German officials begin monitoring far-right party’s youth wing, call it ‘pure racism’
Those fears were heightened over the past week, when AfD activists marched alongside leading figures of the anti-migrant group PEGIDA and members of Germany’s militant neo-Nazi scene in the eastern city of Chemnitz following a killing blamed on refugees.
“Parts of AfD are openly acting against the constitution,” Justice Minister Katarina Barley told the RND media group. “We need to treat them like other enemies of the constitution and observe them accordingly.”
Authorities in Bremen and Lower Saxony said they have begun monitoring the party’s youth wings in those two northern states.
WATCH: Police in Germany halt march protesting stabbing of man allegedly by migrants
Boris Pistorius, Lower Saxony’s interior minister, said the decision wasn’t related to events in Chemnitz but based on the Young Alternative’s anti-democratic goals and close links to the Identitarian Movement, a white nationalist group that’s been under surveillance in the state for four years. His counterpart in Bremen, Ulrich Maeurer, described the views of AfD’s youth wing in the city state as “pure racism.”
AfD immediately announced that it would dissolve the two youth sections now under surveillance to avert harm from the rest of the party, but insisted that its aims were democratic.
Andreas Kalbitz, a member of its national leadership, accused other parties of panicking in the face of AfD’s electoral success.
AfD’s rise since its founding five years ago has shaken Germany’s establishment and called into question the country’s post-World War II consensus that there’s no place for far-right parties in the political mainstream.
The party, bolstered by widespread unease in Germany about the influx of more than a million refugees since 2015, came third in last year’s national election.
Officials are particularly concerned about its strategy in eastern Germany, where Kalbitz said AfD aims to become the strongest force after state elections next year.
Saxony — where Chemnitz is located — has an entrenched neo-Nazi scene and AfD’s share of the vote is particularly strong there. The party encouraged protests which drew thousands following the fatal stabbing of 35-year-old carpenter Daniel Hillig in Chemnitz on Aug. 26, some of which erupted into violence between far-right marchers and counter-protesters.
Government officials urged those aggrieved by the killing to distance themselves from neo-Nazis in Chemnitz who performed the stiff-armed ‘Hitler salute,’ chanted “foreigners out” and harassed journalists covering the demonstrations.
“If one doesn’t think this way it would be good to draw a clear line and distance oneself from those who are doing that,” said Steffen Seibert, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman.
WATCH: U.S. deports accused ex-Nazi guard to Germany
He echoed comments by Chemnitz mayor Barbara Ludwig, who told a rally in the city Saturday that people who repeatedly join protests by far-right extremists “strengthen the right-wing, violent scene.”
Authorities said a 22-year-old Iraqi and a 23-year-old Syrian have been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter over the stabbing.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in Chemnitz on Monday for a free, open-air concert by some of Germany’s best-known bands. The concert, promoted using the hashtag #WeAreMore and broadcast live online, was part of an effort to encourage young Germans to stand up against far-right extremism.
Former foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel tweeted on Monday that “the far-right terror in Chemnitz is not a Saxon problem, it’s a German one.”
He criticized Germany’s political establishment for being too passive when it comes to fighting far-right groups and urged them to visit towns with simmering anti-migrant sentiment.
“I think it would be good if as many representatives as possible — not only in Chemnitz but everywhere — go to places where we think the citizens are not agreeing with our state,” he said in an interview with mass circulation daily Bild.
Speaking publicly for the first time, Hillig’s widow told the newspaper, that “Daniel would have never wanted” the protests triggered by his killing.
“Daniel was neither left nor right,” his widow, identified only as Bianca T., told Bild. Expressing shock about the way the far-right was exploiting his death, she said: “I looked at the events on Saturday night — this was not about Daniel at all.”
“All we want to do right now is mourn him in peace,” she said.
WATCH: One migrant in 18 crossing Mediterranean in 2018 died, UNHCR says
© 2018 The Canadian Press