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Confronting far-right is 'a task for society'

Sabrina Pabst / dbDecember 12, 2014

After a suspected arson attack on buildings intended to serve as refugee shelters in Bavaria, a German expert warns copycats may feel encouraged by a surge in angry protests against a perceived 'Islamization' of Germany.

Deutschland Feuer in geplanten Flüchtlingshäusern in Vorra
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Toma

DW: Fires broke out at three empty buildings planned to house asylum seekers in a Bavarian town near Nuremberg. Police suspect arson by far-right perpetrators: they found xenophopic slogans and swastikas painted on the wall of one facility. And in Dresden, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against the so-called 'Islamization' of the country. Are we witnessing the emergence of a new climate of xenophobia in Germany?

Hans-Gerd Jaschke: We must look at the Nuremberg attacks in the light of recent German history. Between 1990 and 1993, there were similar attacks in Rostock, Hoyerswerda, Solingen and other cities. What makes these crimes unique is that the perpetrators felt encouraged by the mood within the population, which was opposed to an alleged abuse of asylum. If you transfer that to the situation we face today, you could assume that we're once again seeing a mood against the Islamization of the occident, as the Pegida movement [an acronym that translates roughly to "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West" - eds.] puts it. Perhaps that encouraged violence-prone right-wing teenagers or young adults to take matters into their own hands and launch these attacks instead of just talking and protesting. Such mechanisms are at work in these people's heads - it's a very dangerous development because there could be copycats.

The Christian Social Union (CSU) governs the state of Bavaria. Populist slogans regularly win the CSU, the sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), a good deal of votes. Could such perpetrators also feel encouraged by the conservative state government?

It's precisely the CSU - most recently with a proposal that foreigners living in Germany should speak German at home - that hasn't come up with even remotely friendly refugee policies. The catalyst, however, is presumably to be found in the Pegida movement's actions and the great number of participants in the marches. People are angry; people from the middle of society are getting involved, and that is something the perpetrators point out.

Is the right-wing movement currently on the rise? Are we seeing a growing animosity among the conservative middle class toward minorities like asylum seekers and migrants?

If you base the answer on positions made public by the Pegida movement, the demands come from the conservative middle classes. They aren't far-right or racist, but could just as well be found in CSU or CDU policy documents. What's also important is that movements critical of or opposed to Islam have existed for years in other European countries: there's Gert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France; both were successful in European elections his year. But Germany has never had such a movement. What's happening in Germany now has existed across Europe for years.

Has Germany neglected to focus on far-right extremism?

Perhaps it has. In the 1990s, after the attacks in Rostock, Hoyerswerda and Solingen, there ware so many far-right incidents to be cleared up. That was more or less pushed into the background by the September 11, 2001 attacks and Islamist terrorism has been the dominant topic ever since. What's been happening on the far-right extremist scene has been neglected - and wrongly so. After all, far-right extremist attitudes, populism and a disposition toward violence continue to be strong in Germany. Thankfully, the only place the far right is not successful is in elections.

What must German politicians do to ensure that angry citizens feel their concerns are being taken seriously - so they won't slide to the right?

We're talking about asylum, desired migration and economic refugees - an extraordinarily complex issue. Politicians must come up with a concept and discuss what Germany will look like as a country of immigration. That's probably not the way to win elections. What's missing are far-reaching strategies that could also alleviate people's concerns. It's also noticeable that East Germany, which had little experience with migrants, faces a phenomenon known as anti-Semitism without Jews. That's unlike populous regions in West German regions which have dealt with conflicts for 50 years and have also had very positive experiences with migration.

The shelters in Nuremberg were empty and no one was hurt. What can we do to better protect refugees - people who, after all, have come to Germany seeking protection?

This is a task for civil society. When 10,000 people demonstrate on Monday (15.12.2014), it would be important to see the other side protest, too. I hope that people will stand up for a more diverse Germany, I hope there will be a counter-movement so we can send migrants here and abroad a message: Germany isn't just a country of far-right protesters, there's another Germany.

Hans-Gert Jaschke is a political scientist at the Berlin School of Economics and Law. An expert on political extremism - in particular far-right extremism - and domestic security, he also teaches at the German Police University.