Tens of thousands pack anti-racism concert in Chemnitz

Tens of thousands of people thronged an anti-racism concert Monday in protest against xenophobia in Chemnitz, as Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans to stand up against the far right's message of hate and division.

Tens of thousands pack anti-racism concert in Chemnitz
The free concert in Chemnitz Friday attracted more than 50,000 people. Photo: DPA

Chemnitz, in the former East Germany state of Saxony, was flung into the spotlight as far-right protesters went after foreign-looking people in violent demonstrations last week against the fatal stabbing of a man, allegedly by an Iraqi.

After a weekend of protests in which right-wing extremists vastly outnumbered counter-protesters, a huge crowd estimated by city authorities as 50,000 people massed by early evening at the Chemnitz free concert Monday.

Bearing anti-racism posters, many chanted “Nazis out” at the gig, featuring several punk and indie bands under the motto “there are more of us”. 

Earlier Monday, Merkel had urged Germans to mobilize against hate.

Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said it was understandable that crimes like the knife attack in Chemnitz would provoke sadness and concern among the population.

But marches by “violence-prone right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis have nothing in the least to do with mourning for a person or with concern for a city's cohesion”, he said.

“These people who march and are prone to violence – some have also shamelessly shown their closeness to Nazism – they stand neither for Chemnitz nor for Saxony overall, nor are they 'the people',” said Seibert, referring to a popular “We are the people” chant used by far-right protesters.

“We must make that clear to them,” be it through political or legal means, he said.

“Every citizen can also raise his or her voice to clearly show them their attitude against hate, against the attempt to divide this country.”

'Nazis out'

Merkel's call was echoed by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who on Sunday told Germans to “get off our sofas and open our mouths” against xenophobia.

Organizers were expecting more than 20,000 in Chemnitz, but that had been far exceeded by early evening, with police saying that 5,000 people have arrived for the concert by trains from Leipzig alone, Saxony's biggest city.

“It's not about a fight pitting left against right, but everyone with normal decency – regardless of their political stripe — standing up against the far-right mob,” said Campino, the lead singer of punk band Die Toten Hosen.

“And it is very important to stop this conduct while it is a snowball and before it becomes an avalanche,” he added.

Felix Brummer from Kraftklub also said: “We are not under any illusion that  you can save the world with a concert. But sometimes it's important to show that you're not alone.”

A “window demo” call has also gone out on social media for those who cannot 
make it to Chemnitz to hang a colourful poster on the window or balcony to show their support for the anti-racist cause.

But the criticism of the right-wing extremist protesters was immediately rejected by far-right party AfD, which had, along with the Islamophobic street movement PEGIDA, led last week's demonstrations.

“An entire state and its people are vilified here in general because there is a distinct and understandable resentment about the circumstances,” Jörg Meuthen, AfD co-chief said at a street festival in Bavaria, which holds a state election next month. 

Amid the highly charged atmosphere in Chemnitz, a failed asylum applicant was sentenced to eight and a half years in jail for another fatal stabbing – in another case also seized on by the far right's anti-immigrant campaign.

The defendant, identified only as Abdul D., was sentenced by the juvenile court in the western town of Landau to a jail term over the killing.

Abdul D. had admitted to the court to stabbing the girl at a drugstore in the town of Kandel on December 27th. Prosecutors believe he acted out of jealousy after the girl broke up with him.

The AfD has seized on Kandel case, like the Chemnitz stabbing, to bolster its case against immigration.

Railing against Merkel's liberal refugee policy that led to the arrival of more than a million asylum seekers since 2015, it won dozens of seats in the German parliament for the first time in last year's election.

Resentment against the newcomers runs particularly deep in Saxony state, where Chemnitz is located.

Surveys suggest the AfD is poised to become Saxony's second biggest party in next year's regional elections.

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Germany’s far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance

Best known as an anti-migrant party, Germany's far-right AfD has seized on the coronavirus pandemic to court a new type of voter ahead of regional elections in the state of Saxony-Anhalt on Sunday: anti-shutdown activists.

