A stabbing leads to anti-migrant protests in Germany

A young woman carefully lays a sunflower next to the candles and carnations that surround a photo of 35-year-old Daniel Hillig. An older woman cries as she explains that he was a friend of her daughter. The spot where Mr Hillig was stabbed to death last month, allegedly by migrants, has become a shrine. Both women say they are scared to go out at night and feel nervous when they see groups of foreign-looking men. “We’re not racist,” says one, “we just want them to obey the law.” The Refugee Council says migrants in Chemnitz feel equally rattled.

Mr Hillig was killed after a street brawl during a festival a few hours after midnight on August 26th. Later that day leaked police reports, suggesting that the suspects were asylum-seekers and that one of them should have been deported, sparked a week of anti-migrant protests, in which dozens of people were injured. There were clashes with counter-demonstrators and reports of migrants being attacked. Some protesters were filmed giving Nazi salutes.

Protest organisers say they have no control over who turns up, and hint that “neo-Nazis” were paid by journalists or were left-wing activists. “If anyone has blood on their hands, it’s the politicians who have allowed terror to be imported to Europe,” says Arthur Österle, one of the organisers.

Leaders of Germany’s right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party also marched, for the first time openly joining ranks with more radical anti-Islam groups, such as Pegida. The sight of AfD leaders alongside demonstrators giving Nazi salutes has sparked calls from mainstream politicians for the party to be monitored by intelligence services.

Constitutionally this is possible—regional AfD youth chapters are already being watched—but Germany’s history of state surveillance makes it a sensitive issue, with high legal hurdles. There are fears it could play into the AfD’s complaints that it is unfairly targeted by the authorities.

Chemnitz is in Saxony, a region in the former East Germany that is fertile ground for right-wing populism and a stronghold of the AfD. West Germany spent decades trying to understand its Nazi crimes; authoritarian East Germany, by contrast, ignored the lessons of history. The collapse of local industry after reunification in 1990 left a generation embittered and insecure.

Beatrix von Storch, the AfD’s deputy leader, has claimed that Germany saw 447 killings by illegal migrants last year. The interior ministry says that in fact last year just 27 illegal migrants either committed or attempted to commit murder or manslaughter. Violent crime committed by migrants has risen slightly in Germany, but so has the number of asylum-seekers.

Whatever the truth, the issue appears to be working for the AfD. According to polling by INSA, a think-tank, its support is now at 17%, making it Germany’s second-most-popular party, ahead of the Social Democrats. Right-wing activists say this is just the beginning. The AfD has identified migrant-related crime as a way of broadening its appeal and bringing mainstream voters onto the streets. Chemnitz shows the tactic works.

(Courtesy: The Economist)