On Holocaust Remembrance Day, Germans mobilize against the far right and for democracy

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Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Germany on Saturday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, to demonstrate for democracy and against the rise of an extreme party right-wing Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which is poised to make political gains. in national elections this year.

In cities and medium-sized towns like Düsseldorf, Kiel, Mannheim and Osnabrück, demonstrators held placards reading: “There is no alternative to democracy”, “Expel the Nazis” and “Vote for the AfD, it’s so 1933,” a reference to the period in which the Nazis rose to power.

In Germany, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which this year marks the 79th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp by the Soviet army, is associated with the commitment “Never again”. This vow has taken on new resonance amid Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, rising anti-Semitic incidents in Germany, and the likelihood that a far-right party with extremist elements will come to power. policy.

“I always thought that our next generation would live even more openly, with more tolerance, without fear and worry,” said Dursiye Ayyildiz, who heads an organization that defends the rights of migrants in Kiel and addressed the crowd. “However, I see that right-wing ideas are unfortunately being passed on – and that worries me for the next generation,” she said.

Millions of people in Germany have gathered in cities including Berlin, Munich and Hamburg, as well as smaller towns, in recent weeks since news broke that a group of AfD officials had met with neo-Nazis and other far-right figures at a Potsdam hotel to discuss the possibility of a mass expulsion from Germany of millions of immigrants and other people considered foreigners.

Activists lit candles to spell out the phrase “Never Again, It’s Now” outside Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate on Friday evening. And Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in his weekly video speech: “January 27 calls on us: stay visible! Stay audible! adding: “Against anti-Semitism, against racism, against misanthropy – and for our democracy. »

Saturday’s protests attracted around 100,000 participants in Düsseldorf, around 20,000 in Mannheim and around 11,500 in the northern city of Kiel, according to police estimates. Dozens of protests also took place in small towns and villages.

Similar protests also took place in neighboring Austria, where concern has also grown over the influence of the far right. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in front of Parliament in Vienna on Friday evening in a pro-democracy rally, and smaller demonstrations took place in Salzburg and Innsbruck.

Although support for the AfD has increased in Germany in recent months, news of the meeting and the protests against the far right that followed put the party on the wrong foot.

Last week, Tino Chrupalla, the party’s co-chair, denied on state television that the party approved the secret meeting. Marine Le Pen, a long-time ally of the AfD in France who remains a presidential candidate in 2027, threatened to stop cooperating with the party during the meeting. And recent polls suggest a decline in the party’s popularity, with support for the party falling to less than 20 percent of respondents for the first time in several months.

Concern about the influence of the far right in the country has also increased as investigative journalists have uncovered links between respected members of society and the far right. Last week, the public broadcaster ARD discovered that a former Berlin state politician had donated money to the Identitarian movement, which advocates the superiority of European ethnic groups. The movement’s chief ideologue, Martin Sellner, was one of the central players in the secret meeting and is a long-time supporter of mass deportations.

These developments have prompted many to compare modern Germany to the Weimar Republic, the fragile democracy of the 1920s and 1930s whose failure gave rise to the Nazis.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius made the comparison Saturday while speaking to a crowd of about 25,000 people in Osnabrück, a city where he served as mayor for seven years. He told those present that the AfD sought to change the entire German societal system.

“It means nothing other than the fact that they want to return to the dark times of racial madness, discrimination, inequality and injustice,” Mr Pistorius said.

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