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Everyday racism and hate crime: the new normal after the German federal election?

By Axel Ruppert, Project and Training Officer, European Network Against Racism

11 October 2017 - The rise of the far-right "Alternative for Germany" following the German federal election will impact those who already experience racism on a daily basis.

When deeds follow words

There are probably few within Germany’s far right party “Alternative for Germany” (AfD) who will deny that the party has been trying hard to push the boundaries of “acceptable” public discourses. Deliberate provocation is part of the party’s strategy and is a tool to expand and mobilise its constituency. For at least four years, the AfD will now have a public stage and increased media attention for its racist discourse. Those who already face racism on a daily basis will be the most affected.

Recently, the UN working group on People of African Descent underlined concerns about the structural racism and racist crimes that people of African descent face in Germany. Antigypsyism and Antisemitism are also still widespread, while violent attacks against Muslims recently increased significantly. Racist crimes targeting refugees increased dramatically over the last two years, which is also reflected in the steady rise of right wing extremist violent crimes since 2013. The latter have increased from 2015 to 2016 by 14 percent.

It is in this context that the AfD party leader Alexander Gauland has called to “hound” political opponents and declared that “we will take back our country and our people”. If the new AfD members of parliament maintain this aggressive rhetoric, it will not only undermine sound parliamentary discussions, but also risks further increasing racist crime in Germany. In Saxony, where the AfD is in the State Parliament since 2014 and was voted strongest party in the federal elections, the victim counselling service RAA Sachsen has already noted a shift of the public discourse to the right due to presence of the AfD and PEGIDA. The fact that racist statements are increasingly becoming publicly acceptable plays a role in the increase in verbal and physical attacks. Incidents in the UK following the Brexit vote and in the United States have clearly shown that the rise of far-right political actors and their racist messages can lead to a significant increase in hate crime.

If hate crimes are not recorded, they do not exist

We do not know yet whether hate crimes will increase in Germany, but we must be able to monitor this with official statistics. What is not counted does not exist. Unfortunately, this is the case in Germany: hate crimes are not recorded consistently.

In order to find out what the presence of the AfD in the German Bundestag will mean for the security of Muslims, Jews, Roma and Sinti, people of colour, migrants and refugees, German authorities must finally reform their hate crime recording system. Racially motivated crimes must be recognised as such and need to be recorded separately from politically motivated crime. Amnesty International has criticised the fact that hate crimes are categorised as politically motivated crimes, which hinders accurate data collection on hate crimes. Indeed, many politically motivated crimes do not constitute hate crimes, just as many hate crimes are not politically motivated.

After the elections is before the elections

The results of the federal elections are also likely to have an impact on the make-up of the European Parliament: Will German voters, considering weakened mainstream parties and the rise of the AfD, contribute to a shift to the right in the 2019 European Parliament elections? In the context of rising far-right parties in most countries of the EU, a strengthened far-right in the next European Parliament seems a realistic prospect. This will make the development of policies to promote equality much harder.

It is now time for democratic parties, media and civil society to clearly and publicly stand up to the AfD’s racist discourse. Romani Rose, Chairman of the German Council of Sinti and Roma, emphasises that when doing so, democratic parties must not compete with the AfD on their nationalist goals.

Opposing the AfD alone will, however, not ensure that far-right parties gain fewer votes in the future. After all, the AfD’s success builds on the racist structures that prevail in Germany. Even before the federal elections it was clear that racism was a major problem in Germany. This not only manifests itself in the AfD, but also in the way in which racism is (not) addressed in politics, media, administration, arts and culture. Germany must finally take up the fight against racism. Opposing the far-right can only be one part of this struggle. Tackling everyday racism and the structural discrimination of ethnic and religious minorities is equally important. If there is no open and honest debate about structural racism in Germany, the AfD will not remain at 12,6 percent in the next German or European elections.

An abridged version of this article was published in German in “Die Tageszeitung” on 4 October 2017.

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