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Protests in Germany: Were They Impactful?
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Gabriel Côté

Feb 03, 2024

The protests against the far-right in Germany have ignited the debate regarding the protection of German democracy. Is banning a party as popular as the AfD democratic or anti-democratic? In any case, the debate is far from over...

The rise of the far-right became even more ostensible over the last few weeks when hundreds of thousands of Germans protested the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). Protests broke out following a meeting of multiple right extremists, including members of the AfD. The meeting was leaked by Correctiv’s report and was about a potential massive deportation of “asylum seekers, non-Germans with residency rights and ‘non-assimilated’ German citizens.” The AfD is considered a far-right party and its controversial anti-immigration policies helped them become popular. The events sparked widespread coverage among Western nations, which many are facing the rise of the right and far-right.

Significant Involvement

Many far-right supporters minimized the number of protesters and argued the number of protesters has been exaggerated only to value their cause. Even if that was the case, there were at least hundreds of thousands of protesters. The protests in Munich even surprised the authorities who were obligated to end them earlier than anticipated because they did not expect more than 100,000 protesters. The protests were supported by enough groups of people in Germany to prove the protests needed to happen. Protests happened across the country, even in rural municipalities like Eitorf. They even occurred in Eastern Germany, where the AfD is leading in three of the five Länders (equivalent to American states). 

Politicians also supported the protests, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz. A week after protesting in the streets, he demanded all Germans “to take a stand – for cohesion, for tolerance, for our democratic Germany.” The leader of the opposition, Friederich Merz, stated that he found it “very encouraging that thousands of people are demonstrating peacefully against rightwing extremism.”

In other words, protesters were maybe not millions in the streets, but they were heavily supported across the country and by the government, which impacted the public’s perception of the AfD.

Significant Results

The surveys following the events show the party still comfortably in second place. However, the protests still politically hit the party from three different angles.

The first hit concerns the rumor regarding the banning of the AfD. The state-subsidized funding for the AfD may be revoked because of its undemocratic aura. Its frequent understatements regarding Germany’s Nazi past are a cause for concern and its proposed immigration policies are discriminatory, almost undemocratic, sowing division among Germans. Protesters and their slogans comparing the AfD to the Nazis may influence the government’s decision on whether or not to revoke its state funding, which would hurt the party’s future political campaign.

The second punch is the AfD’s downturn in the surveys. Following the protests, the AfD’s saw a decline in support, signaling a diminishing in momentum since the last elections in 2021. The party lost approximately two percent of the votes, which is considerable in a multi-party system like Germany’s.

The final punch is that the AfD finds itself even more isolated than before the protests. Germany's government is led by a coalition of parties and few of these parties were interested in forming a coalition with the AfD even before the protests. Sentiments are unlikely to have improved following recent events, which means the party would face major difficulties even if it wins more seats in the legislative chamber (Bundestag) than the other parties. The AfD currently holds 21% of the vote, which is not enough to control the Bundestag alone.

"Anti-democratic cause," Really?

Many opposed the protests and stated protesters were supporting an anti-democratic cause trying to suppress a political party and encouraging the political elite to select which party should the electors vote for.

Even so, the connections between the AfD and the Nazi ideology are concerning. Many of the party’s anti-immigration policies may be legitimate because most conservative citizens are concerned about the consequences of Merkel’s immigration policies. However, the AfD adopted many discriminatory anti-Islam policies in 2016, such as banning the Muslim call to prayer. Also, many leaders of the party declared the Nazi era was "just a speck of bird's muck” in the glorious history of Germany.

The decision to ban the AfD may look undemocratic, but the resemblance between the AfD and the Nazi party, which was undemocratic, is concerning and needs to be considered before stating its potential ban is wrong. 

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the individual author.

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