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A city in eastern Germany known as a hotbed for right-wing extremism has declared a “Nazi emergency” to tackle the problem.
“This city has a problem with Nazis,” Max Aschenbach, a councillor for the satirical political party known as The Party, told Dresden’s city council when he proposed the motion last week.
Aschenbach said the language used in the resolution — which echoes warnings from environmentalists about a “climate emergency” — is largely symbolic but promises to strengthen liberal democratic culture, protect minorities, and support victims of far-right violence. The council, which passed the resolution with just 10 votes Wednesday, intends to convey the seriousness of the threat posed by the far right in Dresden, the capital of the east German state of Saxony, which has skinhead and hooligan scenes.
“Politics must finally begin to ostracize that and say, 'No, that's unacceptable,'” Aschenbach told local public broadcaster MDR.
The council's resolution specifically cites concerns that “anti-democratic, anti-pluralist, misanthropic and right-wing-extremist attitudes and actions, including violence, are occurring with increasing frequency.”
But not everyone agrees. The Christian Democratic Union — the center-right party that governs Germany and holds the largest number of seats on Dresden’s city council — voted against the motion and described it as a stunt.
“From our point of view, this was primarily an intended provocation,” Jan Donhauser, head of the Christian Democratic Union on the council, told the BBC. He said states of emergency were usually declared in response to a serious threat to public order — which he said the far right does not pose in Dresden.
Nevertheless, the city of 540,000 people is widely acknowledged as a stronghold of Germany’s right-wing extremist scene, a milieu that’s proving a growing headache for the country’s government. Since the 1990s, Dresden has been the focal point for regular far-right protests commemorating the heavy bombardment of the city during World War II. The events put forward a revisionist view of history in which Germans are supposedly the true victims.
More recently, the anti-Islam street movement Pegida, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, was founded in the city in 2014. The group regularly drew tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets to demonstrate against Muslim immigration.
Saxony has a track record of support for far-right and right-wing populist parties, including the neo-Nazi NPD. This year, the anti-immigrant AfD won 27.5 percent of the vote in Saxony’s state election.
Polling has shown Saxons tend to lean much further right politically than Germans from other parts of the country. A 2016 survey, for example, found that nearly 40% of respondents in the state thought Muslims should be banned from migrating to Germany, compared to about 16% nationally.
The state is also home to flourishing and intersecting far-right subcultures, including the skinhead and hooligan scenes; a group of violent neo-Nazi hooligans known as the “Fist of the East,” supports the local football team, Dresden Dynamo.
Right-wing extremism has become a pressing political problem in Germany following a string of recent attacks — including the assassination of local politician Walter Luebcke in June and an attempted mass shooting attack on a synagogue in Halle last month — perpetrated by radicalized right-wingers. In March last year, eight members of a German far-right terror cell were jailed for a bombing campaign against refugees and left-wingers in the town of Freital, about a 25-minute drive from Dresden.
The entire country of Germany has about 12,700 far-right radicals who are prepared to use violence, according to the most recent report by its domestic intelligence agency. Last year, the far right carried out 60 violent attacks in Dresden, up from 52 the previous year.
Cover image: ARCHIV - Anhänger von Dynamo Dresden zünden am 25.10.2011 Feuerwerkskörper in ihrem Fanblock im DFB-Pokal-Spiel Borussia Dortmund - Dynamo Dresden. Photo by: Bernd Thissen/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images