In the aftermath of the recent racist attacks in Hanau, Green Left spoke with Sibylle Kaczorek, an anti-racist activist based in Berlin, about its impacts on recent election results in Hamburg and the campaign against the far right.
What can you tell us about the recent shooting in Hanau and the perpetrator’s links to the far right?
The most recent shooting was one of three [such incidents] in the past nine months, where 14 people have died.
A 43 year-old man with no prior convictions and not on the police’s radar attacked two shisha bars — popular places where people of Kurdish, Turkish and Middle-Eastern backgrounds hang out and smoke a pipe known as a shisha or hookah.
He then attacked a milk bar, targeting people of non-German background, killed nine people, then went home and killed himself and his mother.
His online manifesto made it clear he was motivated by racism and far-right ideology.
Have these violent attacks become more common, and are they usually linked to the far right?
Last year, the federal government released the statistics on murders since the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990.
In 30 years, 83 people have been killed — not including the 14 killed in the past nine months, I believe.
Far-right attacks have always happened, even prior to reunification. But since 2015, the attacks are more intense, the death rate a lot higher and they are very clearly ideologically-driven. Without a doubt [the perpetrators] are linked to the organised far right, or are individuals who identify with far-right ideology.
What is the current level of support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD)?
The AfD is a fairly new party that started in 2013. At that point it was absolutely marginal and consisted of a hotchpotch of people with a very dominant neoliberal stream.
They were anti-Euro, anti-European Union and all had racist elements in common. The far right joined them in 2013.
They didn’t have a lot of electoral success initially, but gradually grew in popularity over the following two years. Their support jumped after the huge refugee crisis in Europe in 2015–16. They were able to harvest the racism that had been sown through mainstream, social democratic and conservative politics in Germany.
In the 2017 federal election, AfD won 12.6% of the vote, which made them the largest opposition party in the federal parliament. Since then, they have won high votes in elections in the eastern states.
Last year, there were three state elections where they won up to 27% of the vote. Electorally, they have been exploiting the refugee situation, fostering racism and stirring up people’s fears.
The politics behind their electoral successes hasn’t come out of the blue. In the past 20 years, there have been major austerity measures implemented by the mainstream parties.
The gap between rich and poor has dramatically increased and there is widespread economic insecurity. The AfD has been successfully exploiting that context and using racism to create more fear in people.
But there is the possibility this will change.
What has been the response of the left parties and social movements to the growth in the far right?
Since 2016, the grassroots movements have been really strong and old movements have been reactivated.
Germany has always had a very strong anti-fascist movement but it has traditionally been in the anarchist camp. These old structures have regained momentum and become very active lately.
But there are also a lot of broad new coalitions and movements that have gained a lot of support over the past few years and are very strong.
The responses to Hanau, including the most recent elections in Thuringia, in one of the eastern states, have demonstrated how strong the movements against the far right are in Germany at the moment.
Die Linke has always been very strong and until last week was the only party in parliament to call out the racism of the AfD and to refuse to give the AfD any platform for their racist slurs.
In the elections in Hamburg that followed shortly after the Hanau attack, the left — the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens and Die Linke — did quite well. Was that expected? Was the vote a reaction to the Hanau shooting?
Hamburg was an important election and it was impacted, but not only by Hanau. When the shooting in Hanau occurred, massive solidarity protests and vigils happened across Germany. So that absolutely impacted on the election.
But one development that has had an impact, that is impossible to quantify, is what happened on February 5 in [the state election in] Thuringia, when an AfD manoeuvre resulted in the Free Democratic Party (FDP) — a small liberal party which barely made it into parliament — winning the [state] premier’s position.
This had a profound impact on the grassroots movements. People came out and protested, saying nobody should be voted in as premier with the support of neofascists. Within 72 hours, the premier had resigned.
The impact on the Hamburg [election] was that the FDP did not win a single seat and the AfD got a significantly reduced vote.
The AfD is still in the Hamburg parliament — in Germany we have proportional representation in parliament with a 5% minimum and they got 5.3% — so they only just slipped in. However, they would have won a significantly higher vote had it not been for Hanau and Thuringia.
The AfD was on the ascent but now there seems to have been a break. Certainly, since Thuringia and Hanau the mainstream media has been much more forward in calling out racism and calling the AfD “arsonists” for “setting the fires” of racist hatred.
The movements now are drawing the links between the AfD and the shooter in Hanau, saying that their politics have paved the way for murderers and far-right organisations acting out their hate.
What about the links between sections of the police and the far-right?
About 10 years ago, prior to the AfD, there was an attempt to ban a different far-right party. The court decided that it was unable to make a ruling because it was obvious that the state security police were so intermingled with the leadership of this party and the leadership of the far right.
There is a lot of public knowledge and public debate about this situation. There are calls for more investigations into it, but a section of the left doesn’t trust these investigations. They assume that the state will cover it up and never reveal all.
Nevertheless, other sections of the left believe it is important to have such investigations, to make sure more publicity comes out and the media gets more information about it.
Not long ago, one of the better newspapers did [its own] investigation and came up with links between parliamentary staffers and the AfD. Because the AfD is now the largest opposition party in federal parliament they have a lot of staffers,… [and] the newspaper discovered that out of about 300 staffers, 83 were members of far-right groupings [some of whom] are organised within the police and military.
Certainly when it comes to police involvement and links to high department officials working in domestic security, all this stuff comes to the fore every so often but there is heaps more that we just don’t know about.
What are the key political arguments being put forward by the left to counter the far right’s agenda?
In the past week [since Hanau] the mainstream media has changed its tone and has become much more willing to use the word racism, to call people racist and to demand that racism be confronted in daily life.
This is also true of the political parties, including the SPD and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Everybody is trying to distance themselves from the AfD now.
One of the key demands of the left since Thuringia is for no collaboration with the AfD and no coalitions with the AfD. The aim is to shame the AfD and to make it public as soon as there are any efforts towards collaboration with them.
On a local level, where the mainstream press isn’t present [every day], we can see collaboration between the CDU, the FDP and the AfD on a daily basis. They are constantly voting the same way and have the same politics.
It is one task of the left to bring this to the fore, make it public and put so much pressure on the other so-called democratic mainstream parties that none of this collaboration can happen.
The ultimate aim is to get the AfD out of all parliaments — local, state and federal.
[Sibylle Kaczorek is a Socialist Alliance member currently based in Berlin and active in Die Linke and Stand Up Against Racism!]