What recent right-wing rallies in the East German town of Chemnitz reveal about the country's growing shift to the right.
By Caro Keller
Every trivialisation strengthens the far right, as experience shows.Anti-fascist collective NSU Watch
On the evening of 26 August, around 1,000 people passed through the town centre of Chemnitz to hunt down those they didn’t consider “German”, but racist forces had already been mobilising in the background before this incident. The far right had only been waiting for an incident like the murder of a man named Daniel H. to escalate things. The motives of the murderers remain unclear. But the facts of his death were irrelevant, rumours were enough.
This dynamic has existed for years, but the latest events in Chemnitz have ensured that the far right in Germany is now coming together, and any last reservations holding them back have been laid aside.
Who are the far-right?
Each group has its own identity and offers its own (thematic) entry point into the far right: the “ordinary, conservative Germans” like Pegida, “cool youths” like the Identitäre movement, political parties like the Alternative for Germany (AfD), those who glorify violence like right-wing hooligans, those who are “worried about children” or Christianity. Despite their disagreements and different partnerships, they’re heading in the same ideological direction and feel inspired when their themes and messages go mainstream.
This is no longer an isolated trend — we are seeing a shift in this rhetoric as a nationwide phenomenon and a normalisation of racism in the mainstream. This is not an abstract problem — when the right-wing demands not to be dismissed as they do with the phrase “One is indeed permitted to say this…”, the rules about what can be said out loud change, and these words can then be acted upon. The enormous number of increasingly violent right-wing attacks throughout Germany shows this.
How organised are they?
In East Germany, especially in Saxony, there are also mass marches from groups like Pegida (up to 20,000 participants) who initially claimed to be “ordinary, conservative Germans”. Even though neo-Nazis attended demonstrations such as Pegida’s from the outset, the same couldn’t be said of Pegida: a very limited number of Pegida members took part in rallies of groups like the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) and the right-wing party, “Der Dritte Weg”.
This has changed since Chemnitz, at the latest. Recent events there showed a “permeability between the different scenes and also the mobilisation of several generations of extreme-right activists in a short amount of time,” writes Apabiz, the anti-fascist press service and training centre in Berlin, in a statement.
All these movements are represented in parliament by the AfD, which receives a high percentage of votes in elections. The impact of election results and right-wing marches cannot be stressed enough. Every right-wing demonstration or rally, every major right-wing concert, every electoral success strengthens the far right in Germany and allows them to network, individually and as groups. It is not surprising that statistics show a rise in racist attacks around Pegida marches. Inspired by the crowd and the feeling of being able to do “something for the people,” even unorganised right-wingers are resorting to violence to implement their ideological beliefs.
This is also a nationwide phenomenon and is reflected, for example, in the multitude of attacks on refugee housing. In turn, other right-wingers are inspired and empowered by these attacks. Especially if the perpetrators are not identified. Impunity intensifies this dynamic enormously.
How does the neo-Nazi scene now compare to that of the 1990s?
Comparisons with the neo-Nazis and racist movements of the 1990s have often been attempted since the start of the current shift to the right — sometimes more, sometimes less appropriately. One thing is clear, today the shift to the right is visible in all parts of society, and the problem cannot be blamed on a small group of neo-Nazis as alleged individual perpetrators. At the same time, despite the electoral successes of the NPD and Republicans, there was no right-wing faction with as much influence nationwide as the AfD today. In the digital age, we are seeing much larger mass rallies than in the 1990s. But right-wing street terror and mob-like attacks were also part of everyday life then, which also sparked a shift in discourse to the right. The goals of the far right were implemented in the 1990s even without the AfD seated in parliament, and, for example, asylum legislation became increasingly restrictive. This bolstered the right-wingers then. One consequence of this was the right-wing terror of the National Socialist Underground (NSU). The group is confirmed to have carried out ten murders and at least three bombings, and believed that the public was ideologically with them. The racist police investigation, the racist reporting about the murders, and the racist ignorance of the majority of the population about the murders must have also confirmed their assumptions.
How can the shift to the right be stopped?
Like then, today this shift is accompanied by the growing attention of journalists, anti-fascists and other critics. We’re not only examining the right-wing movements, but social interactions too. We’re observing how politics, authorities, and the rest of us react to society’s shift to the right and/or what part we play in it ourselves. Direct connections between authorities, such as police and the neo-Nazi scene, be it ideological or as an active participant, are being revealed: Hitler greetings and racist attacks by police officers, racial profiling, the alleged cooperation of police with neo-Nazi groups such as the “Freital Group”, police personnel participating in Pegida rallies, which resulted in the coining of the phrase “Pegizei” on social media.
At the same time, racist and other right-wing attacks are left unresolved, those who are affected by these attacks are still not taken seriously when they report the right-wing motives for the crime, court decisions against the perpetrators are often very mild, and the political motives behind the acts are often ignored even when they’re obvious. In particular, inquiries into the NSU network and the verdict in the first NSU trial showed that state institutions in Germany are only partially suitable or ready to deal with right-wing terror. The far right are strengthened and people who represent their idea of the enemy are increasingly in great danger.
To address this problem, both socially and politically, structures and ideologies must be clearly defined. Every trivialisation strengthens the far right, as experience shows. For example, where racism is dismissed or when right-wing statements and actions are met with understanding, the far right feels further spurred on. On the other hand, right-wing structures, individuals and positions must be clearly opposed at all levels. Experience shows that this is the only thing that helps against right-wing extremism. But all these things are not only the government’s responsibility. It is a challenge for society as a whole, and thus, each and every one of us has to face it if we want to stop and reverse the shift to the right.
Caro Keller is a reporter for the German anti-fascist collective, NSU Watch.
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