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A neo-Nazi jolt to Germany

With police preparation and rock band rally support, Germany appears to have fought off AfD and Pegida movements in the current round

A neo-Nazi jolt to Germany

After a week in Berlin, I had just got off the train at Cologne railway station when I saw a small group of AfD (Alternative for Deutschland) supporters shouting Nazi slogans and police ready to ring a cordon around the street corner. I and my host were lucky to have driven out of the area just seconds before the police swung into action with their cordon and successfully foiled the demonstration. Nobody except the police took any serious notice of it and the noise was soon was forgotten.

But little did anybody think that a fortnight-long trouble was about to start at the other end of Germany in the eastern Saxony lander or state at Chemnitz, the city with a towering Karl Marx sculpture. The fuse was lit by a stabbing incident on August 22 when Daniel Hillig, a 35-year-old carpenter, was allegedly attacked and killed by two migrants, a Syrian and an Iraqi.

A further irony that remains forgotten by the neo-Nazi stormtroopers is the fact that Daniel himself was half a migrant, being the son of a Cuban mother and German father. In cold light, it might be correctly said that that the incident was a tragic tale of migrants from two continents. But for the neo-Nazi patriots, Daniel was full German whose death called for 'revenge' in the shape of expulsion of all migrants as demanded by Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) and the anti-Islam Pegida supporters opposed to Chancellor Angela Merkel's 2015 decision to open the doors to over one million refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq.

Another incident had occurred the previous Monday in Wismar tow, 300 miles north of Chemnitz, where a Syrian migrant was brutally attacked by three men shouting racist abuse at him. The victim was taken to hospital and police said one of the alleged attackers had been arrested. But the scene shifted to Chemnitz.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was quick to denounce the anti-migrant wave of hatred that raised its head in a few places leading to rallies by AfD supporters and counter gatherings by anti-fascist groups, turning Chemnitz into a testing ground for the opposing camps. Police had to be brought from outside to keep the opposing crowds apart to prevent clashes. Saturday saw one of the biggest showdown events with opposing camps numbering nearly ten thousand, according to press reports. Despite the heat and fear of violence breaking out, only minor scuffles were reported as the crowds dispersed. The atmosphere remained charged well into the second week of unrest with ever more rallies being announced day after day.

Denunciation of extreme right-wing elements has been loud and clear. Heiko Maas, the Foreign Minister, asked fellow citizens to "get up from our sofas and open our mouths" to tackle the menace. "Unfortunately, we have become too comfortable in our society, and we have to get over that," Maas told the top-selling popular newspaper Bild. "All of us have to show the world that we democrats are the majority and the racists are the minority," he stressed.

A big anti-racism rock concert was held in Chemnitz on Monday, September 3 with over 50,000 people turning up, almost double the number who had registered in advance. German punk band Die Toten Hosen, indie band Kraftklub, rappers Marteria, Casper and others sang aloud with fans holding banners with the message:" Wir Sind Mehr -- More of us are here."

A day before the concert, Chancellor Merkel had urged people to mobilise against hate mongers. Her spokesperson Steffen Siebert said: "These people who march and indulge in violence -- some of whom have shown their closeness to Nazism -- they stand neither for Chemnitz nor for Saxony, nor do they represent the 'real' people."

With police preparation and rock band rally support, Germany appears to have fought off AfD and Pegida movements in the current round but the ghosts of this neo-Nazi eruption have not been laid to rest. Its tentacles have been spreading beyond borders. Patches of its long shadow extend from Australia and Hungary to Italy and southern Europe. The meeting of minds of the Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini doesn't augur well for the continent. Their anti-immigration partnership could well develop into a working coalition of sorts, not a pleasant prospect for the European Union. For now, of course, Germany and France are making a safe pair of hands for Europe.

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

Subhash Chopra

Subhash Chopra

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