Peace Magazine: Opposition to the Extreme Right in Germany

Peace Magazine

Opposition to the Extreme Right in Germany

• published May 18, 2024 • last edit May 30, 2024

The rise of the political right and far-right movements can be observed in Western countries. This is also the case in Germany.

On the one hand, this is due to the dissatisfaction of large sections of the population with government policy, with more and more people feeling socially left behind.

On the other hand, economic and political factors that can only be partially influenced by national policy also have an impact here. In particular, the complexity of many global problems – from the climate crisis to military escalations and the lack of transparency in the financial markets – strengthens the desire for simple solutions, which the far right appears to offer.

The percentage rise of the initially right-wing nationalist ‘Alternative for Germany’ (AfD) to become the strongest party – according to current surveys – in eastern German states, e.g. Thuringia or Saxony, therefore seemed unstoppable. The more right-wing and extremist the party became, the greater its electoral success.

Then a secret meeting in a Potsdam villa was leaked, revealing the leading party of group-focused misanthropy distinguishing between ‘bio-Germans’ and people with a migration background.

According to the Correctiv research center, the meeting was attended by right-wing nationalist politicians from the AfD, the ‘Werte-Union’ and two CDU politicians as well as right-wing extremist entrepreneurs and influencers. An undercover Correctiv employee took part and documented the proceedings.

The focus of the meeting, which included leading AfD members, was a so-called ‘master plan’ for the repatriation of millions of migrants (‘remigration’), including Germans of migrant origin, ‘non-assimilated persons’ and ‘uncomfortable’ people who oppose the deportation plans.

In particular, a speech by the radical right-wing activist and author, Martin Sellner, long-time spokesman of the ‘Identitarian Movement Austria,’ clearly crossed the red lines of right-wing populist discourse that, according to Correctiv, have been accepted far too often up to now. It reported: “Sellner…explains the concept as follows: there are three target groups of migrants who should leave Germany, ‘to reverse the settlement of foreigners.’ He lists asylum seekers, foreigners with the right to stay and ‘non-assimilated citizens’ – In his view the biggest ‘problem.’ In other words, Sellner divides people into those who should live in Germany unmolested and those for whom this basic right should not apply.“

Migrants should be deported, along with all those who would oppose this ‘remigration.’

Where to? One idea is to set up a ‘model state’ in North Africa. Sellner explains that up to two million people could live there. There would be “opportunities for training and sport. And anyone who supports refugees could also go there.”

This ‘master plan’ was received positively by the participants and further speeches referred to it in more detail.


After Correctiv’s research became known, there was a public outcry in Germany and the start of mass demonstrations against organized right-wing extremism – especially against the AfD.

Within three weeks, at the beginning of 2024, protests with several million participants took place, including in Berlin with 500 organizations and Hamburg with 180,000 participants. In Munich, 100,000 people demonstrated.

The Newspaper ‘TAZ’ the estimated that by February 8 three million protesters had turned out; the organizers claimed four million.

Memories came flooding back of the ’68 era and the fight for more democracy at that time. And for the first time since 1989, people took to the streets en masse and stood up for the fundamental values of the German constitution, which prohibit discriminatory distinctions between people.

The leading media greeted it as long-overdue symbolic evidence of how German democracy functions.

The AfD responded by showing fake photos of half-empty squares, even though there was often barely enough space for the crowds. The AfD also maintained that the Potsdam conference was a “private meeting.”. Nevertheless, the personal advisor to AfD leader Alice Weidel, who had attended the conference, immediately lost his job.

Robert Pausch concluded on Feb. 8 in the newspaper Die Zeit that, “for a party that claims to represent the silent majority, it is…a strategic problem to be taken seriously when a vocal majority stands up against it and also sets the record straight in purely numerical terms: 25,000 participants demonstrated at the height of the right-wing mobilization in the Pegida year of 2015, between one and 1.5 million people did so last weekend alone…”

Members of the Bundestag – especially parts of the opposition in the Bundestag – also repeatedly took part in the demonstrations against right-wing extremism. They may have been motivated to eliminate unwelcome party competition and curry favor with the demonstrators. Indeed, their decisions have been criticized as the cause of the AfD’s electoral success: If the responsible politicians had implemented policies that were in the interests of the citizens, the rise of the AfD would have been impossible.

