot of the story that we tell ourselves - right? - the American narrative is of this place that is a country born from immigrant creativity, from immigrant labor.


MARTIN: Yes, the United States is built around this idea. Do you think that Germany would be stronger as a more multicultural, pluralistic country? Or does that also create weaknesses?

PAZDERSKI: You have a big difference between the U.S. and Germany. Those immigrants who are coming to Germany - they don't say, we are Germans. But people who are coming to the U.S. - yeah, after a very short while, these people feel as Americans. They say, I'm American. I'm U.S., yeah. And if you're playing the anthem, yeah, they're putting their hand on their heart. That's not the case in Germany. People are coming to Germany. And then they are building parallel societies.

And I think if you're also looking to the founding ethos of the U.S., then you can also see in the very beginning it was mostly Europeans who went to the U.S., which means people who were educated. And they had, I think, better chances to become successful because of their background and because it was cultural homogeneity. I have a lot of...

MARTIN: So you think there was stability in cultural homogeneity.

PAZDERSKI: One - certainly, one is - but on the other hand, also, if you're looking to the background - if you're having these Asian people in the U.S. - my Asian friends - they are spending their whole money for the education of their children. The Arab culture - they are not spending money for their children, for the education. They're coming here, and they have a lot of problems with Arab and Turkish pupils in the school. They are not successful in school. They don't learn German in the right way so that they can later be successful in professional life. This is a huge problem. There is no real integration in Germany.

MARTIN: What does it mean to be a German in 2017?

PAZDERSKI: I think you have, certainly, a lot of things which are - if you want to say a typical German, I can say it's punctuality or something, yeah. It's typically - yeah, it's typically German. It's inventiveness - is typical German. Diligence - yeah, typical German.

GREENE: But you think all of that is counter to Islam.

PAZDERSKI: I would say yeah because Islam - I think Islam is very much hampering the development of the Arab countries.

MARTIN: So that was the chair of the AfD party for the city of Berlin. His name is Georg Pazderski. And at this point, the polls show his party is expected to become the third-most influential party in Germany. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is our Berlin correspondent. And she is here in our studios with us this morning. Soraya, we just heard Pazderski describe, characterize his party. But what have you learned from your reporting about this party's roots and who's attracted to it?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, it started out as a euroskeptic party and has increasingly gone to the right as the years have gone on. And you have a lot of members that you don't hear from who maybe aren't appearing as the face of of AfD who make a lot of anti-Semitic statements. I mean, one person that comes to mind is Bjoern Hoecke, who is the head of the Thuringia AfD chapter. And he talked about, for example, the Holocaust memorial - that this was a memorial of shame. And that Germans need to go 180 degrees in the different direction in order - when it comes to their war guilt, if you will, or whatever the case might be.

And so there's a lot to this party that that they don't - I mean they're trying to get into the Parliament. They probably will get into the Parliament. They're playing on people's fears and concerns about the unknown, about these immigrants who've come in. But I think he's also not being very honest when he says that immigration - that they're not against immigration because I think you've seen the posters, as well, that they've put up of a pregnant - what appears to be a German woman laying on the ground saying, new No, we'll make them ourselves. I mean, that's not exactly a pro-immigration message.

MARTIN: Yeah. And it's interesting that you note that it was - it did start as this party that was just skeptical of the euro. It was supposed to be all about economics. And that has changed over the years. One other thing we want to get to, Soraya - yesterday, the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, brought up the German elections. He said Facebook is working with German authorities to ensure that this particular vote this weekend is not at risk of foreign meddling. How big a concern has this been in this campaign, in this election?

NELSON: It's been a very big concern, although not much has materialized. Nevertheless, the Federal Office for Information Security has worked with candidates and with - to make sure - and with parties to make sure that their IT is tightened. They've also worked with Facebook and Twitter to make sure that accounts are verified. And they will be asking - or I should say officials are asking that vote counters - be sure to call in by phone and also, you know, do a fax rather than just relying on hardware, in case that gets hacked.

MARTIN: So no widespread concerns at this point. But they're definitely taking precautions. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson here with us in our studios in Berlin, where we're covering the lead-up to the elections here.


Rachel Martin
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.