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Bautzen is just a symbol

September 16, 2016

The city has been the scene of arson attacks, vulgar behavior and riots since the refugee crisis began. Many people think that is typical for Saxony. Marcel Fürstenau has another view.

Bautzen Kornmarkt Polizei vs rechtes Spektrum
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Xcitepress

Yes, proportionally there is more right-wing populism and extremism in the East of Germany than in the West. Yes, in Saxony it seems to be especially bad. Dresden is the nucleus and stronghold of the self-proclaimed Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), an organization with a number of branches across the country. Just south of the state capital is Heidenau. It was there that a violent mob attempted to stop the housing of refugees in August 2015. And Bautzen itself was the scene of repugnant pictures this February, when crowds cheered as a hotel designated to serve as a refugee shelter was destroyed by fire.

And now Bautzen is in the news once again after right-wing extremists and refugee youths attacked each other there. For people who are convinced of their own world view, the guilty party is clear: the foreigners, or the neo-Nazis. But the case appears to be far from that simple. There is much that points to the fact that a long-recognized aggressive mood between a number of different groups eventually led to the riots. This is the picture that appears when one earnestly attempts to piece together the images put forth by all sides. Those involved also include local politicians, police, social workers and researchers.

Boredom and frustration an accelerant

Kommentarfoto Marcel Fürstenau Hauptstadtstudio
DW Berlin correspondent Marcel FürstenauImage: DW/S. Eichberg

Accordingly, the groups that looked each other in the eye in Bautzen would seem to have absolutely nothing in common. Yet they both share something: boredom and frustration. When alcohol is added, violence is often quick to follow. This dangerous mix has existed in Bautzen for quite some time now. In fact, one can see unemployed youths loitering at market squares and shopping centers throughout the entire state. Refugees who have neither good prospects for the future nor social connections can be seen doing the same.

In a city as small as Bautzen, with its 40,000 residents, it becomes difficult for such groups to avoid one another. Most of them are not seeking any closeness based on mutual affection anyhow. That is the case in the whole of Germany and beyond. The fact that such a social situation is perfectly suited for right-wing recruiters and extremists looking to escalate the situation is a given.

The helplessness is depressing

Activities are easily planned using so-called social media. But it really doesn't matter if such platforms played a role in Bautzen. There is also evidence that people from outside the city were involved in the riots. This, too, is no new phenomenon, and certainly not one that has anything to do with a specific geographical location. The most depressing thing about the riots was the widespread helplessness that was yet again on display. Those who are familiar with right-wing groups (wherever they are to be found) have been warning of the need for better concepts for years. Among their recommendations: more possibilities and solutions for helping the weakest members of our society, including refugees, and yes, even extremists.

Of course there will always be people that just cannot be reached. Such people, should they commit crimes, must be fought with every legal means. But the first preventative steps could be taken immediately. One such step, for instance, would be to forbid the consumption of alcohol in public spaces. In the wake of the debacle in Bautzen, alcohol sales to refugee youths have been prohibited, and a 7 p.m. curfew has also been put into effect. That is the right start.

The next riots are only a matter of time

Others, some of whom are no doubt right-wing extremists, can apparently continue to get senselessly drunk in Bautzen. Why? It is only a matter of time, opportunity or mood before things get out of control once again. It could happen in Saxony, maybe even in Bautzen, but also in any other city or village in Germany. That some areas are especially susceptible to pogrom-like hostilities is well documented. Yet Bautzen is just a symbol for the societal tension that exists everywhere. Those who close their eyes to that fact are taking the easy way out.

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Marcel Fürstenau
Marcel Fürstenau Berlin author and reporter on current politics and society.
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