Sunday, April 12, 2015

Nasty Xenophobia

Like many countries, Germany has seen a sharp upsurge in the number of asylum-seekers arriving inside its borders in recent years. It is the world's second most popular destination for immigrants. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees estimates that around 250,000 refugees will arrive in Germany this year, an increase of 80,000 over 2013. Many come from Syria and the Balkan states. Although responsibility for asylum-seekers is shared by the federal, state and local governments, this growth has put a massive strain on many municipalities.

An arson attack on a future refugee home in the German town of Tröglitz is only the latest indicator that anti-foreigner sentiment has spread too far in the country.

At one town-hall meeting, a local resident shouted out "A lot of money is given to foreigners, but we aren't given anything. They get apartments and everything covered from A to Z. Every damned thing."

Given Tröglitz' socio-economic problems, locals' anti-foreigner sentiment isn't entirely surprising. The town was first established in the 1930s to provide housing for workers at a local coal mine, but after the fall of the Wall in 1989, the mine closed and some 4,500 jobs disappeared. Many local residents today have no work or opportunities. Younger people have vacated the town in droves, leaving behind mostly older residents. This forms an effective recruiting backdrop for populist or far-right parties like the neo-Nazi NPD, whose officials are active in the area. For weeks now, far-right voices have been trying to turn public sentiment against the asylum-seekers. The fire-raising came less than a month after Nierth, the town's former volunteer mayor -- who had campaigned for greater tolerance and acceptance of refugees -- stepped down. Together with a local priest, Nierth has created a citizen's intiative that aims to foster a welcoming culture for refugees. Neighbours and members of the NPD had threatened to march to Nierth's home, and he has received death threats. Now many people are wondering whether the Tröglitz attack marks the return of early-1990s-style xenophobia. Far-right groups like the xenophobic National Democratic Party of Germany see the protests as a chance to take their worldview directly to the middle class. Populist movements that have attracted little attention until now, like the so-called "identitarian movement," are suddenly in the spotlight, as is the aimlessly wandering Reichsbürgerbewegung, or Reich Citizens' Movement, which asserts that the German Reich still exists within its pre-World War II borders. Right-wing skin-heads chant "We are the people!" a slogan adopted from the protests in East Germany in the autumn of 1989 that preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall.

There have been a slew of anti-refugee attacks across Germany:

In November 1992, a Turkish grandmother and her two granddaughters were killed when right-wing extremists set fire to their home in Mölln, in the state of Schleswig-Holstein.

One year earlier, in the town of Hoyerwerda -- located in the eastern German state of Saxony -- far-right mobs attacked hostels for foreign contract workers and asylum-seekers.

According to the federal government, there were 86 attacks by right-wing assailants on asylum seekers' hostels between January and the end of September 2014.

On April 3, two Egyptian asylum-seekers in Wismar in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania were the subjects of what is believed to have been an anti-foreigner attack. Police stated that eight as-yet-unidentified men shouted anti-foreigner slogans as they harassed the refugees.
One month earlier, on March 7, an unknown assailant flooded a building in Malterdingen in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg that was being prepared as an accomodation for asylum-seekers. The perpetrators broke into the house, unscrewed drain pipes and turned on two faucets. Police said the incident caused tens of thousands of euros in damage and the local mayor said he believed the attack was xenophobically motivated.
On Feb. 9, 2015, in the city of Escheburg in Schleswig-Holstein, a burning gas can was thrown into a duplex on the day that a family of six refugees from Iraq was supposed to move in. Because the house was still empty, nobody was injured in the incident. A 38-year-old man who lived next door with his wife and daughter -- and who had allegedly earlier critized the plan to house the refugees -- confessed to the crime. His trial is expected to begin in May. If convicted, he could face at least one year in prison for arson.
On Feb. 6, in Dortmund in North Rhine-Westphalia, right-wing extremists carrying torches gathered in front of an asylum-seekers' hostel, shouting anti-foreigner epithets. Some also set off fireworks.
Between Jan. 16 and 17, perpetrators in Porta Westfalica in North Rhine-Westphalia attacked an asylum-seekers home. Police reported that around six men had fired paintball guns at the building and shouted racist epithets.
On Jan. 27, in Wassenberg in North Rhine-Westphalia, seven Germans attacked three North African refugees with clubs. The masked attackers shouted racist insults during the attacks. One of the victims was injured so badly that he had to be taken to the hospital.
On Dec. 12, in the town of Vorra in Bavaria, police believe right-wing extremist perpetrators set fire to a guest house with a barn and a renovated apartment building. The perpetrators painted two swastikas on a neighboring building and the message "no asylum-seekers in Vorra." Around 70 refugees were originally meant to move into the building, which is being renovated to house them. Police still haven't found the culprits.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) cited figures from the Amadeu Antonio Foundation indicating that there have already been 20 attacks in 2015 against accommodations for asylum-seekers. "The bitter truth," he wrote, "is that Tröglitz is only the tip of the iceberg."

Disenchanted German citizens and right-wing extremists are joining forces to form a protest movement to fight what they see as the Islamisation of the West. If a person is a Middle East immigrant in Germany and didn't speak the language or didn't yet feel completely at home in Germany, he or she would first of all go to a place where their language is spoken -- which is to say, the mosque. That is completely normal. People experience the same phenomenon in other diaspora communities. The EU has become a fortress. Nationalism is based on fear. Citizens' qualms about those on the far right are decreasing, and extremist, xenophobic ideas have apparently become socially acceptable. Many are mourning the "good old days." The only question is: Which good old days? Whether they see themselves as conservative nationalists or radical right-wingers, they yearn for simple answers, which is why almost-forgotten, Nazi-era terms like "Volk" (the people) and "Vaterland" (the fatherland) are back in vogue. Pegida followers crow: "Germany is awakening. For our fatherland, for Germany, it is our country, the country of our ancestors, descendants and children."

"Disenchanted citizens with right-wing sympathies" are unable to cope with the social change of the last few decades," says Alexander Häusler, an expert on right-wing extremism in Düsseldorf. The protestors are pursuing a "restorative image of society" that roughly corresponds to Germany in the 1950s, long before it became a country of immigration. 

What is being often neglected in the political dialogue is the growing anxieties of refugees and immigrants who must now live in fear of being attacked by the right-wing mob. The coming down of the Berlin Wall was perhaps one of the most iconic events in many Germans memories, it is now time for the wall in their mind to fall. They should be open and welcoming about the experiencing enrichment of new Germans. Scapegoating is widespread in Europe. It  repeatedly targets communities of immigrants. Typically, the immigrants first arrived to provide employers (who often encouraged immigration) with lower-paid workers and thus higher profits. Then when the inevitable next capitalist business-cycle downturn arrived, the resulting discontent of unemployed and recession-burdened people was deflected and turned against immigrants. They were blamed as if they "took away jobs" from non-immigrants rather than unemployment being the periodic burden, for immigrants and non-immigrants alike, imposed by the profit-driven, fundamentally unstable capitalist system. Perhaps capitalism did inherit its prejudices but it keeps renewing and re-cycling that ugly injustice.


Mike Ballard said...

A similar phenomenon is occurring in South Africa. Workers are stirred against workers because they fear the marketplace for labour power will be flooded, lowering wages and increasing unemployment. Of course, socialism is the answer, as under socialism, labour power is no longer a commodity and the collective product of industrial labour is under common ownership and democratic control.

ajohnstone said...

We have another blog that concentrates on African issues and it has posted a number articles about the xenophobia going back to 2007. The latest one being just a few days ago

search will produce a list