Last Saturday, over a thousand of neo-Nazi took to the streets to protest against the policies of tolerance and multiculturalism. Neo-Nazi youths hate blacks and other people of color, despise gays, and dream of the purity of the Aryan race. They attribute Germany’s problems to the US influence and their rallies should, upon scrutiny, be regarded as anti-American. The left radicals sound alarm louder than others when the neo-Nazi make public appearances, but for them opposing Nazism clearly overshadows the task of defending multiculturalism. The Saturday March in Hamburg ended with violence, acts of vandalism, and clashes with police and though nobody was seriously hurt this time, according to the city administration the damages totaled Euro 1.5m.
If you’re familiar with present-day Germany, you’re likely aware that the Germans, a nation with a reputation for unsurpassed respect for law and order, increasingly become prone to getting involved in public-space conflicts. Actually, trade union rallies and student protests which escalated into fighting with police occasionally took place in West Germany in the Cold War era, and that discontent with the US domination of German policies at one point took the form of terrorist attacks launched by members of the notorious Red Army Faction. Consequently, it is no news that Germany’s strategy of behaving as a minor partner of the U.S. comes with considerable domestic costs.
The German society successfully met the key challenge which confronted it in the XX century – the unification of East and West Germany, and ever since Berlin, with its newly gained confidence, has remained a symbol of trans-Atlantic solidarity. On the other hand, recently Germans had to realize to what extent it was Washington’s fault that they had to serially drag their EU peers out of recession. The global financial crisis engineered by the U.S. echoed with a new round of protests among the German population, especially its younger part, against the government’s lack of independence in foreign and domestic politics. As it typically happens with the young, a clear formulation of the agenda behind the discontent is absent and the expressions of rage easily spin out of control.
German police ministry’s reports reflected a surge in extremism in 2011. The phenomenon is ever more disquieting considering that the German brand of extremism, once unleashed, is known to threaten the nation’s political tradition from top down. Political extremism in Germany always seems to go further than in any other European country, as in the case of the Red Army Faction which rebelled against “German imperialism” in the 1970ies. Respect for brute force and readiness to act accordingly are, on a deep level, built into the German mentality.
These days, extremism – left and right alike – is gaining ground in Germany. Official statistics shows that the incidence of politically motivated violence in the country grew by 18% in 2011 compared to 2010. The figure is unprecedented in post-war Germany, and it must be noted that the left are increasingly contributing to the trend. It is a traditional perception that the German rights, particularly the neo-Nazi, are responsible for the majority of terrorist attacks. German interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said the right had killed 60 activists from the opposite edge of the spectrum, but human rights groups estimate the number at 182, with only 38% of the cases solved by law enforcement agencies. In comparison, the left appear to be less aggressive, their record being mostly limited to acts of vandalism and brawls with police and including no lethal attacks.
On the whole, the proliferation of political extremism revives memories of the epoch when national socialists in Germany were inching towards power. At the moment, swelling groups of critics of the German government’s policies are ready to overstep the line which separates political activism from violence.
Hate for foreigners is believed to be the most common cause of politically motivated violence in Germany. In daily life, the hate surfaces in fights between ethnic groups of young people or racial slurs, but it also manifests itself on an organized level. For example, over the 13 years of its existence National-Sozialistischer Untergrund, a powerful extremist formation, has committed 10 murders, not to mention countless offenses like beatings of foreigners.
Violence against foreigners and religious minorities in Germany was reported 22,7 % more often in 2011 that in 2010. Commentators generally call into question the extremists crime data supplied by police as it frequently brackets violence stemming from political radicalism with ordinary hooliganism or banditry, meaning that the death toll may actually be higher.
Completely new motivations behind extremist violence became became a part of the picture in 2011. The campaigning of extraordinary intensity which accompanied the year’s elections across Germany prompted a tide of vandalism, the targets being political banners, etc. The heightened incidence of this type of crime evidently correlated with brewing tensions in the German society. The same conclusion was drawn from the fact that the number of political rallies held in 2011 came out unusually high and that they often involved fighting with opponents, the devastation of public property, and conflicts with police. The latter, it must be noted, constitute a particularly frightening syndrome. The traditional German respect for law is evaporating, with the aggressive inclinations of the young coming to the foreground. In 2011, the number of attacks on policemen reached 1284, a level hitherto unthinkable in the country. Overall, it is clear that the public status of the police in Germany has plummeted.
The German government largely pretends to overlook the problem and carefully avoids touching upon the root causes behind the protests. The response to the demonstrations in Dresden commemorating the February, 1944 U.S.-British bombing of the city, which took over 100,000 lives of civilians, exemplified the approach. Young people from all over Germany, mostly aged around 18, attended the rally. For this generation, the U.S. is not the country which authored the Marshall Plan and supplied food to West Berlin by air, but the one continuously waging aggressive wars worldwide. The memorial event which the German administration hoped to conduct as a ceremony of reconciliation eventually evolved into an outbreak of destructive rage. The young people evidently did not feel like forgiving Berlin’s strategic allies for the barbarian strikes and expressed the attitude as they knew – in the form of a violent spree. Fights and escapades targeting the police took place in the process.
The mourning day thus turned into a day of protests, and that happens to be the scenario the German government fears most. In the foreseeable future, the focus of the protests will continue to drift from loosely defined subjects such as U.S. globalism and multiculturalism specifically towards Germany’s cooperation with the hyper-ambitious Washington. It factors into the situation that the younger Germans are hardest hit by the crisis which the U.S. financial policies inflicted on the entire Europe.
A sense of aversion to their own government is getting stronger among the new generation of Germans who are paying too high a price for trans-Atlantic solidarity, and sparring with the police is just one element of the reaction. Chances are that looking at Germany, a country of law-abiding citizens where political conflicts nevertheless translate into street chaos, gives a glimpse of the future awaiting the whole Europe.