German Chancellor Angela Merkel harshly condemned racism and violence in response to the violence that erupted between far-right protestors, police and counterdemonstrators in the eastern city of Chemnitz on August 27.
“We have video footage showing that there was targeted harassment, that there was rioting, that there was hate on the streets, and that has no place under our rule of law,” said Merkel on August 28.
“In no square and on no street should it come to rioting,” she added.
As reported by Deutsche Welle (DW) Germany’s international broadcaster, nearly every prominent politician in Germany felt compelled to comment on the clashes that ended in the stabbing death of a 35-year-old German-Cuban man.
The fact that his alleged assailants were immigrants (an Iraqi and a Syrian national have been detained) was exploited by local extremists who called for a far-right rally against foreigners.
“The shock of an atrocity was abused in order to bring xenophobia and violence onto the streets of the city,” said German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “Let us not be intimidated by a mob of punching hooligans… hate should not have free rein anywhere in our country.”
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stressed the need to “defend human rights, democracy, and freedom”.
Interior Minister Horst Seehofer issued the following statement: “My deepest sympathies are with the loved ones of the knife attack victim…but I want to stay clearly, that nothing justifies the call to violence or violent riots”.
According to DW, however, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party was split down the middle, with some inside the party distancing themselves from the right-wing demonstrators and calling off their own planned rally, and others suggesting that the media had blown the situation out of proportion.
In a separate report, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) noted that the ugly scenes of mostly white men, many of them extremist football hooligans, hurling abuse at people they deemed to be foreigners, have deeply alarmed Germany.
Police reported assaults by extremists against at least three foreigners on August 26, while investigations were opened in 10 cases of the protesters performing the illegal Hitler salute. At least 20 people were injured on August 27.
“Of course, history is not repeating itself, but that a far-right mob is on a rampage in the middle of Germany and the authorities are overwhelmed, is reminiscent of the situation during the Weimar Republic,” said Spiegel Online.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung noted that “where such hunting down of foreigners is possible, the rule of law has abdicated,” while Die Welt daily warned that “the rule of law and police now face a test”.
“There cannot be a zone of violence, there is no such thing as partial security,” said Welt.