Tragedy of Chemnitz

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How the german far-right exploits the death of a young man in Chemnitz – a chronicle in pictures.

A tragic event shocked the Eastern-german town of Chemnitz on August 26: A young man was stabbed to death close to the town fair. The perpetrators were two refugees from Syria and Iraq, supposedly trying to rob the man. What happened next, shows the political extremely dangerous situation in Germany right now. Local hooligans called for a vigil and used it for their political cause: Marching through Chemnitz, they chased migrants through the streets and attacked everybody not fitting their conception of the world. This was followed by heavy clashes on Monday. Police completely underestimated the extremely dangerous situation. Even though other states offered supplying additional police force and intelligence service warned of far-right participation in the so called vigil, only 600 officers were on duty. Once again a far-right violent mob was able to attack those they find their enemy. Namely: migrants (identified in a racist manner by skin color of course), counter-protestors and journalists. The day left 20 people wounded. The mob made it to international news. Politicians travelled to Chemnitz. On the following Thursday the leader of the Saxonian state government Michael Kretschmer (CDU) held a discussion with inhabitants at the VIP Lounge of Chemnitz Stadium. The following Saturday once again far-right groups announced a gathering. Similar situations to Monday reoccured – civil initiatives and antifascists stepped up and blocked the mourning march organized by PEGIDA and AfD. Upcoming Monday several artists have announced a free concert to occupy the area of the gathering. A look at the a week of so called “vigils”, “grief” and the exploitation for the cause of a “national revolution” by the german far-right in Eastern Germany.

Chase Migrants on a Sunday

For those actually mourning their friend, husband or father the situation must be almost unbearable. The death of Daniel H. has been instrumentalized and made it to world news, as no other case in the past years in Germany. The first vigil on Sunday called for by the local hooligan group “Kaotic Chemnitz” moved through the city with verbal and physical attacks on bystanders suspected to be migrants. As Johannes Grunert for “Die Zeit” reports shouts such as “Ausländer raus” (immigrants out), “Wir sind das Volk” (we are the people) and “Das ist unsere Stadt” (this is our city) could be heard. On Twitter videos of people chasing people of color can be found. This should have already been stopped by local police or at the very least lead to an updated risk assessment of the announced rally on Monday.

Riot on Monday

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Pro Chemnitz “vigil” just before hooligans attack counter-protestors and press ©Michael Trammer

“The day the constitutional state quit”, Der Spiegel reports on Tuesday. This sums up the situation perfectly fine. On Monday evening a mob of hooligans and far-right extremists backed by local citizens took over the streets. At first chance pyrotechnics were fired at counter protest. Police minutes before refused to intervene as one participant was openly carrying a flare only half-way in his pocket. Hitler salutes were shown just in front of police. Counter-protestors were attacked. Local police speaker Andrej Rydzik after the gathering admitted:

“We underestimated the situation”

Andrej Rydzik

Adding up to a far too low number of officers deployed the Saxonian police turned down help from other state police. Reports also suggest that Saxonian police ignored warnings of federal intelligence service “Verfassungsschutz”. The violent riots on Monday seemed to be calculated by organizers, as for mobilization hooligan networks were used. Chemnitz made it to BBC world news. Twenty people were left wounded. Police and media reports partly displayed a picture of violence on both sides, though this is constructed and unbearable. Far-right extremists started several violent attacks on antifascists throughout the day and night of protest.

Discuss on Thursday

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Shouting visitors at “Saxony Talk” inside Chemnitz stadium. ©Michael Trammer

Arranged a lot prior to the Monday night clashes Michael Kretschmer (CDU), state premier of Saxony, visited the city of Chemnitz just few days after the tragic and also disturbing events. Up to one thousand gathered in front of the local soccer stadium. The VIP Lounge was used for the meet, greet and discuss. Focused on the media perception the same group of protestors that showed their face and standing point towards democracy and human rights on Monday night, tried to behave well. Organizers even asked their comrades to not show the neonazi affiliated black-white-red flag. With the same personal as on Monday, similar T-Shirts displaying the own ideology and the same chants the group rallied near the event with high-ranking Saxonian politicians. Inside, approximately 300 citizens repeatedly disturbed the opening talk, screamed and commented on everything mayor of the city Barbara Ludwig (SPD) and Michael Kretschmer (CDU) talked about. Later in smaller discussion rounds more of the “fears” of the citizens were formulated. Those were mostly regarding inner security, regarding migration. This though is absurde as a recent request by the far-right AfD in Saxony-Anhalt showed that far-right violence and terror is utterly the inner political biggest danger to be faced. After the event in the soccer stadium the night stayed calm. The mob’s tactics seemed to have shifted. As the world looks at the eastern german town those that rioted on Monday try to pretend to be perfectly normal citizens on Thursday.

