• After a reluctant start, Germany has become the second-largest international donor of military support to Ukraine, behind only the USA. For 2024, Berlin promised to double its military aid to Kyiv to eight billion Euro.

    Other economically powerful EU members France, Italy and Spain are not supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression consistent with their previous declarations. Chancellor Olaf Scholz is trying to pressure his European colleagues to engage more, as it becomes clearer that Europe cannot rely on the security backing of the USA.

    Last Wednesday, the mother of German journalist and doctor Gilda Sahebi read research by investigative outlet Correctiv, and was worried about her future. 

    Correctiv uncovered a meeting of top politicians of far-right party AfD, wealthy businessmen and fascist activists, including Martin Sellner from Austria’s Identitarian Movement. Sellner reportedly presented a so-called “masterplan” on how to deport millions of people from Germany should the AfD come to power: migrants, as well as German citizens.

    Like Gilda Sahebi, many concerned people posted on social media their stories, and how they could be a target of AfD’s deportation plan. 2024 will be crucial: elections will be held in three German federal states. In all, AfD is leading the polls. In Thuringia, Björn Höcke, an extremist even within the AfD, may become Prime Minister.

    Millions have a reason to worry.

    In Germany, many people see strikes as a nuisance, especially when it affects them personally. A train drivers’ strike last week is a good example of the reactions this industrial action provokes in Germany. Their union is small, but its members occupy central positions in rail operations. 

    A recent poll reveals that only 40 percent of those surveyed show an understanding of the actions of the train drivers, and 44 percent for recent strikes in the public sector. Some people complain that the strikers are taking the whole society as a “hostage”. 

    But there are other, much more sympathetic reactions to strikes in Germany. 

    In April this year and for more than two months in late summer, there were strikes by truck drivers at a highway station in Gräfenhausen. At times 120 drivers, mostly from Georgia and Uzbekistan, who worked for the Polish company Mazur, but mainly drove in Germany and Austria, parked their trucks for weeks because they had not received their already meagre wages. 

    They succeeded: In the end they received the money to which they were entitled. Very few of these drivers were unionised. Nevertheless, there was a great deal of support for the strike from the trade unions: people brought food and, if needed, drove strikers to see a doctor. 

    This support probably meant that the strikers were able to endure their action for so long – and that in the end their strike was successful. This contrasts with other European countries, where the striking Mazur drives did not resist for such a long period. Even though the Gräfenhausen strike was not conventionally organised through a union structure, solidarity from unions somehow made the difference.

    “The sense of security of Jewish people in Germany will be gone for a long time”.

    Marina Chernivsky, head of OFEK counseling centre regarding antisemitic violence and discrimination

    Since the slaughter of 1,300 in Israel by Hamas on 7 October, antisemitic incidents in Berlin have risen dramatically. On the day of the attacks, activists from Samidoun, a group linked to the organisation of Palestinian terror organisation Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP,) were celebrating on the capital’s streets and distributed sweets in the district of Neukölln, where many people of Arabic descent live.

    In the following days, hundreds gathered, shouting anti-Israel slogans such as “From the river to the sea – Palestine will be free”. As Hamas called for global action last Friday, Jewish schools in Berlin remained nearly empty. 

    Over the weekend, several houses in Berlin were tagged with Stars of David. Also, an Israeli flag was burned.

    Antisemitism is a problem throughout German society. In a recent study, 15.4 percent of Germans agreed with the sentence: “With the policy that Israel makes, I can easily understand that someone has objections against Jews.” 24.2 percent agree to it partially. 

    “If a district administrator or a mayor is elected who belongs to the AfD, it is natural to look for ways in which we can continue to work together in such a city.”

    – Friedrich Merz, leader of the conservative party CDU

    Germany’s Conservative CDU party’s deputies should cooperate with potential mayors from the far-right party AfD in local parliaments, according to CDU leader Friedrich Merz, in a statement that shocked the republic last July.

    With this admission, he weakened his party’s 2018 resolution not to cooperate with AfD at any federal level, including in local parliaments. Following harsh criticism even from within his own party, Merz had to retract his announcement a few hours after it was made.

    However, in mid-September, the CDU, together with the Liberal Democrats and the AfD, passed a law to reduce land taxes in the federal state of Thuringia against the left-green minority government. There was no significant outcry from within the CDU.

    The AfD is also making huge gains. In the elections in Hessia and Bavaria last Sunday, the party became stronger than ever before in these states. AfD is now the second-largest party in Hessia.

    In the eastern states, they are even heading for victory. Elections will be held in Thuringia, Saxonia and Brandenburg in 2024. The AfD is leading the polls in all three.

    Not so long ago, the current German Green Party co-chair Ricarda Lang took to the streets to call for more refugees to be welcome in Germany. But a few days ago, on the subject of facilitating deportations for asylum seekers without a valid reason to remain in Germany, she made an interesting statement. Lang demanded publicly: “We expect the Minister of the Interior to finally make progress on the issue of repatriation agreements.” The conservative CDU, the liberal FDP and the social democratic SPD have all called for a stricter migration policy in recent months.

