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"Unveiling the Shadows: The Correctiv Investigation, Mass Protests, and the Struggle Against Far-Right Extremism in Germany"

The revelations by the investigative platform Correctiv about a meeting between members of the AfD, the Werteunion and the Idenitarian Movement have driven millions of people onto the streets across Germany. But what does the future of protest look like and how is the German government responding to the current deportation discourse?



THE CORRECTIV INVESTIGATION AND ITS CONSEQUENCES


Just over a month ago, the investigative journalists of Correctiv, in collaboration with Greenpeace, published research on a secret meeting of high-ranking AfD politicians, neo-Nazis and donor entrepreneurs in November last year. The information about such a meeting, where people fantasized about possible deportation plans, shook the entire nation. But are they really that surprising? One of the main protagonists of the meeting was the Austrian far-right public figure Martin Sellner. He presented a master plan which, according to the Correctiv report, involves the mass deportation of millions of people from Germany. This includes those without a German passport and German citizens with a migration background. They are to be deported to a "model state" in North Africa, which could accommodate up to two million people. The  meeting took place in a country house on Lehnitzsee in Potsdam. Not far from there, deportation plans and extermination fantasies had already been decided at the Wannsee  Conference in 1942, just eighty years ago. This meeting was now initiated by two privately acting individuals who have now demonstrated their eagerness to financially and administratively support the goals of the far-right:  former dentist Gernot Mörig and entrepreneur Hans-Christian Limmer, who made the bakery chain „Backwerk“ famous, among other things. Other attendees included Roland Hartwig, the personal assistant of AfD party leader Alice Weidel, other AfD MPs, representatives of the conservative alliance “Werteunion” and other people from the right-wing spectrum. Interestingly ,the AfD points out that this was a private meeting. This contradictory claim might provide the majority of their members with a reason to publicly accuse  protestors who joined the  demonstrations  organized in reaction to this news with orchestrating a  "campaign" against the party. 


THE MASS PROTESTS: WHAT REMAINS?


The reaction to these revelations was overwhelming. The first rallies were announced just a few days after the investigative piece about the AfD's "remigration“ fantasies broke, and by the beginning of February over 2 million people had already taken to the streets in more than 300 towns across Germany. The transregional dynamic and the broad alliance of calling organizations ensured that it was not only in large cities such as Cologne, Berlin and Hamburg that citizens took to the streets for democracy and against the inhuman ideas of the AfD. Thousands of people also took to the streets in small towns and villages, such as Altenburg in Thuringia, where 2,000 people protested together. 

The organizers included trade unions, climate activists and anti-fascist groups, as well as neighbourhood associations and the youth organizations of various parties themselves. The revelations by Correctiv magazine have caused a jolt in German society and  heterogeneity of the protests makes it clear that its center , which was often labeled "silent", seems to have woken up.


But where do the protests go from here? Despite the strong symbolic character of the demonstrations themselves, there is already evidence of a certain rebound. While there were still more than a million people in the first week of the protests between January 15 and 21, this figure fell to around 900,000 in the following week and was down to just under 500,000 by the beginning of February. While these dynamics are by no means surprising, they also make it clear that the collective fight against the right cannot rely on pure symbolism alone. Discussions about banning the AfD can certainly be productive here, as they make the numerous pros and cons visible to the public. Yet with state  elections being held in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg in the fall, it is alarming that current polls clearly predict  the state association in first place in all of these federal states despite it having been classified by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution as "visibly right-wing extremist". .


As long as there is no party ban, the AfD will remain a potent political reality, just like the fact that around 20% of the German population would vote for it even after the revelations brought to light by Correctiv and reports from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Hence, the future of the protests will also be decided by the extent to which they manage to carry the momentum into the fall. A broad civil society alliance is absolutely necessary and has been absent for far too long. However, part of this continuity must also be that the parties of the so-called social center do not continue to adopt the rhetoric of the AfD. The SPIEGEL cover by chancellor Olaf Scholz, racist dentist anecdotes by CDU-MP Friedrich Merz or the adoption of the CEAS  reform are just grist to the mill of those who see migration as the greatest threat to German society. The law on stricter deportation, which was passed a week after the Correctiv piece , is symbolic of the attempts by the coalition government to ingratiate itself.


TIGHTENING THE GRIP ON RETURNS 


According to the German government, the so-called "Returns Improvement Act" or "Rückführungsverbesserungsgesetz" is primarily about simplifying the procedures for deportations. In the words of Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser (SPD): "We are ensuring that people without the right to stay leave our country more quickly." In concrete terms, this means that deportations will no longer be announced and people who will be deported after an unsuccessful asylum application may be held in detention pending deportation for longer  (up to 28 days - the maximum limit under EU law). In addition, the living space of third parties could now be searched by officials, who will also be allowed access to monitoring cell phones and carrying out deportations at night. Individuals assisting displaced persons in their flight to the EU by land could also be punished with prison sentences of up to 10 years. On January 18 2024, just 8 days after the publication of the Correctiv investigation into the secret AFD meeting, the German parliament passed the bill to improve the returns and repatriation law. Just a few days before the bill was passed, on January 14, Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, among others, had taken to the streets alongside thousands of fellow citizens to protest against the AfD and its mass deportation plans. The pictures of members of the government among protesters are important and send a symbolic signal against right-wing extremism, seem ironic given their important efforts to ease deportations. One might dismiss this contradiction as a case of„bad timing“; nevertheless, the credibility of these images falters. Can one simultaneously protest loudly against remigration, while quietly passing a law to make it easier for Germany to "finally deport on a grand scale" and still maintain their integrity or claim that the former is a genuine expression of solidarity towards those that are targeted by far-right extremists?


"Finally deporting on a grand scale" - these words uttered by Olaf Scholz in October 2023, sent a clear message and still resonate. With the new deportation law, Germany is following a broader trend of securitization of migration. This means that migration is classified as a threat, justifying stricter measures. In addition, migration issues that are dealt with under administrative law are increasingly being treated under criminal law. These new measures treat people who do not want to or cannot return to their country of origin for a variety of reasons in a similar way to criminals whose fundamental civil rights can be infringed. Meanwhile, experiencing deportation is already traumatizing for people who have had to flee in the past, especially since the act is often carried out through violent means. 

Far-reaching measures that are questionable in terms of human rights are being legitimized in the name of "controlling migration". The new law however, does not even achieve its desired outcome: according to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, 242,642 people were required to leave the country at the end of December. Yet the majority of those who would legally be required to leave the country are tolerated. Around 193,972 people have a „tolerated stay“, and many others cannot be sent back to their country of origin. The reasons usually include the security situation in the respective country, their children having received a residence permit, qualified vocational training having begun already, as well as illness or a lack of travel documents. In reality, only a few people remain who could be deported, on average about one in five. 


So why pass such a law? To appease the municipalities? The potential AfD voters?  In these times, when right-wing extremism is gaining more and more popularity, there must be a clear antithesis that defends our democratic values. As Carolin Emke put it in her column in the „Süddeutsche Zeitung“: "Anyone who constantly wonders whether their own words or positions will "pick up" or appease enough AfD voters, has already lost their own democratic compass." We must keep taking to the streets, we must keep providing help and we must keep defending the rights of marginalized and racialized groups. Now more than ever.


Photo Credit: Stefan Mueller


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