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Germany: Scholz, Baerbock attend 'defend democracy' rally

January 14, 2024

As elsewhere across Germany, thousands turned out in Potsdam Sunday to denounce right-wing extremism. A recent expose showing ties between extremists and German politicians has touched a nerve.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (center) standing with state and local officials at a pro-democarcy rally in Potsdam, Germany
Local, state and federal political leaders joined crowds of protesters calling out right-wing extremismImage: Sebastian Gollnow/dpa/picture alliance

Thousands of people, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, turned out to demonstrate against right-wing extremism in Germany on Sunday, with major events taking place in Berlin and nearby Potsdam.

The demonstrations, staged under the motto "defend democracy," are being fueled by indignation over a report from the investigative news organization Correctiv that outlined a secret Potsdam meeting between far-right extremists and members of the political party Alternative for Germany (AfD), where the topic of forced deportations was reportedly discussed.

In Berlin, activists, including groups such as Fridays for Future, gathered at the Brandenburg Gate in protest to the views expressed at the secret meeting. Police have yet to release participant numbers but representatives from the group put the figure at 25,000.

On Saturday, police reported that more than 2,400 people had protested an AfD event in the western industrial city of Duisburg.

Baerbock: marching 'for democracy, against fascism'

Chancellor Scholz and Foreign Minister Baerbock  attended the Potsdam rally. Both the politicians represent voting districts within the eastern city near Berlin in Germany's Bundestag parliament.

Baerbock told Germany's dpa press agency that she and other locals were taking a "stand for democracy and against old and new fascism."

The accusations against the AfD center around news that Identitarian Movement personality Martin Sellner, an Austrian neo-Nazi, discussed ideas involving the "remigration" of foreigners but also the deportation of German citizens at a meeting in Potsdam also attended by some AfD politicians. 

AfD leadership has sought to distance itself from the November meeting, claiming those AfD members in attendance were only there in a personal capacity and any comments made did not represent party policy. Officially, the AfD's manifesto does include a policy of "remigration" for some foreign residents in Germany, but not for naturalized citizens.

Will AfD's popularity keep growing, or will it be defeated at the ballot box?

Previously brushed off as an eastern German phenomenon, the party — which has evolved from a euroskeptic protest party opposed to a European single currency into much more of an anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant outfit in the almost 11 years since it was founded — has done increasingly well at polls across the nation of late.

Opinion polls currently rank it as the second most popular party in Germany, fairly far behind the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) but ahead of the coalition government's trio of the SPD, Greens and FDP.

Calls have grown for the party to be banned in recent days, although the parliamentary and legal hurdles that would have to be cleared to do this are very steep. Moreover, such an effort could run the risk of providing the grievance-based AfD the opportunity portray itself as a victim of some government conspiracy.

Those against the ban say AfD must be defeated at the polls and in open debate.

Voters in Germany will have the chance to do that (or not) in European Union elections this summer, as well as in state elections in Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia this fall. Those three eastern states are part of the AfD's heartland, and the party is liable to perform better there than on the national level.

js/msh (AP, dpa)

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