    Maybe, this decision by the Greens came out of a fear they will lose the state elections in Bavaria and Hessia, which will take place at the beginning of October. But this is also part of a bigger political picture: The discourse in Germany is sliding to the right. Today, 16.2 percent of the German population have xenophobic attitudes, compared with 4.5 percent two years earlier, according to a new study.

    Will an eco-activist save Germany’s left? On 17 July, the leadership of “Die Linke” announced that Carola Rackete would be one of the party’s four top candidates for the 2024 European Parliament elections. This was nothing short of a coup.

    Rackete rose to international fame in 2019, when she captained the Mediterranean rescue boat “Sea Watch 3” into the port of Lampedusa, carrying 53 migrants, although Italy’s authorities had forbidden her to dock. Furthermore, Rackete is a climate researcher and activist.

    For years, “Die Linke” has been struggling, mainly because of internal conflicts. On the one hand, it includes young academic leftists from the cities, for whom climate change, LGBTIQ rights and the support of refugees are important. On the other hand, the party contains the older generation of leftists, who want to see more focus on workers’ rights.

    Many of the latter are attracted to the rather controversial former leader of the party’s faction, Sahra Wagenknecht, who has polemicised against the younger generation for being “lifestyle-leftists” and strongly criticised Angela Merkel for her 2015 decision to allow refugees into Germany. Wagenknecht’s public statements often openly contradict her party’s policy. These conflicts have caused a loss of voters and members. In recent months, Wagenknecht has openly flirted with the idea of forming her own party.

    For a long time it looked as if the party’s top brass wouldn’t be able to resolve these conflicts. However, on 10 June, the leadership asked Wagenknecht to resign from Bundestag. This marked a turning point.

    The nomination of Carola Rackete is another milestone in this new direction. With a focus on topics such as climate protection and open borders, Rackete stands for exactly the opposite of Sahra Wagenknecht.

    Two months ago, I attended a talk by former US president Barack Obama in Berlin. One sentence, which he said in parentheses, struck me: “Don’t give up. We may not succeed in achieving the limit of 1.5 degrees of global warming. But whether it will be 2.5 or three degrees does make a difference.”

    According to scientists, a rise of global temperatures of just 1.5 degrees would make vast areas of the planet uninhabitable. Obama was talking about three degrees. So are we already saying goodbye to the 1.5 target? But nobody reacted to Obama’s words, neither the audience nor the moderator. Have we become complacent about our failure to achieve this? Was I the only one worried about that?

    According to the renowned climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf, Germany might heat up by six degrees if the global average warms up by three degrees. This is a horror scenario. The Berlin air is already difficult for the lungs to digest due to the lack of rain.

    But there’s hardly a debate about this in Germany. Politicians tell us: “Well, we are aiming for 1.5 degrees”, but only very few are talking about the obvious: that by continuing in this way, we will certainly not make it.

    Instead, the public debate goes something like this: Isn’t it inconvenient to change our heating systems? Isn’t it annoying to be asked to drive less? Aren’t climate activists who hold up traffic counterproductive, because they stop us from talking about climate change, and change the conversation to one about blocked streets? As if more people would talk seriously about climate protection if there were no traffic jams…

    I long for a debate on these questions: Do we want to stick to the 1.5 degree limit? Do we realise what is at stake if we don’t? And if we do want to stick to it: What do we need to do to win this race? Today, insisting on these questions is often seen as ideological, not practical.

    Germany is still divided, at least when it comes to the country’s attitude towards the concept of a four-day week. According to a recent survey 62 percent of the inhabitants of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) oppose a four-day working week on full pay, but with reduced working hours. In the territory of the ex-West Germany, a majority is also against it, but to a lesser extent: only 54 %. 

    The most common reason for this scepticism is the fear that it will be too hard for companies to delegate the same duties in fewer hours. Apparently, the experience of the economic model of the GDR or the aftermath of its breakdown have made people more suspicious towards experiments with the organisation of work.

    “…this includes precisely the question of whether the Letzte Generation is a ‘criminal organisation.'”

    Since April, climate activists, calling themselves “Letzte Generation” (“Last Generation”) have been trying to bring car traffic in Berlin “to a halt” by glueing themselves to crossroads. This has led to heated debates, and provoked a lot of hatred from car drivers towards the environmental protest.

    A few weeks ago, Felor Badenberg, minister of justice of the federal state of Berlin, instructed her administration to examine whether these climate activists fulfil the criteria of forming a criminal organisation. Her announcement caused uproar in the German public, especially as the prosecutor of the federal state of Berlin had already declared that he didn’t consider “Letzte Generation” a criminal organisation.

    Does Berlin’s minister of justice want to impose political directives on the prosecutors? If she wanted, she probably could: In Germany, prosecutors are eventually bound by directives issued by the ministries of justice, although it is not very common to use this tool.