Germany's far-right AfD ahead in regional poll with anti-shutdown stance
Björn Höcke, party chairman in Thuringia, at an election event in Merseburg, Saxony-Anhalt on May 29th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Willnow

“Sending so many people into poverty with so few infections is problematic for us,” is how Oliver Kirchner, the AfD’s top candidate in Saxony-Anhalt, views the measures ordered by the government to halt Covid-19 transmission.

The anti-shutdown stance seems to be paying off in the former East German state. The party is riding high in the polls and even stands a chance of winning a regional election for the first time.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD chooses hardline team ahead of national elections

Surveys have the AfD neck-and-neck with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU, with the Bild daily even predicting victory for the far-right party on 26 percent, ahead of the CDU on 25 percent.

In Saxony-Anhalt’s last election in 2016, the CDU was the biggest party, scoring 30 percent and forming a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens.

But the CDU has taken a hammering in the opinion polls in recent months, with voters unhappy with the government’s pandemic management and a corruption scandal involving shady coronavirus mask contracts.

Social deprivation

A victory for the AfD would spell a huge upset for the conservatives just four months ahead of a general election in Germany — the first in 16 years not to feature Merkel.

They started out campaigning against the euro currency in 2013. Then in 2015 they capitalised on public anger over Merkel’s 2015 decision to let in a wave of asylum seekers from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The party caused a sensation in Germany’s last general election in 2017 when it secured almost 13 percent of the vote, entering parliament for the first time as the largest opposition party.

Troubled by internal divisions and accusations of ties to neo-Nazi fringe groups, the party has more recently seen its support at the national level stagnate at between 10 and 12 percent.

READ ALSO: Germany’s far-right AfD investigated over election ties

The party is also controversial in Saxony-Anhalt itself. In state capital Magdeburg, posters showing local candidate Hagen Kohl have been defaced with Hitler moustaches and the words “Never again”.

For wine merchant Jan Buhmann, 57, victory for the far-right party would be a “disaster”.

“The pandemic has shown that we need new ideas. We need young people, we need dynamism in the state. For me, the AfD does not stand for that,” he said.

Yet the AfD’s core supporters have largely remained unwavering in the former East German states.

For pensioner Hans-Joachim Peters, 73, the AfD is “the only party that actually tells it like it is”.

Politicians should “think less about Europe and more about Germany”, he told AFP in Magdeburg. AfD campaigners there were handing out flyers calling for “resistance” and “an end to all anti-constitutional restrictions on our liberties”.

Political scientist Hajo Funke of Berlin’s Free University puts the AfD’s core strength in eastern Germany down to “social deprivation and frustration” resulting from problems with reunification.

The party’s latest anti-corona restrictions stance has also helped it play up its anti-establishment credentials, adding some voters to its core base, he said.

Other east German states in which the AfD has a stronghold, such as Saxony and Thuringia, continue to have the highest 7-day incidences per 100,000 residents in the country. Saxony-Anhalt’s 7-day incidence, however, currently is below the national average (31.3) as of Wednesday June 3rd.

READ ALSO: Why are coronavirus figures so high in German regions with far-right leanings?

Hijab snub

Funke predicted the AfD would attract broadly the same voters in
Saxony-Anhalt as it did in 2016, when it won 24 percent of the vote.

“Some have dropped off because the party is too radical, some radicals who didn’t vote are now voting and some of those who are anti-corona are also voting for the AfD,” he said.

The Sachsen-Anhalt-Monitor 2020 report, commissioned by the local government, found that the main concern for voters in the region was the economic fallout from the pandemic. But the AfD’s core selling point — immigration and refugees — was number two on their list.

According to AfD candidate Kirchner, many people in Saxony-Anhalt still view the influx of refugees to Germany “very critically”.

“And I think they are right,” he said at a campaign stand in Magdeburg decked in the AfD’s signature blue. “Who is going to rebuild Syria? Who is going to do that if everyone comes here?”

When a young woman wearing a hijab walked past the stand, no one attempted to hand her a flyer.

By Femke Colborne