Germany’s Spectres

Heiko Khoo

Late night arguments between men of different nationalities occur in many towns and cities. On August 26, in the German city of Chemnitz, when such an altercation broke out, three German nationals were stabbed. One of them, Daniel Hillig, a carpenter of German-Cuban descent, died from his injuries.
The two other victims were of Russian-German descent. When local police issued an arrest warrant for two young men, a Syrian and an Iraqi, someone working for the police or the judiciary, leaked the information to supporters of the rightwing Alternative for Germany (AfD). They posted the arrest warrants on social media, causing simmering tension to spill onto the streets.
Several hundred people gathered to express disgust at the killing in front of the iconic Karl Marx monument. Many, like Hillig, were fans of the local football club. However, the far right exploited the general mood of anger to promote hatred against “asylum seekers” and even foreigners in general.
Later, several thousand angry locals joined a demonstration through the city. Egged on by rightwing agitators, chants of “we are the people” were interspersed with the occasional fascist slogans like: “Germany for Germans! Foreigners out!” Fingers were pointed at dark-skinned foreigners in general. This is in spite of the fact that the Daniel Hillig was himself dark-skinned, with distinctly Latino features.
Indeed, Hillig identified with leftwing causes, claiming on his social media profile that he comes from Karl Marx city, rather than Chemnitz. When East Germany was under communist control, Chemnitz was renamed Karl Marx city and it reverted to its original name after a referendum on the name change was held in 1990. Thereafter, only those residents like Hillig, who are proudly left wing, claim to come from Karl Marx city.
A follow-up demonstration in Chemnitz on September 1 gathered about 8,000 people and 1,000 counter-protestors but went off largely peacefully. However, an anti-racist concert featuring radical leftwing bands two days later attracted over 50,000, mostly young people, from Chemnitz and surrounding areas. Nevertheless, the trend towards the far right remains a very serious danger.
German politics has polariSed sharply in recent years. Chancellor Angela Merkel defended a liberal, open and welcoming policy towards refugees fleeing from Syria and other countries and entering the European Union. Germany was the destination of choice for many migrants seeking a better life. So, in recent years, over 1.5 million refugees sought asylum there.
However, this humanitarian policy stretched public resources and provoked a hostile reaction in many towns and cities. In 2017 the AfD became the third largest party in the German parliament, winning 12.6 per cent of the vote and 94 seats. This shock undermined the basic social and cultural consensus underpinning the core identity of the German body politic since 1945, when the ghosts of the Nazi past were supposedly laid to rest.
Now, in Germany, as in many other countries, right-wing xenophobia is on the march. This feeds on a combination of Islamophobia, fears of terrorism, and general economic and social insecurity. It is widely believed that the protection afforded to refugees is diverted from needy Germans. As violent attacks on foreign looking people spread to other cities and towns, Angela Merkel has said: “We have video recordings of people hunting down others, of unruly assemblies, and hate in the streets, and that has nothing to do with our constitutional state.”
This offers the far right plenty of scope to orchestrate conflicts and concoct conspiracy theories about “Cultural Marxists” diluting German national identity. A trend that finds increasing support among disillusioned middle class intellectuals unhappy with their lot. They criticise the power of big business and the banks and simultaneously advocate new forms of cultural, racial and national segregation.

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