Fighting Racism and Gentrification
by Ferat Kocak
Anti-fascist and anti-racist friends:
My name is Ferat Ali Kocak and I am a Neuköllner. I am active in various anti-racist and anti-fascist initiatives, and am a Deputy Spokesperson for the Linke Party in Neukölln as well. But today I speak as a victim of right-wing terror in Neukölln.
Some questions will understandably arise, namely, what right-wing terror in Neukölln, the AfD, and racism have to do with this rally. This is not about the 'Signa Group' and Rene Benko’s party donations and contacts to the right-wing party in Austria, the FPÖ.
My train of thought starts with the fact that the AfD had already spoken about the Umvolkung of Sonnenallee in its 2016 election campaign. They claim that Sonnenallee was and is too colorful - too Muslim - for them. The individuals who have shaped the neighborhoods in Kreuzberg and Neukölln, among others, since the 70s and 80s, did not choose to live here. But nobody wanted to live on the border to the GDR, and so these districts (as well as Wedding) were the places where guest workers and refugees found apartments in the 90s.
These neighborhoods with their joie de vivre à la A Thousand and One Nights have become hip and trendy areas… In which now precisely those people who make up this joy, are no longer welcome.
Thus, this displacement begins through diverse means. Through years of construction sites on Karl Marx Straße, the commercial tenants are gone because customers don’t frequent their stores any longer. Through quasi military raids in shisha bars, barber shops, and corner stores. Through media coverage which communicate to Nazis, that their enemy is the same enemy of the alleged protectors our democracy. Through labelling children in elementary school as so-called “clan children”, so that concerned families naturally consider moving away.
This policy is not currently being implemented by the AfD. Rather, the AfD is only cornering both the more successful parties, and parties which identify as left and anti-fascist - into taking responsibility for implementing the policy. These parties should all be included in this discussion, as they are all involved in this in one way or another. It is therefore crucial that we strengthen social movements, unite our struggles, and raise our voices together. This is our neighborhood and we will not be driven out, dear anti-fascists – not by a billionaire holding company nor by their political pawns.
But let us think further. The remodeling of Hermannplatz destroys our neighborhood way of life, raises rents, displaces people into the outskirts of the city and, in the future, perhaps even into satellite cities at the edges of Berlin. We have seen this from such large cities as London and Paris. It is critical to look closer at who is taking these policy decisions? Who is buckling under the weight of the billion-euro holding companies? Who is implementing these policies against the people that make up our neighborhoods? We have seen it with the Syndikat [editor's note: the Syndikat is a left-wing pub in Berlin-Neukölln which was recently taken over by gentrifiers]. The police use violence to enforce law and order for the rich, for shell companies, for those who prioritize profits over people, against the will of the neighborhood residents, against the will of the neighborhood.
Recently, during a discussion on the police union and its role in relation to racists and right-wing structures within the governmental security agencies, an activist told me that police are not workers, so the term “union” with regard to the police is misleading. The police make up the wall between workers, between the people living in the neighborhoods and the ruling class - the billion-euro holdings whose interests they defend with violence. And if they claim to follow laws, the legitimate question is: Which lobbyists have helped shape these laws to benefit those whose bank accounts hold 10-digit sums? While we struggle to pay our rent month after month. And now they want to make even more profits at our expense, at the expense of neighborhoods we have created over decades, at the expense of our communal lives.
“Oha Tschüsch,” as my grandmother would say. “First swallow what you have in your mouth.” But these holdings’ greed for profit is insatiable. First they rebuild Karstadt, then they buy the first block on Sonnenallee, then the rents rise, and with rising rents the population changes – for example, tenants come from Bavaria, Baden, Swabia. And yes, in 2003, a young activist in the name of Neuköllners. The AfD proclaimed it in 2016. The SPD, the Greens, and the Linke Party have implemented it. And we are here today precisely in protest of this scenario, in solidarity with Neuköllners. What we accept in silence we still do accept, and therefore let us raise our voices today, dear antifascists.
Let us connect our struggles. Anti-racism, anti-fascism, against rent increases, in solidarity with nurses, pedagogues, teachers, educators, with tradespeople, and together with organizations like Migrantifa, Indivisible, Aufstehen gegen Rassismus, Seebrücke, Wellcomeunited, but Fridays for Future and Ende Gelände as well.
The system does not breed solidarity. We are in need of a change. A change towards more solidarity, in which people and nature and our communal lives are more important than profits.
Therefore let us call for intercultural solidarity. Let us fight together!
This speech was made by Ferat Kocak at a recent Berlin public meeting. Translation by Emily Pollak