Germany’s Authoritarian Turn

The brutal and repressive authoritarian measures taken by the German establishment against Palestine solidarity are only increasing in frequency, as mainstream German society remains silent.


A few months ago, I wrote an article about how the unity of German political parties in support of Israel marks a decisive moment in the consolidation of rightwing power in this country. Today, the egregious acts of state repression surrounding the Palestine Congress now mark Germany’s authoritarian turn. The rate and speed at which such measures are progressing should alarm us all.

I believe that the state’s ability to pull off the banning of the Congress – complete with deploying police at a 10:1 ratio of attendees, barring the entry into the country of several well-known figures, cutting off power to the venue, and brutally arresting Jewish activists – has only emboldened the continued expansion of the state’s repressive apparatus. Moreover, when questioned by organizers and lawyers on the scene about why they were doing this, police responded that they didn’t know and were just following orders. This, of course, should serve as consolation to no one. 

And yet, the events of that weekend have extended beyond the gross violation of civil rights at the Palestine Congress, and they have continued to intensify in the fortnight that followed – a trend that deserves our close attention beyond what occurred on that Friday. This article will recount the subsequent events of that weekend, chart the rapid pace of repressive measures taken since then, concluding with the violent eviction of the protest camp in front of the Bundestag, which has been condemned by human rights watch groups like Amnesty International

Saturday 13.4

The day after the congress was banned, a few thousand people gathered in the city center to protest the slew of oppressive measures that had just been unleashed against Palestinian solidarity. The police presence was – once again – excessive, as the reinforcements from North-Rhein Westfalia were still in town. Dressed in full riot gear, they formed a line on either side of us that extended the entire length of the demo. Mixed in with the righteous anger, there was a feeling of tension and fear, as people kept warning each other not to get separated from their friends, nor to leave the demo alone. 

Likely chomping at the bit for some violence during their big trip to the Hauptstadt, the cops eventually descended on the crowd and detained people that they claim to have seen at previous illegal demos – my sources confirm that this included people that both were and were not actually at said demos. They took these measures based on shoddy evidence – photos and videos from the events – that according to lawyers I spoke to at the ELSC, are not sufficient for a conviction. Nevertheless, the police pulled them from the crowd and questioned them, informing the suspects that they were opening an investigation and may press charges.

The police also separated multiple parents from their young children, including an 8-year-old girl who was chanting into a megaphone when around 10 riot police broke into the crowd in an attempt to detain her. The crowd united to shield her from the violent attack, but the incident left the girl terrorized. Later, a man was arrested, leaving his young son alone and sobbing. In response to these acts of police aggression, the crowd sat in place and stayed there until the demo’s end, demanding the release of those detained. 

Sunday 14.4

Things reached perhaps their most brutal point of the weekend on Sunday when, at the protest camp, a musical performer allegedly said an illegal slogan. Riot police attacked the crowd in squadrons truly reminiscent of the brown shirts or the SS, hitting anyone even remotely in their way. Several police once again violently arrested a Jewish participant at the camp who was attempting to intervene and deescalate the situation. Multiple people were arrested, pepper sprayed, and hospitalized as a result of the attack. Chilling videos circulated on social media showing the cops casually chatting and laughing in the aftermath of their shameful and undemocratic behavior.

The crowd stayed united against the onslaught and ordners held hands around demonstrators to protect them from the police. As the protesters chanted “Nazis raus!” – something that seemed to hit close to home for the police (who have been shown to have plenty of Nazis and rightwing extremists in their ranks) – they backed away and left with those who they had arrested. The atmosphere remained tense, as more reinforcements clad in riot gear returned to the site.

Over the following fortnight 

In the days directly following the weekend, there have been numerous unconstitutional acts of repression including the banning all languages except English and German from being spoken at the camp – with notable instances of Arabic, Irish and Hebrew being criminalized. People wearing kufiyas have been blocked by the police from approaching Brandenburger Tor en route to the camp on several occasions, and blatant racial profiling in the area surrounding the Bundestag remains a common occurrence. 

On Saturday, April 20th, the police violently attacked a peaceful demo demanding that Germany stop selling weapons to Israel, once again making several arbitrary arrests. That same weekend, the government also closed two centers for women and girls in Friedrichshain, after secretly surveilling those that work at the center. The justification was that one worker posted in support of a ceasefire on her private Instagram account and attended demos in solidarity with Palestine in her free time.

The latest disturbing iteration of this pattern occurred on Friday, April 26th, when the protest camp in front of the Bundestag was given an eviction notice with only one hour to vacate the premises – for flimsy reasons such as that they were damaging the grass. The police used shocking and disproportionate levels violence against demonstrators who staged a sit-in at the camp, including instances of police punching participants in the kidneys and faces while wearing reinforced riot gloves. Others were subjected to verbal abuse and sexual harassment – all in full view of tourists and passersby. The eviction culminated in as many as 161 arrests

Having been among the protestors who came out to show solidarity with those being evicted, what perhaps shocked me most about the thoroughly undemocratic scene – in front of the German parliament no less – was the absolute lack of care coming from bystanders in the area. The place was absolutely swarming with cops, dressed in riot gear, committing egregious acts of violence. I even observed people gloating at the scene with their Starbucks in hand. After overhearing me speak words of condemnation about the German state, one man elbowed me when he walked by. This is all to say nothing of the elected officials sitting in their comfortable offices in the Bundestag as police beat demonstrators in full view from their windows.

