These are indeed troubling times, not just in Germany, but seemingly across many of the democracies of Europe as parties and extremists on the far right of the political spectrum grow in support and become increasingly brazen. And the enemy as far as street gangs and populist political parties that appeal to the lowest common denominator are concerned, is anyone who is different, in colour or creed, and are now fair game in their efforts to seize political power.
In Germany, in the eastern city of Chemnitz, the most recent manifestation of this return to the street politics of the 1930s came with an attack on two refugees, one Syrian, the other Afghan, after a mob roved through the streets in a pogrom of rage against anyone who looked non-German. The revulsions and reaction have been loud and swift, with an all-inclusive music festival being hurriedly arranged there as a sign of unity. But it hardly seems as if those voices of ordinary Germans are being heard above the cacophony of broken glass and street vitriol.
What is missing across Europe are firm and righteous voices who are united in their opposition to these disgusting acts and that have an ability to counter the populist arguments from the right.
In Sweden, for example, a country in the past noted for welcoming refugees with open arms and generous state-sponsored support programmes, voters head to the polls next Sunday. There, the far-right anti-immigration party is expected to get some 20 per cent of the popular votes. In Italy, the populist League shares power with the Five-Star Movement, and the Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s tough anti-refugee policy sees him under formal police investigation for ‘kidnapping’— for refusing to let refugees disembark from a ship that picked them up in the Mediterranean Sea — but he remains even more popular than ever with his supporters and voters.
In the coming years, when historians and analysts look back on these times, and try to assess just how Europe turned sharply to the right, they will point out that these populists preyed on fears, xenophobia and Islamophobia to advance their vile populist agendas that are undermining the European project.
Soon, it will mark a century since the guns fell silent on the Western Front. That First World War set in place the conditions for the rise of fascism and the inevitable conflict of the Second World War. It seems as if we have collectively forgotten the dangers when street politicians and mobs collude to target the vulnerable, based on creed and colour.