"Never again" is now

Around 35,000 people also took part in the protests in Hanover
Hundreds of thousands of people across Germany protested against the AfD. Around 35,000 people took part in the protests in Hanover (image: Moritz Frankenberg/dpa/picture alliance)

Ever since the AfD's plans to deport immigrants were publicised, hundreds of thousands of people across Germany have taken to the streets in protest

Commentary by Sheila Mysorekar

The silent majority has awoken. The exposure of the AfD's deportation agenda by Correctiv has driven outraged people onto the streets. Day after day, thousands upon thousands are demonstrating for a democratic and diverse Germany and against racism and right-wing extremism. That is a clear sign.  

But one thing is new: the droves of protesters today come from the broad, middle-class political centre in Germany. These are people who had long observed the rise of the AfD without much alarm or resistance.

Until now, the right wing has been quite successful in disguising its true intentions, although immigrant organisations have been warning for years of the danger from the far right. For a long time, both politicians and many voters deluded themselves into believing that, although the AfD was certainly controversial, it was still a democratic party.  

Recently, however, undercover research conducted by the independent investigative journalists at Correctiv brought to light the party's true objectives. At the latest since the conspiratorial meeting held in Potsdam on 25 November 2023 and attended by avowed Nazis, representatives of the Identitarian movement, members of the so-called WerteUnion and AfD leaders, it should be amply clear that the AfD is planning mass deportations of immigrants, including German citizens. "Ethnic cleansing" according to racist criteria is something we have already experienced under the Nazi regime – with consequences that are well known. So we are not imagining things, but rather witnessing a harbinger of fascism to come.

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Establishing the AfD platform

The current strength of the AfD, especially in eastern Germany, is based on the fatal developments of recent years, when the so-called popular parties allowed the AfD to establish its platform in the public consciousness, including the myth of an alleged threat posed by too much immigration. Several politicians from other parties even adopted the same narrative.

As a result, the issue moved to the forefront of media attention, regardless of the actual situation in Germany society. AfD politicians were even granted the status of experts. By lending their voice to efforts to curb migration, the CDU and FDP have ended up greatly bolstering the AfD. This strategy has thus backfired completely. 

The liberal conservative parties urgently need to stop embracing AfD issues and placing them at the centre of their own policies. The AfD is a radical right-wing party and, like all such parties, it aims to incite racism and animosity against immigrants. 

In the AfD's view, immigration is the root of all evil, and if all the people who have come to this country as immigrants would only get out of Germany, all the country's problems would magically be solved. This is of course utter nonsense – apart from the fact that this agenda is racist, inhumane and illegal.

Both from an economic and research-based standpoint, it has been demonstrated that Germany, with its ageing population, needs much more immigration than before rather than less.  

Frankfurt's Roemerplatz was too small for the 35,000 or so demonstrators
"The silent majority has awoken. The exposure of the AfD's deportation agenda has driven outraged people onto the streets. Day after day, thousands upon thousands are demonstrating for a democratic and diverse Germany and against racism and right-wing extremism," writes Sheila Mysorekar. "That is a clear sign" (image: Boris Roessler/dpa/picture alliance)

Finding real solutions to real problems

This means the parties must find real solutions to the real problems that exist today. If there are too few teachers in schools, it is not due to the number of pupils from immigrant families but simply means that more teaching staff need to be recruited.  

As long as the AfD – and other parties in its wake – blame minorities in Germany for the school crisis, housing shortage and everything else, no efforts will be made to seek solutions to existing problems. 

The various parties are today trying to one-up each other with their demands for an increase in deportations. The cheapest form of populism, aimed only at achieving electoral majorities, is replacing a rational policy platform. The only ones to profit from this tactic are the AfD and all the other right-wing extremists. 

A clear stance is also needed at the level of party politics. Officially, the CDU has declared incompatibility with the AfD, but at the local level the major mainstream parties already tolerate the AfD, and the FDP in particular often votes together with the AfD parliamentary groups. 

This has to stop. Centre-right parties must do all they can to avoid normalising the fascists and instead unconditionally position themselves against them at all times – and they certainly must refrain from supporting the AfD for reasons of electoral tactics and power politics.  

Clear rejection from the conservative camp

Germany's citizens are now defiantly rejecting this opportunistic attitude. They are taking to the streets in their hundreds of thousands: senior citizens, families with children, Germans with and without a history of immigration, people from across society, but also a large majority from the centre-right camp. 

The demonstrations are a warning to the CDU that voters adamantly reject the racist policies of the AfD. This means that a coalition with the AfD at state or even federal level would be very risky for that party. 

But has the CDU even taken notice of this warning signal and realised it is directed at them? And how is the government reacting to the protests? Will the AfD be banned? Simply sitting out the storm is not a viable option. 

The media is part of the problem

The media is part of the problem because it tends to underestimate the dynamics of right-wing populist propaganda. A democratically elected party that does not advocate for democratic goals cannot simply be treated like any other party. 

Giving such politicians and their supporters a constant platform so that they can continue to spread their misanthropic messages is counterproductive, because as soon as public discourse suggests that the AfD is the party that most frequently addresses the most burning issue of the day, namely limiting immigration, this gives a huge boost to the far right.  

Far more important would be to let those people have a say who are directly affected by this inhumane policy, namely people from immigrant families. What will happen to marginalised minorities in those federal states where the AfD has a real chance of winning the next state elections? These people are scarcely visible in the public debate, even though their safety is under real threat. 

Media-makers should also put voters in front of the camera who, despite personally difficult economic circumstances, are not about to vote for the AfD in protest, but instead support a stable democracy. Why do we hear so little from them?  

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"We too are citizens of this nation"

Only now, when hundreds of thousands are taking to the streets, is it becoming clear that the so-called silent majority is not on the side of the fascists. Calls for a ban on the AfD are finally being seriously discussed.  

At the same time, however, the question of how to protect ethnic and religious minorities that are seriously endangered by the far right is barely addressed. More than a quarter of those living in Germany have an international family background.

The fact that millions of people are now ill at ease at the prospect of an AfD election victory, that they may already be considering leaving the country, cannot simply be accepted. We too are citizens of this nation, we too must be protected. We are the primary target of the right-wing extremists. We are not talking here about party politics, but about our very lives.  

In civil society, there is a growing sense that our democracy is in danger. to stay silent means to condone what is happening. So it is all the more important that thousands of people are now raising their voices, taking to the streets despite the cold and snow, and stepping up the pressure on politicians. 

The much-invoked centre of society is clearly positioning itself against the fascists – and that is very reassuring. But the question is what conclusions will be drawn and what the consequences will be. Policymakers and civil society must now take concerted action. 

Many of the posters that could be seen at the demonstrations proclaimed "Never again is now!" – a direct allusion to the era of German fascism. "Never again" is a catchphrase in Germany; everyone knows what it refers to. 

So far, however, all warning signs that the worst of times could return have been ignored. When fascists come to power through democratic elections, it is too late to stop them. We have to act now to prevent them from spreading their propaganda and gaining the upper hand under the guise of democracy. "Never again" is now!

Sheila Mysorekar

© Qantara.de 2024 

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

Sheila Mysorekar is chairwoman of the New German Organisations, a network of around 200 post-migrant organisations and associations