Even red-green politicians are full of praise for Hannes Loth, Germany’s first full-time mayor of the AfD in Saxony-Anhalt. But concerns about radicalization will grow if the AfD becomes the strongest force in the local elections on June 9th. A site visit.

For a long time, the small town of Raguhn-Jeßnitz, located halfway between Dessau and Bitterfeld, with its almost 9,000 inhabitants was probably only known to a few people outside the region. Until June 2, 2023, when Hannes Loth became the first AfD politician in Germany to be elected full-time mayor.

A year has passed since then, almost nine months since he took office. Observers had expected that sooner rather than later there would be a scandal between the democratic parties and the AfD, which is classified by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Saxony-Anhalt as a “certain right-wing extremist”.

Nevertheless, everything has remained calm so far. Despite reservations about the party, many seem to be one thing above all: satisfied with the work of the 42-year-old farmer. But what do people from Raguhn-Jeßnitz say to each other at the classic non-partisan get-together, of which there is only one left?

It takes a while for the “Green Room” in the Landgasthof Lingenau to fill up. Maybe because the weather is just too good on this May day, maybe “because not everyone wants to come when the press is there,” speculates a regular carpenter. But in the end, almost a dozen locals come together. They tentatively reach for chocolate and cheese tarts, coffee or beer.

Although there don’t seem to be any die-hard AfD voters at the regulars’ table, you hear one thing above all about Hannes Loth here: good things. There is little sign of concern or fear that the mood could change if the AfD wins the majority in the local elections on June 9th. “The AfD is not my thing. “As a homeowner and driver, the Greens scare me,” says Tobias Müller, 63, self-employed. Whereupon a lady at the other end of the table enthusiastically cheers “Yes, exactly!” and claps briefly.

Ulf Lüdeke is a reporter at FOCUS online. Born in the West, he went to the East for eleven years immediately after reunification in order to write about reunification as a journalist at the scene. There, in particular, a striking number of people sympathize with the AfD. Three regional associations were classified as “certainly right-wing extremist”. Nevertheless, there is a real chance that the “Blues” will win not only their first, but several of the three upcoming state elections. Now Lüdeke returns. “I’ve had enough, I’m going to the East,” he decided. And visits communities all over the country to report on people’s concerns and hopes.

Anyone who visits Germany’s first full-time AfD mayor in the office of the town hall in his home town of Raguhn will meet a busy-looking 42-year-old. He sits at a tidy desk at the computer in gray trousers and a short-sleeved white shirt. In his simple, small room, he modestly rejects the praise that his citizens and local politicians give him. “It’s all relative,” he says and smiles indecisively.

Loth is considered a pragmatist among the Raguhn-Jeßnitzers. Which is what local politicians are known for. At the local level, it is usually not parties that are elected, but rather people who citizens have known, sometimes for decades. It’s not about abstract political ideologies, but about tangible things like street and school renovations, cemetery walls and daycare places. Loth works quickly, thoroughly and with foresight, according to city councilors from the CDU, the Left and local voter communities.

So far, the only discord has been the media’s claim that Loth promised free daycare places during the election campaign and even increased the fees in the end. It’s true: he advertised for free places on his homepage as a member of the state parliament, which can still be read there, while this is missing on the page for his candidacy for mayor. As mayor, Loth then had to agree to an increase because otherwise the consolidation budget for the current year would not have been approved by the supervisory authority. However, his voters apparently had no problems with the contradiction.

However, when you ask the pragmatist Loth about the “remigration plans” at the scandalous meeting surrounding the right-wing extremist thinker Martin Sellner in Potsdam in November, Loth becomes angry. For him, deportation is when SPD Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) “wants to deport clan members with a German passport.” He probably meant the proposal to deport criminal clan members before they are convicted.

Loth’s party colleague Ulrich Siegmund was at the Potsdam scandal meeting last November. Until his election as mayor, Loth was an AfD member of the Magdeburg state parliament. Siegmund, still AfD parliamentary group leader there, was voted out as chairman of the social committee after his participation became known.

While hundreds of thousands across Germany took to the streets to protest against right-wing extremism after the “Correctiv” revelation about the secret meeting, Loth claims to have found nothing right-wing extremist about it. A little later, when asked whether the AfD had a problem with right-wing extremism, he replied: “I have no idea.”

Henry Gräfe is someone who is familiar with paint damage, regardless of whether it is blue, black, red or green. The owner of a car and paint shop with 30 employees in Jeßnitz sees the matter of the Potsdam scandal meeting in a similar way to Germany’s first full-time AfD mayor. “I have nothing against politicians meeting there,” says the 58-year-old.

