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Germany: Scholz praises protests against far-right

January 17, 2024

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz praised people who had taken part in a series of protests against the far-right in recent days. An investigative report on alleged repatriation plans prompted the outcry.

A large crowd of people in central Cologne participating in a demonstration against the far-right. Some of them are holding placards with German language slogans on them. Picture taken late on January 16, 2023.
Cologne was the latest site of a large protest against the far-right, on Tuesday eveningImage: Oliver Berg/dpa/picture alliance

Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday praised people participating in protests against the far-right in various German cities in recent days, most recently a large late-night gathering in central Cologne the previous day. 

The demonstrations, one of which Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock attended on Sunday, follow public outrage over an investigative report on a meeting of right-wing figures late last year in Potsdam

"I am grateful that in recent days tens of thousands have taken to the streets all over Germany — against racism and rabble-rousing, and in favor of our liberty and democracy," Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on social media on Wednesday.

"It's encouraging, and it shows that we democrats are many — and many more than those who wish to divide us," Scholz said.  

Deutschland | Demonstration des "Bündnisses gegen Rassismus" in Köln
Cologne police said that 'several tens of thousands' turned out for Tuesday's demo in central Cologne — the caption of the man's sign showing a swastika being tossed in a trash bin translates as 'keep your environment clean'Image: Oliver Berg/dpa/picture alliance

Cologne the latest of several protest sites

Police said that "several tens of thousands" of people took part in Tuesday's evening demonstration in central Cologne. 

That event followed similar marches and demos in a string of other cities, including the Potsdam rally attended by both Scholz and Baerbock.

Olaf Scholz and Annalena Baerbock (near the center of the frame in the foreground) pose with other local politicians and officials in Potsdam in front of a large crowd of protesters. January 14, 2024.
Olaf Scholz and Annalena Baerbock made a point of participating in one such protest on SundayImage: Thomas Imo/IMAGO

Both the politicians represent voting districts in Potsdam, which was the site of the meeting of various right-wing politicians, businesspeople and individuals in November that came to light in an investigative report by the partly state-funded Correctiv investigative news outlet. 

AfD's Weidel dismisses 'staged smear campaign'

That report, and particularly its claims of a "secret" plan to repatriate migrants including naturalized German citizens — who in the vast majority of cases will have given up their original passport to get a German one — prompted an outcry among politicians, the press and the public. 

Most of the focus has landed on the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, with some of its members attending the meeting. 

The party itself, however, has been highly critical of both the report and the reaction to it in Berlin — arguing that it misrepresented both the nature of the meeting and the extent to which ideas discussed there represent AfD party policy. 

Party leader Alice Weidel gave a lengthy press conference on Tuesday decrying what she called the "GDR methods" — a reference to the former communist East Germany — and calling the report and the reaction to it a "staged smear campaign." 

Shot of central Berlin and the Brandenburg Gate amid major farmers' protests. January 15, 2024.
Weidel argued that the difference in how the government treated anti-AfD protests and protests triggered by government policy like the major farmers' demo in Berlin on Monday was tellingImage: Florian Gaertner/photothek/IMAGO

She alleged it was no coincidence that the term the AfD uses for its similar but different policy on repatriating some migrants in Germany without citizenship, "remigration," was named Germany's "non-word of the year" on Monday amid the uproar.

She also claimed there was a degree of hypocrisy in Scholz and Baerbock participating in one sympathetic public protest in Potsdam on Sunday, and then "chickening out," as she put, when facing the anger  of farmers' protests in Berlin the following day

Scholz's SPD ally says time for more to speak up

Meanwhile, the party chairman of Scholz's Social Democrats, Lars Klingbeil, on Wednesday said that in his opinion Weidel could be deemed an extremist, at least given the leadership role she holds. 

"I think that she is a right-wing extremist," Klinbeil told RTL. "She carries responsibility for an extreme right-wing party." 

In separate newspaper interviews with the RND publishing house also published on Wednesday, Klingbeil appealed for more Germans to speak out against the party. 

"All the sensible people who so far were keeping quiet now need to raise the volume too," Klingbeil said. "The image of our country is at stake." 

The AfD is currently polling second overall nationwide, ahead of all three members of the ruling coalition, albeit only on a little over 20% support.

But the party is also under investigation as a potential extremist group and could in extreme circumstances even face a legal bid to outlaw it. 

msh/jcg (AFP, dpa)