Germany: The Nationalist Backlash

Germany: The Nationalist Backlash

German society is experiencing a level of turmoil unknown in its recent history. Although we do not believe that the history of the 1930s is repeating itself in Germany, there is an ominous backlash against minorities. Can German democracy combat it this time around?

In the latest wave of right-wing extremist activity, the first symbolic victory occurred in the fall of 1991. On a September evening in Hoyerswerda, a small town in eastern Germany, an angry crowd gathered around a government home for people seeking political asylum. They cheered neo-Nazi hooligans who pelted the building with bricks. Under cover of night, police evacuated the traumatized victims. No arrests were made. The right-wing gangs learned several important lessons. First, they found that a cohesive group identity could be constructed around hate directed toward “others.” Second, they realized how effective targeted violence could be in evoking support among ordinary citizens. Finally, they discovered that the police hesitated to enforce the law and, in some cases, even sympathized with their assault on foreigners.

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