The Irish Times view on Germany’s far-right: a warning from Chemnitz
Saxony is a valve, releasing offline the pressure building in closed social media bubbles
Rightwing demonstrators light flares on Monday in Chemnitz, eastern Germany, following the death of a 35-year-old German national who died in hospital after a “dispute between several people of different nationalities”, according to the police. Photograph: Odd ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images
Three years ago today Angela Merkel uttered the phrase that will probably be her political epitaph. Faced with the largest immigration wave in European peace time, she told Berlin journalists and the world: “Wir schaffen das”. We’ll manage this.
On Monday, thousands of people who never wanted Germany to “manage” over one million migrants boarded buses to the eastern city of Chemnitz for the latest, and most violent, eruption along the country’s migration fault-line.
The fatal stabbing early on Sunday of a 35-year-old German man of Cuban descent, and the subsequent remand of two suspects from Syria and Iraq, have attracted extremist groups and populist politicians, anxious to instrumentalise the growing outrage in Saxony’s third-largest city. Only luck ensured that disaster was avoided on Monday evening as left-wing demonstrators faced down a loose coalition of Hitler-saluting neo-Nazis, football hooligans and far-right Alternative für Deutschland officials. Away from the near-riot, dozens of immigrants and others with a “non-German” appearance in Chemnitz have reported verbal and physical attacks.
A darkening mood has seen over one million new arrivals, living peacefully in Germany, eclipsed by a stream of attacks with asylum-seeker perpetrators: in Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015; Germany’s subsequent nervous summer of bomb, knife and gun attacks; and the December 2016 truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market that left 12 dead. Saxony, already notorious as birthplace of the xenophobic Pegida movement, is finally owning up to its far-right problem. But the state is also a valve, releasing offline the pressure building in closed social media bubbles.
The real warning of Chemnitz is how many locals joined the protest. Squeezed by low-paid work and rising rents, many are furious at how new arrivals got free apartments and generous welfare. Germany’s Geneva refugee convention obligations mean little to people with little experience of foreigners in the East German past and real, existential worries in the present.