Substantial Rise in Far-Right Violence in Germany Reported Since Refugee Crisis Began
By Timothy Meyers
Far-right aggression in Germany is on a dramatic rise. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière announced on Monday that 2015 has seen the most crippling spate of politically-motivated violence by far-right groups since 2001 when the government first began collecting data. Between 2014 and 2015 alone, the level of documented violence rose by more than 40 percent, from 1,029 incidents in 2014 to 1,485 in 2015. Many attribute these troubling figures to the backlash from the refugee crisis and the growing prominence of a “clash of civilizations” narrative that has popularized far-right protest and political movements like Pegida and the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party.
The Interior Minister also announced that hate crimes—such as acts of Islamophobia, antisemitism, homophobia, and xenophobia—have also risen by an astounding 77 percent, with 5,858 cases in 2014 and rising to 10,373 in 2015. Violence committed by the far-left also increased last year by 34.9 percent, mostly perpetrated against the police. These statistics highlight the importance of accurate data collection on hate crimes to inform policy decisions. While the German government has acknowledged these concerning figures and indicated its intent to combat hate, it will take more than thoughtful words and ambitious rhetoric to counter the threat of extremism.
Many of these crimes are attacks directed at refugee shelters; 90 percent of such incidents were perpetrated by the far-right in 2015. The Interior Minister’s report notes that crimes against shelters quadrupled between 2014 and 2015, amounting to a total of 1,031 documented crimes. Only a small number of perpetrators were ever brought to trial, demonstrating an urgent need for improvements in security precautions and law enforcement responses to protect refugees. But police are overstretched. Meanwhile reports indicate that there have already been forty-five arson attacks against refugee shelters in 2016.
Far-right parties like AfD have not acknowledged how their rhetoric may contribute to this rise in hate crimes. Their recently crafted party manifesto adamantly states that “Islam is not a part of Germany.” This rhetoric promotes alienation that deepens divisions in society, fosters legitimate grievances, and may provoke some to turn to violence. A rare summit last weekend between AfD and the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZDM) collapsed acrimoniously when ZDM Chairman Aiman Mazyek denounced the AfD as a party “from the Third Reich.”
Human Rights First has been documenting the worrisome expansion of far-right activities in Germany not only because of its prominence as one of the central hubs for refugees seeking shelter in Europe, but also because of the country’s essential position as the continent’s economic and political leader. Our recent fact sheet documenting the rise in German far-right activity identifies the rising trends of intimidation and violence that the Interior Ministry’s report reaffirms.
While the German government should be commended for monitoring and acknowledging this crisis, it will take more action on their part to offset a now thoroughly documented rise in hate. Support from the United States and other European allies is necessary in this fight, since this threat is, and will continue to be, not limited to Germany alone.