Chemnitz: a polarised city

After the rioting by far-right demonstrators in the city of Chemnitz in eastern Germany after the murder of a 35-year-old Cuban-German, the debate about xenophobia in Germany continues. Why did tempers flare in Chemnitz, and what are the reasons behind the riots?

Open/close all quotes
Mladá fronta dnes (CZ) /

Merkel doesn't deign to visit Chemnitz

Politicians and the media have misinterpreted the events in Chemnitz, Mladá fronta dnes criticises:

“After the people took to the streets they were described first by the German media and then by the majority of the Western media as radicals, nationalists and neo-Nazis. Even the chancellor found it less important to express sympathy with the locals than with the Muslim migrants. And it never even crossed her mind to visit the city. All this has happened simply because today's political elite refuses to look the disgruntled citizens of their own country in the eye.”

Kurier (AT) /

Politically correct simplifications

The media bear partial responsibility for the size of the right-wing marches in Chemnitz, Kurier agrees:

“In recent days the media have (un)willingly helped to turn popular opinion against the outraged people of Chemnitz. Because not everyone in Saxony who joins the demonstrations is a Nazi. ... And not everyone who was helped three years ago on the grounds that they were 'fleeing from war' was innocent as a lamb. If you can agree with that, if you stop demonising dissatisfaction, and if you can face the problems instead of just wishing them (and writing them) away in bouts of supposed political correctness, you might be able to stop the mob from occupying a place that doesn't belong to it. Because it belongs in a small, vulgar corner on the fringes of society.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Prussian colonial spirit lives on

The fear of all things foreign is deeply ingrained in the areas of eastern Germany that once formed part of Prussia, where Germans and Slavs struggled for dominance for centuries, The Guardian writes:

“The lurking sense of an ever-present and potentially hostile Other around you permeated all of what Max Weber, father of sociology, called East Elbia. The result, just as in the slave-owning American South, French Algeria or Northern Ireland, was a political tradition in which the 'poor whites' demanded (and doffed their caps to) a strong leadership of 'their own', ready to quell the native uprising if it ever came. It was this archetypally colonial politics that always made Prussia so different from the rest of Germany.” (ES) /

German Nazis have spruced themselves up

When it comes to coming to terms with the past many Spaniards see Germany as a role model. But they shouldn't overlook the fact that the fascist ideology hasn't been entirely erased there either, writes:

“Although the measures for eliminating the last vestiges of the Third Reich and compensating its victims have been applied for many years, and more diligently than in Spain, fomenting a discourse about a 'de-Nazified' Germany could help to conceal a highly dangerous reality: Nazism has not disappeared from German society. It has changed, it has reinvented itself, it has spruced itself up. The images of skinheads with swastikas raising their arms in the Nazi salute have been replaced in many cases with suits, ties and friendly faces.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

Not just economic reasons for xenophobia

Putting right-wing extremism down to purely economic factors falls short of the mark, Handelsblatt points out:

“If that were the case the proportion of AfD voters would be higher in northern Germany than in the South. But it's the opposite; in the East it's highest in wealthy Saxony, in the West it's highest in rich Bavaria. ... Precisely because federal policy has been so exclusively fixated on the economy since the reunification, it seems to have overlooked the deepening rift between the open-minded modernisers who find everything new, including immigrants, interesting and those with strong ties to the homeland who feel overwhelmed by so much change within such a short period of time. ... This makes it all the more vital for the established parties to focus on dispelling these feelings of neglect.”

24 Chasa (BG) /

Paradoxical hatred of foreigners

It's paradoxical that in Saxony of all places the number of anti-immigrant attacks is on the rise, 24 Chasa points out:

“Members of Eastern Germany's far-right scene are apparently uninterested in the facts. They're marching against the reception of foreigners and refugees even though the proportion of foreigners in Chemnitz is just seven percent, and refugees account for just two percent. There are no economic reasons to hate immigrants. Unemployment has been sinking for years, and the city is far from being among the poorest in Germany. What's more, it's not as though residents could complain that no one speaks German at their children's schools or kindergartens. There is no clash of cultures here. Paradoxically, however, this is one of the reasons for the growing racism in the region.”

Právo (CZ) /

Germany's stupid migration policy

Chancellor Merkel is unaware of the responsibility she bears for the events in Chemnitz, Právo believes:

“It won't help Merkel or the entire political and media elite in Germany to confine themselves to criticising those trying to exploit the failure of the rule of law under the chancellor in the migration crisis. The events in Chemnitz are merely the last link in the chain that was forged by the German power elite with its incredibly stupid migration policy. Berlin is now closing its eyes to this fact. ... Faced with the blatant failure of her migration policy, Merkel is merely manoeuvering to hold on a little longer to her place at the top.”

The Times (GB) /

Understandable protest against mass migration

Not all the demonstrators are right-wing extremists, The Times points out:

“People are entitled to want to live in societies that identify with a common heritage and goals. Yet this is now treated as racist, 'nativist' and illegitimate by virtually the entire political mainstream. … Some supporters may be motivated by racism or anti-Muslim prejudice. In other words, racists, fascists and bigots may be piggy-backing on the frustration of those with a legitimate desire to preserve western culture. Their motivation, however, is not the same. Millions want to defend western national identity based on tolerance, liberty and one law for all. These values are threatened by mass immigration and multiculturalism.”

