Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Germany: Left-wing politician car-bombed as attacks on refugees rise

Die Linke councillor and refugee activist, Michael Richter
Just after midnight on Monday 27 July, a bomb exploded in the car of left-wing politician and refugee activist, Michael Richter, in the town of Freital, on the outskirts of Dresden in eastern Germany.

Richter, a 39-year old town councillor for the socialist party Die Linke (“The Left”) was not in the car at the time, and fortunately noone was harmed by the blast, which damaged a nearby car.

While police are yet to assign blame, Richter is certain that the attack came from right-wing groups in the area, who have threatened him repeatedly in recent months over his campaigning work for refugees.

"I am one of the faces in Freital who say we are for asylum, and I think that's the reason for the attack," Richter said after the blast.

"Threats have now become reality. They are trying to scare me, but I will not give up,"

Germany has seen a steady rise in violence against asylum seekers in the past year, with the German Federal Ministry of the Interior recording 202 attacks in the first six months of 2015 alone, compared to 162 in all of 2014 and 58 in 2013.

These attacks have primarily involved vandalism on houses being built for new refugees, but some have included physical violence against asylum seekers and their supporters.

The Friday before the bombing in Freital, a far-right group attacked a refugee camp in Dresden, while the following night saw an apartment housing refugees in Brandenburg set alight.

On the Sunday, a dozen windows were broken in a converted hotel in Dresden that was due to start housing refugees later that week.
Anti-refugee protest in Freital

A proposal to shelter 280 refugees in Freital has fed the xenophobia in the town. In recent months there have been street clashes between groups protesting both for and against the refugees, and one council meeting ended in a riot.

Responding to the rise in attacks, Rainer Wendt, the head of the German Police Union, has called for a ban on demonstrations within a kilometre of refugee housing.

"People who flee persecution have the right not to look into the faces of those throwing stones," Wendt told the Saarbrücker Zeitung newspaper.

Antje Feiks, regional manager of Die Linke in the state of Saxony, suggested that a spike in anti-Islam marches earlier this year have stirred up more violent anti-immigrant sentiment in the region.

In October last year, a new right-wing movement, PEGIDA (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes or “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident”), began holding weekly marches in Dresden against the “islamisation” of Germany.

PEGIDA rally in Dresden
The PEGIDA marches spread to other cities, and reached their peak in January, when 25,000 marched in Dresden, although they were repeatedly outnumbered by anti-racist protesters across Germany calling for tolerance and acceptance.

The day after a PEGIDA rally in Dresden in January, 20-year-old Eritrean Muslim refugee Khaled Idris Bahray was found stabbed to death in the street. Three days before his death, a swastika was drawn on the door of his flat – which Bahray shared with fellow refugees – accompanied by the threat "We’ll get you all".

PEGIDA’s support has since waned, especially after photos were circulated of its founder Lutz Bachmann dressed as Hitler, but the rallies "have fueled a racist sentiment in which people are motivated and legitimized to use violence," said Feiks.

“We have open hatred on the streets," Die Linke national manager Matthias Höhn told Neues Deutschland on 28 July, warning that the situation was spiraling out of control.

While its size and influence has declined, PEGIDA is still marching, with Bachmann has even joining anti-refugee protests in Freital.

In June, PEGIDA stood a candidate for the Dresden mayoral elections, winning 9.6 percent of the vote with the support of the neo-Nazi National Party of Germany (NPD), and Bachmann has announced that PEGIDA will run in upcoming elections all over Germany.

PEGIDA will face stiff competition for its anti-immigrant message, however, in the form of the right-wing eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland (AfD – “Alternative for Germany”) party.

After winning around 10% of the votes in the eastern states of Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia, earlier this year the AfD won seats in Hamburg and Bremen. Despite its politics shifting sharply to the right, the AfD has now been elected to parliament in five consecutive state elections.

Despite the gradual rise in support for the AfD elsewhere, it is in Saxony, and its capital Dresden, that the issue is at its worst. As well as spawning PEGIDA, Dresden has long been a stronghold of the neo-Nazi NPD, which has occasionally won seats in the state legislature.

Saxony was also the base for the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a neo-Nazi German terrorist group of three responsible for the murders of eight Turkish nationals, a Greek national and a German policewoman between 2000 and 2006, also known as the “döner murders”.

The revelation that German anti-terror and police organisations had known the identities of the NSU members for years, allowed it to operated unhindered and had most likely funded its activities caused a national scandal in Germany.

When NSU members were finally captured, key government documents were then destroyed the day they were due to be handed to the Federal Prosecutor.

Katharina König, Die Linke MP in the Thuringia state parliament, has received death threats in recent weeks because of an inquiry she is leading into the NSU's terror campaign.
Die Linke banner: "Refugees Welcome!
Against racism and
right-wing violence

König, who believes that the NSU was larger than three people, is determined to proceed with the parliamentary inquiry, despite the threats.

Amongst the claims being investigated are suggestions that the NSU had close links with other far-right groups, and operated as part of a system of independent, armed neo-Nazi cells.

In a 27 July statement on the Freital bombing, Feiks claimed that the current spate of attacks on asylum seekers and their supporters is the worst since the early nineties, and warned that there would likely be more.

“We have a problem with right-wing terror in Saxony. This is no longer deniable,” she said.

“Outspoken and open hatred has returned to the streets and apparently knows no inhibitions.“

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