Germany: Backlash against the far right
Some 250,000 Germans protested the AfD in Berlin.
Germans are fed up with the hatemongers of the far right, said Karsten Polke-Majewski in Die Zeit. Three years ago, when the country took in more than a million “distraught, exhausted, and disoriented” migrants from the Middle East and Africa, thousands of Germans rolled up their sleeves to help. They “built cots, sorted clothes, and collected toys” for their new neighbors, and offered free German lessons. At the same time, other Germans recoiled in fear—fear of losing their culture, of rising crime, of terrorism, of overstretched public services. Those frightened Germans have been loud and organized, and they have made the once fringe, far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) into the third-largest party in the legislature, taking 13 percent of the vote in last year’s election. That’s significant, but it is far, far from a majority. And last week, the true majority—the helper Germans—took to the streets to make their own message heard. United under the banner #Unteilbar (#Indivisible), nearly 250,000 people packed the 3-mile span from Alexanderplatz through the Brandenburg Gate to the Victory Column in Berlin. They were leftists, centrists, pro-refugee groups, Muslim groups, Jewish groups, the young and the old, all demanding that Germany remain “an open and free society.”
Some of those marching, though, were as unsavory as the skinheads they despise, said Julian Röpcke in Bild. As well as concerned citizens, the demonstrators included “Islamists, leftist extremists, anti-Semites, and supporters of the secular Kurdish terrorist group PKK.” There were Turkish nationalists and promoters of the Muslim Brotherhood. No wonder some of Germany’s leading moderate Muslims declined to participate, saying you can’t fight Nazis by aligning yourselves with Islamofascists. To avoid such an “unpleasant aftertaste” at the next big protest, maybe organizers shouldn’t be so “indivisible,” but rather “divide themselves from extremists and Islamists.”
The big tent was exactly the point, said Ariane Bemmer in Der Tagesspiegel. The Indivisible march’s slogan, “For solidarity and against exclusion,” was meant to be broad enough to encompass disparate groups. AfD likes to claim that “only a small elite” supports the concept of an open society. This demonstration showed that actually it’s everyone but them. That’s because the AfD isn’t just against refugees, said Christian Jakob in Die Tageszeitung. They want teachers to be punished “for discussing discrimination in the classroom,” lawyers to be shamed for arguing for migrant clients’ right of residence, journalists to be silenced, same-sex marriage to be banned, and a litany of other authoritarian demands. To stop them, we need to work not just with like-minded allies but also with those we find problematic.
The division in Germany is stark, said Raphael Thelen in Der Spiegel. “On one side stand the authoritarians, on the other the advocates of freedom.” This week, supporters of democracy showed the world that we will not let Germany slip backward. ■