Last year, a German court ruled that the far-right party was a threat to democracy, allowing it to be monitored by the country’s security services.
A recent study by the German Institute for Human Rights on the possibility of banning the Alternative for Germany (AfD) has put the far-right political party in the spotlight.
Posted on June 7, the study claims that the AfD now represents such a danger to the country’s democratic order that “could be prohibited by the Federal Constitutional Court”.
The AfD can be legally banned because its explicit objectives are to “eliminate the basic free democratic order” and “to abolish the guarantee of human dignity” enshrined in the German constitution, says the institute.
Created in 2013, the AfD has been accused of harboring anti-democratic tendencies, although it officially supports democracy in Germany. Euronews has contacted the party.
Earlier this year, Germany decided to label the AfD’s youth wing, Young Alternative for Germany, as an extremist group. The formal accusation of extremism is the most the country can go without decreeing a total ban.
National intelligence services have also branded the party’s branch in the state of Thuringia as a far-right group. Earlier this week, its leader, Björn Höcke, was accused of purposely using a Nazi slogan at a May 2021 campaign rally.
But while the study by the German Institute for Human Rights reignited the debate on the banning of the party in Germany, the AfD took advantage of the situation, turning his sentence into a call to arms for his followers.
The far-right party – which opposes Islam, immigration and the EU – worries the German political class, with support having gone from 10% last June to 18% today, according to the Politico poll.
According to Una Ivona Titz, a journalist and researcher at Fundación Amadeu Antonio, a group focused on extremism and the extreme right, the proposal to ban the AfD “has backfired en masse because the AfD took it upon itself to paint a different picture in the media”.
“At the moment, they are getting a lot of support on Telegram because they are rallying their followers and painting themselves as a persecuted party within an unfair system against which they are fighting from within,” he told Euronews.
Although the study was intended to raise awareness of the threats posed by the AfD, “what we’re seeing is that it has emboldened them and actually helped bolster the image of the AfD,” Titz explains.
“Germany has elections soon in Saxony, and right now the AfD is around 30%”, added. “We fear this will further embolden or may lead people who are skeptical or withholding their vote to actually go vote for the AfD because they are perceived as the kind of underdog who gets treated unfairly.”
In the latest district elections held in Sonneberg, south of Thuringia, last weekend, the AfD’s Robert Stuhlmann won 46.7% of the vote, ahead of any other candidate, but not enough to prevent a second round, scheduled for June 25.
Previous attempts to ban an elected party in Germany have failed and backfired on its organizers.: In 2017, the 2nd Senate of the Federal Constitutional Court rejected a provisional ban on the far-right party NPD.
Politicians also seem wary of suggesting a ban on the AfD.
“The study has gained traction as a debate on the Internet and has subsequently been taken up by politicians from across the political spectrum,” says Titz. “So there were politicians from the CDU, from the SBT and from the left either boycotting the proposed ban or being skeptical of the ban because they saw it as a misplaced attempt.”
“For example, Sebastian Hoffmann [del SPD] spoke of the AfD as an anti-constitutional party, but, on the other hand, considers that the The main objective of the policy is to put the AfD in a kind of political limbo in which it is no longer eligible and thus avoid a ban,” says the researcher.
an impossible dilemma
The idea of banning a party is not only politically sensitive, but also poses a moral dilemma for many. As Princeton professor Jan-Werner Mueller said in a 2013 article, democracies are “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” to ban extremist parties.
Although banning a popular party can undermine the pillars of democracy, he says that leaving a country exposed to the threat of extremism can be dangerous and “ultimately leaving no democracy to defend.”
This is why countries have generally avoided banning extremist parties, and have explored different approaches.
“There is a spectrum of how far the state can go to act against extremist groups,” Lorenzo Vidino, Director of the George Washington University Program on Extremism, told Euronews. “And that is based on different histories, different constitutional, social and cultural approaches,” Vidino said.
“There is no right or wrong path”
At one end of the spectrum, Vidino pointed to the American approach, which is based “in an extreme tolerance of the intolerant”, which means that national groups considered extremists can be tolerated.
“The Ku Klux Klan is legal in the United States,” he stated, “they can hold rallies, burn crosses… Sometimes they do. That’s for a number of reasons based on the Constitution and free speech.”.
These groups continue to be monitored by the state, “but it’s basically impossible to ban a domestic extremist group in the United States”Vidino continued.
At the other end of the spectrum, he points to countries like Germany: “There is very little tolerance for extremist groups, even if they are not directly violent.”
“That, of course, comes from the recent history of Germany,” says the expert. Even in countries where extremist parties can be banned, the decision is “never taken lightly, for a number of reasons,” Vidino says.
“First of all, there is a complicated legal process. But it also has a political side, which leads to the question of whether we would then also ban extremist left-wing groups, such as environmentalists.”
There is also a practical issue, Vidino said. “If you ban a group, it doesn’t just disappear. The AfD has millions of supporters: the problem it raises is not resolved after the party is banned. In fact, you can lose the control you have over it by dissolving the party.”
What to do then?
Vidino affirms that the best tool to counter extremist parties is surveillance. But there are others.
According to Titz, one solution that has proven effective in weakening the appeal of far-right parties like the AfD is to strengthen media literacy towards democracyespecially in areas like the former GDR, in eastern Germany.
“There is a high level of skepticism towards democracy as a whole, and what really helps, statistically, is investing in programs right there, and keeping them [a la AfD] Beware of your rhetoric”, says Titz who concludes: “Everything the AfD launches has to be documented, monitored and countered.” he concluded.