Opinion: Arson and death threats | Opinion | DW | 07.04.2015
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Opinion

Opinion: Arson and death threats

The state leader of Saxony-Anhalt has warned that the arson attack on a refugee center in Tröglitz was not a one-off. DW's Naomi Conrad agrees that right-wing extremism is widespread in Germany today.

At a packed town hall meeting in Tröglitz last Tuesday, Christoph Giegold, a tall, worried-looking man in his forties shook his head despondently: He told me he was afraid that one day his small hometown in eastern Germany would be mentioned in history books along with places like Solingen, Mölln and Hoyerswerda. All three of them are German cities infamous for right-wing hate crimes against foreigners.

Not even a week later, Giegold was to be proved right: The roof of the lemon-colored house in Tröglitz that was to house 40 asylum seekers in May went up in flames in the early hours of Saturday. Investigators believe the attack was politically motivated.

We don't know yet who was behind the arson attack and maybe we won't ever know for sure: But I was thinking - maybe it was the angry man, his head shaved, his fists clenched, who hurled abuse at the local politicians gathered at that town hall meeting.

Attacks on the rise

Or maybe it was someone from of the sizeable minority in the audience that clapped and nodded vigorously as the angry man let fly his xenophobia and racism, and that booed when others pleaded for compassion and understanding.

Or maybe it was one of the NPD supporters and activists, mostly from outside Tröglitz, who had orchestrated the weekly protests against the plans to house the asylum seekers. Many of them were reported to be seasoned right-wing activists who travel from one rallying cause to the next, fostering and building resentment and hatred wherever they go. Maybe they're the ones who issued death threats against local politicians who came out in support of the refugees.

Let's be honest, the arson attack didn't come altogether as a surprise, or at least, it shouldn't have: In Germany today, attacks on refugees and their hostels are not isolated incidents.

Naomi Conrad

DW's Naomi Conrad

Far from it: In 2014, according to government figures cited by the Berlin-based newspaper "Tagesspiegel" earlier this year, there were some 150 attacks on asylum seekers and their shelters, including arson attacks. In 2013, 58 such attacks occurred, up from 24 in 2012.

And there has been a rise in the number of right-wing rallies and marches in recent months - most notably by PEGIDA, an alliance against "Islamization of the West", which attracted international attention.

Right-wing extremism widespread

Right-wing extremism is widespread, horribly, terribly and dangerously so - and it's up to all of us in Western societies to stake a stand.

In Tröglitz too many people remained silent, said Markus Nierth, the former mayor who resigned as far-right protests grew and local authorities refused to ban a march on his house. He stepped down, he told me last week, because he felt abandoned, left alone in his fight.

And he has a point: We can't abandon those who stand up to right-wing extremism. We cannot accept that parts of eastern Germany seem to have turned into no-go areas for anyone who looks foreign, or when authorities seem to turn a blind eye on right-wing extremism.

And, most importantly, the right to asylum is not debatable. It's our duty to welcome asylum seekers, to accommodate them and treat them respectfully and humanely - and that includes fair and equal procedures, no matter whether they're from Syria, Ethiopia or Kosovo.

So when the outrage and soul-searching over the latest arson attack has subsided in Germany - as it, no doubt, soon will - let us not forget those trying to stand up against xenophobia and protect those who come seeking shelter.

Otherwise, it's not just Tröglitz that's in danger of going down in history alongside Solingen, Mölln and Hoyerswerda: Maybe it's all of us.

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