German far-right is capitalizing on farmers protests

German farmers attempted to bring the country to a halt. Tens of thousands of people took their tractors to highways and city centers in an attempt to effectively block other road traffic on the first day of a week-long protest.

Farmers are reportedly protesting against a series of €450 million cuts to agricultural subsidies for farm vehicles and fuel.

On Friday, thousands of farmers protested again in Germany, demanding that the government maintain the current subsidies.

This is the fifth day of protests that have resumed en masse since Monday, January 8. In Nuremberg, the police estimate that about 5,000 farmers with 2,500 tractors and other agricultural machinery have protested.

In the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein, thousands of farmers gathered to protest in Kiel. The police counted about 3,100 tractors and other equipment.

In Brandeburg, Highway 101 had to be temporarily closed in both directions due to the protesters. In total, there were about 40 actions in the federal state.

In Saxony-Anhalt, farmers blocked highway exits in many places. There were more or less actions in almost all federal states. Farmers also blocked, among other things, two border crossings with Poland.

Earlier, the German government announced partial changes to its position. Instead of abolishing diesel tax breaks for farmers, it plans to do so gradually over several years.

The ethnonationalist (“völkisch”) movement, currently somewhat merged with the anti-vax individuals, is back on the roadways, even if it uses the farmers to manipulate its supposed support, and the AfD has become its parliamentary arm. Kai Arzheimer, a political science professor at the University of Mainz who specializes in the extreme and radical right vote in Europe, wrote in an article for EUobserver.

Germany’s top court ordered the government to reveal these cuts quickly in December, slashing spending by €17 billion in 2024. The ‘traffic light’ coalition, comprised of the ‘red’ Social Democrats, the ‘yellow’ Liberals, and the Greens, quickly retreated after the initial round of protests hit the country before Christmas. They suggested that one set of subsidies could stay in place while the other would be pushed out over three years. Farmers, on the other hand, are unlikely to accept any adjustments to the subsidies.

The German Farmers’ Association, which organizes the protests, has close ties to the Christian Democratic CDU/CSU parties. Many farmers are staunch conservatives. They are angry about both the recent centralization process, which resulted in the demise of many small family farms, and the government’s intentions for more sustainable agriculture.

Their claimed goal is to bring down the government with their new-fangled ideas, not only to keep the vehicle and fuel subsidies, which represent a relatively small part of the total subsidies received by farmers.

Many political experts worried that the far-right would hijack the protests, and it did happen.

Members of the Identitarian Movement and other far-right extremist groups marched in Munich without any questioning. Many fans of the far-right AfD joined a procession of tractors with their cars in Cottbus. Far-right extremist groups outnumbered farmers in Dresden, which has been a hub for far-right mobilization for years. Other farmers showed up with far-right symbols.

The most frightening incident occurred on January 4th. As Robert Habeck (of the Greens), the economy minister and vice chancellor, and his family got back from a day excursion to a little island, a group of farmers fired fireworks at the ferry and blocked the port. The local police were unable to keep the crowd under control. When the farmers tried to storm the ship, the captain felt obliged to depart the port, despite the fact that Habeck remained on board.

According to a Die Zeit investigation, an AfD politician was also on board the ferry and noticed Habeck during the departure ride. She got in touch with her partner, a far-right activist, who organized the blockade. The public prosecutor has launched an investigation into the incidents.

This act of intimidation against Germany’s deputy chancellor and his family shocked the country and put significant pressure on the Farmers’ Association to separate itself from the far right.

Nonetheless, far-right groups have exploited footage of the protests on social media. For weeks, such actors had been attempting to ride the wave of protests in an opportunistic manner, propagating dreams of a revolution against the “system.”

In actuality, the far-right remains on the periphery of the present protests. The ethnonationalist (“völkisch”) movement exploits farmers to exaggerate its seeming support.

The AfD has established its legislative arm, with twice as much support as in 2021. Furthermore, while the far-right has limited direct control over them, some of its techniques have already spilled over into the farmers’ protests, including the use of effigies and the harassing of politicians in their personal lives.

Arzheimer stated that, because this indicates a decrease in liberal democratic values, all Democrats must band together to combat this growing threat.

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