With less than a week to go until state elections in eastern Germany where the far-right has enjoyed major gains, around 35,000 people marched against hate and racism in the city of Dresden over the weekend. Under the banner "#indivisible," a broad coalition of artists, trade unionists and politicians gathered to urge voters to reject exclusion, which they argue is championed by right-wing extremists.
The eastern state of Saxony has long had a problem with far-right groups. Dresden is also the cradle of the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA) anti-immigration, anti-Islam movement, and the state of Saxony is a stronghold of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party (AfD). In Brandenburg, the state surrounding Berlin, the AfD and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) are neck and neck, according to a survey conducted by the broadcaster ARD released last week. According to the poll, the SPD and the AfD would both win 22% of votes in that state. Elections are to be held in Brandenburg and neighboring Saxony on Sept. 1. If a strong showing by the AfD is confirmed in both regional polls, it could throw Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition into a new crisis by potentially heightening calls for the SPD to pull the plug on the partnership. The AfD entered Germany's national parliament for the first time in 2017 as the third-largest party, helped by voter anger at Merkel's decision to welcome asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa.
Under the banner #indivisible, the collective of activists managed to get a quarter of a million people on the streets in Berlin last October to defend inclusion and unity. That march was organized with Germany still shocked by xenophobic attacks in a Saxony city, Chemnitz, in the aftermath of the stabbing of a German by a migrant. AfD politicians then also joined in a silent march through Chemnitz alongside the head of PEGIDA, as well as neo-Nazis.
Right-wing views have become increasingly widespread there in recent years and many voters have defected from both the Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and Die Linke in favor of the anti-immigration agenda of the AfD. Far-right extremists carried out over 1,200 attacks in the eastern German states in 2018, revealing a significant increase, according to a report released in April. Regarding the growth of far-right extremism, the risk of becoming a victim of a hate crime is 10 times higher for immigrants residing in cities in eastern Germany, according to another study. The report, released by the Leibniz Center for European Economic Research, a nonprofit institute based in Mannheim, found that the amount of experience local people share with immigrants is an important factor in understanding the growing xenophobia and hate crimes in the country.