According to journalist Philipp Fess in the online-newspaper Telepolis:
“The almost total taboo on the subject of migration has contributed to the fact that only the political fringe forces still dare to venture beyond the horizon of what is socially sanctioned. The right-wingers are single-handedly exploring the no-man’s land behind the thought bans, so to speak.“


The question now is whether the anti-AfD demonstrations are more than just identity politics by progressive milieus. It is possible that the demonstrations may shrink from week to week until only the small group of activists remain who otherwise demonstrate against the AfD.

David Begrich, an employee of the Magdeburg ‘Arbeitsstelle Rechtsextremismus’, sees the anti-AfD demonstrations as an important clarification and contrast to right-wing extremist politics — but on the other hand believes that a break in the AfD’s increasing success can only be achieved through longer-term activity.

“I don’t think we should be under the illusion that these demonstrations will break up the right-wing spaces of dominance,” he said. “This would require (them) to be transformed into a small-scale, long-term commitment on the local level.“

In any case, voters need to realize that the state elections in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg and the local elections in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in 2024 are all about the big issues. The question is: “Will the AfD succeed in setting off something like an initial impulse for an authoritarian right-wing social order in eastern Germany?“

The far right sees eastern Germany as a testing ground for its socio-political concepts and it must now be clear, especially to those who are undecided, that “everything is at stake.“

In the same interview, Heike Kleffner of the Association of Counseling Centers for Victims of Right-Wing, Racist and Anti-Semitic Violence makes it clear that it will take even more courage in eastern Germany than in western Germany to protest against the dominance of the far right in many places.

Nevertheless, the demonstrations against the AfD have broken the ‘right-wing extremist dominance in public space’ for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic. In places such as Zwickau and Stralsund, thousands of demonstrators have shown that it is not the extreme right that represents the majority and that there are also democratic counter-movements. This is also very important for the undecided, who have not yet dared to express their opinion against right-wing extremist dominance in everyday life.

In this sense, the current demonstrations may well be a strengthening of democracy through grassroots democratic activities. The weakness of parliamentary democracy, which allows almost no forms of co-determination and action at federal level in the sense of direct democracy, is countered by the mass gatherings and rallies against the extreme right that are currently taking place. And this is not primarily about criticizing individual politicians or ruling parties.

However, the question is how long the AfD opposition will strengthen the fragile solidarity in the center of society. When will the loss of solidarity in times of social tension and divisive resource struggles take hold again?

The assessment of a future fading anti-AfD movement is countered by the fact that state and local elections are due in 2024 and, of course, the next federal election in late summer or fall 2025, which is already in the public eye. Here, the issue of right-wing radicalism and the AfD will continue to be in the public focus.

If the AfD succeeds in gaining a government foothold in the federal states or even at federal level, this will have serious implications for justice and the quality of life in Germany. Critics who describe the current parliamentary system as a ‘façade democracy’ will long for the republic before the AfD’s possible triumph.


The question now is whether the numerous parallels and comparisons drawn between today and the beginning of the Nazi era before 1933 are actually true, or are an inadmissible exaggeration. The author Niklas Lelle rightly doubts that the situation is identical.

“Nevertheless, we are not currently ‘shortly before 1933,’ the year of the transfer of power, the ban on trade unions, the book burnings, the founding of the Dachau concentration camp and the introduction of the ‘Aryan certificate,’ he says. “From 1933, Jews could no longer work as civil servants or public employees. Within a few weeks, the opposition was eliminated, minorities were harassed and the German people were sworn to the National Socialist project. We are not at that point in 2024. And yet that is no reason to give the all-clear.“

However, this needs to be clarified and looked at more closely in future: Can the politics of the AfD be equated with the politics of fascism and its extreme forms of German National Socialism or is a more differentiated analysis necessary? Is the AfD a fascist party or a national-chauvinist bourgeois party with individual right-wing extremist members?

