Anti-Immigrant Violence Rocks Germany Following Chemnitz Stabbing
Last Thursday in the eastern German city of Chemnitz, thousands of far-right demonstrators chanted against the open door policy for refugees introduced by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015.
The xenophobic riot was sparked by a report from social media that linked the stabbing of a man named Daniel with two Iraqi and Syrian immigrants last Sunday, August 26. Both men were detained. In retaliation, far-right extremists randomly attacked people with “foreigners’ appearances,” according to local police.
Left-wing activists also staged a counter-protest, with police working hard to disperse the crowd. In a video circulated on social media, right-wing groups were seen urging deportation of illegal immigrants in chanting: “Foreigners out! Germany is only for Germans!”
On Saturday, both anti and pro-immigration groups staged a demonstration, with the number of protesters reaching more than 4,000, exceeding the authorized limit of 1,000. Around 1,200 police officers were deployed ahead of the protest. As demonstrators refused to leave the area, the police were forced to use water cannons to prevent further violence.
“Our units were at times forced to use direct force. We repeat our call, continue to refrain from violence,” tweeted police.
Merkel’s spokesperson condemned the violence, saying Germany will apply zero tolerance on “vigilante justice.”
“We don’t tolerate such unlawful assemblies and the hounding of people who look different or have different origins, and attempts to spread hatred on the streets,” said Steffen Seibert, the government’s spokesman.
Right-wing crime on the rise in Eastern Germany: the Legacy of Communism?
The increase in anti-immigration crime within Germany’s eastern region is not so surprising given the socioeconomic gap left by the reunification in 1990. Many East Germans have left their hometowns to find better living situations, triggering the rise of the Neo-Nazi movement.
Another main factor is cultural perception. East Germans see themselves as a homogenous society who once lived in harmony in the past, making them unfamiliar with outside cultures and traditions.
The federal report in 2015 stated that the numbers of far-right attacks in Eastern Germany’s Saxony and Brandenburg reached a rate of 49.6 and 51.9 attacks per one million citizens, respectively.
The alarming popularity of the far-right party
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) party gained nationwide popularity following the influx of immigrants in 2015. The party is well-known for its anti-Islam and anti-immigration program, stating that Islam is not compatible with the German culture.
In the parliamentary election last year, AfD earned significant numbers of votes in the Eastern part of Germany, meaning the far-right party secured 94 seats in the parliament.
Merkel’s open door policy for refugees and asylum seekers is one of the reasons why many people have turned to AfD–the arrival of immigrants from the Middle East and Africa has made most Germans feel insecure.
“I fear that tensions within our society between those in favor of migration and those opposing it will be strengthened,” said Werner Patzelt, German political expert. Patzelt thinks the unrest in Chemnitz will likely strengthen the influence of AfD.
Markus Frohnmaier, a politician representing AfD, blamed the current government for failing to protect its citizens, stating: “If the state is no longer to protect citizens then people take to the streets and protect themselves. It’s as simple as that!”
Why Is Germany Taking So Many Refugees?
Germany’s reasoning seems practical enough: the Berlin administration estimates that the working-age population will likely drop 6 percent by 2030. Therefore, Germany needs newcomers to be trained quickly in order to then enter the job market.
“If we manage to quickly train those that come to us and to get them into work, then we will solve one of our biggest problems for the economic future of our country: the skills shortage,” Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in 2015.
However, the number of refugees arriving in Germany declined to 186,644 last year, compared to around 280,000 in the previous year, as data from the country’s Interior Ministry revealed.
The drop in numbers of refugees was due to the closure of the Mediterranean and Balkan routes once used by illegal immigrants to enter Europe.
Did Fake News Trigger The Far-Right Violent Protest?
Reports circulating on social media said that a German man was stabbed to death because he wanted to defend a woman from being harassed by an immigrant.
However, no evidence supporting the claim has been found so far.
Minister President of Saxony Michael Kretschmer told reporters in a press conference that the call voiced by the far-right movement to get involved in a mass protest was based on fake information.
“We believe that at least some of the calls that were circulated online (to join the protests) were based on false information, on fake news,” Kretschmer said in Dresden.
The left-party politician slammed right-wing groups for exploiting the murder for their political goals with no clear information about the background of the killing.
“A terrible murder, the background to which is still unclear, is being instrumentalized in the most repugnant way for racist riots in Chemnitz,” tweeted Martina Renner, a lawmaker from the left-wing party.