Jyllands-Posten (DK) /

Eastern Germans haven't learned about democracy

A look at the history of Eastern Germany can go a long way to explaining how it could come to the events in Chemnitz, Jyllands-Posten explains:

“The East was ruled by dictatorships for more than 50 years: first the Nazis, then the communists. Unlike the West Germans, the East Germans had no friendly occupying power to teach them the fundamentals of pluralism and democracy. Instead they had the Russians. ... Fatally, even after the fall of the Berlin Wall not much changed in terms of educating the population about democracy and the rule of law. Even the police tend to spontaneously endorse the far right. ... Among other politicians, the German president and Chancellor have made appropriate, astute comments in the last few days. Now the problem must be tackled on location with Berlin's help. At least one can no longer claim that it doesn't exist.”

El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

Xenophobia fuelled by poverty

The protests in Chemnitz should rouse all Europe from its slumber, El Periódico de Catalunya warns:

“The fight against those who foment hate doesn't just affect Germany but implicates all Europe. The far right has filled the vacuum caused by the European institutions' failure to find a common and responsible answer to the refugee crisis. It's crucial to repeat that the number of newcomers has gone down in the last two years. Immigration is not a problem, but the the lack of resources for taking them in and the impoverishment of large sections of Europe's population are. The xenophobic discourse is being fuelled by economic dissatisfaction. ... We mustn't fool ourselves: migration is just the excuse. What is at stake now is the Europe of rights and freedoms.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Revive anti-fascist tradition

Eastern Germany should remember its anti-fascist tradition, writes Deutschlandfunk:

“Clever observers have noted that certain age groups are particularly in evidence here - roughly speaking the 40 to 50-year-olds. These are perhaps the same people who took part in the riots of the 1990s when they were young. So is this perhaps a generation that has been lost to democracy? And would it then be a good idea to look to the older generation, the pensioners, and pick up on a legacy that was needlessly trodden underfoot by Helmut Kohl in the 1990s - namely the anti-fascist tradition of the GDR? ... Clever ideas imported from the West won't be of much use in Saxony. It is the democrats who live there who need solidarity and support in order to also change the mood on the streets of Chemnitz once more.”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

The constitutional state has failed

The events in Chemnitz pose serious problems for Germany, writes Anna-Liina Kauhanen, Berlin correspondent for Helsingin Sanomat:

“When members of the far right take to the streets en masse and attack foreign-looking bystanders, things have escalated far beyond a tense discussion climate. ... The unusual thing about the situation in Chemnitz is that the far-right demonstrators were ready to violate basic rights and use violence against people on the basis of their appearance. When citizens start taking vengeance and organising lynchings against people they take for foreigners, the constitutional state has failed and has entered a profound crisis.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Caution needed when using the term "Nazi"

Despite the pogrom-like scenes in Chemnitz the Neue Zürcher Zeitung advises against summarily labelling the demonstrators as Nazis:

“The Alternative for Germany party leadership uses harsh and often dull language, and it shows astounding tolerance towards the scatterbrains in the party. It may well become more radicalised. But it is not - yet - extremist. It has condemned the violence in Chemnitz. There is not superlative for the term 'Nazi'. It marks the end of any king of community - because what can you talk about with a Nazi? It must be combatted with every possible means. This is the lesson history teaches us. Those who call the people of Saxony Nazis and Nazi collaborators are expressing not only that they no longer see them as fellow citizens, but that they would like to see them locked away if possible.”

Delo (SI) /

A high price for altruism

Delo looks at the background to the riots in Chemnitz:

“When German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the borders to the largest wave of refugees since the Second World War, she no doubt didn't anticipate so many problems between the migrants and the local population. The influx of immigrants from regions with foreign cultures and religions came as a shock above all in Eastern Germany. One can perhaps understand that centrist German politicians weren't prepared for the masses of people who flooded across their borders via the Balkan Route in 2015. But now they're paying a high price for their altruism. It was the refugee crisis that made the nationalist AfD the third-largest party in the country.” (PL) /

Multicultural ideology leading to violence

The riots in Chemnitz are the result of a misguided policy on the part of the conservatives, concludes:

“The ideology of multiculturalism and openness to minorities is suffering a defeat before our eyes. It's not only that it doesn't protect society against extremism: because of its inability to self-correct it can actually fuel extremist sentiment. The warning signals that have been coming from the eastern German states for some years now to the effect that nationalist groups are growing stronger there have made no impact. They haven't made the politicians of the nominally conservative CDU realise that a new strategy is needed. ... On the contrary, these politicians took the view that the only medicine was more indoctrination, more politically correct humbug, more 'welcome' policy.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

Merkel must travel to disaster zone

What course of action should the constitutional state take against the xenophobic mob? asks the taz:

“Apart from educating on the one hand and punishing on the other, another answer to this question would be for Angela Merkel to go to Chemnitz. For her minister of the interior to go to Chemnitz. And her minister of justice too. For them to take stock of the situation on location, and make appropriate policy decisions. ... One may - and should - ask what would be the best response. Must Angela Merkel rush to every funfair brawl that the police can't handle on their own? No. But numerous municipalities, entire regions in Eastern Germany, now threaten to deteriorate into a democratic disaster zone. And it is the task of politicians to travel to such zones and ask how they can help. If they don't, others will come in their place.”

Der Standard (AT) /

CDU in Saxony only sees enemies on the left

The CDU in the state of Saxony has ignored right-wing extremism in the state for too long, Der Standard criticises:

“The people of Saxony were 'immune' to far-right thinking, former premier Kurt Biedenkopf once said. And at least as far as the CDU is concerned that's apparently still the case - despite counter-examples that are as numerous as they are regrettable. For the CDU the 'enemy' is on the left, not on the right. So it's no wonder that the right-wing spectrum is growing stronger. The time has come for clear words from the CDU in Saxony. But remaining silent and not making waves for fear of the AfD is wrong and disgraceful.”