March and Attack on Saturday

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March of far-right AfD on September 1st – in the front row functionaries of far-right AfD surrounding Björn Höcke ©Michael Trammer

Then another mass event followed. AfD and PEGIDA called for a mourning march through Chemnitz. Everybody joining was supposed to wear black. The only accessories accepted: German flags, white roses and pictures of supposedly victims of migrant violence carried by some selected. In the first row the who-is-who of the extreme right in Germany and also some international leaders of the movement. In the first row: Numerous high ranking AfD politicians surrounding their leader Björn Höcke. Those were closely followed by the leader of the far-right, racist, non-parliamentary opposition Lutz Bachmann, founder of PEGIDA. Also joining the multifunctional activist and self-proclaimed journalist Michael Stürzenberger (PI News). Götz Kubitschek, influential theoretic of the far-right, that has described “resistance” against the democratic system as necessary and is pushing an extreme-right revolutionary attempt with his publishing house Antaios followed a little further back. A rally by Pro Chemnitz that was held earlier, joined the “mourning march”. Therefore in the back: A mob combined of AfD followers, PEGIDA fans, high ranking neonazis, hooligans and others focused on street violence.

Antifascist activist set up a roadblock which led to the march being stopped only after some hundred meters, even before reaching the site where Daniel H. died of the stabbing. This left the mob angry trying to approach the counter-protestors. Earlier antifascists and hooligans already clashed in the city center of Chemnitz. Only at 9 o’clock the aggressive mob was let through. Saxonian police once again – after holding back the crowd for hours – gave up to the will of neo fascists, of which one, just before being let thorough, punched a policeman in the head. Then the group kneeled to the ground, proclaimed “No violence!”, just to attack journalists minutes after.

Shifted dialogue

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Empty house in Chemnitz – political dialogue around topics such as housing is often lost in a discussion about “problems with migration politics”. ©Michael Trammer

After the disgusting scenes of migrants being chased through the streets, Hitler salutes in front of police and attacks on counter-protest the political dialogue is taking an awfully wrong term. Instead of thematizing the violence by the groups participating in the marches, instrumentalisation of this death, social perspectives in Saxony, right-wing extremism in Germany and the huge danger arising from it, politicians turn to the mob. The dialogue shifts. The far-right is reaching their proclaimed goals. Victim-blaming at its best is performed. Number 1 topic, discussed everywhere is migration.

Reporting from Chemnitz

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Journalist running from far-right protestor moments after being attacked. Sept 1st, 2018 ©Michael Trammer

Working as a photojournalist for a while now, especially Monday was one of the most intense and dangerous events I have covered so far. Twice neonazis almost heavily hurt me working close to the demonstration. A group of five storming up to counter-protestors, beating those then shifted to two journalists. A neo-nazi with “Blitzkrieg” hoodie, bucket hat,  just 1 meter off me, with lifted fists, dilated pupils, screaming “Get your fucking camera down”, approaching me twice, but luckily not finishing off the verbal attacks with an physical impact was especially aggressive. Verbal attacks on colleagues as well as physical attacks can be found in a vast manner on Twitter. Saturday the number of physical attacks on journalists rose. Working under such circumstances is not recommendable and should not be the case in a democratic state.

Whats Next?

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Amongst flowers for the killed, a call for removing politicians from their office. ©Michael Trammer

Up until now a prognosis is hard to give. The situation has to be closely monitored by researchers, media and society. One thing can be guaranteed though: Upcoming Monday, one week after the riots, at the Karl-Marx-Monument in Chemnitz a big free concert by several artists standing up against violence will be held. Danger for those participating will mainly be hooligans trying to cut off and attack those leaving the concert. But fascist rallies below Karl-Marx’s head on Mondays will for now be over.

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NPD demonstration in Munich “Chemnitz ist überall” with only few participants and many counter protestors. ©Michael Trammer

The lookout to the upcoming days is unsure. Will the far-right movement be able to sustain numbers of several thousands marching through the streets attacking people? Will the far-right demonstrations draw people to the streets in other german cities ? On Saturday neonazi party “Der III. Weg” already rallied in Plauen with some 700 joining them. Munich local NPD branch also rallied one week after the death of Daniel H. on Sunday September 2nd.