A far-right political group is gaining popularity in Germany – but so, too, are protests against it

Hundreds of thousands of people have been protesting across cities in Germany since early 2024, standing up against the Alternative for Germany party, a relatively new, far-right, nationalist party that is known as the AfD.

What has driven so many Germans to suddenly protest against a small, extremist political party?

The protesters in Germany are directly responding to the AfD’s radical policy positions and the fact that it is currently in second place in the polls for the upcoming federal election, which will take place on or before Oct. 26, 2025.

While the AfD did not win any parliament seats in its first federal election in 2013, the group’s popularity has been rising. The AfD held about 13% of the seats in parliament from 2017 through 2021 and was the third-largest party in parliament. Since 2021, it has held about 11% of the seats.

After the next federal election, the AfD could become the second-largest party. While this limited power would not let it enact any extreme policies that could potentially reduce freedom and respect for civil liberties in Germany, the AfD could use its position in parliament to disrupt the policymaking process, criticize establishment parties and attract new voters for future elections.

What is the AfD and why is it so controversial?

Several politicians and journalists formed the AfD in direct response to the Eurozone crisis of the 2010s.

That crisis was triggered by several European governments in the European Union, including Greece, Portugal and Ireland, that developed large budget deficits.

The European Union’s 27 member countries promise to be fiscally responsible. Otherwise, poor public management in one country could trigger an economic crisis throughout the entire European Union.

This is what happened during the Eurozone crisis. Poor public management in some member-states led to a European-wide crisis.

To mitigate the crisis, other European governments had to bail out other governments. The AfD’s founding members were outraged that Germany, as a leading member of the European Union, would become in part responsible for financially rescuing them.

Over time, the AfD has not only become increasingly skeptical of the European Union, but it has also become very clearly anti-immigration. Compared to other countries in Europe, Germany has a relatively large immigrant population. As of March 2023, about 23% of the people who live in Germany either are immigrants or their parents are or were. Germany is also the largest host country for refugees in Europe.

The true extent of AfD’s anti-immigration policies came to light in January 2024, when a German investigative news report revealed that high-ranking AfD members attended a secret meeting with neo-Nazi activists to discuss a “master plan.”

According to this plan, the German government would deport immigrants en masse to their countries of origin. This plan also included deporting non-German-born citizens of Germany.

The meeting was especially controversial because a few members of the Christian Democratic Union, one of Germany’s long-standing conservative parties, were also in attendance.

Once the investigative report became public, the AfD publicly distanced itself from the meeting and the plan.

Yet, it has been hard for the party leaders to convince the public that they do not support the supposed mass deportation policy, in part because high-ranking AfD members have suggested such policies in the past.

Markus Frohmaier, a leader of the AfD political group in Germany, speaks to party members at a conference on Feb. 24, 2024.
Christoph Schmidt/picture alliance via Getty Images

Germans’ response to the AfD

Once news of the mass deportation meeting circulated in mid-January, hundreds of thousands of people throughout Germany began to protest against the AfD and its anti-immigration policies.

Many of the protesters are also protesting to defend democracy and human rights in Germany.

Protesters have compared the AfD’s growing prominence to that of the Nazi party. They have been carrying signs that say the “AfD is so 1933,” “No Nazis” and “Deport the AfD Now.”

They believe the only way to prevent the rise of a far-right party again in Germany is to protest the far-right movement before it becomes too popular.

Symbolically, the protesters are protesting under the slogan “We are the firewall” to illustrate how they are protecting Germany from the rise of far-right nationalists once again.

Some are also pushing for the German government to ban the AfD. Yet, while Germany has laws against extremist groups that were developed after World War II, it is unclear whether such laws should be used to ban the party, as some observers caution that banning the AfD might backfire and make it more popular.

Demonstrators in Hamburg protest right-wing extremism and the AfD on Feb. 25, 2024.
Hami Roshan/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images

What the AfD can still accomplish

While the AfD is currently posing an electoral threat to more mainstream parties in Germany, it is unlikely that it will take control over the German government any time soon.

Germany is a multiparty system; no single party can control German politics at any given time. Parties must share power when governing the country.

It is unlikely that any of the current establishment parties will work with the AfD to govern Germany, primarily because the AfD supports policies that are so far removed from what typical German parties would find acceptable.

Additionally, the Christian Democratic Union is currently the most popular party, according to opinion polls. CDU members have previously emphasized that they will not cooperate with the AfD in any circumstance.

And other establishment parties and politicians have also distanced themselves from the AfD.

Yet, while the AfD may not be able to make sweeping policy changes in the short run, it does pose an electoral threat to the establishment parties in Germany. As such, other German parties may start to alter their own policy platforms to appease some potential AfD voters.

The Christian Democratic Union is already proposing to send asylum seekers to other countries while their applications are being processed. However, their ability to make this policy change is unlikely, as it would require changes to European Union law.

In the long run, if the AfD is able to continue to grow in popularity at the local level, this may help it grow its voter base and become more successful in federal elections.

The AfD is more popular in states in eastern Germany, especially among voters who feel disenchanted with the reunification of communist East Germany and West Germany in 1990, and disenchanted with the drawbacks of Germany being a leading member of the European Union.

Some people fear that if the AfD continues to grow, it could undermine democracy in Germany, much like far-right populist parties have recently done in other democracies in Europe and in the rest of the world.

And as democracy continues to decline in Europe and globally, protections for civil liberties and political rights will continue to decline as well.

Source: European Politics -

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