Friedrich Burschel, an expert on neo-Nazism at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Berlin, explained in an email that the images out of Chemnitz seemed to have awakened Germans to just how strong a hold right-wing extremism has taken on their country, how easily the far right can be mobilized, and how the shame of associating with it is beginning to vanish. Average citizens had no qualms about “mingling with organized, wholesale Nazis in the street. This is quite new and alarming,” he wrote. Indeed, in the wake of the Chemnitz demonstrations, the AfD has actually seen its fortunes rise: Those new tallies in September showed the party actually outpolling the SPD for the first time ever, and now running second only to the CDU.
In response to the events in Chemnitz, the political center and left demanded that citizens more openly show their opposition. That call resonated with Burschel, who said he has seen a growing silent majority among church congregations, trade unions, welfare organizations, and other communal bodies, working to prevent the erosion of their cherished open society. “I believe that there still is a majority of what could be called constitutional patriots who are now deeply concerned by what is happening on the right,” he wrote, pointing to the thousands who trekked to Chemnitz for the concert. But they must keep showing up, he added. “Otherwise we lose again.”
Among the activists who have already spent years trying to mobilize against AfD, there is a sense that the silent majority will keep showing up. Seebrücke (or “Pier”) is a new network of local groups organizing to change policies its members believe are contributing to the deaths of refugees and migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. The movement launched in June after Italy blocked Lifeline, a migrant rescue ship run by a German organization, from docking. Seebrücke’s first public demonstration came just a few weeks later in Berlin, and drew some 12,000 people, according to Laura, a spokesperson for the group. (She asked to be identified by only her first name out of concern for her safety.)
Groups like Seebrücke have a critical role to play, Laura said. They can champion their specific issues, but also counter the ideology of the far right, whose “opinions get validated unless they are opposed by huge parts of the population.” But in the wake of Chemnitz, she bristled at how politicians appeared to be putting the burden on citizens. “The notion of the public needing to do more is offensive to those who do a lot,” Laura said. “The politicians also have responsibilities.” Activists and civil-society groups can channel outrage, but they can’t enact policies in response to that outrage—that’s the job of politicians, she said.
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