Rising anti-immigrant sentiment and violence against refugees fuels tensions within German society
A few weeks ago, local authorities in Saxony put on hold democracy. In the light of anti-immigrant demonstrations and counter-rallies for refugees, all gatherings were called off due to safety concerns. The police in the small rural town of Heidenau admitted defeat: They would have been unable to cope with the emergency situation. The same day the ban was announced, it was overturned by a regional court. But this decision did not resolve the huge issue Germany currently faces.
In the past weeks, anti-refugee protests in Germany have taken disturbing dimensions. Dozens of police officers were left injured after clashes between anti-immigrant protesters and security forces in Heidenau. Asylum seeker’s centres have been burnt down in several federal states. Police forces registered a surge in acts of violence against immigrants: 173 attacks in the first half of the year. In 2014, 175 were registered for the whole year.
This eruption of violence prompted Chancellor Merkel, who normally leaves policy issues to the minister in charge, to travel to Heidenau. She thanked those people helping refugees under difficult circumstances. In return, the largely islamophobic public accused her to “betray the nation”. It seems that despite her overwhelming victory in the last national elections in September 2014, things have started to change.
German public opinion has been struggling to make sense of this renewed fervour for far right ideas, which seem to come out of nowhere.
What has gone wrong in Europe’s richest country, with an official unemployment rate of approximately 5%?
Germany is expected to receive 800,000 refugees by the end of the year, the largest number in Europe. In 2014, 200 000 applications from asylum seekers were registered. In comparison, under 32 0000 new applications were made in the UK for the same year. As the richest European country, Germany has the capacities to welcome migrants. However, authorities were not prepared for such an sharp increase in the first half of 2015, and struggle to provide housing and security for those arriving from war-torn countries.
While politicians discuss short-term solutions, a long-term strategy for the integration of refugees into German society is yet to be found. The cultural and social dimension of the “Flüchtlingspolitik” (refugee politics) has been left aside by politicians, for a good reason: The topic remains sensitive among voters.
But not only has the rise in immigration been considerably underestimated.
First and foremost, the rise of far-right ideas in Germany has been substantially played down by German authorities.
A slight shift in public opinion towards right populist ideas started in 2013, with the rise of a new party: The Eurosceptic and populist “Alternative for Germany” (AfD). It dominated headlines and recorded good results in the national elections. Since October 2014, far-right movements have become much more vocal, taking the streets of big German cities. Dresden saw the rise of the “Pegida” movement (Europeans against the Islamisation of the West). Cologne struggled with demonstrations of the “Hooligans against Salafists” (which had little to do with religion or football, but rather with ignorance and stupidity). Both organised well-attended islamophobic and anti-immigration demonstrations, sometimes ending in violent clashes.
German authorities have their share of responsibility in these developments. Only a few days ago, they admitted that far right movements were more organised amongst themselves than they thought in the first place. In 2014, the police registered 384 terror suspects with an Islamic background, while 16 had an alleged extreme right-wing background. A dangerous omittance.
For now, responses to this surge in anti-refugee sentiment and violence have been nothing more than bafflement. Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel strongly condemned the far-right protests in Heidenau. “These are people who have nothing to do with Germany”, he explained cialis achat paypal. In return, they chanted: “We are the plebs.” While public opinion still struggles to make sense of this phenomenon, it will become harder and harder for politicians to marginalise growing numbers of protesters. Questioning the reasons behind this enthusiasm for far right ideas is a sensitive subject. While political answers still need to be found, one thing is certain: ”Flüchtlingspolitik” will remain on the political agenda in Germany for a while.