Though brief, this is a story that was difficult to write. It fills me with sadness and anger. It is not for the faint of heart, because it is about open terror in Germany. It tells about serial murders by fascists, street hunts, and the police watching as demonstrators show off the illegal Nazi salute. It features a city that once carried Marx’s name. It tells about Germany’s ‘Lady Justice’ often turning a blind eye.
I did my utmost to make the facts verifiable—after all, I am not into ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’—but, unfortunately, some of the URLs I have used will be taken off the credible source’s website in due course (this is due to a peculiarity with Germany’s media licensing agreements).
The city of Chemnitz in Saxony, Germany, carried Marx’s name between 1953 and 1990, and the citizens opted to keep his monument on the sidewalk of a boulevard. Chemnitz has seen an upsurge of open terror by the Right this summer, sparked by a fatal stabbing during a Volksfest. According to this source, only hours after the incident, fake news circulated on the web, started by a city employee. The fake news claimed that immigrants had harassed a German woman, two men wanted to help, and one got fatally stabbed for his honourable effort. Though police and prosecutors repeatedly denied that a woman had been involved at all, the Right used this incident as a signal: they started a series of anti-immigrant protests right beneath Marx’s head, showing pictures of beaten-up women, though it later emerged that these were non-German woman, with some of the pictures being years old.
Furthermore, members of the Right started to hunt down foreign-looking people around the city and attacked them openly. To be clear, I report these incidents in such detail only to show that the Right uses fake news to ‘justify’ their despicable actions. These include marches at which they now show the illegal Nazi salute and chant in glorification of Adolf Hitler, with the police only watching. In short, the Right instrumentalised the stabbing.
But this is not all. Seemingly ‘normal’ Chemnitz people stand with the Right at demonstrations, or applaud in support. When Saxony’s state government tried to talk to people after the incidents, some people claimed they felt insulted, as if being accused of racism. But if you stand with the Right and clap, then you have to accept this accusation; there is no way out of it. The situation at demonstrations, and the acceptance among seemingly normal people, has become such that the police and judiciary have given in. There are repeated reports that journalists are attacked and not protected by the police. In one incident, the police harassed reporters at a demonstration after an AfD (Alternative for Deutschland Party) supporter and alleged policeman, who was off duty, called on his colleagues to stop and check the reporters for about 45 minutes. This incident made the national news in August.
Encouragingly, however, protests against terror by the Right are regular occurrences in Germany. For example, on October 13, 242,000 people marched in Berlin for solidarity instead of social exclusion, and in support of a free and open society. And in Chemnitz itself, the message is loud and clear: ‘Chemnitz is neither grey nor brown’ (brown is associated with Germany’s Nazi past; it is taken from the colour of the SA uniform). But the Right still hold their demonstrations beneath Marx’s head.
Sadly, terror by the Right is not a new phenomenon in post-unification Germany. For example, the town of Mittweida in Saxony was terrorised between 2007 and 2008 by a neo-Nazi gang that called itself Sturm 34 (this meaning of the word ‘Sturm’—‘storm’ in English—originated in the military, referring to an all-out assault; it has been captured by the Nazis for its style and glorification). Apparently, Sturm 34 named itself after an SA Brigade of the same name. Members of this gang, which spread hatred through physical violence and intimidation, were tried in court in 2008, but their sentences were extremely lenient. One can say that the courts tried to trivialise the issue.
It is shocking that members of that former gang are now members of a new gang which calls itself Revolution Chemnitz. Members of the new gang were arrested on October 1, 2018. There are numerous other Rightist gangs, which commonly see themselves as camaraderies (referring to feelings of loyalty).
In other examples of open terror, the Right rioted in 1991 and 1992, setting ablaze accommodations for refugees and foreign contract workers. The police took hours to arrive, leaving the rioters to go unchallenged. And seemingly ‘normal’ people either watched or cheered as the scenes unfolded.
At this point, the story gets even worse because I cannot avoid reporting on the now smashed three-member NSU (National Socialist Underground) which was on the rampage between ca. 1999 and 2011. This gang committed robberies, bomb attacks and serial killings of people whose names indicated immigrant backgrounds, and, shockingly, the authorities let the gang go unchallenged for a long time (the German Wikipedia entry is quite detailed on the issue). Two of the three members eventually committed suicide, while the third received life imprisonment from a court of law in 2018. This should have been the end of the gang, but it was not, because two operatives of the Landeskriminalamt used aliases while policing Erdoğan’s recent visit to Germany. Using aliases is quite normal for the police to protect themselves, but what is not normal is that one of the aliases was the name of one of NSU’s members. The operatives have since been suspended, but, sadly, these tendencies come as no surprise to me, given that the state and prosecution have trivialised the Right for so long.
There have been many attempts in the media over the years to explain the allegedly Eastern German phenomenon of open terror by the Right. One was that it is the failings of the East German teachers who, allegedly, refused to educate the youngsters politically during the unification years. Or the East Germans may be ‘excused’ because they have lived under an oppressive regime for so long. But these rather bizarre attempts to explain the phenomenon do not hold up 29 years after the unification of East and West Germany.
This phenomenon must be explained differently. There are fascist leanings throughout all of Germany, not just the East. But the phenomenon is more wide-spread in the East, for which there must be a reason. In my opinion, the economic situation that many individuals find themselves in must be seen in the context of the unification years from 1990 on. Helmut Kohl, chancellor of Germany during unification, had promised the East Germans ‘blooming landscapes’, referring to a flourishing and growing economy. Yet he actually delivered the mass liquidation of factories and thus mass unemployment.
Some prognoses now claim that East Germany’s economy will trail the West until 2030. For ordinary people, this means trailing the West in terms of household income and standard of living is an ever-present reality. Many East Germans thus feel betrayed and angry, having lost out in the unification, and these feelings need an outlet. Along come the refugees and migrants, who are considered a further threat in an already frail economy. So scapegoats and the image of an enemy are born. But what we actually get is social conflict carried out among workers, which only cements capitalism’s rule.