On 70th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation, little tolerance for ‘others’ in Germany

January 27, 2015
Participants of a grass-roots anti-Muslim movement hold German flags during a demonstration in Berlin January 5, 2015.  REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschk

Participants of a grass-roots anti-Muslim movement hold German flags during a demonstration in Berlin January 5, 2015. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschk

Last Wednesday it was revealed that Lutz Bachmann, one of the founders and leaders of the German movement calling itself “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamicization of the Occident” (PEGIDA) thought it would be fun to post photographs of himself posing as Hitler on Facebook. Coming less than a week before today’s 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, many are likely to find this revelation particularly chilling.

PEGIDA, Bachmann’s brain child, emerged in the autumn of 2014 and has been organizing weekly demonstrations in Dresden. As the number of demonstrators has grown, peaking at 25,000, PEGIDA has drawn considerable attention and become the cause of increasing domestic and international concern.

Bachmann’s behavior obviously betrays a shocking and reprehensible lack of sensitivity and judgment. Yet, as is evident from the speed with which PEGIDA has dropped him, it also demonstrates an extraordinary lack of political acumen.

If Germany did opt for a political model comparable to National Socialism again, the similarity would lie in the substance and hardly in outward appearances. If there is one thing of which we can be absolutely certain, it is that none of its protagonists would emulate Hitler’s mustache and haircut. Even Hitler himself, if he were somehow resurrected, would doubtless appreciate that any political comeback on his part would have to begin with an extensive personal makeover. Bachmanngate is no more than a distraction. The real problems lie elsewhere.

To be sure, German society remains so over-determined by its Nazi past that most phenomena mean something different in Germany than if they were to happen elsewhere. Yet the rise of PEGIDA is, on the whole, one of the exceptions and speaks primarily to the Europe-wide rise of anti-immigrant populism.

Merkel deserves credit for her determination not to cave in to PEGIDA. She owes her third term as chancellor not only to her pragmatism, but also to a measure of integrity that has impressed even many of her natural opponents. She has consistently criticized the movement in no uncertain terms, not least in her new year’s address to the nation.

Her response to rising anti-immigrant sentiment is markedly different to that of Chancellor Helmut Kohl. In the early 1990s, Germany witnessed an appalling wave of deadly pogrom-style riots and arson attacks against foreigners. Scores of asylum seekers and immigrants, some of whom had been living in Germany for decades, lost their lives.

The Kohl government responded to the violence by meeting the racists’ demands to curtail immigration. As a result, Germany eagerly abandoned her hitherto unconditional commitment to the principle of political asylum, previously paraded as a lesson learned from the Nazi past. Kohl’s coalition turned the asylum procedure into an obstacle course. The burden of proof was shifted dramatically from the authorities to the asylum seekers.  If an asylum seeker came from a so-called “safe state” (where the government wasn’t guilty of persecution, according to Germany), they were no longer entitled to an evaluation of their individual circumstances.

In many ways, it is this closed immigration system, inherited from Kohl, that allows Merkel to respond to PEGIDA with such firmness. She knows she can censure the group without falling prey to criticism that she is lax on immigration.

While most European states have tightened up their immigration rules in recent years, rarely are they implemented as consistently and rigidly as in Germany. All the rhetoric notwithstanding, Germany ultimately still refuses to accept the reality of immigration.

Merkel’s rhetoric, in other words, is firmly opposed to PEGIDA’s racism, yet at the same time she oversees an immigration system motivated by many of the fears articulated by PEGIDA’s supporters.

Indeed, many of PEGIDA’s establishment opponents doubtless share quite a few of its problematic assumptions about foreigners in general and Muslims in particular. PEGIDA, after all, has not come from outer space. It offers an extreme and distorted representation of ideas that are prevalent in society at large and reflected not least in the German government’s immigration policy.

The rise of PEGIDA leaves the political opposition to the left of the Grand Coalition of Christian and Social Democrats in a pickle. Their room for maneuver is massively curtailed by the fact that Merkel is doing the “right thing,” even if she is doing so, in part at least, for the wrong reasons, and underpinned by deeply problematic immigration policies.

It is not without irony that the left tends to deny the legitimacy of any criticism of Islam and hence fails to take the threat of militant Islam seriously. Many of PEGIDA’s supporters, in turn, would presumably be quite attracted to life in the caliphate. After all, it promises clear, timeless, and non-negotiable rules for a simple and authentic existence in a homogeneous community, void of all diversity and dissent. Their racism, however, prevents them from appreciating what they would consider its merits.

As things stand, hope resides exclusively in Merkel’s ability to keep the German political class committed to firm opposition both to PEGIDA and to radical Islam. Yet revolting and reprehensible as PEGIDA is, we should not overrate its significance. Let us not forget that UKIP and the Front National recently won the European Elections in the UK and France with almost a third of the vote. By comparison, PEGIDA has a long way to go.


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Socialism is bad in any form.

Hate filled religious zealot immigrants are bad in any form.

Story done.

Posted by puchurro | Report as abusive

Impressively written and so uncomfortably true.

Posted by Subwavelength | Report as abusive

The article does not support the title of this piece. I was wondering do the authors select the title for the stories or did an editor who only cares about selling ads write the title? The story is more about the challenge PEGIDA creates for the current crop of politicians in Germany and should rightly be titled so.

This group PEGIDA appears to have similarities to the the U.S Teaparty where the they claimed to not be racist, only for the head of the group to make racist statements and then forced to step down. Also the Tea party has a small following just like this group.

Oh and tell that editor I am using adblocker so I will not see any of the ads you are trying make money from.

Posted by rivereddy | Report as abusive

it’s not actually an “immigration” problem. the German constitution was re-written with heavy US influence, and has a lot of law in reaction to the Nazi era.

but – Denmark, Netherlands – long history of tolerance. Sweden, same. Switzerland anyone? and all these countries are absolutely overwhelmed with “immigrants” UK has a blockade to send “immigrants” back to France…

German law lets anyone in based on any kind of statement like “My dog didn’t like me.” these immigrants / asylum seekers were housed in government quarters. then more space was needed and hotels had their arms twisted to “board” the incoming hordes. now the German government is seeking citizens to house the overwhelming influx in private homes.

so why is the entire third world fleeing to the “other worlds?”

I suspect it is the same issue as the central/south Americans fleeing through Mexico to the USA. somebody told them if they can get there they can stay there. and, right/wrong/other/quibbles aside, it’s true.

there is going to be a backlash – the already taxed to the max Europeans simply cannot absorb and support the rest of the third world. a couple few more issues like the Paris thing and there will be calls for camps and barbed wire.

at some point it ceases to be intolerance and takes on self-preservation.

Posted by Breadie | Report as abusive

Modern Europeans are opposed to outsiders bringing their Middle Eastern religion to Europe…..pretty much what happened with the Jews 70 years ago and the Christians 2000 years ago….generations come and go…nothing changes.

Posted by ATroy | Report as abusive

Well, it sounds as if Reuters is making its political bent known, finally. Clicking the “X” on this site.

Posted by TigerSharkRWR | Report as abusive


Posted by PaulRudolph | Report as abusive

There is even less tolerance for Palestinians in Israel

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Before NATO destroyed Libya, it served as a shield against illegal immigration from Africa. All immigrants come to Europe in hope to get unemployment or refugee fees. I will not say how much it is in Denmark, f.ex. Otherwise half of the world will flood the country. Stop paying and immigration will decrease at least.

Posted by bogdan99 | Report as abusive