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Ignoring left-wing extremism

Manasi GopalakrishnanJune 7, 2016

Leftist groups are often seen as something positive in Germany, a nation still dealing with its Nazi past. But radical left-wing militants are stepping up violent attacks on right-wing groups and political parties.

Riot police are deployed ahead of a left-wing demonstration in Berlin in JanuaryImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J.Carstensen

Alexander Gauland, a prominent leader of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), is no stranger to controversy. "A German or English soccer team hasn't been German or English in the classical sense for a long time," he remarked in "Der Spiegel" last week, alluding to the number of non-ethnic Germans and Brits on the teams.

Before that he targeted the German-Ghanaian player Jerome Boateng in his statement, saying playing soccer was all right, but that most people would not want the defender as their neighbor.

Gauland and the AfD continue to suffer intense media scrutiny and backlash for polarizing the country on several issues, including the refugee crisis, but the right-wingers have also been the victims of a growing number of attacks by left-wing radicals.

The fight against 'evil'

According to German newspaper "Die Welt," the party's members registered 800 complaints for assault in the past one year. Earlier this year, Gauland's private house in Potsdam was vandalized and offices of Carsten Hütter, the AfD's representative in Saxony's legislature, were broken into and smeared with brown paint. In December, left-wing activists demonstrating against a neo-Nazi rally in the eastern city of Leipzig injured 69 police officers and damaged nearly 50 official cars.

Screenshot Sixt Werbung Alexander Gauland
An advertisement by car rental company Sixt offers special prices for people "who have a Gauland in their neighborhood" and want to rent a truck to move outImage: Sixt/Quelle: Twitter

A study by the Berlin Senate's Department of Internal Affairs in January noted that left-wing extremists were increasingly targeting people. Their strategies included ambushing police officers and subjecting conservative residents and businessmen to verbal and physical abuse and assaults.

Despite the damage, the German media and society's focus on left-wing violence has been much less than on neo-Nazi attacks on refugee shelters, Werner J. Patzelt, political scientist at the Technical University of Dresden, told DW.

The reason, Patzelt said, was because "we have this concept in Germany that being left is basically good, being right is definitely bad, and all means can be used in the fight against the bad. And violence is a legitimate means against the resurgence of fascism, Nazism, racism."

HOGESA Demonstration Köln
Right-wing HOGESA protesters at a rally in Cologne in October 2015Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Meissner

More tolerance for left-wing violence

Germany is not new to extremist left-wing violence. In the late 1970s, the Red Army Faction (RAF), also known as the Baader-Meinhof group, staged a series of assassinations and bombings against government officials in West Germany. However, the terrorist organization's activities were perceived as targeting representatives of imperialism and the capitalist system, some of whom were linked to the Nazis, Patzelt told DW.

Militant left-wing activists continued to enjoy public acceptance in Germany. Last year, parliamentary vice president Claudia Roth of the Green Party was accompanied by left-wing radicals in a protest march against the AfD in Hanover. The incident did not generate much interest in the media compared to the backlash faced by the AfD when it was linked to the anti-Islamization PEGIDA movement.

According to political scientist Patzelt, such acts of violence against right-wing groups would only serve to bring them closer. "Because when you see that you are being threatened, that the constituency offices of the AfD are damaged several times, then it naturally strengthens the desire to rebel and the decision to not get intimidated."