The city of Chemnitz is eager to show that it is not the hotbed of far-right activity that last week’s violent protests made it out to be.
But despite the lip-service paid to diversity, there are still a number of signs that Germany’s far-right has gained momentum and is encroaching on more mainstream political groups, in the wake of far-right protests there last week.
Alternative for Germany (AfD), a far-right, anti-immigrant party, made significant gains in last year’s general elections. After a German man was allegedly killed by an immigrant last month, far-right factions gathered in Chemnitz to stage an anti-migrant rally. AfD politician Markus Frohnmaier tweeted at the time that it was “citizens’ duty to stop the [death-bringing] ‘knife migration!’”
Now, amid that chaos, a new poll by the Erfurt-based Institute for New Social Answers (INSA) purports to show AfD overtaking the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) to become Germany’s second-most popular political party, behind Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc. According to the poll, AfD has the support of 17 percent of Germans, compared with 16 percent for the SPD.
AfD is specifically gaining strength in the southern state of Bavaria ahead of a regional election this October. The region has long been dominated by the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). However, recent polls show it losing the support necessary to gain an outright majority, with the Greens polling at 15.1 percent and AfD at 13.5 percent. This could mean that the Bavarian CSU might be forced to enter into an alliance with another party come October, weakening their political capital.
Angel Merkel’s 2015 decision to allow in more than one million migrants has triggered a simmering resentment which has now morphed into a fully formed political backlash, one evidenced by AfD’s progression.
Despite immigration levels falling significantly in the last three years, a series of incidents, including the rape and death of a student in 2016, the murder of a doctor in 2018 and now the alleged stabbing of a man in Chemnitz — all at the hands of migrants — have fanned the flames of the far-right. Last week’s rally in Chemnitz subsequently drew 8,000 participants, making it one of the biggest post-war far-right rallies Germany has seen.
“They are challenging our democratic state in a way they have not done before,” Barbara Ludwig, the mayor of Chemnitz, told the New York Times, referring to the far-right protesters. “We must pass this test.”
The German state has responded strongly to the protests so far. Police admitted that they were initially under-equipped to handle the demonstration, but have since promised to meet future far-right rallies with the full force of the law. Politicians at the Bundestag (Parliament) have also called on the nation’s domestic intelligence to put AfD under surveillance on suspicion of undermining Germany’s constitution.
It remains to be seen whether Merkel’s government will retain the political capital to reign in the far-right in the coming months.