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The German far-right successfully instrumentalises crimes allegedly committed by refugees to mobilise its supporters. These often violent rallies reveal an open affiliation of members of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) with neo-Nazi groups. To reverse this dangerous trend, politicians and civil society must engage with all citizens, defend truth and objectivity and make the positive case for multiculturalism.
The German language is particularly apt at creating and reviving word composites that reflect prevailing socio-political debates. Just think of the ‘Wilkommenskultur’ (welcome-culture) that embraced refugees in the fall of 2015 and the response of concerned ‘Wutbürger’ (anger-citizens) against the “naïve” attitudes of ‘Gutmenschen’ (do-gooders), who volunteered to help migrants. The most recent addition to this series, the word ‘Trauermarsch’ (march of sadness), is now splashed across German newspapers.
While the term ‘Trauermarsch’ suggests solemn reflection, the reality manifesting on the streets of Chemnitz (Saxony) and Köthen (Saxony-Anhalt) revealed more anger than grief. In Chemnitz over 8000 protesters took the streets.
These consisted of prominent AfD politicians as well as neo-Nazi groups and fascist hooligans and erupted in racist chants, prohibited Nazi salutes, and violent attacks on journalists, Social Democrats and ostensible foreigners. The second, similarly inspired, ‘Trauermarsch’ in Köthen received a more coordinated police response.
— Vocal Europe (@thevocaleurope) September 1, 2018
Nonetheless, the 2500 protesters gave a national platform to former politicians of the NPD (Germany’s anti-constitutional, far-right party), which alleged a ‘race war against the German people’. Others marched through the streets demanding a revival of National Socialism. In light of these racist attacks, the President of the Federal Republic, Walter Steinmeier, drew parallels between the protest marches and the collapse of the Weimar government.
Despite this dire warning, responses to the revival of the far-right lacked much needed unity. Large counter protests supported by left-wing, Social Democrat and Green Party politicians and a spontaneous music festival with around 65 000 participants offered important, immediate rebuttals to the hate propagated by racists and their sympathisers. The local and national governments, however, seemed entangled in misplaced debates about whether or not the violence amounted to ‘mobs, hounding and pogroms’.
A particularly questionable incidence of denialism were statements by the Head of the German domestic intelligence service, Hans-Georg Maaßen, that questioned the accuracy and authenticity of national media stories, without providing any evidence for such allegations.
It is important to recognize the deep resentments that underlie the recent outpourings of far-right sentiment. Thus, a long term antidote to racism is real political and civil society engagement with all citizens; including migrants as well as those feeling threatened by them. Rather than appeasing angry revisionists, members of the progressive and centrist political spectrum must defend objective truth and fact based argumentation.
The fiction of a homogeneous and unchanging German culture can be debunked without moralization. The media can desist from sensationalizing all matters relating to migration, refugees and Islam. At the same time, a positive case for pluralism and multiculturalism can be rooted in real benefits conferred to German society and the objective needs of the German economy.
Finally, Germany can point to several successes at integrating individuals from different social and political traditions: Just ask the Children of Greek and Italian guest workers and Vietnamese boat people.