The Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party held a conference this weekend in Cologne. A far-right party, the AfD are known for their firm stance against immigration. The news that the party, including 600 party delegates, would be holding a conference in a central Cologne hotel has been met with strong protest by tens of thousands of citizens, including thousands of left-wing extremists.
The AfD was founded in 2013 as a eurosceptic party. They were unsuccessful in the general election, only acquiring 4.7% of the votes. However, since 2015 the party has experienced a wave of support due to their anti-immigration rhetoric in the face of the refugee crisis and increased fear of terror threats. In 2016, it acquired double-digit vote percentages in all five state parliament elections. This was particularly surprising in the case of Berlin, which is usually expected to vote for liberal stances. This year, they have entered regional parliaments in eleven of Germany’s sixteen states.
Earlier this year, a Forsa survey revealed that AfD was expected to gain 10% of the votes. A more recent survey suggests that the party has lost some support, and are now expected to gain only 8% of the votes. However, this easily meets the 5% threshold and AfD are anticipating entering the Bundestag (German parliament) for the first time after this year’s general election on September 24.
The AfD held a party conference over the 22 and 23 of April to sign off on their election manifesto. Due to their reputation for being xenophobic, more than sixty organizations grouped together to organize a protest. Xenophobia, in light of Germany’s past, is seldom tolerated by the wider public. The protestors hoped to block the AfD from entering their hotel. In order to do this, they suggested sitting and standing in AfD’s members’ way as they attempt to enter. Officials planned to block the roads surrounding the hotel, but protestors were encouraged to overcome such barriers by any means possible. Dirk Hansen, from the Cologne Against Right-Wing initiative, explained that the protests would be non-violent. He told the Rheinische Post (RP) that, “We are peaceful. There will be no violence from us.”
Despite this, some violence has broken out over the past two days when protestors have clashed with police and law enforcement. In order to meet the projected 10 000 protestors, 4000 law enforcement officers were stationed around the city. So far, two police officers have been injured by protestors, and one deputy of the AfD was attacked.
In addition to the protests, a number of the city’s local bars, clubs and eateries have replaced their coasters with ones that read: “No Kölsch for Nazis, No Room for Racism!” Kölsh is well-known local brew, and it was expected that AfD delegates would venture out to sample it.
Mankel Brinkmann, an operator at a participating music venue called Club Bahnhof, told the RP that, “Our bars and restaurants reflect all of society … it is clear that we do not tolerate racism and homophobia.”
Other trades and businesses in the city also closed for the Saturday, many indicating that they would do so in anticipation of the protests. Although areas around the hotel were to be blocked off by officials, businesses in the area were left to their own discretion whether or not to open. However, they were warned by police that complete protection could not be provided.
The protests show the public’s strong stance against the far right-wing. This indicates a wider perspective of German people, who seem uninterested in radical political change. Despite the Alternative für Deutschland’s inevitable presence in the Bundestag, support for the party has been steadily declining and the past few weeks have revealed deep-set internal issues.