In the course of an increasing number of people seeking asylum, a new tide of right-wing terror is troubling Germany. Forsaken by leading politicians, it remains the duty of the civil society to counter this disgraceful development and to facilitate the refugees’ integration.
Late at night, 2:00 a.m. A mother of three lies cuddled together with her children when she is startled awake by the sound of smashing glass and an ensuing explosion. Fire and heavy smoke are raging in the apartment. The Zimbabwean family is helplessly trapped in the flames. The firefighters hurry over to quench the flames and rescue the family along with the other residents of the accommodation, 40 in total, most of them asylum seekers from African countries and Syria with a handful of Germans among them.
A Molotov cocktail launched by three right-wing extremists set ablaze the room in which the children—ages, four, ten, and eleven—usually sleep. Thankfully, that night they slept in their mother’s room and none of them were severely hurt—physically, at least. Mental traumas, in contrast, will be the painful aftermath of that night of German disgrace.
An infamous development
The described arson attack on a refugee accommodation took place on the night of August 28 in the village of Salzhemmendorf, Lower Saxony, which has a population of approximately 10,000 residents. It is the woeful landmark of an infamous development in Germany that we are becoming witnesses of these days: Salzhemmendorf was the first time an inhabited refugee house was set ablaze. This depicts the sad point of culmination of a series of arson attacks on still-uninhabited houses designated to accommodate refugees in the near future.
There is a new tide of violent racism troubling Germany. Inevitably, it reminds the observer of the extreme acts of right-wing violence in the early 1990s when refugee houses in Germany blazed once before. The violence seems to have escalated anew these days.
Starting out from the weekly rallies of the anti-Islamic organization Pegida in October 2014 (German abbreviation for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident), a movement across societal camps indulged in its hatred on everything foreign—sheer racism as the connecting link between sections of the intellectual bourgeois and the thuggish neo-Nazis.
In an emerging online-culture of refugee hatred, racists appear to lose all their inhibitions and spread their ignorant views, calling openly for violence and murder or to team up in “self-defense militias”. What started as an internet-supported rally movement in Dresden, Saxony, soon escalated into violent excesses, revealing a deeply worrying all-German development.
The testimony of disgrace
The list of violent attacks against refugees, their homes and their supporters just in the last months is unbearably long.
After weekly protest of thousands against a designated accommodation for refugees from war-ravaged Syria in the village of Tröglitz, Saxony-Anhalt, the then fortunately still empty house was set on fire. The mayor of the village was forced to withdraw from office after threats of violence against his family from the right wing extremists.
Woefully, the next level of escalation in the unbroken series of arson attacks has been reached. In Heppenheim, Hesse, for the first time refugees have been severely injured due to a fire in their accommodation. Four of them suffered from smoke inhalation and one man from Eritrea was severely wounded. He sustained fractures to the upper part of the body while jumping from the third floor to escape from the blaze.
In Dresden, the cultural capital of Eastern Germany, hundreds of refugees are accommodated in miserable conditions in a tent camp. Left-wing activists who gathered to protect the refugees along with Red Cross staff that organized the camp were repeatedly threatened and attacked by right-wing extremists throwing stones and empty bottles. The Red Cross person in charge for Saxony, Rüdiger Unger, expresses his complete bewilderment: “Our Red Cross-staff have never experienced things like this during their humanitarian missions all over the world.”
Apparently, workers of the Red Cross can pursue their mission and aid distressed people in Mali or Uganda, but in the world cultural city of Dresden they are threatened with death and attacked by neo-Nazi thugs.
The townlets of Freital and Heidenau, Saxony, became a cynosure for protesters of the extreme right, perilously downplayed as “asylum critics” or “worried citizens” by the majority of the mainstream media. In Heidenau, night after night hundreds to thousands assembled to express their opposition to 250 refugees being accommodated in a vacant DIY superstore. The “worries” were quickly to erupt into sheer violence when the busses transporting the refugees to their prospective shelter were brutally attacked by a rioting mob of right-wing extremists. Over the course of these clashes, in addition, 31 police officers were also hurt trying to contain the mob. After repeated threats to his life, the car of Michael Richter, a local left-wing politician and genuine refugee supporter, was blown to pieces.
Who, in good earnest, would have considered this outburst of violence possible again in Germany?
The anti-racist Amadeu Antonio Foundation meticulously counts all right-wing related crimes committed in Germany. By August 2015, an unfathomable 272 attacks on refugee accommodations occurred, among which were 31 arson attacks. Furthermore, 61 refugees fell victim to criminal assault. The numbers of attacks on housings and individuals in 2015 already outnumbered the total records of 2014 in just eight months.
Besides the paranoid völkisch angst about contamination of the German blood with African and first and foremost “Muslim blood” there is one “argument” that is brought in in a mantra-like manner: a lack of funds.
