Ostseebad Binz, Germany | AFP | Chancellor Angela Merkel may appear to be cruising to a victory in next week’s elections, but her campaign rallies across Germany have been plagued by rowdy protesters who jeer, boo and even throw tomatoes at her.
From the western university town of Heidelberg to the picturesque southern city of Rosenheim and the eastern heartland of Torgau, unhappy voters hold banners saying “Get lost” or “Merkel must go”, laying bare their frustration.
Similarly minded chants seek to drown out the chancellor’s speeches.
The unruly protests have jolted awake a snoozy campaign and tarnished Merkel’s image of invincibility, even though her conservative alliance is commanding a strong double-digit lead in opinion polls.
The demonstrations also come at a time when the anti-immigration and anti-Islam Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has been gaining in the polls in the final stretch before the September 24 vote.
The disquiet has sparked questions about the source of the pent-up anger, particularly as the divisive issue of 2015’s mass refugee arrivals had seemingly faded as the influx eased last year.
“The rage is not fuelled only by Merkel’s refugee policy, but also by powerlessness, from the feeling of not being taken seriously by ‘them up there’,” the weekly magazine Spiegel said.
Timo Lochocki, a political analyst at the German Marshall Fund, said anger had been “long in the making” because the ruling coalition of Merkel’s “CDU and the Social Democratic Party do next to nothing to appease these voters”.
“Over the last three to four years, the anti-establishment voters, plus disillusioned conservatives fed up with the eurozone rescue and migration deal, are shifting more and more to the right,” he said — and straight into the arms of the AfD.
– Highly organised –
Far from being a spontaneous outpouring of fury, the protests are highly organised.
Many of the so-called enraged citizens (“Wutbuerger” in German) arrive with AfD posters, reflecting the party’s success in tapping into outrage over the arrival of more than a million refugees to Germany since 2015.
Rene Springer, an adviser to AfD candidate Alexander Gauland, told Die Zeit weekly that it was “compulsory for AfD members to go to events of government politicians” and show their disapproval of the establishment’s programme.
But there is also a second motive — to gain media attention.
“If the media is not reporting about us, then we should go and protest loudly, so that people will report about us,” Springer said.