Massive protests erupt in Germany following reports of AfD deliberations on mass deportations. Despite frigid temperatures, tens of thousands had already demonstrated earlier in the week, fueled by revelations that senior Alternative for Germany (AfD) party members had discussed a controversial plan reminiscent of the Nazi era - mass deportation of migrants.
Public outrage persisted over the weekend, with Frankfurt witnessing up to 35,000 people rallying under the banner "Defend democracy - Frankfurt against the AfD." According to the German newspaper Der Spiegel, similar sizable protests took place in Hanover and attracted a crowd of comparable size. According to local police, the rally in Munich reached its peak with nearly 100,000 attendees. Other significant demonstrations occurred in Stuttgart, Dortmund, and Nuremberg.
On Sunday, once again, tens of thousands took to the streets, participating in rallies held in Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Leipzig, and Dresden—cities that are considered traditional strongholds for AfD voting, according to Reuters.
According to local police, the rally in Munich reached its peak with nearly 100,000 attendees. Meanwhile, the Berlin protest commenced with an initial gathering of almost 30,000 people, with more joining as the event unfolded, according to Reuters.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz supported the protests, deeming them "good and right." In a video message released on Friday night, Scholz empathized with the concerns of the more than 20 million citizens with a history of migration, expressing understanding of their feelings regarding the proposed deportation plan.
Reports revealing that senior members of the AfD discussed a "master plan" for the mass deportation of German asylum-seekers and German citizens of foreign origin have sparked widespread outrage among Germans. This clandestine gathering, which included AfD members, neo-Nazis, and other far-right extremists, occurred at a lakeside hotel outside Potsdam on November 25.
Despite taking place in late November, the meeting only came to light on January 10 when it was exposed by the investigative journalism network Correctiv. The revelation ignited a wave of protests across Germany.
Correctiv, in its report unveiling the private meeting, described the events at the hotel Landhaus Adlon as resembling a dystopian drama, emphasizing that these disturbing plans were not fictional but rather disturbingly real.
"And they will show what can happen when the frontmen of right-wing extremist ideas, representatives of the AfD, and wealthy sympathizers come together. The meeting was meant to remain secret at all costs," the report said.
The AfD refutes any connection between the discussed deportation plans and its official policy. The party's leadership has actively distanced itself from the gathering, characterizing it as a "private event and not an official AfD party function."
On Monday, Alice Weidel, the co-chair of the AfD, revealed her separation from her adviser Roland Hartwig, whom Correctiv reported as having participated in the talks. The AfD informed reporters that the parting was a result of a "mutual agreement."
People protesting in Germany with placards
Notably, despite the denial by the party leadership, the notion of a "mass deportation plan" found explicit support from an AfD representative in the state of Brandenburg. René Springer expressed this stance on his X account, stating, "We will return foreigners to their homeland. Millions of times. This is not a secret plan. It’s a promise."
"For more security. For more justice. To preserve our identity. For Germany."
Numerous observers have highlighted the stark resemblance of the mass deportation plan to the dark period of the Nazi era from 1933 to 1945. During that time, millions of individuals were forcibly transported to concentration camps, forced labor facilities, and extermination camps against their will.
"The plans to expel millions of people are reminiscent of the darkest chapter in German history," Christian Dürr, parliamentary group leader of the neoliberal Free Democrats Party (FDP), wrote on X.
Rika von Gierke, a spokesperson and activist gearing up for a demonstration in Frankfurt on Saturday, conveyed that the plans outlined by the AfD "evoke distressing memories" and carry troubling historical echoes.
I saw a banner yesterday which said, 'Now is the time to show what we would have done instead of our grandparents.' There are parallels. It's definitely time to take a stand against the right and start opposing the anti-democratic forces.- Rika von Gierke
She added that members of the AfD had been "making concrete plans to deport millions of people from Germany. We clearly see that these plans are inhumane and constitute an attack on our democracy, the rule of law, and on many of our fellow citizens."
Kazin Abaci, a protest organizer from Hamburg, emphasized the significance of the demonstrations, stating, "We are dealing with a very strong right-wing extremism and neo-Nazi networks in Germany."
This meeting in Potsdam has shown once again how urgent it is that not only politicians speak out, but that a strong signal is sent from the middle of society to defend democracy and our state.- Kazin Abaci
When asked about the potential impact of the protests on AfD voter behavior, Abaci expressed optimism. "There is a core group of AfD voters who vote for this party out of conviction, but there are of course also voters who have voted for AfD out of protest."
"But now is the time for them to wake up and realize that we are not dealing with a protest party, but with a right-wing extremist party. Our rally could help these people to finally wake up."
In Potsdam on Sunday, Chancellor Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock joined the rallies. Baerbock stated her presence as someone who "stands for democracy and against old and new fascism," while Scholz expressed gratitude to the demonstrators this week, acknowledging their efforts "against racism, hate speech, and in favor of our liberal democracy."
The prospect of outlawing the AfD poses challenges and potential risks. German politicians recently discussed the option of urging the constitutional court to consider a ban. According to the German constitution, parties that seek to undermine the "free democratic basic order" may be deemed unconstitutional.
German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck, speaking to the magazine Stern, cautioned that "the damage that a failed attempt would cause would be massive."
Which is why if a case is put, it would have to absolutely 100% stand up in court. It's something you have to consider very carefully.- German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck
Public demonstrations of opposition to the AfD are considered vital by many, given the far-right party's recent surge in popularity, reflected in record-high polling numbers. Anticipated to make significant gains in upcoming regional elections in Thuringia, Saxony, and Brandenburg this year, the AfD's current polling, as per a recent survey by the Forsa opinion research institute, surpasses 30% in all three states, establishing a comfortable lead over its competitors.