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23rd Mar 2019

Chemnitz neo-Nazis pose questions for Germany

  • Thousand of far-right supporters and neo-Nazis protested after a man was stabbed to death, allegedly by a Syrian and an Iraqi (Photo: Tim Mönsh)

Far-right and anti far-right demonstrators were back on the streets of the German city of Chemnitz on Thursday evening (30 August), amid concerns over a possible rise of neo-Nazis at the heart of Europe.

Michael Kretschmer, the leader of Saxony, the region where Chemnitz is located, was expected to hold a meeting on democracy, days after far-right demonstrators clashed with police and chased and beat foreign-looking people.

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The demonstrations, on Sunday and Monday, were organised to protest against the death of a 35-year old German, who was stabbed on Saturday, allegedly by an Iraqi and a Syrian.

Pegida, an anti-immigrant movement, the far-right Alternative for Germanyt (Afd) and neo-Nazi groups have called for new protests on Thursday, with the police increasing its presence after it was caught off guard in earlier gatherings.

On Wednesday, the UN human rights commissioner, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, said he was shocked by the events, and by the Nazi salute made by some demonstrators in particular.

Referring to the 1930s, he said it was "frightening to see how the same devices are being used again."

"But it's particularly I think worrisome to see it in Europe because of the enormous traumas that Europe itself witnessed during the 20th century," he said.

The UN official added that it was "fundamentally important that public officials throughout Europe denounce all of this."

The German chancellor and president had already condemned the events.

"There was targeted harassment, there was rioting, and there was hate on the streets, and that has no place under our rule of law," Merkel said on Tuesday.


President Frank-Walter Steinmeier insisted: "Let us not be intimidated by a mob of punching hooligans. Hate should not have free rein anywhere in our country."

Specific attention

In Brussels, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said that the issue "requires specific attention" and would be discussed at a seminar of the college of EU commissioners on Thursday and Friday.

He said he did not want to react "off the cuff" to comparisons with the 1930s and insisted that the discussion should be placed in the "broader context of current political and social developments".

He added that commission president Jean-Claude Juncker "will have the opportunity, in his State of the Union speech [on 12 September], to express the position of the institution".

"Let's not overreact," said political scientist Bernd Huetteman, a lecturer at the Passau university and vice-president of the European Movement, however.

He told EUobserver that while the Chemnitz protests and violence were a "provocation", it would be "a mistake to see a change in the overall mood in Germany."

"It's not a turning point," he said, pointing to the fact that AfD were reaching a peak in opinion polls, while the Greens were also making progress.

Biggest mistake

Huetteman explained that the situation in Chemnitz, a city in the former East Germany, was more a symptom of the post-communist transition, with people feeling left out, in societies where there were no intermediate bodies, such as trade associations or trade unions, for decades.

He warned against demonising people in Saxony, because "the biggest mistakes were made by Western politicians after the fall of the Berlin Wall".

"It's more a problem between the state and society," he said.

In the wider picture, anti-EU and far-right forces are enjoying a new momentum in Europe ahead of EU elections next year.

Earlier this week, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban teamed up with Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini to wage a campaign to "stop illegal migration".

"What Orban and Salvini are doing is fuelling what these people [in Chemnitz] are doing," Huetteman noted.


But he insisted that "80 percent of [Chemnitz] people are not racists and have no authoritarian thinking."

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