During campaigning for the national election last year, Gauland regularly delivered speeches thundering against the government’s refugee policies.
Speaking to AfD supporters in northeast of the country in August, the 77-year-old claimed that Germany’s asylum laws had become “a right to immigration for the poor of the world”.
“A creeping land grab” was going on, he warned, adding that “gradually you folks won’t have any space here anymore.”
The tough-talking approach to electioneering seemed to work. The AfD won 12.6 percent of the vote, becoming the third largest party in the country. By the end of the year AfD members chose Gauland as their new co-leader after he successfully led their election campaign.
Since March, he has been the official leader of the opposition in the Bundestag (German parliament) after the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats entered a grand coalition.
But Gauland wasn’t always such a hardliner on asylum laws.
In 1993 he signed a letter which was published in the Frankfurter Rundschau calling for an asylum policy which was based on a “voluntary societal commitment to generosity.”
The early 1990s was the last time that Germany took in large numbers of refugees, as several hundreds thousand people sought shelter from war in the Balkans in the newly reunited Bundesrepublik. As has been the case since the mass arrivals of 2015, the 1990s also saw a violent right-wing backlash against refugees.
In 1993 Gauland, who was then CEO of newspaper the Märkische Zeitung, decried stricter asylum policies “being passed under pressure from [far-right] terror attacks.”
The letter, signed by dozens of political and cultural figures in from Frankfurt, also called for Germany to reform its citizenship laws “to account for the fact that we live in a multicultural society which is tolerant and which has left its ethnic basis for identity in the past.”
The FR, which rediscovered the open letter at the beginning of April, speculated that Gauland would put his earlier opinion down to “the frivolities of youth” – he was after all 52 at the time.
Gauland himself has not taken a public stance on the letter.