'We can't allow a proxy war on German streets'
Pundits, politicians and police chiefs have all been sticking their oar into the debate over how to deal with the unholy alliance of drunken thugs and far-right politics which came to a head in Cologne on Sunday.
If you listen to Rainer Wendt, president of the German Police Union (DPolG), then the confrontations between hooligans and police in Cologne, in which 44 officers were injured, was a success story.
“There was very good intelligence about these people and the police were in place to deal with any problems,” he told The Local.
Wendt sees intelligence as the key to maintaining order in cities as tensions mount between different groups, stoked by conflicts in the Middle East.
“We have to gather more information, observe them better,” Wendt argues.
“With more technology and modern software, we can watch the communications and travel of these people and see who's connected with who,” he said.
Otherwise “there's a danger that the battle in Syria spreads out and comes here, that radical groups join together against Salafists... we can't allow a proxy war to take place in Germany.”
His views were echoed by Hans-Georg Maaßen, head of the Federal office for Constitutional Protection (BfV), who told news agency dpa that "the conflict in Iraq and Syria is being reflected in Germany."
"There's cause for concern that violent confrontations between different extremists will escalate further on our streets," he added.
'Visible to anyone'
Writing in Zeit, commentator Johannes Radke had harsh criticism for the police's response to the intelligence they had gathered.
“The far-right scene had been mobilizing for this spectacle for weeks, publicly visible to anyone on the internet,” he said.
“You don't have to be an expert to imagine that 3,000 drunk neo-Nazi hooligans won't remain peaceful.”
And editorial writers at the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung weren't confident that the answer was as simple as more technology.
“The ever-greater networking and improved organizational abilities of violent people via online networks confronts the authorities with problems that can't be played down after this Sunday,” they wrote.
Despite forewarning of the violence, police were unable to stop the situation from exploding, the newspaper argued, saying that “the rule of law is now going to be put to its hardest test.”
This view seemed to be echoed by Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, who said that future demonstrations of this kind could be banned in advance.
“Violence was at the heart of this, and the politics was just a vehicle to incite a mass brawl,” he said.
“I think there's a good chance that the authorities will enact a ban and that it will hold up in court,” he told broadcaster ARD on Monday.
The most important thing that should come out of the violence on Sunday was “clear justice” for the people who were arrested, he concluded.
But local newspaper the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger was impatient with the tough words on offer from political leaders in an article titled "How the police are capitulating to the mob".
“It's the job of the state to judge groups realistically, take changes into account, evaluate the risk of violence and thereby whether there's a danger to the public,” its editorial writers said.
The argument by Cologne's police chief, Wolfgang Albers, that the worst had been avoided by “good preparation and clever tactics” was simply not good enough, they argued, asking “Why has the police let its own officers and Cologne walk into such a disaster?”
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