We had the opportunity to build a new democracy, and now we see that we need to fight for it again,” said a mayor, who was stabbed 18 months agoAndreas Hollstein says he receives at least two death threats a month by mail or by phone. Though they are scary, they don’t compare to the night 18 months ago when a man approached the major of Altena, in the west of Germany, at a kebab shop.
The man asked if he was the mayor and said, “You let me die of thirst and let 200 refugees into Altena,” Hollstein recalled at the time. Then the man plunged a knife into Hollstein’s neck.
Hollstein, who ended up with a 6-inch gash, had became nationally known during the refugee crisis for welcoming migrants to his city. Authorities believed there was a political motive behind the attack and arrested a suspect.
Since then, Hollstein has been outspoken about the need to tackle right-wing extremism in Germany. Yet last month another politician who spoke out in defense of migrants, Walter Lübcke, was fatally shot in the head on the terrace of his home. A man with far-right views was arrested and confessed, though he later recanted.
Lübcke’s death reignited a debate about whether Germany, long praised for confronting the ghosts of its extremist past, is in fact doing enough to combat far-right groups in the 21st century. Like Hollstein and Lübcke, politicians and public figures in Germany who speak out about far-right extremism, migration and anti-Semitism are often on the receiving end of both threats and violence.According to data released in a report last month by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, there are 12,700 “violence-orientated right-wing extremists” in the country — which is more than half of the number of all right-wing extremists.
“Given the high affinity for carrying weapons in the far-right extremist spectrum, those numbers are extremely worrying,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said in presenting the report. “The risk of an attack is high.”
The issue is especially resonant in Germany, given its Nazi past. In the decades after World War II, West Germany in particular pushed an education program that attempted to confront the country’s history, the Holocaust and the need for democracy. Seven decades later, far-right extremism is a topic that many thought had been vanquished, but some experts say that misperception may have led to a more lax approach than is now necessary.
“I think it is because of our Nazi past that people don’t want to recognize the threat of the far-right today,” said Anetta Kahane, who heads the anti-racism group, the Amadeu Antonio Foundation. “Like an evil child, it reminds society of other evil members of the family