Germany: mass protests against the far right

Outrage over plans for mass expulsions from Germany has led to large-scale demonstrations against right-wing extremism across the country. A glance at the commentaries shows that Europe is keeping a close eye on events in Germany as they unfold.

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Die Presse (AT) /

Competition can't be demonstrated out of existence

The mass demonstrations are exaggerating the threat posed by the AfD, freelance journalist Rosemarie Schwaiger warns in a guest commentary in Die Presse:

“The far-right's seizure of power is a purely theoretical threat. So I'm not convinced that it's smart for everyone to already be training for a national closing of ranks at this point. Ultimately this makes the AfD look more powerful and dangerous than it ever will be when considered rationally. ... The fight against the AfD cannot be won with protests on the streets, emotional appeals from speakers' platforms, firewalls or even party bans, but only with better policies. Like in any market, democratic competition is about supply and demand. Unwelcome competition cannot simply be demonstrated out of existence.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Germany's greatest asset

Le Monde praises the protests:

“This sensible and strong reaction to the neo-Nazi excesses of an up-and-coming party must be welcomed. ... The historical burden and the radicalisation of the AfD undoubtedly explain the massive reaction of the Germans compared to their French neighbours, where people react more passively to a far right that relies on the strategy of coming across as normal and respectable. ... Like many other European countries, Germany is experiencing a difficult time politically and economically. Its leading role in the EU makes this even more visible - and at the same time worrying. The vitality of Germany's commitment to democracy, which it has now demonstrated, remains its greatest asset in dealing with the crisis.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Already worn down

De Volkskrant columnist Harriet Duurvoort says the mass demonstrations in Germany highlight the extent to which people in the Netherlands have become used to the far right and resigned themselves to the election victory of Wilders' PVV:

“We won't take to the streets, we have better things to do. We'll wait and see what compromises are made in the coalition talks. Hopefully the rule of law won't be too undermined. We'll see. ... In this country we've already been worn down. I was surprised to see how shocked Germans are by something that, quite frankly, doesn't upset me that much anymore. Publicly speculating about deportations, as the AfD did, bringing the Madagascar Plan out of the drawer - well, that's no big deal any more.”

Echo (RU) /

A wolf in sheep's clothing

Echo explains the character of the AfD as follows:

“We must not fall for the widespread misconception that the AfD is supported exclusively by fascists, neo-Nazis, xenophobes and other '-ists' and '-phobes'. ... Like every populist party, the AfD uses everything to its advantage. ... Of course you don't position yourself as fascists. On the contrary you say you support democracy, but you are the opposition - so those who don't like the current government are welcome to join you. ... Anti-fascist actions, especially on such a colossal scale, are important to raise the awareness of those people who vote for the AfD as an alternative but don't recognise the wolf in sheep's clothing.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Demonstrations as a feel-good factor

Demonstrating is no substitute for politics, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung stresses:

“The electoral success of radicals is undoubtedly a serious test for the various checks and balances - but they do exist and they do work. If you don't want to let it go that far, you have to seek a substantive debate and expose yourself and paint on the wall what we have to lose. However, the impression should not be given that rallies with the seal of approval of state and party leaders are a compelling act of resistance. Because that presupposes an unjust regime. Standing up before it's too late is obviously supposed to make up for the sitting down of previous generations. That's presumptuous. But it makes you feel good and full.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

Danger recognised but not banished

La Vanguardia views the polarisation in the country with concern:

“The Germans have taken to the streets to express their rejection of the AfD's racist and anti-constitutional ideas. ... The worrying thing is that many Germans don't seem at all fazed by the AfD's racism, by the fact that the party is being monitored as a potential threat to the constitutional order or by the reignited debate about potentially banning the party. ... 2024 could be the year in which the firewall against the far right finally collapses in Germany, whose citizens in these days seem to have detected the danger.”

Spotmedia (RO) /

Europe can send a strong message

Germany's anti far-right protests could inspire other European countries and send a signal that also makes an impact in Washington and Moscow, Spotmedia hopes:

“The protest symbolises a significant change in the EU's largest country in terms of its attitude towards extremist movements, which have gained momentum over the past two years in the face of social and economic instability triggered by inflation. It is possible that these demonstrations will inspire the citizens of other European countries and that this year's elections will turn into a referendum for freedom, which would be bad news for both Trump and Putin.”

Der Standard (AT) /

What really counts is how people vote

The mass demonstrations unfortunately only reflect the opinion of a certain section of the population, points out Der Standard:

“The AfD, with its plans to give Germany back to the Germans and deport millions of people with a migration background, is still there and still has its fans. In Thuringia, Saxony and Brandenburg, the three eastern German states where elections will be held in the autumn, it is topping the polls. ... It won't be possible to reach hardcore AfD fans, but hopefully it will be possible to get through to those who are flirting with the party out of frustration with the traffic light governing coalition. That is worth every effort and every demonstration. The main thing, of course, is to ensure that all those who now have reservations about the AfD don't go out and vote for it on election day.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Unity despite disagreement

Rejection of right-wing extremism is uniting people who would only tear each other apart in Italy, commments La Stampa in approval of the protests:

“Before, during and after the demonstrations, German politicians and opinion-makers did not - we repeat, did not - call for investigations into people's origin, for statements of abjuration, or for exclusion. They did not engage in public squabbling. Even though they completely disagreed with each other on many topics - on the war in the Middle East, the war in Ukraine, the economy, climate policy and even vaccines. And without doubt on other topics that would be reason enough in Italy to call everything off. ... But the Germans are outraged by a serious and very clear case, a deportation project that immediately brings back memories of National Socialism.”

De Morgen (BE) /

Holding up a mirror

The large demonstrations in Germany should serve as a model for Belgium, De Morgen stresses:

“The AfD is a good example of the new hybrid type of far-right party. Just like Vlaams Belang in Belgium or Giorgia Meloni's party in Italy, they mix a seemingly acceptable shop window with a back room full of nasty, extremist convictions. ... Demonstrations alone will not stop the advance of the far right. ... But at least they hold an uncomfortable mirror up to us. Because while in Germany hundreds of thousands are loudly protesting, here it won't be long before a politician shouting "repopulation!" takes part in a game on an TV show.”