Berliners have shown how to stop the march of the far right

Something significant has just occurred in Berlin. The far-right group Wir für Deutschland (We for Germany), which has been marching in the capital since 2016, has just announced that it will no longer protest there. Explaining the decision in a frustration-filled statement on Facebook, Wir für Deutschland credited three factors in particular.
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First, there was fatigue; it no longer wished to march round in circles, which had been a fitting metaphor for the spiralling hatred of their ethos. Second, there was discomfort: its members had grown tired of being screamed at by anti-fascists. Third, there was the nemesis whose compassion towards refugees had made them take to the streets in the first place. “[Chancellor Angela] Merkel has defeated us,” said Kay Hönicke and Enrico Stubbe, the organisers of the demonstrations. “We must accept that.” Their deflated tone suggests that, for now at least, hate is too much like hard work.
Of course, hope is hard work too. Wir für Deutschland’s efforts were vigorously resisted by several grassroots groups in the city, perhaps the most persistent of which is Berlin gegen Nazis (Berlin Against Nazis), whose members march at least once a week: it hailed the retreat of Wir für Deutschland as “a clear success”. Its achievement cannot be overstated: Wir für Deutschland, at its peak, could raise a crowd of 3,000 extremists to march through the heart of the city. Its final demonstration, by contrast, attracted barely 100.
The demise of this organisation is notable for two reasons. The first is a reminder that citizens across the world, at a time when many may feel powerless, can still come together to make the atmosphere in their towns less toxic. It is frequently said that the majority of people are decent, but that decency is worth nothing if it remains silent. In this case, we have seen what happens when the majority chooses to speak up. Second, and most crucially, it disrupts the narrative that the rise of the far right is inevitable.
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That account is one that the far right has been understandably keen to push, with its videos amassing millions of views on YouTube and its string of international conferences. Yet some of the most critical confrontations are arguably not taking place online or in debating chambers, but in public. And in Berlin, as in Charlottesville, we have seen the same pattern: of the far-right mobilising large numbers, only to meet with the resistance of vast crowds, drawn from diverse and mutually supportive groups.
In the German context, this resistance seems to be reverberating at a political level. In the 2017 general election, the AfD (Alternative for Germany) party took an unprecedented 12.6% of the vote, and by now might have expected to be riding yet higher in the polls. Yet it is the Greens, with a pro-immigration and pro-environment stance, who have instead enjoyed such a surge. They now stand at 22% in the polls, making them the second-most popular party in Germany behind the Christian Democratic Union, or CDU.
What is driving this progressive revival? Well, at both political and street level, the answers appear to be the same: a clear, positive vision of the future, and an endless supply of patience. And the results have been encouraging. In the last few months, Berlin has seen anti-racism marches of 70,000 and 240,000 people; and in Chemnitz, to counter a protest of 6,000 extremists, 65,000 attended an anti-racism concert. German social media marked the latter of these events with the defiant hashtag Wir Sind Mehr (We Are More).
Yet Anetta Kahane, chairwoman of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, warns against complacency. “We should start a campaign called ‘We are more, but not enough’,” she says. The challenges, particularly in rural areas, remain substantial – and so, while a presence on the streets is essential, it must be tied to long-term work in communities. In Dresden last week, Kahane’s foundation helped to host the 10th anniversary of Saxony’s civil society awards, to honour those who had done most to promote inclusivity in the region. There, as the audience celebrated the brave and unrelenting endeavours of local people, the golden rule of activism became clear: that every painstaking collective effort matters, no matter how minor or futile it may seem. If this rule is borne firmly in mind, then hatred and ignorance can be firmly marched back to the margins of society; and then onwards, into the past.
• Musa Okwonga is a poet, journalist and musician; he is one half of the group BBXO, and is a co-host of the Rabona football podcast. He lives in Berlin