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Commentary from Tagesspiegel: Grassroots Democracy: Germany’s local protests can become a global signal

If the resistance against right-wing extremism in Germany is to have more than just symbolic power, it must be focused and inclusive.

Germany is making a statement. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in the past days to protest against right-wing extremism. Everywhere in the country – in big cities as well as in small municipalities.

The uprising of the population is a commitment to democracy

It is an uprising coming from the population. It was not parties and associations that immediately called for showing solidarity after the revelations about the meeting of right-wing extremists in Potsdam, but individual citizens. “Democracy needs democrats,” as Friedrich Ebert, the first democratically elected head of state in Germany, already knew.

The current mobilization is an impressive commitment to democracy. And it’s a stand against the gradual normalization and acceptance of right-wing extremist tendencies, which have increasingly found their way into the German political institutions with the rise of the AfD.

He had the feeling in recent months that there is a large silent majority in Germany, confessed Josef Schuster, the President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. For the Jewish community, the demonstrations would “rebuild trust in the democratic conditions in the Federal Republic.” That bears great weight.

The ability of Western states to advocate for democracy has suffered greatly in recent years. Protests, like the ones happening in Germany, can counteract this. They demonstrate the resilience of liberal democracies.

Two factors determine whether the demonstrations have an impact beyond symbolism

With tangible consequences? Whether the demonstrations in Germany have an impact beyond mere symbolism, whether they reduce support for right-wing parties and have a concrete effect on the outcome of elections, depends primarily on two prerequisites.

First: a clearly defined goal. Taking a firm stand against the enemies of democracy. Not the evaluation of a particular policy or government. Second: Inclusion and tolerance. Meaning: Respect and civility towards those with different views within the democratic spectrum and no ideological isolation.

German protests have a global impact

The German protests are not just impactful domestically. They are also being noticed outside Germany. From “Al Jazeera” to the “Washington Post,” international media are reporting on them. In a time when democracy is facing setbacks globally and autocratic tendencies are growing, this holds particular significance. In the super election year 2024, in which approximately half of the world’s population can at least participate in nominal elections, this is even more pertinent.

The experiences of other countries confirm that a concerted and focused approach can influence elections. For example, in 2002 in France, during the runoff for the presidency, the far-right Jean-Marie LePen and the conservative Jacques Chirac faced each other. Tens of thousands took to the streets at the time and formed a broad political front against Le Pen. Successfully. Many French from the left-wing spectrum voted – as an expression of their reluctance with a gloved hand – for the conservative Chirac and thus brought him the majority.

Effective Firewall can Prevent the Rise of AfD

If Germany manages to form an inclusive alliance, an effective firewall against extremism in the coming weeks, this can prevent further strengthening of AfD in the upcoming regional elections. And not only that. It can develop influence beyond national borders. Not only in Europe, as the European Parliament elections are approaching in June, but possibly even across the Atlantic in the end.

Because that can be the successful strategy against Donald Trump, who makes no secret of his autocratic ambitions for a second term: Americans taking to the streets by the millions in the coming months. Not for a party or a specific policy. But for the rule of law and democracy. Peacefully and united. Such a movement could mobilize a majority of voters, including those without enthusiasm for Joe Biden.

By Anja Wehler-Schöck



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