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Germany: More demos against far-right, AfD slips in polls

February 18, 2024

This weekend again saw thousands of Germans hit the streets to show opposition to far-right ideology as President Steinmeier praised civic engagement. Meanwhile, support for the AfD dipped slightly in the latest polls.

A large crowd of people holding signs and waving flags condemning the far right in downtown Wolfsburg
Wolfsburg was one of numerous German cities that saw demonstrations against far-right ideology over the weekendImage: Michael Matthey/dpa/picture alliance

Protesters again took to the streets in several German cities over the weekend under the motto of "defend democracy."

One of the larger gatherings on Sunday took place in the northern city of Wolfsburg, with roughly 6,000 people taking part. The event was partly called by the city's primary employer, Volkswagen, and also included speakers from Wolfsburg's men's and women's football clubs. 

Other demonstrations took place in cities including Hanover, Magdeburg, Bochum, Rietberg, Essen, and a series of smaller towns and communities over the weekend.

In Magdeburg, Saxony-Anhalt State Premier Reiner Haseloff of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) told thousands gathered at the city's cathedral, "We must fight all forms of racism and inhumanity wherever they appear."

Magdeburg's Catholic bishop, Gerhard Feige, told those gathered, "I'm less fearful of 'alienation from without' than I am of 'dehumanization from within.'"

Protesters holding various signs and flags as they demonstrate in front of the Magdeburg Cathedral
As elsewhere, Magdeburg saw everyone from 'Grannies Against the Right' to the IG Metal Workers' Union come out to voice opposition to right-wing ideology this weekendImage: Peter Gercke/ZB/dpa/picture alliance

Steinmeier lauds demos from 'democratic core of society'

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Saturday released a video in which he said he was proud of the country for taking a stand against extremism and praised citizens for their civic engagement.

"Today once again: Tens of thousands, young and old people, entire families, will be out, peacefully gathering, standing together for something that connects us all: We want to live together, freely, respectfully," he said.

Steinmeier spoke of the "democratic core of our society," saying it is "wide awake," and claiming "democracy is alive" in Germany. The politician pointed out that the majority of society was coming together to "stand against hate, violence and extremism."

He said the most important aspect of demonstrations that have gone on for weeks is the fact that so many people are standing up to be counted, taking to the streets to make a clear statement.

The president's message came as protests against the hateful rhetoric and political vision of Germany's far right enter their second month. Each weekend since the first protests began on January 13, has seen hundreds of thousands of citizens hit the streets in mass to voice their strong disapproval of extremist views creeping into politics and society.

German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks for a public video announcement
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said demonstrations show 'democracy is alive' in GermanyImage: Bundespräsidialamt/dpa/picture alliance

AfD sees drop in popularity, but governing trio also still in doldrums

This weekend also saw popular support for the right-wing, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) drop for the first time in months. A weekly poll by the INSA institute showed the party losing a percentage point over last week, with its 19% approval rating its lowest since June 2023.

The opposition CDU and its Bavarian sister party the CSU currently lead polls with a 31% approval rating.

The AfD had been riding high for months, and its gains in popularity came in for added scrutiny early this year when a report was published by investigative journalism outfit Correctiv about a meeting of various right-wing and far-right figures, including some AfD members, prompting widespread public and political criticism.

Also in attendance at that meeting were two individuals from Germany's newest political party, the Werteunion (or "Values Union") founded on Saturday by Germany's former spy boss Hans-Georg Maassen, who himself is under observation by German intelligence services for possible right-wing extremist activities.

Despite the AfD's drop in popularity and the potential splintering of the right-wing vote between a handful of established conservative and newer far-right parties, the fact of the matter is that the ruling coalition parties remain extremely unpopular.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democrats (SPD), for instance, posted only a 14% approval rating; Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck's Greens were at 13%, and the business-friendly FDP wouldn't even make it into parliament if elections were held today, posting a meagre 4% approval rating.  

Germans rally against far-right extremism

js/msh (AFP, KNA)