German distrust of migrants has resulted in a series of attacks on refugees and the rise of far-Right outfits. Meanwhile, Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had earlier welcomed the migrants, is now struggling to secure public confidence.
Last year, the arrival of over a million refugees from Africa and the conflict-ridden Middle East overwhelmed Germany’s people and its society. Chancellor Angela Merkel was positive that her Government could tackle the crisis. Wir schaffen das (we can do it) became her rallying cry as thousands of men, women and children arrived in Germany.
One could say that the initial mood was almost one of elation – or at least of shared suffering. Television images of refugees pouring into Munich were reminiscent of east Germans traveling to the West in 1989, when the wall came down. Older citizens remembered the tough times following the Second World War and promised to help war victims from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and several African countries integrate into the country. However, behind the goodwill, lurked a suspicion some Germans had about the newcomers.
This translated into attacks on refugee shelters across the country. According to latest figures published by the German Interior Ministry, nearly 1,050 attacks were carried out on refugees last year. The first quarter of this year revealed that the number of strikes had gone up more than three times during the same period in 2015. A total of 347 strikes took place between January and March this year, out of which 92 took place on asylum shelters.
These statistics exclude other racially-motivated incidents. In February, for example, a racist mob blocked refugees from getting out of a bus in Clausnitz in the eastern German state of Saxony. Video footage showed crying children and women stranded in the bus. Close by in Bautzen, attackers set fire to a refugee home as bystanders watched and clapped.
Security officials noted that most frequently attacks were related to the destruction of property. Other attempts on refugees included setting fire to objects, physical harm and some cases of attempted murder. Officials also reported many cases where suspects used unconstitutional symbols, including the Hitler salute and the Nazi cross.
A new populist movement against immigrants has also gained prominence in the last few months. The German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) is keeping a close eye on the Right-wing group called the Identity Movement for Germany (IBD). The group has its roots in France and arrived in Germany in 2012. It is now prominent in nine of Germany’s 16 States, including Bavaria, Berlin, Northrhine-Westphalia and Saxony.
Members of the IBD believe that the current increase in immigration is a global conspiracy, involving the media, Governments and businesses, to replace ‘Europeans’ with ‘non-European immigrants’ and their culture. The IBD is linked to similar groups like the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), which started its first anti-migrant marches in Dresden in December 2014. At its peak, the PEGIDA had around 25,000 supporters, today their numbers have dwindled to a mere couple of thousands.
Recent Islamic terror attacks, like the stabbing in the Bavarian town of Ansbach and the terror strike in Nice, when a terrorist razed a truck into a crowd on France’s national day, has brought an added element of insecurity into the equation. Debates in France, including those involving Islamic garments like the burqa and the full-body swim-suit or theburkini have only helped stoke those fears.
The fateful events in Cologne on new year’s day, when at least a thousand men of immigrant origin molested and robbed thousands of women, has also contributed to more suspicion against immigrants among the German public. This has resulted in more support for far-Right parties like the alternative for Germany, whose leaders have called for ‘shooting down refugees’ at the border.
Meanwhile, the party has made considerable gains in local State elections, raising fears among the country’s political elite and liberal population that the country’s democratic, secular values may be at stake.
Any mention of Germany’s Right-wing immediately conjures images of the Nazi regime, when six million Jews were purged in Adolf Hitler’s attempt to cleanse the ‘Aryan’ race. Today’s Germany, however, is steeped in strong democratic values and it would be unfair to say that Right-wing ideology will again begin to take root in the country.
Right now, people feel shortchanged after Merkel’s ‘we can do it.’ Many Germans, including Merkel’s allies in her coalition, feel overwhelmed and distrustful of their leader and her motives.
At this point, for several citizens, parties like AfD are the only ones lending an ear to their problems, which above all relate to securing a stable and familiar environment, which includes their liberal values towards freedom for the sexes and of religion, and internal security.
(The writer is a journalist with DW, Germany)