Analysis: Refugee curfew relaxed in German town of Bautzen, opponents of racism assemble undisturbed
One week ago the long-term tensions in the town of Bautzen in the German region of Lausitz, located just north of the border with the Czech Republic, escalated. The clash between neo-Nazis, police officers, and a small group of young refugees resulted in the refugees being chased throughout the entire town and was reported on by news server Romea.cz in detail here.
Saxony again, one might be tempted to say. Look at the nest of Brownshirts in Lausitz!
Let's take a look at how the state of Saxony is dealing with this. On the main square in Bautzen, the Kornmarkt, local youth, notorious drunks and young refugees who made it to Germany without any accompanying adult relatives have been gathering all summer long.
As is customary in the summer in other places as well, the number of complaints increased from the local hotel, from merchants, and from residents over disturbances of nighttime quiet. Police patrols always arrived on the scene, chided those suspected of causing the disturbances, and moved them off of the square.
The police, however, never found any reason to launch criminal investigations of anybody involved. They didn't even give the rascals so-called "red cards", which would ban them from loitering in a specific place.
The square offers a clear view, unlike the alleyways of the town, and is therefore a better location on which to monitor people. The situation did not escalate until, at the beginning of this month, neo-Nazis from other towns added themselves to the mix.
Their strategy was to follow from a distance as their buddies and girlfriends strolled along the square among the young refugees, and if any of the foreigners attempted contact with them, the neo-Nazis would begin to curse at everybody, threaten them with violence, or physically assault them. The victims of these attacks did not respond to these provocations until Tuesday, 13 September, when one of the neo-Nazis took a glass bottle to the back and ended up in hospital.
Police to this day have not yet told the public anything about what preceded that incident and whose bottle was used as a weapon. It was precisely that clash that apparently mobilized the neo-Nazis from other towns, determined to revenge themselves and to instill "order" on the square.
Neo-Nazis provoke attacks
The violence escalated the next day. On Thursday, Mayor Alexander Ahrens (unaffiliated), who had been promoting integration of foreign nationals and refugees in the town all summer, first accused the young refugees of sparking the conflicts.
One day later he was describing the beginning of the violence differently: "Eighty right-wing extremists willing to use violence provoked these youths. It does not take much for boys aged 16 or 17, when faced with exceptional circumstances, to blow a fuse."
In response to the violence, the district administration identified four refugees who had allegedly initiated the violence and had them moved to residential hotels in other districts of Saxony. The remaining refugees were banned from leaving their accommodations after 7 PM.
Consumption of alcohol was also forbidden at the residential hotel in Bautzen and on the square. On Friday the authorities announced that the square and its environs were a "control area" where police could now ask people to identify themselves and search their persons without having to give them a reason.
The mayor admitted that the town leadership should have responded better and earlier to complaints from citizens and merchants about the disruptions on the square. That same day, an alliance of neo-Nazi groups used the Internet to publicly call on him to enter into dialogue with them.
The alliance offered "peace" by threatening that if the mayor's deeds did not correspond to his words, they would take to the streets once more. The mayor promised to hold a "substantive dialogue" with them.
Sebastian Scheidemantel, chair of a group called "Welcome to Bautzen" and an independent member of the Saxon state legislature, criticized the "quandary" of the local police in an interview for news server bento.de. In his view, instead of choosing to deploy a strategy of de-escalation, the police had ignored the constant provocations by the neo-Nazis for weeks: "The fight against right-wing violence has reached a decisive phase. What is happening now in Bautzen is a test. The right-wing scene is attempting to bring the authorities to their knees to such an extent that they will back down. If that succeeds, it will begin everywhere in Germany."
The future is being decided now
David Begrich, the head of the Magdeburg office of a group called Miteinander e.V. (Together), which focuses on right-wing extremism, explained the currentdevelopments on Saturday to listeners of Germany's public broadcast radio, Deutschlandfunk. Precisely 25 years ago, Begrich was an eyewitness to neo-Nazi attempts to carry out a pogrom against refugees living in the East German town of Hoyerswerda, just a few kilometers away from Bautzen.
Today Begrich talks about the "Hoyerswerda generation" produced by those events who, in the years to come, committed almost unrestrained violence against asylum- seekers and migrants in the area. It is from that generation that the group called the National Socialist Underground (NSU) arose.
Between 2000 and 2007 the NSU committed 10 murders and an even greater number of bank robberies in Germany. "Those events naturally left their mark on that generation, in the sense of 'If we actually want to, we can advocate for our interests through violence'," Begrich told Deutschlandfunk.
Ever since then, racist opinions have become a normal component of the political spectrum in eastern Germany. "When, at the end of the day, the young refugees were banned from leaving their accommodations, and the mayor offered to engage in dialogue with the neo-Nazis, that was the continuation of a very bad tradition. It bolsters both the neo-Nazis and their racist patterns of interpreting reality. It cannot be allowed to happen that first somebody causes a racket and a row, then begins to promote racism, and then is rewarded with an offer of political dialogue," Begrich said.
In Bautzen, for years now, various organizations and volunteers have been dedicated to integrating refugees. They have joined forces in a coalition called "Bautzen Will Stay Colorful".
In the spring of this year the Steinhaus Youth House warned of the dangerous tendencies in Bautzen and asked the district for more financial support - for example, to employ streetworkers there - but was denied. When last Sunday those opposed to racism held a peaceful march through the town of about 500 participants, the police unexpectedly showed up with hundreds of officers, numbers never before seen there.
"Bautzen Will Stay Colorful" refused to participate in the demonstration under those conditions. At the same time, the coalition made sure the young refugees were able to relax from the tension of recent days by organizing recreational activities such as sports for them.
This past Monday the municipal council decided on some new plans. Now Bautzen wants to deploy streetworkers on the Kornmarkt along with the municipal police force.
The mayor will visit the refugees at the residential hotel to discuss the current situation with them and agree on rules of behavior. Youth from all over the town will have more places to meet each other and engage in recreational activities in the future.
Curfew relaxed - chain of candles for peace
On Tuesday evening, hundreds of local citizens, supported by representatives from the Saxon state legislature, formed a chain of people holding lighted candles that stretched between the Kornmarkt and the residential hotel occupied by the refugee minors with the aim of demonstrating the solidarity of "the other Bautzen". That same day the town relaxed its curfew on the young refugees leaving their accommodation.
It is still forbidden to consume alcohol at the residential hotel, and the rules there state that residents must be back at the facility by 10 PM. The only sanction for breaking the rules, however, is that allowances will be cut.
The fate of Bautzen lies in the stars, for now. In any event, the Kornmarkt is "colorful" again as of yesterday.
Immediately after communist East Germany collapsed, promoters of neo-Nazism began to turn up in public. Citizens there had never experienced Western pluralistic democracy, and they sought a return to the pre-socialist circumstances, when order took precedence over the law.
Precisely 25 years ago, some natives of Bautzen, together with forces from elsewhere, besieged the residential hotel occupied by the first asylum-seekers to that part of Germany for several days until police capitulated and brought the hundreds of Angolans and Vietnamese to safety in other cities. Prior to the collapse of communism, those foreigners, together with Germans, had been "building socialism" in the factories of East Germany before losing their residence permits overnight.
All those people could do was seek asylum in order legalize their residency. It was then that scenic Bautzen, otherwise known for its mustard and its towers, along with Hoyerswerda, Rostock - and also Mölln and Solingen in western Germany - became a symbol of violent resistance to foreigners.
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