That evening, at a spontaneous counter demo on Sonnenallee, the excessive police presence and use of force continued, perhaps most shockingly in the violent arrest of a man waving a Palestinian flag. The police forced him face down on the ground against the sidewalk, a position that can induce deadly asphyxiation within minutes. 

The implications 

No doubt, similar measures of police violence, cancellations, and the closing of publicly funded spaces that show even the slightest support for Palestine have occurred since Oct 7, and before. Yet, what is new is the near-daily rate at which such instances have been happening since the state got away with banning the Palestine Congress. In addition to the events recounted above, the number of people who have received letters from the police for sharing allegedly-illegal slogans on their social media accounts continues to rise. 

It is clear that the police are becoming more emboldened as their actions are met with impunity and indifference from the German public. They enact shocking levels of violence against protestors and justify this – along with arbitrary arrests and detentions – on unconstitutional grounds and allegations. From banning the congress based on what might be said during it, as well as the usual racial profiling, and declaring certain languages, slogans, and symbols illegal – it is clear that the democratic freedoms enshrined in the Grundgesetz (Basic Law) matter little compared to the whims of the state and police. 

Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands turned out for anti-AfD demonstrations earlier this year, the cognitive dissonance and affinity for authoritarianism amongst German society remains intact. The fascist turn of the centrist politicians of the Ampel coalition is widely supported and their racist suppression of Palestinian solidarity movement is seen as justified – rather than acknowledging it for what it is. 

As a foreigner, I find Germans’ deafening silence and inaction around what’s happening to be especially chilling because it is so obvious how this culture enabled the Nazis to ascend to power. And as I stood on the grounds in front of the Bundestag, I couldn’t stop thinking of the phrase, that when you scratch a liberal a fascist bleeds. And this is Germany – just as it was in 1933, it is now in 2024.  

In fact, the police violence is secondary to the quiet and smug acquiescence of the German public in the face of it. There is consistently a sense – such as among the bystanders at the eviction in front of the Bundestag – that the demonstrators deserve the unjust treatment for their disobedience. When they are not actively burying their heads in the sand about their country’s actions both here and in Gaza, they seem to think that this violence and repression is reserved only for those who fall out of line. 

What we have learned from Germany’s own shameful past is that when these oppressive acts are not actively and adamantly opposed, these tendencies only continue to widen their reach into broader sections of society. As the oft quoted line from Hitler himself goes: “One thing alone could have stopped our movement—if our adversaries had understood their own principles and had from day one struck with all ruthlessness the core of our new movement.” 

In these times we have a limited window within which we can resist and this window is closing more quickly with each passing day. And so we must persist.

Germany is clearly threatened – we’re doing something right

I would also argue that, despite the heavy handedness and absurdity of the repressive measures taken by the police (see: arresting a sofa, twice), these acts are strategic. They serve the purpose of overwhelming and distracting those who resist in solidarity with Palestine from Germany’s support of the actual genocide. They also function to normalize the onslaught of repression amongst the public, while striking fear in those who might otherwise become radicalized.

Clearly, the lengths that the German police, politicians, and press are going to suppress our movement are indicative of our power and influence. The level of repression is proportional to the threat we are mounting against the powers that be. The state’s main weapon is intimidation, and it is important to remain steadfast and to keep pushing in the face of it. Because, as Palestinian lawyer Nadija Samour reminded us following the cancellation of the Palestine Congress, when engaged in struggle “first they ignore us, then they laugh at us, then they fight us, and then we win.” 

They likely evicted the camp because they are afraid of the rising tide of such encampments across the US and around the world. They use violence because they do not know how to respond to the unbreakable and utterly transformative feeling of effervescent solidarity which all of us who are a part of this movement for a free Palestine have come to know over the last months. 

And at the end of the day, whatever tactics of violence and intimidation they unfurl on us, it is nothing compared to what our Palestinian siblings are currently living in Gaza. We must stay principled and focused on what we are fighting for.

All we have is each other: solidarity forever, power to the people! 

And for those who are a part of this movement and have been targeted by the violence, surveillance, repression, and psychological warfare, I have this to say: all we have is each other. Anyone who has had the privilege of attending a demo or event here in Berlin in solidarity with Palestine knows the power of our community. 

The joyful militancy we bring into public space – one of the latest examples being the protest camp where we saw our capacities to collectively self provision, organize, and educate ourselves in literal and symbolic opposition to the state. Our collective power is utterly terrifying to the powers that be and we must continue to wield it, until our aims are met. Palestine isn’t going anywhere and neither are we.

The repression only functions as a crucible that forges our discipline, organization, and solidarity to a higher degree. And it is spreading. There is a reason why the state is going to such great lengths to squelch it. It contains the stirrings of liberation – for all of us. So in the face of intimidation we must be even louder, bolder, and more defiant than ever, especially as the state will continue to take back territory from us should we waver for even a second. 

It is our steadfast solidarity that will save us and that stands as the portal to our collective liberation.