Chemnitz: A cross section of German society?

The death of a German man allegedly brought about by foreigners in Chemnitz caused violent and xenophobic demonstrations in the Saxon city that have dominated the headlines of the German press for the past weeks. Is Germany’s state of law in danger?

The Trigger

In the night of August 26, 2018 German-Cuban 35-year-old Daniel H. was stabbed during the Chemnitz city festival. The victim succumbed to its injuries shortly after in the hospital. On the following day a 23-year-old Iraqi and a 22-year-old Syrian man were arrested as prime suspects. The Iraqi suspect has been released in the meantime while the police currently still searches for another suspect with Iraqi background.

Demonstrations lead to Xenophobic Attacks

Around 800 people spontaneously gathered to demonstrate on Sunday, August 27, 2018 after an arrest warrant was leaked to far-right groups. There are reports and video footage of attacks against people perceived as foreigners. Protesters shouted “For every dead German, a dead foreigner”. On Monday around 6,000 people followed the call of the far-right-movement Pro Chemnitz with approximately 1,500 counter demonstators. An insufficient number of policemen were unable to control the situation which resulted in violent clashes. Equally worrisome is an an attack by neo-nazis on a Jewish restaurant in Chemnitz during the unrest.

“Pegizei”: Links between Saxon Police and Far-right suspected

Suspicion regarding ties between German police in Saxony and right-wing groups were fueled after a founding member of the islamophobic, far-right protest group Pegida, Lutz Bachmann, tweeted an arrest warrant containing the full name of the main suspect. The quick online circulation, especially in the WhatsApp group of Pro Chemnitz, had contributed to the quick mobilisation of demonstrators on the day following the deadly incident. Just a week prior, police were criticised for hindering a camera team of ZDF, state broadcaster, from filming a demonstration in Dresden due to complaints by a protester later identified as a police employee. Further accusations included that the police had lied about having underestimated the numbers of demonstrators after information emerged that Saxony’s office for protection of the constitution had warned them in advance. The growing mistrust against Saxony’s police has led to an increased use of the term “Pegizei”, a portmanteau of Polizei (German for police) and Pegida. 

Statement by Domestic Intelligence Chief reveals Rift in German Coalition

In an interview with the German tabloid newspaper Bild on September 6, 2018 Germany’s then Domestic Intelligence Chief Hans-Georg Maaßen expressed doubts about the authenticity of a video footage showing attacks against foreigners by right-wing extremists during the demonstrations in Chemnitz. He furthermore claimed the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) did not have credible information about so-called Hetzjagden, hounding of foreigners, directly contradicting statements of German chancellor Angela Merkel. 

He later backpedalled, stating he had not meant the video was fake but insufficient to prove houndings of foreigners had taken place in Chemnitz. However, the damage was done. Maaßen’s remarks divided the German coalition government. Chairman of the Christian Social Union (CSU), Horst Seehofer, backed Maaßen whereas Social Democrats (SPD) uttered harsh criticism. Following a week of political disputes, Maaßen was forced to step down as head of the BfV on September 18, 2018. But his new job as state secretary in the federal ministry of the interior was pointed out as a promotion by German media as he will belong to a higher pay grade. “This is symbolic for what is happening right now in Germany. It is obvious which part of Germany they are serving and whose interests do not matter”, explains Fatou, a Law student from Bremen. 

Chemnitz represenative of Worrisome Developments in German Society

Chief editor of the regional daily in Chemnitz Freie Presse, Torsten Kleditzsch explains the problems in Germany run deeper. He outlines three nationwide developments:

  1. 1. Protest against the German refugee policy is growing and has reached the middle of German society

2. A considerably large number of people with a völkisch world view, racism and anti-semitism has existed in Germany for decades – it has grown into a relevant, public force in recent years with the völkisch movement and the support of the right-wing populist political party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD)

3. There are extreme right-wing, partly violent networks which reach into the support circle of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) in the region around Chemnitz

The public unification of these three groups in the streets of Chemnitz revealed the current danger. According to Kleditzsch only the large number of refugee critics provides the völkisch movement with the potential power to not only change political content but to unsettle the political system in Germany. 

“Prevent Events in Chemnitz from occuring elsewhere in Germany”

“To me, the debate around the term Hetzjagd is distracting from the fact that attacks on people perceived as foreigners are taking place”, states Fatou. “The fact itself is disturbing. Categorising it as “not-so-bad” because it wasn’t an actual Hetzjagd is taking space in the public debate that should actually be dedicated to the concerns of the survivors. I expect that the coalition strengthens potential victims and clearly condemns attacks in order to prevent the events in Chemnitz from occuring elsewhere in Germany. Citizens should build support networks and participate in the open debate.”

Photo Credit: Odd Andersen / AFP

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