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Anja Reschke ARD
Image: NDR

German media frenzy over anti-racism commentary

Kate Brady
August 6, 2015

German journalist Anja Reschke has caused a stir across German social media after condemning the rise of hate comments against asylum seekers online. She has called for an "uprising of all decent people."


The huge debate in Germany comes amid the ever-increasing number of asylum seekers arriving in the country. In July alone, the German Federal Office for Migrants and Refugees (BAMF) reported a "record" monthly influx of 79,000 refugees - most of whom had arrived from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Current figures estimate that Germany will receive as many as 600,000 asylum applications in 2015.

As the number of refugees has increased, there has also been a simultaneous rise in xenophobic sentiment, which has taken a particularly strong hold of Germany's social media.

In the past, racism and xenophobia were often attributed to right-wing groups, but hidden behind their computer screens, it has become difficult to determine exactly who the perpetrators are.

On Wednesday evening's edition of public broadcaster ARD's "Tagesthemen," one of Germany's most widely watched news programs, Munich-born journalist Anja Reschke denounced the increasing xenophobia and called on Germans to take a stand.

Queuing refugees
Germany estimates to receive as many as 600,000 refugees in 2015Image: Getty Images/S. Gallup

'Flood of hate comments'

"When I publicly say, Germany should take in economic refugees - what do you think will happen then?" Reschke began.

"It's just an opinion which I can freely express. It would be nice if it were discussed objectively. But that's not how it would go. I'd receive a flood of hate comments."

The presenter and previous winner of the Axel Springer Prize for young journalists, said the xenophobic commentators had until recently hidden behind pseudonyms.

"But in the meantime they're being published under their real names. Apparently that's not embarrassing anymore," she said.

Reschke went on to praise the small number of blogs and social media sites, such as "Perlen aus Freital" (Pearls from Freital), which already work to mock the hate comments. Among the comments are calls for refugees be "set on fire" or "left to drown in the sea."

Spokesperson for civil rights charity "Amadeu Antonio Stiftung," Robert Lüdecke, supported Reschke, saying that the internet had become "a part of everyday life" and that people are as responsible to react to racism online as they would in real life.

Growing number of attacks

Continuing her attack on the hate inciters, Reschke warned the German public to not underestimate the power of the comments posted online.

"We can say: 'Yeah, well, there are always idiots - best to ignore them.' But they're not just words. They already exist - the arson attacks on refugee shelters."

Beyond the social media platforms, Germany has also seen an alarming increase of right-wing extremist violence in recent months.

Screenshot of
"Perlen aus Freital" has used social media to highlight the worst of online racisim

Officials recorded 202 attacks in the first six months of this year alone - the same amount as there were in the entirety of 2014.

Just last week, a planned refugee home in Lunzenau near the eastern German city of Chemnitz was attacked with Molotov cocktails.

'Stand up and open your mouth'

Although law enforcement against hate crimes is growing, Reschke said that alone, this is not enough.

"The hate-writers must understand that this is not tolerated in society. Therefore, if you don't think that all refugees are parasites that should be chased away, burned or gassed, then you must clearly make it known."

"Stand up against it and open your mouth. Take a stance, publicly name and shame them."

"The last 'uprising of all decent people' was 15 years ago. I think it's time again," the journalist said, referring to a similar call from German Chancellor at the time, Gerhard Schröder (SPD), following an arson attack on a synagogue in Düsseldorf.

Strong support

Reschke's plea to German public was met with much applause from like-minded viewers. The video has since been viewed over 3.7 million times, with many supporters expressing their support on social media.

Arson attack on a planned refugee home in Remchingen near Karlsruhe
Arson attack on a planned refugee home in Remchingen near KarlsruheImage: picture-alliance/dpa/SDMG/Dettenmeyer

"The woman is fantastic!" one Facebook user wrote.

"The best commentary I've seen for a long time. Applause!" another wrote.

"Resist by sharing this commentary on your own timeline!" another Facebook user wrote, expressing an idea shared by more than 105,000 users who did exactly that.

Against freedom of expression

As Reschke predicted, however, she also received her fair share of negative retorts.

Writing on the "Tagesthemen" website, one user, named only as "gman," criticized Reschke's commentary for preventing freedom of opinion.

"This isn't the freedom of expression and free democratic basic order that the fathers of our constitution had in mind," he wrote.

Another, who named themselves "DiePositiveBratwurst," lamented that fact that Reschke had allegedly "branded every worried citizen as a hateful citizen."

Asking the question on many a confused German's lips at the moment, however, was user "Tralafit" who asked: "On the one hand we're a free country, on the other we don't want incitement. How are we to find the right balance?"

As Germany plays tug of war between preventing a rise in xenophobia and trying to help those most in need, the country is grappling to find an answer - one that hopes to be found sooner rather than later.

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