Following parliamentary elections on Sunday, the far right party Alternative for Deutschland, or AfD, became the second strongest party in the East German states of Brandenburg and Saxony. This means that two-thirds of the population living in Saxony, for example, have chosen strongly conservative to far right wing values.
By taking a substantial number of votes from the two leading parties — the Social Democratic Party and the Christian Democratic Union — AfD will receive more state funding for its anti-immigrant initiatives. This outcome is far from surprising, as AfD’s support base has steadily increased since it was founded in 2013.
The AfD’s new role is a major win for the right in Germany. After emerging onto the electoral scene with a strong anti-immigration position, the AfD has come under sharp criticism in recent years. From campaigns against feminism and LGBTQI struggles to controversial coalitions at the local level, the AfD has consistently raised questions about the party’s connection to violent and extremist groups.
For instance, in August 2018, representatives of the AfD joined with anti-Muslim organization Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West and neo-Nazi party The Third Way in a series of racist riots in the city of Chemnitz. Citing the fatal stabbing of a German man allegedly by a refugee, groups of men chased down people they perceived to be refugees or immigrants. “Germany for Germans” and “Foreigners out!” became unifying positions for a range of white supremacist groups. While these messages and coalitions persist, Saxony has seen a 38 percent increase in violent attacks since 2017.
The ground that AfD gained on Sunday did not go unchallenged. On Saturday, August 24, over 40,000 people took to the streets in Dresden, the East German capital of Saxony, sending a preemptive message to AfD and the neo-Nazi network supporting it. Protesters declared the anti-racist majority to be “unteilbar,” or indivisible, and said “solidarität verteidigen” — defend solidarity.
In reaction to the 2018 events in Chemnitz, people began organizing “unteilbar” demonstrations in order to build a strong anti-racist movement. In October 2018, 240,000 people took over Berlin. In July 2019, 7,500 people kept the momentum going in Leipzig. This time in Dresden, churches, migrant organizations, artists, young people representing Fridays for Future, the youth climate movement inspired by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, and even German pop musicians were in attendance.
Of the 40,000 people who came to challenge the politics of hate, 10,000 took part in the Parade-Power-Block, an explicitly anti-racist and anti-fascist contingent. Welcome United, Nationalism is Not an Alternative, the NSU-Komplex Tribunal, Iuventa 10 and Initiative of Black Germans set the tone that anti-racism and anti-fascism are intersecting struggles, desperately needed under the influence of the far right. Thousands of “Migrantifa” stickers were plastered along the demonstration route, making the connection that migration is a normal part of society, as is resistance to fascism.
“I’ve been living in Dresden for 10 years,” said Hannah Zimmerman, a staff member of the Chemnitz-based Offener Prozess, or Open Process — a political education nonprofit dedicated to fostering global perspectives. “I’ve been to many demonstrations here. Mostly we were a social minority and often criminalized or discredited by the media because we were disobedient and opposed to the Nazis. Taking to the streets with so many people and demonstrating together for an open and plural society was a strong sign [that our movement is being taken seriously].”
Moving forward, activists and organizers concerned with democracy and the safety of all people are asking important questions, such as: How will the AfD shape the discourse of the parties in the governing coalition? What compelled several hundred thousand new voters to mobilize for AfD? What will the next five years bring? And how do anti-racist struggles stay visible and connected, especially in areas that have fewer resources or are located in smaller towns and villages?
“It will be a really difficult five years, but I have no plans to leave,” said Anne Gersch, a staff member of Courage — a project that facilitates anti-discrimination trainings in schools throughout Saxony. “There are many of us who are staying and [who will] keep on working to discuss discimination in our society.”
For many living in eastern states, the work will continue. Yet, longtime anti-racist organizations working in Saxony anticipate new challenges. For instance, SUPPORT, a project that provides counseling to victims of right-wing violence, expects that the new government will favor projects less critical of far right violence to do their work. “It might deter victims to report incidents,” said Andre Löscher, a counselor with SUPPORT. This means staying visible and available to victims, especially in smaller villages or towns, is incredibly important.
Despite the election results, the fight against racism is growing. The shift in political terrain has created new anti-racist formations. For instance, the pressure of racist attacks has increased refugee self-organization. Groups like the Arab Association for Culture and Integration are working to establish a positive image of refugees in the area, by offering language courses, tutoring for children and public dialogue events. Initiatives formed by refugees are an important part of establishing networks, which help increase the likelihood of recent immigrants staying in Saxony and Germany.
As is true in the United States, an important question for those involved in the anti-racist struggle in Germany is how to stay visible and connected. Despite shifts in the electoral field, anti-racist movements have shown that they can leverage their vast networks to mobilize for large demonstrations, as well as the on-going, everyday work against racism and fascism.
“It is particularly frightening that the AfD could become the strongest party among 18-24 year olds, who now make up 21 percent of their votes,” Zimmermann explained. This challenges the idea that most AfD voters come from older generations that lived in the former German Democratic Republic. “Nevertheless: We continue! Our struggles here are important, and we know there is a country-wide solidarity network that stands behind us.”