The Atlantic

Germany Is Testing the Limits of Democracy

German institutions have committed to fight extremists since World War II. The far-right AfD might be their toughest challenge yet.
Source: Thomas Peter / Reuters

BERLIN—When Germany’s domestic-intelligence chief announced last month that his agency would begin keeping tabs on parts of the Alternative for Germany, the country’s biggest far-right party, and was considering putting the entire grouping under surveillance, he framed it as a matter of merely doing his democratic duty.

Thomas Haldenwang’s announcement sparked cheers from many here who view the AfD as an extremist party, and outrage from AfD leaders who have since taken legal action against what they called a politically motivated and stigmatizing move.

On a broader scale, though, the intelligence agency’s decision is the latest and most high-profile way the AfD is testing German democracy—and prompting fundamental questions about the benefits and boundaries of the unique protections Germany has put in place to prevent a repeat of its Nazi past. What in January, can and should government institutions here employ? And at a time when the AfD seeks to informally push the limits of acceptable political speech, where and how should the state draw the legal line between what’s allowed and what’s not, particularly when it comes to a party that sits in Parliament?

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