The Chaos in Chemnitz
The city of Chemnitz in Germany has been in the spotlight of many European media outlets, as the violent confrontations between the far-right activists and antifa continued. The protests started on August 26, when the news of a 35-year old German citizen murdered by two migrants of Middle Eastern origin spread throughout the city.
On August 27, two rallies led by right-wing activists took place in Chemnitz. The first rally, initiated by the right-populist party Alternative for Germany, was at the scene of the murder. The second rally was organized by the members of football ultras club Kaotic Chemnitz, which is classified by the local authorities as an extreme right-wing group. Approximately 1000 people took part in the second rally. At the beginning of the protest, participants were chanting xenophobic slogans at the meeting venue.
Later, protesters marched to the center of the city, starting fights with the police force and attacking people who looked like refugees. However, as Deustch Welle reports, not everyone among the protesters was part of far-right movements: ordinary citizens, who believe that the police is intentionally hiding migrant-related crime statistics, also took part in the rally.
The day after the right-wing marches in Chemnitz, leftist movements organized counter-protests. The local antifa group, Chemnitz Nazifrei, gathered at the city park and protested against xenophobia. Slogans such as “no to racism and xenophobia” and “get nationalism out of heads” were chanted. At the same time, Pro Chemnitz, a local rightist group, was protesting against the current political situation, which, according to the protesters, allows in too many refugees. The protests attracted about 2500 ultra-conservative activists from the other cities of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Brandenburg.
As antifa groups marched towards the Karl Marx monument, the clashes between right and left-wing activists began. According to police reports, nine people were injured as protesters threw fireworks and other objects at each other. To stop confrontations from descending into further chaos, the police force had to use water cannons. After the protests, Roland Wöller, the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Saxony, stated that the demonstrations were “largely” conducted peacefully and thanked the police for “prudent actions” to maintain order.
On August 30, three days after the first fights between the right and left wing activists occurred, the right-wing Pro Chemnitz movement staged another protest against the current refugee-related policies. Rally participants criticized local authorities and blamed refugees for the increasing crime rates. Representatives of the anti-fascist movement Chemnitz Nazifrei said that they did not organize counter-protests on August 30, as the previous demonstration on August 27 showed that the police could not guarantee the safety of participants. At the same time, the head of the state government of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, held a meeting with the citizens of Chemnitz. Kretschmer assured that everything possible will be done to investigate the crime. He also warned against hatred towards refugees and urged the city’s residents to distance themselves from right-wing radicals.
On September 1, two large protests took place in Chemnitz. Police reports indicate that almost 9,500 people took part in both rallies. About 3500 people came to the rally against anti-immigrant sentiment. Among them — the mayor of Chemnitz, Barbara Ludwig, and the head of the parliamentary faction of the Left Party, Dietmar Bartsch. “We will confront the rightist instigators by all means of the rule of law”, said Ludwig. Opponents of right-wing radicals also tried to block their way by placing hundreds of books of the German Constitution in the streets.
The right-wing rally was bigger in magnitude, with about 4,500 people participating. According to some reporters on Twitter, activists from Poland, Czech Republic, and Switzerland also took part in the rally. Supporters of the populist Alternative for Germany Party, along with representatives of the anti-Islamic movement Pegida and the right-wing Pro Chemnitz movement took part in the protests against the refugee policies. The police prevented clashes between the participants in both rallies by blocking the path of ultra-right activists.
On September 3, a free concert against racism and xenophobia was held in Chemnitz, which attracted about 65,000 people. During the event, which was held under the slogan “There are more of us”, bands such as Die Toten Hosen and Kraftklub delivered messages condemning the right-wing activists.
The news of protests had reached the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose visit to the city of Chemnitz is expected in early October. So far the chancellor criticized the mob violence, saying that “there was targeted harassment, there was rioting, there was hate on the streets, and that has no place under our rule of law.”
Currently, over 30 people have been injured in the protests starting from August 26. The investigation of the murder is still in progress, and the tension levels in Chemnitz have not decreased yet.
Europe's Migration Problem
The issue of migration poses one of the greatest challenges to the increasingly globalized world. Ethical concerns clash with the deep-seated fear of economic displacement, terrorism, and violence, creating schisms within a nation. It then becomes a question of how a country should shape policy in order to provide equal opportunity for migrants and refugees and to balance the fear of its citizens. Recently, the death of a German man at the hands of two Afghans ignited protests in Köthen, Germany; a similar event happened in Chemnitz two weeks before that. Germany is just one of the countries dealing with this kind of problem, albeit an extreme case. Political tensions among the countries in the European Union (EU) over how to handle immigration from outside the bloc continue to rise.
Since World War II, Europe has provided a safe haven for refugees fleeing war. The EU has a set of laws called the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), created in 2005 to ensure that all EU states protect asylum seekers and refugees. However, its implementation varies between different nations, creating unequal responses across the continent. In 2015, more than one million migrants and refugees, most of whom were from Syria, crossed into Europe. This sparked a crisis as the EU member states tried to cope with the sudden influx. Tensions have risen because of the disproportionate burden that fell on some countries, particularly Greece, Italy, and Hungary. Until now, delayed political reactions continue to haunt Europe as migration becomes voters’ main concern.
Anti-immigrant sentiments in Europe are rising, and more and more countries are seeing the resurgence of xenophobia and the rise of the right. Germany is divided as the right-wing protesters march against Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, and citizens seek vigilante justice by harassing foreign nationals. All across Europe, nationalist and far-right parties have made significant electoral gains. Earlier this year, Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini has declared sending undocumented immigrants home a top priority for the government. Salvini is the head of the far-right League, which ran its campaign on the pledge of deporting about 500,000 immigrants in Italy.
Similarly, the far-right Freedom Party entered government in Austria and is pushing for radical hardline migration policy where no asylum applications will be accepted. These right-wing movements are taking advantage of the citizens’ fears of terrorism and economic displacement. Europe’s established left threatens to collapse as voters become increasingly opposed to migration. Right-wing populist movements have successfully convinced them that the sudden influx of migrants equates to fewer jobs available for nationals.
Center-left parties have suffered and changed course to regain their political footing. In Austria, the Social Democratic Party is reforming its position to “pro-integration” as opposed to “pro-migration”, balancing the need for border protection and humanitarian responsibility. Denmark has adopted a position to establish reception centers outside Europe to process asylum applications, so as to lessen the flow of migrants in country. Such changes in policy reflect the voters’ demands, so long as these responses remain “morally acceptable”.
These opposing views have escalated tensions within and among the EU member states. European leaders met in Brussels on June 29 to strike a deal on how to handle refugees and migrants. After a nine-hour session, they have created a tentative and vague agreement of establishing migrant centers within the EU and outside the EU. There was a lot of ambiguity involved, as the creation of these migrant centers are voluntary and there were no agreed-upon locations. As of now, this agreement, although not the decisive solution to any of the EU’s current problems, serves as a platform from which its member countries can agree upon and cooperate.
Europe’s migration problem may stem from deeper issues; often concerning race and politics rather than just immigration itself. Social change can threaten people and make them cling to national identity. A sudden influx of migrants causes cultural shifts and revision of social policies, which can be unsettling for locals. A more fundamental way to solve the migration problem would be to address these fears in conjunction with the proposals to improve the existing framework of the EU’s migration policy.
Compiled by Duman Kuandyk and Jaymee Palma