Society

Hanau Attack: Echos Of The Past In Germany's Far-Right Hatred

After the killing of nine in the western German town of Hanau, it is clear the state must do more to crack down. But the responsibility extends much farther.

A vigil in Munich for the victims of the Hanau attack
Kurt Kister

-Analysis-

MUNICH — Watching the video in which mass murderer Tobias R. explains to the world that the US military is killing children and engaging in satanic rituals in underground bases, it's easy to dismiss him as crazy. But now he has killed ten people, all of whom – apart from his mother – he shot because he wanted to kill foreigners, immigrants, non-Germans. The attacks in Hanau were racially motivated terrorism – regardless of whether the perpetrator was suffering from mental illness or not.

For Germany, this brings back uncomfortable echoes of the first half of the 20th century, when racially motivated terrorism grew out of widespread xenophobia and racism among the population, mainly – although not solely – directed at Jews. It started with a few individual perpetrators, then groups that were protected by parts of society. They were not seriously investigated by police, and the justice system often treated them leniently as "politically motivated offenders."

The terrible events of the 1920s and 30s are not about to repeat themselves. Nowadays there is no danger of a coup, no revisionist foreign policy that aims to reunite Germany's "stolen" land. Most people live, think and love differently from how they did a hundred years ago. However, in Germany, there is plenty of reason to remind ourselves of what went before, as some of what is happening now is uncomfortably familiar.

At Munich's Odeonsplatz, a memorial for victims of the Hanau attack — Photo:Sachelle Babbar/ZUMA

The so-called "lone wolves' who carried out attacks in Munich in 2016, Halle in 2019 and now Hanau, as well as the neo-Nazi extremist who killed politician Walter Lübcke in 2019, acted in the knowledge that there are many others who think the same way they do – even if they wouldn't commit the same acts. The terrorists are targeting the same people who were targeted a hundred years ago: Jews, foreigners, representatives of "the system." Now, Muslims and refugees have been added to the list. You only have to look at the U.S. to see how quickly mass murders can change a society: there, the number of shootings has become so great that they seem to be accepted as part of everyday life. The President says his prayers are with the victims, society is outraged, and three months later another shooter kills twelve people.

Although it's terrible, there is still hope. It is a good thing that the supposedly homogenous Germany of the 20th century no longer exists. For it was this Germany that was responsible for one of the worst crimes in human history. Today Germany is a diverse country that is looking towards the future with a fierce determination. Despite the attacks in Hanau and Halle, Germany has never been as good, and as free.

The justice system often treated them leniently as "politically motivated offenders'

This Germany is what the murderers are attacking when they shoot migrants. But they are not the only ones we have to fight. We must also look at the people who prepare the ground for them. People who constantly speak about "foreign infiltration," who denigrate specific communities, who compare lifestyles to diseases, who try to build barriers between "us' and "them." People like polemical politician Thilo Sarrazin who disparage Muslims; people like reactionary Alexander Gauland who break taboos because they want to divide society; people like Alternative for Germany (AfD) party member Björn Höcke who use neo-Nazi rhetoric. Of course these people don't load the murderers' guns, but they create an atmosphere in which the murderers don't feel like "lone wolves' – because they're not.

Yes, the state has to take a stronger stance against right-wing extremism in all its forms. It needs to offer better protection to synagogues and mosques while the threat is so significant. Restricting individuals and shooting club members from keeping certain guns at home would also be an important step towards prevention.

However, none of this alone will be enough. Every individual also has a responsibility, whether they're making insensitive jokes or not speaking up against everyday racism. We have to call a spade a spade: anyone who votes for AfD is aligning themselves with the far-right, as they are also voting for the right-wing extremists within the party. This country, its society and its people – whether they originally come from Berlin, Ankara or Krakow – deserve protection, especially from those who, through their words or their actions, want to turn the clock back.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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