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German media and political establishment ponder whether to ban political preferences of a fifth of the population

From June 19, polls have consistently placed support for the right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland at 20% or more., making them the second most popular party in Germany, slightly ahead of the government leader SPD and behind the CDU/CSU. Last week, Thomas Haldenwang, the head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), gave an interview to state media in which he accused the party once again of harboring “a significant number of people … who repeatedly spread hatred and agitation against minorities.” Despite serious questions about whether Haldenwang’s repeated smears are even legal, spokespeople for all major parties immediately agreed with the assessment.

It is very important to note that Haldenwang is himself a member of the CDU. The Christian Democrats should be the big winners in opposition as Olaf Scholz’s coalition government stumbles from one crisis to another. However, they are doing no better than in mid-2021. Angela Merkel has done the party no favors by implicating the Christian Democrats in the catastrophic response to the pandemic as well as the ongoing mass migration crisis and even in the rise of the green climate program. They have failed to offer any real alternative to the current government, and the AfD is reaping the benefits.

A day after Haldenwang’s renewed warnings, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier published an editorial in the mirrorin which he condemned the AfD as directly as the dictates of etiquette allow, at one point even calling for “militant” resistance against the party:

Our constitution can tolerate the harshest and harshest disputes. However, it cannot integrate enemies of the constitution, and we must not ignore the danger they represent. Political antagonism is one thing, constitutional hostility quite another.

So what should be done? In the fight against extremism, there is a historical lesson that runs like a red thread through the first draft constitution presented in Herrenchiemsee, and that still applies today: a democracy must strengthen itself against its enemies . Never again should the democratic rights of freedom be abused to abolish freedom and democracy. Being a robust and defensible daily political life means, first of all, showing an openness to political debate and not accepting the false lies propagated by the enemies of freedom, either with silence or appeasement, and thus encouraging them. Democratic parties must demonstrate a clear, determined, even militant opposition…

This militant opposition is already here. On Friday night, AfD politician from Augsburg Andreas Jurca was beaten unconscious by immigrants in a targeted political attackwhich left him with severe facial bruising and a broken ankle.

Hessen Antifa have it also published the personal addresses of all AfD candidates in October’s state parliamentary elections. I doubt it will be very easy to get this information without the help of the state.

Yesterday, SPD leader Saskia Esken came out in favor of banning AfD, should constitutional protectors find the party guilty of “confirmed right-wing extremism”, which is almost certain to happen sooner or later: “The fight against the AfD is a fight that all of society, all democrats, must do together.

There are many doubts about whether a ban is feasible. Oliver Maksan, writing from the Berlin office of The New Zurich Times, points out that the party is very far from meeting the criteriaeven accepting for argument’s sake all the establishment’s characterizations of its “anti-democratic” tendencies:

The Federal Government, the Bundesrat or the Bundestag would have to convince the Federal Constitutional Court that the entire party, not just individual members, has included unconstitutional goals in its program and is pursuing them in a planned, militant and effective manner. …

Even the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution… does not see the AfD as a unified bloc. Its 2022 annual report still says that “Given the continued heterogeneity of content within the party … not all party members can be considered supporters of extremist tendencies.”

Moreover, it is not enough to point to the widespread rejection of the EU, sympathies towards Russia or skepticism of NATO within the party. These attitudes may be thought to be wrong, but they are not forbidden. What would need to be demonstrated are genuine attempts to eliminate the basic free democratic order, specifically the principles of democracy, human dignity and the rule of law, in whole or in part.

I could share Maksan’s optimism if Covid hadn’t happened. It is clear that the German state will do whatever it wants and worry about how to justify it after the fact. Maksan is more persuasive in his argument that the process of a formal ban would involve lengthy procedures and in the meantime would greatly contribute to AfD support. It is a risk that the BfV seems to be about to accept:

“The political center is melting like ice in the sun,” a senior East German BfV official told WELT recently. In the East, he said, there are now districts where there are not only 20 to 30 percent of votes for the AfD, but up to 40 or 50 percent.

The major parties could at any time deprive the AfD of considerable support simply by moderating its political program. Most ominous of these developments is the general refusal to even consider this path. As I said in another context, democracy has become for our rulers not a political system, but a series of desired outcomes. Formally democratic processes that threaten these outcomes are now considered undemocratic and out of consideration. It is not the AfD or its supporters who have become radicalized; many AfD statements denounced by the media as extreme and fascist indeed they were political commonplaces two decades ago. It is rather the political establishment that has gone to extremes and lost touch with large sectors of the electorate. I fear that this is a one-way, self-reinforcing process and that our rulers will never find their way back.


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