Since Germany’s reunification in 1990, the former East and West have been united under a single constitution: the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany. It was first passed in West Germany in 1949 following World War II, and has since been amended to apply to the entirety of the reunified Germany. According to Section I Article 1 of the Basic Law, “The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world.” Articles 2 and 4 of the law guarantee a right to life and physical integrity, and freedom of religion. There exist some rights that apply only to German citizens, but human rights, including rights to life, integrity, and freedom of religion, are granted to all persons . This document is the basis of modern German democracy.
The German Bundestag is parliamentary, and made up of 622 members elected by the people and the political parties of Germany. In order to be included in the Parliament, a party must reach 5% of the overall vote, a policy put in place to avoid splinter parties like those that created weak government during the Weimar Republic. Many of the parties formed or reformed after reunification remain strong in the Bundestag today, but several new parties have also joined. On the far right side of the political spectrum, Alternativ für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) Party, or AfD, joined the Bundestag in 2017, earning 94 seats. The party was originally founded in 2013 in response to the euro zone crisis, arguing against bailing out indebted euro zone member states. After failing to pass the 5% threshold in the 2013 federal election, the party pivoted its platform toward anti-immigrant policies, which gained support with the rise of the European migrant crisis as Germany took in over one million refugees under Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership. With 12.6% of the overall vote, AfD joined the Bundestag following the 2017 federal election. The party continues to tout anti-immigrant rhetoric, advocating for sealing EU borders, instituting identity checks at Germany’s borders, and preventing refugees from leaving for Germany in the first place. Frauke Petry, one of the leaders of the party from 2015 to 2017, explained in a 2016 interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel that “The immigration of so many Muslims will change our culture,” and insisted that such a significant cultural change “must be the product of a democratic decision supported by a broad majority.” The AfD’s 2016 program advocates for the maintenance of German core culture rather than multi-culturalism.
Other anti-immigrant and specifically anti-Muslim sentiment has arisen through other avenues in Germany as well. The citizen’s initiative group PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) was formed in 2014 through local marches against immigrants in Dresden, and rose to its height of popularity in 2015, also during the European migrant crisis. PEGIDA’s belief that Muslims are suppressing and infiltrating German culture contributes to their anti-immigrant sentiment.  Although AfD has kept its political distance from PEGIDA, they did hold a joint protest against immigration in 2017. One of the leaders of AfD, Joerg Meuthen, has also expressed interest in lifting the current ban on cooperation between the two groups, indicating that their ideological platforms may be convergent, at least within the right wing of the AfD. Frauke Petry’s reference to Muslim immigrants is indicative of this as well.
In response to anti-immigrant movements such as PEGIDA and the AfD, Germany has begun to accept fewer asylum-seekers and deport more migrants. They have also expanded the list of countries considered ‘safe,’ making it more difficult for individuals seeking asylum to be considered refugees, and have begun to deport migrants who are married to German citizens or have German children, all of which indicate a departure from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s welcome culture seen in the face of the refugee crisis in 2015. Merkel has defended her admission of millions of refugees in response to the crisis, but has also admitted that Germany’s borders were not under enough control for a time during the refugee crisis. This shift away from the welcome culture indicates a pivot from the leading party coalition in the direction of the AfD, conceding to the point of view of AfD supporters who fear the high level of refugees streaming into the country. However, the refusal of refugees and deportation of migrants from predominantly Muslim countries seems to depart from the rights laid out in Germany’s Basic Law, which guarantees a right to freedom of religion, life and physical integrity. If supporters of the AfD, now the largest opposition party against the ruling coalition under Merkel, believe that German citizens should have the right to refuse Muslim immigrants because they dilute the core culture of Germany, then immigrants may be refused their rights to freedom of religion and physical integrity as they are forcibly removed from their new home on the basis of their religious beliefs. This positions the AfD, PEGIDA, and other anti-immigrant movements in Germany as eroding forces, threatening to chip away at the foundational rights of German democracy for individuals who do not fall into the core citizenry of the German Volk. Zschache, Ulrike. “Germany.” In Solidarity as a Public Virtue?, edited by Veronica Federico and Christian Lahusen, 1st ed., 69–90. Law and Public Policies in the European Union. Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, 2018.  Rommel, Inken. “‘We Are the People.’ Refugee–’Crisis,’ and the Drag-Effects of Social Habitus in German Society.” Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung 42, no. 4 (162) (2017): 133–54.
Photo by Ruth Selipsky, “German Bundestag”, all rights reserved.
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