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Cologne mayor, survivor of extremist attack: 'a short step from choice of words to violence'

Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker survived an assassination attempt in late 2015. After British Labour MP Jo Cox's murder, she tells DW that the danger of right-wing extremist violence is greater than ever.

DW: Ms. Reker, last year, you yourself were the victim of a knife attack. Yesterday, British parliamentarian Jo Cox was murdered. What went through your mind when you heard the news?

Henriette Reker: Of course I was shocked when I first heard that she had been severely injured: it was a heinous crime. And when I later heard that she had died I was profoundly saddened. I was once again reminded of just how lucky I was to survive last year's knife attack.

Part of a politician's job description includes meeting people every day. Do acts like these make that more difficult?

That would be terrible! It hasn't become more difficult for me personally. But I also happen to believe that you will never be the victim of a violent crime twice in a lifetime. No one has ever been the victim of two assassination attempts. But I think there are larger psychological barriers and a greater desire for increased protection among politicians that are a bit more fearful.

Besides the violence seen in the attack against you and in the murder of Jo Cox: Is everyday aggression, also verbal aggression, towards politicians increasing?

We are currently living in a political climate in which the choice of words used in the so-called social media, in podium discussions and in other argumentative debates has moved beyond established borders. I am of the opinion that it is a short step from such choice of words to violent acts. Depending on what state of mind a person may have, such words can make them feel as if they are being called to act. One cannot yet say what the exact motives were in Jo Cox's killing, but so far there are a number of indications that point to a rationale similar to that in the attack on me. At that point things become extremely dangerous. We are all obliged to respect borders when it comes to our choice of words and our actions toward others.

Großbritannien Labour-Politikerin Jo Cox

British Labour MP Jo Cox died on June 16 after being attacked in Birstall

You were attacked by a right-wing extremist. People that witnessed Jo Cox's murder reported that the perpetrator was screaming "Britain First!" during the deed - the name of a right-wing extremist party in Britain. Is it mere coincidence, or do you think that the danger of right-wing violence is especially high?

I think that the danger of right-wing violence is greater than ever. Therefore we must be extremely vigilant. Nip things in the bud. The refugee situation is also bringing feelings to the fore which we must wholly condemn and which have absolutely no place in this country.

Federal prosecutors have called for the man that attacked you to be sentenced to life in prison. Are you satisfied with that?

I do not need satisfaction in this case. I am certain that the judiciary will impose a fair sentence on the perpetrator. I also have no feelings of revenge. Such feelings simply do not exist for me.

Henriette Reker is the mayor of Cologne, Germany. In October 2015 she suffered life-threatening injuries after she was attacked by a right-wing extremist with a knife during a campaign event.

This interview was conducted by Christoph Ricking.