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Remark: Are the Nazis taking over? Why the comparison with 1933 is wrong and helps the AfD

Hundreds of thousands of people in Germany took to the streets last weekend for democracy, against right-wing extremism, and the AfD. After the revelation of a secret meeting in Potsdam, where AfD members and extremists discussed the expulsion of German citizens with a migration background, the outrage continues to be significant in the country.

We do not live in Weimar conditions

However, do the reports on re-migration fantasies with still strong AfD polling numbers justify comparisons with the last years of the Weimar Republic? The clear answer must be: No! We do not live in Weimar conditions, nor are we on the verge of a brown seizure of power. Those who invoke the misleading Weimar comparison only play into the hands of the AfD. 

What is true, however, is that right-wing extremists have never been so strong in post-war Germany. Never in the history of the Federal Republic has democracy been under so much pressure as it is today. Those who now detect a “whiff of Weimar” like to argue that this was also the case when right- and left-wing extremists began to bring down the foundations of the young republic in the early 1930s. And didn’t the NSDAP also have only 18 percent in autumn 1930? 

The current Weimar rumbling takes place against the background of a super election year. 2024 brings the European elections in June and three highly explosive state elections in the east. The revelations of the research network “Correctiv” about the right-wing extremist meeting in Potsdam have apparently not harmed the AfD much in Saxony: according to a recent poll by Infratest Dimap, the right-wing party remains by far the strongest force seven months before the state election. 35 percent of eligible voters would currently vote for the AfD. 

Historian: The comparison blocks an appropriate future policy

In Brandenburg and Thuringia, where elections will also be held in September, the AfD was recently just below or slightly above the 30 percent mark. In the overall federal government, the party’s support dropped by 1.5 percent after the demo weekend, according to the Forsa Institute. This is the biggest relative loss for the AfD in several months, but it still means a high level of support.

The Weimar analogy does not help, it is even “misleading and dysfunctional,” as historian Hedwig Richter, who teaches at the University of the Bundeswehr in Munich, expresses. The comparison blocks an appropriate future policy and “elevates timidity to political reasoning. It wants to impose the problem structures of the past century on our time, come what may. But we have other challenges. Weimar is ninety years away, 2.5 degrees of global warming fifteen years,” she writes in a guest article for the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”. 

The Weimar reflex harms remembrance itself, as it trivializes the extent of misery and murder that existed even before the seizure of power by the National Socialists in 1933. To deduce from the current strength of the AfD that history is repeating itself is downright absurd.  

No balance between the various societal groups

Instead, the poll surge of the AfD is mainly due to the weakness of the current traffic light government, but also in parts of the Union, in finding answers to crisis topics such as inflation and migration pressure, triggered by the Russian attack on Ukraine, but also on the challenges of climate change, which for theThe majority of the population find it understandable and acceptable. Neither the government nor the opposition has made efforts in recent years to find a balance between the various societal groups. In the divisive cabinet of Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), the essential task of politics, to forge compromises from the constant struggle of ideas and interests and thus ensure a basic level of solidarity across all groups, has been disregarded too much. Instead, the focus of the traffic light coalition, especially the Greens, was to enforce the expectations of their own client base, especially in climate and migration policy. Large parts of the electorate had to understand this as a devaluation of the principle of the responsible citizen. Rather than lamenting Weimar conditions, it is time for the political center to finally fulfill its proper role: to work out solutions for the crises and problems of our time that can be supported by a broad majority of the population. Specifically, this must involve ways to reduce CO2 emissions in collaboration with the economy; new concepts in the transport sector; alleviating the housing shortage, and the consistent containment of illegal migration. Certainly, these changes do not occur in the comfort zone. Change also means a departure from convenience. That’s why politics must listen to people, take their concerns seriously, and bring them along. This is particularly true for the traffic light coalition, but also for the Union: the party that competes strongly with the AfD on topics popular among conservatives, such as migration, security, and homeland. Especially considering their illusory main promise: you don’t have to change anything; everything will return to how it used to be.

**The five crucial differences in today’s situation compared to Weimar:**

– The vast majority in Germany still considers democracy to be the best form of government. The demonstrations last weekend in numerous German cities also expressed this.
– We are far from mass poverty, which in the Weimar Republic fueled left- and right-wing extremists.
– Unlike Weimar, which initially emerged from a revolution by naval soldiers against the Kaiser, our democracy today has evolved. This year, we celebrate 75 years of the Basic Law. The democratic principle that citizens send representatives of their trust to the parliaments every four to five years and dismiss them if dissatisfied, has been learned and solidified.
– The Federal Republic is one of the safest countries in the world. Its institutions are stable, the courts operate in accordance with the constitution, and the state has a monopoly on force.
– And finally, the most important argument: the citizens of the Weimar Republic did not know into what abyss of history and into what catastrophe Adolf Hitler would lead them. Unlike us today. Extremists such as the AfD benefit from the Weimar comparison, “because they thrive on horror visions of the republic, which they see sinking into social and political chaos as depicted by historian Richter in the “FAZ”. It is true that despite all existing problems, the Germans live in stable conditions, in social peace, in a highly esteemed constitutional state. Much could be better, but like other liberal democracies, the Federal Republic has a resilient, innovation-friendly industry. So there is “no reason to weep in the basement about the fragility of the German soul and about Weimar.” All of these are actually good conditions for politics. It must now finally begin to do better.

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