February 17, 2024 - 8:00am

Who will defend democracy against democracy’s defenders? This might sound like a joke, but it should be taken seriously in Germany. For over a year the country’s Greens and Social Democrats have been pushing for a law that would create mandatory government support for NGOs that engage in “supporting democracy, creating diversity, preventing extremism, and enhancing political education”. 

On its surface, the law appears to be designed to ensure long-term funding for institutions outside of the government sector, but a closer look reveals that in its current form it would primarily support “progressive” causes. Left-of-centre NGOs would have a permanent advantage, and their public funding would be secured even with a conservative federal government in charge. 

At this point, the initiative by Left-wing members of Germany’s ruling coalition to force taxpayers to finance Left-wing NGOs is only being kept at bay by the smallest partner in government, the Free Democrats. The party continues to point out that creating a law which targets Right-wing extremism but remains silent on other forms of radicalism, such as Islamism, is insufficient and demonstrably partisan. 

This anti-democratic new law is not just a financial issue, but an attempt by the government to tilt the political playing field against anyone with Right-of-centre politics. Despite their hopes to the contrary, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Greens know that banning the Alternative for Germany (AfD) — which would be the main target of this new law — is not going to happen. As a result, they are trying to outsource the suppression of their opponents to civil society — ideally via selective funding for government-approved NGOs. 

Germany’s Minister for the Interior, Nancy Faeser, makes no secret of the intentions behind the law, saying that “no stone will remain unturned” in finding out who supports the New Right and that “those who mock the German state will feel the strength of the state”. The idea of making mockery of the government punishable by law, all in the name of “defending democracy”, is, to lean on a cliché, pretty Orwellian. What is the point of a liberal democracy if citizens are no longer permitted to criticise their politicians? Having led Germany down a path of sustained economic decline, the ruling coalition now wants to silence its opponents.

Faeser hopes to “discourage” support for Right-wing parties rather than punish it — for now, at least. Not even 24 hours ago a German bank refused to process an individual donation to the AfD, sending a letter to the person in question stating that the bank “does not engage in such transactions”. After this incident became public, the bank apologised and attributed the mistake “to human error”.

Trying to exclude those who have different views from public life, by way of a thinly veiled threat of debanking, is not democratic. Instead, it represents abandoning democracy for something closer to totalitarianism.