Anti-immigrant violence is on the rise in the former GDR, as events in Chemnitz have shown. But then the problem lies deeper in history
Last weekend, in Chemnitz in Saxony, a 35-year-old German-Cuban was killed after an altercation with two asylum seekers, one Syrian, one Iraqi. Within 24 hours, the web was alive with images that suggested that the authorities were scarcely able to control the thousands of rightwing populist demonstrators who descended on the eastern German city. It was, said the business newspaper Handelsblatt, “an outpouring of hatred that shocked the nation”.
Shocked, but not surprised. For there is nothing new about the old East Germany shocking Germany. It has long been the received wisdom that Germany needs to take account of, and deal with, the real problems and genuine concerns of people in the old east. People have been saying this since the Saxons first shocked the newly reunited country in 1991. That year, after a week of violence in the small town of Hoyerswerda, about 230 asylum seekers were simply spirited away by the authorities at dead of night. For the neo-Nazis, it was an epochal victory, still celebrated: the state, they said, could not, or would not, resist a populist right prepared to use open violence.