Germany: Protests erupt over mass deportation plans

More than 100,000 people gathered across Germany on Saturday to protest against the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, which has recently faced controversy over revelations that its members discussed mass deportation plans at a meeting with extremists. In Frankfurt, around 35,000 people participated in a demonstration titled “Defend democracy – Frankfurt against the AfD,” marching in the financial hub of Germany. A similar number of protesters, some carrying signs reading “Nazis out,” gathered in the northern city of Hanover.

Protests occurred in several other cities, including Braunschweig, Erfurt, and Kassel, as well as many smaller towns, reflecting ongoing mobilization over the past week. Demonstrations were planned in approximately 100 locations across Germany from Friday through the weekend, with Berlin scheduled for a protest on Sunday. Politicians, churches, and Bundesliga coaches have all encouraged people to stand against the AfD.

The protests were sparked by revelations that AfD members attended meetings with neo-Nazis and other extremists to discuss the mass deportation of migrants, asylum seekers, and German citizens of foreign origin considered to have failed to integrate. Among those present at the talks near Potsdam was Martin Sellner, a leader of Austria’s Identitarian Movement, known for promoting the “great replacement” conspiracy theory suggesting a plot by non-white migrants to replace Europe’s “native” white population.

The news of the meeting caused significant concern in Germany, particularly as the AfD has been gaining support in opinion polls, just months ahead of three major regional elections in eastern Germany, where their influence is strongest. Although the AfD confirmed the presence of its members at the meeting, it denied endorsing the “remigration” project championed by Sellner.

Leading politicians, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz, have strongly condemned any plan to expel immigrants or citizens, characterizing it as “an attack against our democracy.” Friedrich Merz, the leader of the opposition conservative CDU party, expressed encouragement for the peaceful demonstrations against right-wing extremism.

In the midst of the controversy, two members of the hard-right faction Werteunion of the CDU were also identified as being at the meeting near Potsdam. The subsequent outrage led the Werteunion’s leader, Hans-Georg Maassen, to announce a split from the CDU on Saturday. The Werteunion claims about 4,000 members, many of whom were originally part of the CDU or its Bavarian sister party CSU.

Formed in 2013 as an anti-establishment and anti-euro force, the AfD has evolved into an anti-immigrant party, gaining momentum, particularly in 2015 during the mass migration crisis. The party entered the Bundestag for the first time in 2017 as the leading opposition party. Its recent popularity surge has been fueled by discontent over high energy bills, food inflation, and perceived high moral and financial costs of defending Ukraine in the wake of the Russian invasion.

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