Defenders vs. explorers: Germany ‘divided into two bitterly opposed ideological camps’

A third of Germany society now belongs to two hardened camps, a new study has found. One the one side are the "aggressive" defenders who believe in ethno-nationalism, on the other side the "arrogant" explorers, who are pushing for an end to the ethnic state.

Defenders vs. explorers: Germany 'divided into two bitterly opposed ideological camps'
Opposing demonstrations for/against lockdowns in Heilbronn. Credit: Christoph Schmidt/dpa

The study by the University of Münster took a scientific look at a phenomenon that many people have become aware of in recent years due to increasingly aggressive demonstrations against migration policy, lockdowns and other touch-stone issues.

“Who belongs to our country, who threatens whom, who is disadvantaged? It’s amazing how far apart the positions are across quite a few conflict issues,” co-author Mitja Back told DPA.

Based on a survey of 1,400 Germans, Back and his colleagues found that 20 percent of the population fell into the camp of ‘defenders’, while 14 percent belong to the opposing camp of ‘explorers’. In between are two groups who hold more diverse “centrist positions.”

What defines the two camps?

‘Defenders’ tend to believe that German identity is formed by birth, having German ancestors, having spent most of one’s life in Germany, and having Christian roots.

At the same time, roughly half of this group feel threatened by “foreigners” – i.e. Muslims or refugees – and see themselves as culturally disadvantaged. Only a small proportion of ‘defenders’ are satisfied with democracy; few of them trust the government and parliament.


According to the survey, every fourth person in this group has a low social status; better educated people are less represented than in the “explorers” group.

Among the explorers, the researchers identified only a minority who supported a narrow concept of belonging based on ethno-religious criteria.

No one felt threatened to any great extent by Muslims and refugees. Instead, they saw immigration and diversity as opportunities. The majority of explorers were satisfied with democracy and had a high level of trust in political institutions.

Explorers are comparatively well educated and tend not to be affected by material hardship.

The population survey was also conducted in France, Sweden and Poland. According to the authors, the conclusions for Germany can also be applied fairly broadly to France and Sweden.

All in all, around 5,000 people were surveyed by the market research company Kantar at the end of 2020.

Aggressive vs. arrogant

The study can also be read as a warning to politicians about the threat of further polarization.

It found that ‘defenders’ are increasingly transforming their need for security into an aggressive attitude toward strangers and foreigners – and towards members of the explorer group.

Meanwhile, explorers are pushing ever more vehemently for social change “according to their own ideas of maximum openness and diversity.”

The study identified “an increasingly irritable and arrogant attitude,” among explorers which “provokes the other side all the more.”

Among all four groups that were identified in Germany, strong support for the right-wing populist AfD was only found in the ‘defender’ category. People belonging to this camp also had a tendency to believe in conspiracy theories and were attracted to the idea of a “strong leader.”

“This identity conflict will not resolve itself,” Back warned. He added that the ongoing changes brought about by globalization had the potential to further radicalize the debate.

“Politicians should not take sides, but rather break down both demands to their core,” he said. “Compromises are needed on legitimate needs such as stability and security on the one hand, and openness and change on the other.”

IN NUMBERS: A breakdown of Germany’s Muslim population

Member comments

  1. This is a struggle playing out all over Europe at the moment. I fear that there is no desire from either side for compromise and therefore, the outcome will be victors and vanquished.

    The explorers have big tech, the media and the state behind them in most of Europe so logic suggests they should come out on top.

    However, history suggests otherwise…..

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Germany approves €9 public transport ticket for summer

It's official - people in Germany will get cheap public transport for three months this summer after the €9 ticket was approved.

Germany approves €9 public transport ticket for summer

As part of a host of energy relief measures to cushion the cost of living crisis, the German government is offering cheap public transport for the months of June, July and August. 

Monthly tickets will be available at a price of €9 (or €27 for all three months) and they will allow people to use all buses, trains and trams in local and regional transport throughout the country.

So even if people buy the ticket in Munich, they will also be able to use local and regional buses, trains and trams elsewhere in Germany, whether it’s Hamburg or Cologne. 

READ ALSO: How to explore Germany by train with the €9 ticket

The ticket will not be valid, however, on long-distance transport such as ICE trains or Flixbus.

The offer was put together by the coalition government – made of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the FDP.

The Bundestag voted for the initiative on Thursday, agreeing to give federal states a subsidy of €2.5 billion to fund the project. 

And on Friday, the Bundesrat – the upper house of parliament that represents the states – gave the green light to the ticket, paving the way for it to begin on June 1st. 

States had wanted an extra €1.5 billion funding boost to deal with lost revenue, however it would have been hugely controversial if they had blocked it.

READ ALSO: German states threaten to block the €9 ticket in the Bundesrat

During a debate on Thursday, federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) said the €9 project was “already a success”.

“All of Germany is talking about local public transport,” he said, adding that it is also being viewed with interest abroad. 

READ ALSO: ‘Fantastic’: Your verdict on Germany’s €9 ticket

The Left party (Die Linke) voted in favour of the €9 ticket, but leader Bernd Riexinger said he thought the plan didn’t go far enough. “Three months is simply too little,” he said.

The opposition, however, slammed the move. Christian Democrat Michael Donth called it an “expensive experiment”.

Rail operator Deutsche Bahn will offer the ticket for sale as early as Monday. Local public transport providers across the country are also preparing their ticket machines for the initiative. It will also be available in travel centres.

People with subscriptions to local transport will automatically benefit from the offer. 

In some regions, such as Stuttgart and Freiburg, the ticket is already available for purchase.

READ ALSO: How to get a hold of the €9 ticket in Berlin