AfD street march numbers set to be just quarter of forecast 10,000
Dozens of cultural and political associations plan to counter-protest at right-wing AfD
Blocks of ice placed by activist group Reconquista Internet in front of the AfD headquarters in Berlin: they contain copies of Germany’s Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany. Photograph: Filip Singer
When supporters of Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) take to the streets of Berlin on Sunday they will be faced down by many more counter-demonstrators shouting, dancing and whistling their protest against the far-right party.
Dozens of organisations, political associations, DJs and nightclubs have joined forces for what is likely to be one of Germany’s largest political protests of recent years.
The AfD has registered a march route from Berlin’s main train station to the landmark Brandenburg Gate. Initially it told Berlin authorities it expected about 10,000 people to take part in the march, held under the motto “Germany’s Future” – a reference to AfD concerns over mass immigration and political Islam.
Despite speeches planned from party leaders, as well as free transport and monetary incentives to supporters, the AfD has corrected down the likely attendance in recent days to 2,500.
Those who show up are likely to face almost as many police, guarding them from protest groups marching under the slogan: “Stop the hatred, stop the AfD”.
AfD Berlin leader Georg Pazderski said the march would highlight a growing list of its voters’ concerns linked to growing immigration: overcrowded schools, a housing shortage and rising rents.
“Berlin’s problems reflect the problems of our country,” he said.
The AfD has seats in the Berlin state parliament and 11 others, and is likely to enter the final two – Hesse and Bavaria – in state elections later this year. Last September, the party entered the Bundestag federal parliament with about 13 per cent support, making it the largest opposition party.
The counter-demonstration will gather at the Reichstag parliament building and has vowed to stop the AfD marching along an adjacent route.
Tensions are running high ahead of the march, after previous AfD marches turned into street battles.
“Freedom of association applies to everyone,” said a Berlin police spokesman. “Anyone may demonstrate as long as they obey the law.”
Many extreme-right groups – from the anti-Islam Pegida to neo-Nazis – have professed their loyalty to the AfD. The party said it disassociates itself from them – as well as any forbidden symbols they may bring to the march, but it cannot stop them fully.
The AfD has profited from growing German uncertainty at the mass immigration – and consequences – of the 2015-2016 refugee crisis, that saw more than one million people arrive in the country.
A regional refugee office in the northern city-state of Bremen has been closed down after it emerged it had issued more than 1,200 incorrect asylum requests between 2013 and 2016.
A report into the Bremen office showed that “legal regulations and internal policies” had been “disregarded” at the centre, with applicants effectively waved through the asylum process without adequate background checks.
Prosecutors are investigating whether Bremen officials were bribed to issue positive asylum decisions while the head of Germany’s federal asylum office, Jutta Cordt, has come under intense pressure to resign.
“Confidence in the quality of the asylum procedures and the integrity of the Bremen arrival centre has been massively damaged,” said Horst Seehofer, federal interior minister, announcing the office shut-down.
All of the office’s asylum rulings are now under review and spot checks have been introduced in all other asylum offices amid fears the scandal could spread.
The 2015-2016 refugee crisis caused logistical chaos and a bureaucratic meltdown, with many asylum offices at the time overwhelmed and under-resourced.
With the Bremen scandal, and regular reports of violent attacks by some asylum seekers, AfD leaders feel vindicated by their warnings in 2015.
Since the peak of the crisis, Germany has tightened its asylum process: just a third of asylum requests were granted in the first four months of this year – down from almost two-thirds at the peak of the crisis in 2016.
The number of asylum requests has fallen dramatically, too: from 696,000 in 2016 and 603,000 in 2017 to 93,000 from January to April 2018. One in two failed asylum seekers files legal action against their ruling, with courts finding in their favour in every fourth case.