Last updated on November 28th, 2019
Could the most significant lesson Germany takes away from 2019 be that it has finally accepted vastly underestimating the threat posed by the country’s far right?
In June 2019, pro-refugee CDU regional politician Walter Lübke was murdered by a gunman while at home. The perpetrator was a right-wing extremist. In October, on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, a right-wing antisemite attempted to massacre Jews in a synagogue in Halle. The attacker was unable to get into the synagogue, preventing a mass shooting, though shortly afterwards he killed two people.
The statistics are as miserable as they are telling: in the first half of 2019 there were 8,605 crimes committed by the far right. This is 900 up on the first half of 2018. Some experts estimate the real numbers are much higher. In 2018, Germany’s domestic security service announced there were 24,000 right-wing extremists in Germany, with 12,700 seen as “violence-oriented”. If German is finally waking up to the act that the far right is major threat, it’s less clear exactly how the country will deal with it.
Indeed, how could it be anything but unclear when the anti-Islam, anti-immigrant racist AfD (Alternative for Germany) is represented in the national as well as regional parliaments. The rise of the AfD since 2015 has been accompanied by a clear increase in racist rhetoric – including in Chancellor Merkel’s own centre-right CDU and in its Bavarian sister party, the CSU. Of course, as a Britain mired in Brexit knows full well, for example, German is not the only country in which racist language has become depressingly familiar in the popular discourse.
In recent weeks, however, the German government has come out with new measures it hopes will combat the threat from the radical right. Gun laws will be tightened, anti-right-wing extremist programmes will be beefed up and the likes of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube will be forced to report hate speech to German authorities.
The truth is, such measures are too little too late. Similar to France and the UK, Germany has focused disproportionally on its Muslim minorities, seeing potential terrorists from the community around every corner. This, after all, is the country in which far-right terror group the NSU murdered ten people between 2000 and 2007 at the same time as police were insisting that the far-right posed little threat. Nine of the ten victims had foreign heritages.
Such an attitude should have been exposed as catastrophically mistaken more than a decade ago. It remains to be seen whether 2019 proves to be the year that Germany finally grasped the extent of its far-right threat.