As long as German pensioners, German welfare recipients, German homeless persons, and German children have to suffer, there should be no money wasted on refugees—this is how the infantile argument is.
Facing the facts: In 2014, the national German budget amounted to € 297bn, among which the budget for social-security payments adding up to a total of € 148bn represented by far the biggest share. The expenses on refugees came to € 2.4bn. Due to the complexly layered federal structure of the German bureaucracy and consequential the sometimes murky payment obligations, it is almost impossible to establish accurate relationships. But the above mentioned numbers determine the expenses on refugees to be a mere 1.6% compared to the total social budget.
Assuming the state would cut its expenses on refugees to zero and spend the newly released funds completely on other social services the overall effect would hardly be noticeable. The “worries” of the “asylum critics” reveal nothing but their racist prejudice; they do not describe any actual financial connection.
Neo-Nazis and other racists do not crop up in a vacuum. Indeed, two main actors in the public sphere can be identified that must be accused of comprehensive failure and, hence, of spiritual play with fire: media and politics.
Politics—spiritual arson, virtuoso idleness
Spiritual arsonists for the current outburst of violence can be found among the leading German Federal politicians. Vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (Social Democrats, SPD) considers the German nation as the “bonding power for the people” and wishes a more “patriotic identity”—his conservative counterparts could not have put it better.
The chairman of the right-wing Christian Social Union (CSU) and Merkel’s coalition partner, Horst Seehofer, is building two detention centers in Bavaria for refugees from the Balkans in the southeast of Europe. The people from this region often belong to the ethnic group of Sinti and Roma. Remembering Germany’s shameful history, it is utterly scandalous that a German politician is building camps for Sinti and Roma anew—“a case of historical amnesia”, as Simone Peter from the Green Party put it.
With regards to the violent excesses by German neo-Nazis, chancellor Angela Merkel and her responsible Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière, excel with virtuoso idleness. As if the right-wing violence could simply be sat out and solved by closing their eyes.
So does the responsible Minister for the Interior in Saxony, Markus Ulbig, who was on holiday just on the days the situation in the above mentioned tent camp in Dresden escalated. Saxony is the center of violence. The Prime Minister of the state, Stanislaw Tillich, is pouring grist to the racists’ mill when claiming that the Islam does not belong to Germany.
Media—“After all, call them terrorists!”
Neo-Nazis call openly for violence and even murder, they commit arson attacks on refugee accommodations, attack their transporting busses and blow up the car of a local left-wing politician. In the light of this sprawling violence, I associate myself entirely with the notorious German blogger Sascha Lobo who demands of the media: “After all, call them terrorists!”
In the German mainstream media, however, they have been perilously downplayed as “worried citizens” or “asylum critics”. This trivialization provides legitimacy to their hatred, as if the spreading pogrom-like atmosphere is the expression of justified worries. When the violent mob is trivialized in this negligent manner, as a consequence their hate-filled racism is trivialized, too.
Exemplarily, the widely read conservative magazine Focus is stirring up trouble against “false refugees” – ever since this became a widely used term. Against someone who resides “falsely” in Germany, every means for deportation is appropriate. This inciting coverage in the mainstream media equips the racist mob with arguments, and arms it.
Over months, a spiritual atmosphere has been established in the media in which racism and hatred could easily keep on flourishing. Starting with the coverage on the Pegida-movement and the myth of the “worried citizen”, the media has a large share in racism, step by step becoming presentable again in the heart of the German society.
Large parts of the mainstream media must be accused of total failure. One who does not write against racist mindset, but in contrast, downplays it, betrays the liberal core values of the press and becomes the mental accomplice of the right-wing terror.
The Zimbabwean family in Salzhemmendorf was forced to watch their home and belongings go up in flames. Not missing a beat, a city councilor of the Green party decided to temporarily accommodate the family of four in his private home, while several other citizens made the same offer. This represents the other part of the story that is rarely narrated in the media: the pragmatic, solution-oriented, unbureaucratic provision of help, the naturally existing overwhelming willingness in the society to help and welcome refugees that goes without saying.
There are hundreds of thousands of citizens who voluntarily endeavor to the utmost to facilitate the refugees’ integration and everyday life issues. Although the openly spread racism is successfully heading towards the center of society, the German majority does not harbor hostile sentiments against refugees. Of course, there is a fiercely and sometimes shamefully lead discussion about the how, where, which and how many, but one about the if-at-all remains a rare event, at least in the mainstream.
Sprawling neo-Nazi violence along with a growing rejection of refugees among the “worried citizens” mirrors an utterly disgraceful development in Germany. Forsaken by the government, it remains the duty of the civil society to show its colors against those who strive to erase all colors.