Far-Right, Racist Attacks on the Rise in Germany
Updated: Feb 28
It’s been just over a year since the Hanau attack, and AfD’s fear-mongering rhetoric is radicalising more Germans to follow suit
Over just the past 2 years, Germany has seen a dramatic increase in far-right terror attacks. The list of attacks is too long to include in one article. Since 2019, CDU politician Walter Lübcke was assassinated by a neo-Nazi, a bar in Lichtenberg owned by a Jewish German was set ablaze, and Ferat Kocak, a left-wing politician with migrant roots in Berlin, had his house firebombed by far-right extremists. These are just some of the incidents, and just over a year ago, the worst attack of them all occurred at 2 shisha bars in Hanau.
Furthermore, nonviolent racism is exceedingly common. Just last month, a Union Berlin footballer hurled a racist insult at an opposing player of Afghani roots. These violent and nonviolent attacks are so normalized now that minor incidents are quickly forgotten. How did Germany get to this point and who is at fault?
The Rise of Far-Right, Racist Sentiments
The Aiders and Abettors
The rise in these racist attacks correlates directly with the rise of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD). The far-right populists are the third largest political party in Germany, not just because of racism and xenophobia, but because there are undeniably major problems facing this nation.
The gap between Germany’s rich and poor is the highest it’s been in over 100 years, rents are skyrocketing while wages remain the same, many migrants lack economic opportunity, the former GDR remains poorer than the west, and Merkel’s CDU seems to love every minute of it. These genuine issues— caused by a conservative government under the spell of big business, the outsourcing of working-class jobs, and many German nationals simply refusing to allow migrants to truly integrate— have been warped by AfD to paint a drastically different picture.
A picture where, they claim, Merkel and the political establishment are too afraid to say “the truth” about migration and Islam. A government-controlled, secret cabal of powerful figures such as Bill Gates who are destroying Germany and its culture. AfD has flipped the script and placed the blame for the hardships of the working class not on big business, but on other workers who were simply born across a border. AfD's message has resonated in many of the high-unemployment, low-income areas of the former GDR.
Of course, Germans are being radicalised if they genuinely believe that “globalists'' are seeking to destroy their country and way of life through mass-migration. It was only a matter of time before people decided to take violent action to “save Germany.” As long as AfD continues spreading such misinformation, these types of attacks will continue.
The Inaction of Government Institutions
While the Verfassungsschutz is currently investigating multiple state-level AfD chapters, the word disappointment can’t even begin to describe the lacklustre response by many public institutions charged with combating racist extremists and their propaganda.
The perpetrator of the Hanau attack, an ethnic German, was radicalised by AfD rhetoric and fringe online disinformation. The 49-year old repeatedly reached out to local authorities in the months leading up to the attack. Strangely, no action was taken by these authorities to even look into the man’s delusional conspiracy theories. There is a good chance that this attack could have been prevented.
Within the police force, the inaction is especially stark. For a long time, racism within police departments has been a point of contention, but it is difficult to properly measure it. CDU MP Sylvie Nantcha, an Afro-German born in Cameroon, stated that no German police department systematically gathers information on “racial profiling cases." Essentially, there is no way to currently identify how large of a problem racism is within the German police system, making it impossible to actually address it.
These two examples alone of inaction to combat racism and extremists views should be mor than enough reason for concern, but with the growing number of racist attacks, alarm bells should be ringing.
Radical Racists Within the Police
Radical right-wing views within the police have been a big subject recently in Germany as more police officers have begun supporting AfD. CDU politician Friedrich Merz recently warned that his party is losing the police and the Bundeswehr to the far-right populists.
In recent months, multiple private chat groups between police have been leaked to the public. In one such group, 30 officers in the Ruhrgebiet shared a photo of a refugee in a gas chamber, along with Nazi imagery. One has to wonder how many other such chat groups exist, and what racist things are said privately between officers. How deep does this issue go?
To make matters worse, a police chief in Berlin used official computers to find out the details of left-wing politicians, politicians who subsequently received threatening letters from extremists. It’s not merely your average cop who’s sharing violent extremist photos, but police chiefs are aiding and abetting these radicals as well.
This seems to be a bigger problem than just a few “bad apples.” Private discussions are hard to monitor, but if 80% of instances of police violence end with no criminal proceedings brought forth, how is this public institution supposed to be held accountable and root out these bad officers? And what if it's not just bad officers, but a bad culture?
The False Virtue of Colour Blindness
In addition to the police collecting no data on racial profiling, the German government collects no data on race and ethnicity. This makes it almost impossible to have hard data on the 20% rise in racist attacks from 2017 to 2018 to analyse which groups were attacked and which carried out the attacks. There is simply no hard data on this subject, making it impossible to constructively address.
The fact that the German government doesn’t do this is the continuation of a trend that many Europeans and Americans seem to hold dear, colour blindness: The idea that an individual shouldn’t see race, that all humans are the same, and that neither individuals nor governments should label or separate people by their race.
On the surface, it sounds great, but the idea of colour blindness is a fallacy. By pretending that neither individuals, businesses, nor governments see a difference between a white German and a Black German, one is actively delegitimising and ignoring the issues faced specifically by one group. No one who isn’t Black can tell a Black person what their lived experience is, just as only a Muslim really knows what it’s like to be a Muslim.
Colour blindness ignores the fact that many of these public institutions may not be taking racism seriously because the vast majority of those in charge are white Germans. To ensure that these institutions properly reflect the populations they serve, one has to see race. Berlin is a highly diverse city; therefore, its public institutions should be diverse. Seeing colour is vital in achieving this.
Soul Searching is Now Required
Racist incidents against immigrants and Germans of migrant background are on the rise. Right-wing extremists have taken foot in the Bundestag, the police, and other public institutions.
Germany as a nation needs to understand that the public institutions must reflect the diversity of the communities that these institutions are supposed to serve. It doesn’t matter whether it’s something as important as the police or a simple athletic commission such as the DfB, changes must be made. A 35% migrant quota in Berlin’s state jobs is currently being debated. This would be an important first step.
However, the aforementioned economic issues must be simultaneously addressed. Whether it’s increasing economic opportunity for migrants and workers in the former east, or building more public housing, something has to be done.
The unfortunate truth is that there will be more racist incidents and attacks in Germany, but the main question is how the nation will address the issues that have led to this rise in far-right, racist sentiments. Will the public institutions progress forward, or will these organisations continue down the same path that has allowed racist and extremist views to flourish?