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How some Germans are countering the extremist views of the far-right

A vandalised billboard of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Photo/Getty Images

Germans face a familiar dilemma in finding ways to oppose the views of the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

How do you deal with people whose political opinions anger you? Last winter, New Zealanders decided to “de-platform” them – at least, that’s what happened to visiting Canadian “alt-right provocateurs” Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux. Massey University’s subsequent ban on a speech by Hobson’s Pledge founder Don Brash sparked a liberal backlash. This European winter, Germans have come up with some other, more direct, responses.

The far-right Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, is increasingly popular here and well known for its anti-immigrant, anti-government and anti-Europe positions. A lot of the members are just good, old-fashioned conservatives who enjoy a spot of nationalism, with a sprinkling of racism on the side. But others have uncomfortably close links to neo-Nazi organisations. Just last week, one member left to form a new party, the Awakening of German Patriots; they’ll use a blue cornflower, an old Nazi party symbol, as part of their branding.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

That is why, even though the latest polls suggest the AfD is popular with around 12% of German voters, there are still an awful lot of people who don’t like them. In mid-January in Bremen, three assailants demonstrated that dislike by knocking an AfD politician over on the street. Earlier in the month, three men set off explosives in front of an AfD office in Saxony.

In November, a senior AfD politician was asked to leave a Munich cafe because, the proprietor said, her multicultural staff were offended by the woman’s presence. And last summer, somebody stole party co-leader Alexander Gauland’s clothes while he was taking a dip. “No bathing fun for Nazis,” the thief yelled, as he raced off with Gauland’s undies.

But possibly the case that caused the most heated dinner-party discussions was the one that made headlines in late December, when a Berlin primary school rejected the child of an AfD politician, stating it didn’t want the little girl in its classes because of her parent’s politics.

“Blaming a child for the sins of the father is unacceptable,” outraged editorial writers fumed, while the AfD compared the way its members were being treated to the way Jews were discriminated against in the 1930s.

In Germany, anti-discrimination laws say you cannot pick and choose based on identity – things like ethnicity, gender, sexual preference or disability. The school’s case fell between discomforting cracks. After all, the child can’t help being a child – in effect, that is this kid’s “identity” – but her father does have a choice.

The AfD likes to portray its members as victims, while refusing anyone else that privilege. Some of my friends thought, too bad, you reap what you sow; others, particularly parents, were adamant no child should be disadvantaged like this, even if her dad is an asshole.

But the more details we learned, the trickier it was to hold firm to your convictions. The school was private and could legally choose its students. There were around 140 applications for just 30 places. The headmaster also explained that, at Waldorf schools, “we don’t just accept the child into our classes, we accept the whole family into our school community”.

To protect the child, German media did not name the politician. But, although the father said he wanted to keep private and professional life separate, he had also been involved in high-profile conflicts about state education.

And the AfD itself recently set up a controversial online portal where students could “denounce” teachers who did not abide by the principle of neutrality in the classroom.

In the end, only one thing was clear: hiding a Nazi’s shorts while he’s swimming is definitely the less complicated option.

Cathrin Schaer is editor-in-chief of Iraqi news website Niqash.org, based in Berlin.

This article was first published in the January 26, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.