Marco Wanderwitz already knows how to start, the conversations with people who really want to give him their opinion. “Actually, I didn’t want to talk to you” – the CDU MP often hears this phrase during the election campaign. Usually it explodes, also on Friday morning at the weekly market in Hohenstein-Ernstthal. It smells like grilled chicken. An elderly woman reluctantly addresses Wanderwitz: 45 years of work, 1000 euros in pension. Whether that’s enough from his point of view. “That corresponds to…”, Wanderwitz begins, but is interrupted: “… your salary, or what?” “You’re a bit aggressive,” he replies. “If I see you, yes.” Wanderwitz looks at the light blue bag in the woman’s hand, full of AfD flyers. “You are in good hands with them.” When later asked at the booth why he wasn’t trying to convince people, Wanderwitz said, “I’m tired of people voting for a far-right party.”
The 163 electoral district extends from the deepest Ore Mountains to the edges of the Leipzig area. In 2002 Marco Wanderwitz took on the direct mandate here for the first time. In fact, Wanderwitz won by a clear margin in 2017, while other constituencies turned blue. Hopes that internal party infighting and increasing radicalization would reduce the AfD’s approval rating have not been fulfilled. Instead, the party threatens to become the strongest force again in some East German states. The CDU’s efforts to push back the AfD couldn’t be more different in this federal election campaign: In Thuringia, the former head of the protection of the Constitution, Hans-Georg Maaßen, seduces AfD voters with radical views – in Saxony, Marco Wanderwitz, the federal government’s commissioner for Eastern Europe, assumes radical demarcation.
Friends wanted to leave Saxony
It’s not like Wanderwitz wasn’t trying to talk. In 2016, for example, he accepted the invitation of the anti-asylum initiative “Heimattreue Niederdorf”. During their meeting, Wanderwitz tried to explain the federal government’s position and was a hard worker on asylum issues. The organizer stood next to him, a cap in the colors of the Imperial flag on his head. People listened to Wanderwitz. At the end there was a small applause, but also cheers.
The demonstrations against the reception of refugees in the Ore Mountains, the riots in front of asylum seekers centers in Freital and Heidenau – Wanderwitz had a major influence on this. Friends talked about leaving Saxony. Wanderwitz says he never thought about it himself. “But I felt like I had to position myself if this was to remain my home,” he says.
When Björn Höcke described the Holocaust memorial as a “monument of shame” during a performance in Dresden, Wanderwitz tweeted: ‘That’s a Nazi. And he’s not the only one there.’ After the Nazi marches in Chemnitz in 2018, he stated that his party had “for years not looked closely at right-wing extremism and misunderstood it”. When Wanderwitz replaced Christian Hirte as representative of the East in the spring of 2020, it was a clear statement in the CDU’s dispute over the direction of the AfD.
A commissioner for the East has no budget and does not sit at the cabinet table – he has little influence on political decisions, but he does have a lot of influence on debates. Wanderwitz is an avid tweeter, rarely turning down interview requests. In May, shortly before the state elections in Saxony-Anhalt, he would explain the high ratings for the AfD in the east in a podcast. Sections of the population have “non-democratic views,” Wanderwitz said. Speaking to AfD voters, he spoke of people “who have been partially socialized by dictatorship in such a way that they have not reached democracy even after thirty years”. Only a small proportion of AfD voters are “possible to find”. In some East German CDU associations they accused Wanderwitz of voter abuse, NSThe Chancellor distanced himself from his statements. Michael Kretschmer promised: “Especially for me, it’s always been that we talk to everyone.” Wanderwitz says he has a lower pain threshold than the Prime Minister of Saxony.
The AfD raises the vote against the “Ostverschafungsbeauftragter”
This can also be felt in Hohenstein-Ernstthal. Wanderwitz treats those who feel they are meant to be almost harsh. “We were not raised in the GDR by radical right-wing extremists,” says an older gentleman. “I didn’t even say that,” Wanderwitz replies. A teacher comes to his aid. “But we grew up under a dictatorship – and I see in myself that sometimes I have a lot less doubt.”
A woman with a shopping basket stops in front of Wanderwitz. “I was fine in the GDR,” she says. Someone in painter’s clothes shouts that he is the “most unpopular man” in the whole city. A retired doctor explains: “I have chosen you to represent the interests of the region – not to say that we are no longer useful to democracy.” These are phrases that should not leave a politician indifferent. But Wanderwitz only says, “You don’t have to choose me.” It should sound relaxed – but his hands are holding one of the barbecue tongs he is giving as a gift.
He is also the top candidate for the CDU in Saxony. In 2019, the party won the state elections with an anti-AfD campaign and is currently using the slogan “Makers instead of splitters” to gain support. Outwardly, it seems that the majority is behind Wanderwitz. In fact, his sympathizers now also believe that Wanderwitz has supplied the AfD with unnecessary ammunition for the election campaign. The party has been bringing the mood against the “Ostverbufungsbeauftragter” for weeks. The party’s top candidate, Tino Chrupalla, warned at an election campaign event: “Whoever votes for the CDU in Saxony is voting for Wanderwitz! Think about it!”
Wanderwitz has become the enemy of far-right and conspiracy theorist groups. In Telegram chats, calls are made to disrupt his events. In mid-September, he and Kretschmer visited a museum in Oelsnitz to exchange views with cultural workers and local politicians. When the two politicians arrived in their car, about a hundred people were standing there with whistles. The police stationed themselves in front of the entrances. In Zwönitz, the CDU politician could not even set up his information booth.
Wanderwitz, who has a penchant for dramatic metaphors, speaks of a ‘battle of attrition’ between right-wing extremists and democrats that will drag on for years to come. Wanderwitz would like to win him, even if he would lose on September 26.