“In addition,” he remembers, “there were even CDU people there.” What’s true: For example, Ulrich Vosgerau from North Rhine-Westphalia, who, as one of several lawyers for Björn Höcke, just failed in a court in Halle to have Thuringia’s right-wing extremist AfD leader acquitted of using a Nazi slogan.

From Gräfe’s point of view, the Potsdam case was “dramatically embellished and hyped up”. He also doubts “whether it is legal for the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution to keep an eye on the AfD”. Although this is exactly the task of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution when a regional association like that of the AfD in Saxony-Anhalt has been classified as “certainly right-wing extremist”.

Statements that fit perfectly with an AfD politician.

Only Gräfe is not in the AfD, but in the CDU, for which he sits as parliamentary group deputy on the city council.

The painting expert has warm words for Hannes Loth. “He does a great job, I always tell him: ‘Hannes, you’re in the wrong party.'” Since he’s been in office, city council meetings have been completed in a maximum of two hours; previously it was four. The city administration’s proposals that Loth put to the vote were almost all passed immediately. In addition, shortly after he took office, he invited all the clubs to come and hear what the problem was. “This has never happened in the 25 years that I have been in local politics,” enthuses the CDU parliamentary group vice-president, who is also chairman of “SG Jeßnitz”, the city’s largest sports club.

The 58-year-old is certainly worried that the CDU, which was the strongest party in the city council in the 2019 local elections with 22.7 percent, could fall behind the AfD on June 9th, which came in second with 20.1 percent . However, the workshop boss in the boiler suit does not fear radicalization if this were to occur.

On the contrary. “I don’t believe in the CDU’s incompatibility decision regarding cooperation with the AfD. The firewall doesn’t apply to me.” If the CDU and AfD received the most votes, then this was “the will of the voters, then these parties have the task of governing.”

Gudrun Dietsch is someone who is feeling uneasy about the approaching local elections. The ex-SPD politician also grudgingly admits to the AfD mayor that he is doing a good job. “When you need him, he’s there. Hannes takes better care of the city’s needs than his predecessors,” says the 71-year-old, who sits in a parliamentary group with the Left for a “Free Voters’ Community”.

But she fears that new AfD representatives on the council could introduce a “far more radical tone” into city politics. “We were lucky with Hannes, it could have been worse for us.”

Uwe Fromme from the Left also sees it that way. The pensioner, who places herself politically “between the SPD and the Greens,” finds it “unbearable” that more and more citizens are riding a new wave of Ostalgie. “I then say to people: ‘Man, you have your own nice house, a car, a pension, you’re doing well and the place looks nice, while I myself know corners in Saarland or Rhineland-Palatinate where it looks like it did back in the GDR. But no: “Everything used to be better,” is what I have to listen to.”

If the SPD got two seats in the city council in 2019, the party no longer exists in the council because one switched to the CDU and another to the “Pro8” voter group. You will also look in vain for the Greens and FDP on the council. For Dietsch, after more than two decades of local politics, it’s over. “I’m no longer running for office and I’m leaving my mandate to younger people.”

After two hours of get-togethers, the mood in the Landgasthof Lingenau is as good as ever. “I have a strange feeling about the prospect that the AfD could win the local elections,” admits pensioner Manfred Saalmann, who came by with his wife Christa. “But as long as the city council continues to focus on factual and not party politics, that would be okay,” said the 72-year-old.

Like regular table founder Ralf Hänsch, Jürgen Polese, local mayor of Tornau vor der Heide, also says that things in Raguhn-Jeßnitz were going better with the AfD mayor than before. Both are active in citizen lists, Hänsch is running as an individual candidate in the local elections for the city council. “Of course, a radicalization of the AfD in Raguhn-Jeßnitz would be a catastrophe. But I don’t think that will play a role in our local politics,” says Polese confidently.

The stately local mayor has barely finished his comment when a small, 75-year-old lady with snow-white hair contradicts him quietly but firmly. “It scares me if the AfD gets even stronger. I don’t like the tone with which politicians speak. And I also vehemently defend myself in my circle of friends when, for example, I am sent videos with right-wing extremist content,” says Isolde Nebelung.

Before she leaves the group, she tells the reporter a sentence about why the upcoming elections worry her and why resistance to the AfD is important. “It all started harmlessly with Hitler. Then came the enabling law. And then everything was too late.”