The ‘other’ is hounded in Germany. Sound familiar?
The sacking of a German domestic intelligence chief over his public comments on far-right unrest underlines the extent to which the migration debate is roiling Europe. It is turning governments, state agencies, cities, communities and family units into camps — Us versus Them, anti-migrant versus pro-migrant.
The rivalry is over the merits of non-white, non-Christian migration to Europe and the morality of white ethno-nationalism.
In the Us or anti-migrant camp should probably be counted Hans-Georg Maassen, who, until September 18, led Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. It was founded after the second world war to prevent the rise anew of ideologically racist political forces such as the Nazis.
Though Maassen’s job was to surveil the far-right, he seems to have been surprisingly well-loved by them. Alexander Gauland, co-leader of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, described Maassen “as a very good top official” and praised him for having the “courage” to criticise German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “misdirected asylum policy.”
The reference was to Maassen’s public contradiction of Merkel, who condemned far-right harassment of dark-skinned people in Chemnitz in eastern Germany. Chemnitz, where the Nazi concentration camp of Flossenburg was located, has been in a ferment since August 26. After a German man was stabbed to death allegedly by an Iraqi and a Syrian, the far-right began protesting, in ever more baleful ways. There have been numerous accounts from Middle Easterners in Chemnitz of vigilantes throwing bottles, firecrackers and insults at them.
The targeting of dark-skinned people in Chemnitz is similar to the rash of attacks on Moroccans, Senegalese and other immigrants in Italy after the far-right League party entered the government. Anti-racism groups in Italy say there were 12 shootings, two killings and 33 physical assaults from June 1-August 1 compared to nine attacks but no shootings or deaths for the same period in 2017.
In Germany, Merkel has been trying to prevent such behaviour from becoming normalised. She criticised the “hounding” of migrants in Chemnitz, only to be contradicted by Maassen, who said such videos were “targeted misinformation.” Maassen earned fulsome praise from the far-right as a “rare, responsible” voice of “truth” while moderate German politicians questioned his neutrality.
Also in the anti-migrant Us camp, for reasons that have everything to do with base electoral politics, is German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer. He has supported Maassen in the public spat with Merkel by finding him a plum new job as his deputy.
Seehofer’s motives are obvious. Migration is a hot-button issue on his Christian Social Union party’s home turf, Bavaria, which goes to the polls October 14. Bavaria was one of the main entry routes to Germany for Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016 and the AfD is constantly reminding Bavarians of that.
Polls suggest the AfD will do well enough to enter the Bavarian parliament and that Seehofer’s party will lose its legislative majority. This is why Seehofer is determined to talk and act tough on migration, leaning as far to the right as he dares without fusing with the AfD.
It is not just electoral politics that is fundamentally altered — even disfigured — by tensions over migration at every level of society and government.
The raging culture wars in Germany, which have drawn in everyone from the chancellor downward, have dangerous implications. The use of “fake news” as a label to dismiss evidence of far-right criminality erodes citizens’ trust in their government and security services. Merkel’s tenuous coalition gets steadily weaker. The proclivities of senior ministers and intelligence officials in Europe’s biggest economy start to seem suspect. So, too, the sympathies of a key domestic agency meant to prevent the shame and horror of a second Holocaust, this time, say with dark-skinned migrants and Muslims.
In Italy, Carla Nespolo, president of an anti-fascist group, has said it straight off: “Migrants in Italy have taken the place of Jews during fascism. This is one of the most far-right governments since the end of fascism.” As for Germany, Maassen’s AfD admirer, Gauland, has already referred to Nazi rule as a mere “bird poop” in history, an irrelevance.
Germany’s problems, just like those of Italy, cannot be seen in isolation and their response can no longer be dismissed as a temporary slide. Dark-skinned foreigners, whether seeking jobs or asylum, will continue to make for Europe. As a report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation noted, by 2050, deprivation, violence and insecurity will have become worse in parts of Africa. This inevitably means a continuing, if not greater flow to Europe.
What happens then? Pitched battles in the streets? Concentration camps?