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“We will not let the party be destroyed from above”

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It is an unusual step that four high-ranking officials of the AfD addressed to the capital’s journalists late Monday evening: in a specially arranged press conference on the losses in the state elections in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia, they sharply criticized the party leadership around the Federal chairman and faction leader in the Bundestag Tino Chrupalla.

What many politicians otherwise only tell the journalists “under three”, i.e. not citable as background information, the AfD politicians openly say that evening. “Tino Chrupalla and his team failed,” says Joana Cotar, member of the Bundestag and member of the federal executive board. “Tino can’t lead, can’t take responsibility and doesn’t take criticism. He doesn’t have the appropriate demeanor and doesn’t resonate with the voters.”

In the morning, Cotar and several of his fellow campaigners made a sharp statement to the press – just in time for Chrupalla’s appearance at the federal press conference, to which, as is customary after election evenings, the party leaders were invited one after the other. Confronted with the criticism, Chrupalla called for stricter disciplining of the board: its members should line up with the position decided by the majority and “keep another opinion to themselves”.

In addition, the top politician caused laughter among the journalists present with a bizarre comparison. It was like camping in the old days – those who always complained that it was wet in the tent were the ones “who also peed in the tent”.

The digital politician Cotar “almost lost faith” with this statement, she said on Monday evening. “We are not on the construction site, we are a party in the German Bundestag.” Her parliamentary colleague Jürgen Braun then referred to this statement. Anyone who wants to prevent discussions about the fact that the federal spokesman is “unintentionally changing our proven program” – Braun referred to Chrupalla’s description of the special fund for the Bundeswehr in the amount of 100 billion euros as “really crazy” – go to a “very simple tent camp level”.

“Someone is overwhelmed here and immediately comes up with tasteless comparisons at the slightest criticism.” Chrupalla is trying to “introduce a kind of cadaver obedience” in the lively AfD with self-confident members, which has moved into the CDU under Angela Merkel. “We won’t let the party be destroyed from above, we’ll get our alternative for Germany back,” Braun continued.

Braun, AfD district chairman in Rems-Murr, Baden-Württemberg, also sharply attacked the co-head of the parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Alice Weidel. Weidel does not live in part in Germany and therefore has “low credibility,” he said. In Baden-Württemberg she is not perceived as a Baden-Württemberger. “In terms of orientation, it now stands for no content. It is perfectly clear that she too must take responsibility.”

The quoted statement by Chrupalla on the special fund was made in the special session of the Bundestag a few days after Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Since then, Chrupalla has had to put up with clear criticism from parts of the party and parliamentary group for his position on the war.

At the time, Chrupalla defended himself by saying that he only wanted to criticize the construct of the special fund with his formulation. Large parts of the AfD, on the other hand, support his demands for a stop to arms deliveries to Ukraine and sanctions against Russia. A corresponding position paper was approved within the parliamentary group with around 90 percent yes votes.

Federal executive board member Cotar, who initially wanted to run together with Chrupalla as a top candidate in the federal elections in 2021 and then lost to Chrupalla and Alice Weidel in a party-internal decision in a team with the member of the Bundestag Joachim Wundrak, said that one naturally opposed arms deliveries “out of fear or concerns”. could be. “But you don’t have to be automatically perceived as Putin’s fifth column.”

The fact that Chrupalla had nothing better to do after Putin’s attack than to thank Russia was the start of the AfD being perceived as a “Putin party”. Chrupalla said in the speech at the special session on February 27 that to this day he thanks Russia for the contribution to German unity.

Cotar’s clear demand: The AfD must “get away from the angry citizens’ party, which does not offend even those who really spread the crudest conspiracy theories” and towards a “sympathetic appearance”.

For the AfD, however, such conspiracy supporters have long been in parliament. The former party leader Jörg Meuthen, who himself had long made an alliance with the now officially dissolved wing classified by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution as a right-wing extremist movement and later distanced himself from this trend relevant to the party, was unable to prevent further radicalization of the party.

The criticism leveled by Alexander Wolf, Hamburg’s deputy head of state and also a member of the federal executive board, comes very late. “We are deeply concerned about the AfD project,” he said. The “market economy, conservative and liberal core” of the party must be articulated more clearly.

With the public declaration of war on the current course, Wolf and his fellow campaigners want to show their allies within the party that they are not alone – in order to prevent them from possible exits. Since the beginning of the war, numerous members have left many state associations who did not want to support the position of many leading officials on Russia’s attack.

According to their own statements, they have many supporters behind their criticism. “It’s not about troublemaking,” says Frank-Christian Hansel from the Berlin House of Representatives. “We represent at least a third of the party.”

In fact, the four Chrupalla critics have gathered a network around them, and work has been going on in the background for weeks. According to WELT information, “compromise candidates” have already reported for the upcoming federal executive elections in June, who have gotten wind of the network activities and would rather run for the party leadership on their ticket than on a Chrupalla list. Nobody wants to name names yet. Allegedly, however, candidates are available for every seat on the federal executive board.

“People are getting together to save the party,” says an AfD member who is familiar with the activities and does not want to be named. Other officials, who also do not belong to Chrupalla’s camp, do not believe in the public criticism in such a sensitive situation for the party. There is talk of “dirtying your nest” or of torpedoing your chances of re-election. The critics’ answer: They are concerned with the future of the party, not with their own role.

Speculations about candidates for the federal executive board have recently become even more explosive, as right-wing extremist Björn Höcke is again flirting with a possible candidacy. Many who are moderate by AfD standards position themselves clearly: “He has no place in our demand for a nationwide convincing leader,” says Berlin MP Hansel.

Bundestag member Braun does not believe that Höcke will actually run or be elected. Should the Thuringian do that anyway and even be elected, he considers this a “signal for many people in western Germany that the AfD no longer has a future in this form”. “There’s someone wrong in the party: it’s him or me.”