The Chemnitz riots for 5 years – A warning sign for the federal government.

Diese eine Woche im August 2018 hätte die schönste des Jahres in Chemnitz werden sollen. Überall in der Stadt wurde gefeiert, doch die Feierlaune war schnell zu Ende. Am 26. August töteten zwei Männer pakistanischer bzw. syrischer Herkunft einen 35-jährigen Deutschen. Am nächsten Tag erschienen im Internet Aufrufe zum Protest gegen die „Ausländerkriminalität“ in der Stadt. Polizeikräfte waren nicht in ausreichender Zahl anwesend und die Situation eskalierte schnell. Ohne Zögern wurde der Hitlergruß gezeigt und Passanten mit Migrationshintergrund wurden angegriffen. Die Krawalle entwickelten sich zu einer der größten rechtsextremen Ausschreitungen in Deutschland seit dem Zweiten Weltkrieg.

I visited Chemnitz this summer as part of a report for the Flemish investigative magazine Apache. Apart from the numerous anti-racism stickers, nothing reminds of the black page that is five years old. For many West Germans, the Karl Marx head in the city center embodies the failed communist experiment of the now „provincial East.“ The monument joins the list of derogatory images of East Germany.

The riots in Chemnitz have further solidified the stereotypical association of the East with the far-right scene. This discourse is also confirmed this year. In April, some teachers at a school in Brandenburg wrote that they could no longer tolerate the far-right mentality of their students. This was followed by threats, which eventually led to their resignation. At the end of July, an LGBT flag at the train station building in Neubrandenburg was replaced by a Nazi flag. In addition to these isolated incidents, people in East Germany are gradually sending a louder signal through their votes. The East Germans themselves may very well print the far-right label on their ballots in the 2024 local elections.

The first stamps have already been set. This summer, for the first time in German history, a right-wing extremist party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), has appointed a district administrator and a mayor. In nationwide polls, the party is in second place. The alienation between high politics and the citizens plays into the hands of the AfD. Currently, 58% are of the opinion that the government is doing a poor job, and the citizens do not feel like they have a say in the workings of democracy.

The Christian Democrats are trying to jump on the bandwagon. The CDU is leading in the polls, but the AfD is gaining ground in East Germany. Party leader Friedrich Merz recently faced a lot of criticism for leaving the door open for regional cooperation with the AfD. This would mean a major breach in the firewall. With such thoughtless remarks, Germany’s largest party is making the AfD more socially acceptable. If Merkel’s party does not unanimously reject a vote for the AfD, then how high is the barrier?

Furthermore, daily life in East Germany is still marked by the political mistakes made after reunification. These scars are easily reopened by poor communication and a „Berlin-centric“ politics. However, research has already shown that similar socio-economic contexts in the West lead to the same voting behavior. The AfD promises to close these wounds once and for all. They do so with slogans that stick unlike those of the government. Once it is understood in Berlin, it will be evident that the AfD is not solely an East German phenomenon.

„Germany: Once Again the Sick Man of Europe?“ was the headline in The Economist recently. Progress is slowing down, and the Germans are feeling it. The current government is capable of lobbying: Megafactories of chip manufacturers Intel and TSMC are being built near the eastern German cities of Magdeburg and Dresden. In Halle, also in eastern Germany, there will be a highly praised „Center for the Future“. And how will Chemnitz fare? It will be the European Capital of Culture in 2025, highlighting the city’s tolerant side. Instead of using their lobbying power, the government should focus on transparent and regionally sensitive policies. Only with the promised economic upturn will the government succeed in curbing the wave of right-wing extremism.