The answer to these questions will then also determine the extent to which the AfD and its youth organization ‘Junge Alternative’ should be allowed to continue to operate without restriction or whether individual members judged to be fascist should have their eligibility for election revoked.

After all, the historical experience of Weimar Germany led to the concept of ‘defending democracy’ being very deliberately enshrined in Germany’s Constitution to protect democracy against its declared enemies. However, it must be borne in mind that a ban on the AfD by the Federal Constitutional Court would be the most powerful instrument available to the German state. Restrictive instruments should therefore also be used step by step, which are below the level of a party ban, but which could also be suspended again if the AfD is shown to be moving in a different direction.


The strengthening of the extreme right is not just a German phenomenon, but can currently be observed throughout Europe. The following considerations therefore also apply, at least in part, to other European countries.

Political response to the rise of the far right relate in particular to ‘good policy’ on the part of the responsible governments, but also to a permanent commitment from below.

First. the public and educational institutions need to address the rather simple demands of the AfD in a multi-faceted and fact-based manner, so that it becomes clear that the its demands cannot solve the existing problems, which require much more complex solutions.

For example, the renaissance of fossil fuels called for by the AfD is in contradiction to the political need for action in an increasingly urgent climate crisis; the demand for the reactivation of nuclear power plants ignores the permanent danger of accidents, the extreme costs and the lack of disposal options. The demand for the reduction of social benefits reinforces social divisions and is at the expense of the disadvantaged, etc.


In response to right-wing extremist murders, the planned rebellion by the right-wing extremist ‘Reichsbürger’ and after the leaked talks in the Potsdam Villa on the remigration of millions of Germans, Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser proposed the following measures:

• An early detection unit that can take timely action against fake accounts and AI-controlled misinformation.
• Tightening of gun laws for right-wing extremists.
• Uncovering and drying up of financial sources of right-wing extremist organizations by the Office for the p<>. Protection of the Constitution, which should also be strengthened in this area.
• An amendment to the Constitution to protect the Federal Constitutional Court against enemies of democracy.
• Preventing right-wing extremists from entering and leaving the country.
• A stricter disciplinary law for the civil service to make it easier to remove right-wing extremists from the service.

The concept of ‘resilient democracy’ appears to be taken seriously here. The question is how far a democracy is allowed to go so that it does not endanger itself in its defense against enemies of the constitution.

The extremist ban (‘Berufsbane’) practiced in Germany for a long time, and once mainly directed against the left, was banned by the European Court of Justice as undemocratic and unlawful. It had to be withdrawn by the German government.

The danger of the expansion of surveillance and spying by state authorities also involves the risk of creeping de-democratization. This means that the balance between measures for a defensive democracy and the need to avoid damaging democratic structures must be carefully balanced.

Demonstrations against the rise of radical right-wing parties and groups also provide grassroots democratic supporters opportunity to express themselves symbolically and strengthen the sense of belonging in the still democratically-minded social mainstream.

They also exert pressure on governing politicians at all levels to continue to reject coalitions and organized cooperation with the AfD, which should not be underestimated. Nevertheless, demonstrations should also lead to systematic and long-term engagement on the ground everywhere and especially in places where radical right-wing groups still dominate the public sphere.

However, according to the Newspaper TAZ, it is particularly important for elected officials at all levels to pursue ‘good’ policies that do not contradict the needs and interests of the people.

“It is also the world situation determined by many crises that makes people vote for the AfD,” it points out. “The feeling of the weakness of the nation state, the climate crisis, the fear of the middle class of being left behind. All of this is leading to the rise of the right-wing populists, and not just in Germany, and it cannot simply be demonstrated away.“

This also means creating intelligent, practical and humane solutions to the migration problem. After all, the AfD’s recipe for success lies in the long taboos and neglect of this issue.

Above all, it is important to develop positive ideas for the future that are concrete and comprehensible and show how a multicultural society can be developed democratically and fairly and how people from different backgrounds can live together peacefully. That is the most solid foundation on which any democracy can stand.

Published in Peace Magazine Vol.40, No.2 Apr-Jun 2024
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