Category Archives: Borders

PEGIDA Builds its Own Border

As I write this, PEGIDA is posting updates to their Facebook feed after today’s march to the Border Crossing E48 near Schirnding in Bavaria. My feed is clogged with their posts of images of people carrying long banners that say things like “Hand in Hand für unser Land” (Hand in Hand for our Country) and “Wir helfen beim Grenzbau” (We’ll help build the border), which is also the name of a new Facebook Community.  According to the post about this event, Czechs will simultaneously demonstrate on the other side of the border. One of the hashtags they are using is #GrenzenRettenLeben – #BordersSaveLives.  According to the MDR, this highway corridor along E48 is not where the most refugees are crossing the border. I cannot find information as to whether this demonstration was registered or not – generally political protests must be registered, but recently people have been demonstrating in Saxony without properly informing the authorities.

Early last month, Wir helfen beim Grenzbau posted a video to YouTube about a similar action. An anti-fascist group in Munich described the protest as follows:

Over a thousand (Sächsische Zeitung), possibly even 2,500 (dpa) racists took part on October 4, 2015 on a demonstration against asylum-seekers called “We’ll help build the border” in the Saxon town of Sebnitz. Originally they announced a human chain at the border crossing that was supposed to form a “living border”, but that was not realized. Instead, the right-wingers marched through the city. The organizers then announced that they would repeat the demonstration […] in Bavaria.

The video of the original demonstration in Sebnitz consists solely of hazy footage of the march through Sebnitz, a town slightly southeast of Dresden on the Czech border.

This footage is highly aestheticized: filtered for light, hovering on children protesting with their families, capturing several residents standing on their balconies applauding the demonstrators. The soundtrack is the kind of urgent light piano accompaniment for a fictionalized drama designed to tug on our heartstrings. The PEGIDA-preferred German flag – a Nordic cross in German colors – features prominently.

I wrote here about the Center for Political Beauty and their push to develop a performative response to the crisis which is ironic, starkly aestheticized, and critical of traditional political approaches to problem solving. This video is the exact opposite: earnest, adamant, reductive.  By lingering on children and large numbers of people marching through the streets, the Sebnitz video calculatingly inverts the footage often seen of refugees crossing the border. The soundtrack and the images romanticize hate by making it seem harmless, just as this propaganda video by a Russian media outlet turns the horrors of war in Syria into romantic battle footage. This inversion represents the foundational twist of PEGIDA-Dresden: their rhetoric is hateful while their self-styling is bourgeois.

Protests in Berlin

Berliners have been demonstrating today against the conditions at a registration point for refugees in their city. Tim Lüddeman (@timluedde) tweeted this composite image and a link to photos of the demonstration for non-commercial purposes with the hashtag #EsReicht (Enough!) that was the slogan of the demonstration, along with #LeGeSo, the German abbreviation for Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales (Provincial Office for Health and Social Concerns, much like the DHHS in the US).

The LaGeSo offices have been criticized for long wait times, ineptitude and the development of a black market around the selling of paper numbers designed to create order in serving those waiting. On October 6, 2015 ZDF broadcast alarming images of mass stampedes outside the office, with hundreds of young men in hoodies and jeans pushing each other to try and get access to the building in the darkness of early morning.

 

On October 8, 2015, Michel Friedman investigated LaGeSo on his television program on n-24, the German CNN-style 24-hour news channel. Die Welt has posted what seems to be an excerpt of this report on their website with commentary (Trigger warning for this video: Footage of near attempted suicide as protest). According to this article in Die Welt, over 18,000 refugees have arrived in Berlin since the beginning of September, when Merkel declared open borders. Homeless, without financial support, and understandably frustrated and angry, the young men featured in this video are spending their evenings sleeping in parks; their days standing in line for their numbers to flash on a large screen. From the hats and coats in the photographs of the demonstration, it is visibly cold. Winter is coming – and yet, their numbers don’t appear. Jaafar’s VLOG presents a calmer journalistic take on the conditions.

Four days ago, 20 refugees started a lawsuit against the LaGeSo. According to updates posted by rbb (Radio Berlin-Brandenburg), that number has climbed to 50. These refugees do not have lawyers, but are being supported by the initiative known as “Moabit Helps!” Moabit, the district where LaGeSo is located, hosted several anti-PEGIDA demonstrations this past summer – demos which took place in the Turmstraße, where a large park served as a gathering place. Protestors are frustrated with the incompetence of Mario Czaja, a CDU politician who serves as the Sozialsenator (Senator for Social Affairs and Health). Czaja previously faced controversy in 2006 when Spiegel Online noticed that his purported degree in economics actually came from a university known as a degree mill. He was required to step down from – yes – his post on the Research and Science committee. Protesters today began to chant “Mario Czaja, Enough is Enough!”:

As a continuation of the protest, a 30km long candlelight vigil was planned for this evening. Some reports are stating 7-8,000 people have shown up. Critics point to the holes in the chain; PEGIDA’s recent demonstrations have supposedly gathered 10,000.  Still: the images are haunting, like this one from the far eastern suburb of Kaulsdorf:

Germany’s refugee crisis is producing two distinct political struggles: first there are the refugees, whose struggle in this humanitarian crisis for humane treatment seems endlessly traumatizing and often remains elusive. Last night at midnight, for instance, Hungary succeeded in sealing its border to Croatia to hinder refugees from entering their country; tonight, despite the protest, I suspect that refugees will still be sleeping in the cold in the park. The second struggle is an internal political struggle creating wide rifts not just between Right and Left, but also between the Right and the Far Right.  The Greens recently helped pass a change in asylum law with which they are uneasy.  PEGIDA-Chemnitz continues its two-week long protest against the construction of a new asylum home. In Cologne today, Henriette Reker, candidate for leading mayor supported by a broad coalition (CDU, Green, FDP, Freie Wähler) was stabbed by a right-wing extremist. Darkness and light are not static – they alternate as surely as night and day. During certain times of the year, however, especially in northern Europe, either one or the other predominates. Winter is coming.

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Data and Racists

In July 2015, PEGIDA posted a link to a GoogleMap. The map was littered with the red balloons GoogleMaps uses to denote location. Each balloon denoted the site of a home for refugees or asylum seekers.

RefugeeHomesMap

Lutz Bachmann had already encouraged his followers to camp out in front of a home for asylum seekers in Freital, close to where he lives, in Saxony. According to the Independent (UK), up to 1200 people took part in protests in front of the home in Freital in early July, many of them drunk.

 

By the 17th of July, the Tagesspiegel reported that the original map – a creation of the right-wing extremist party known as “The Third Way” ( a pun on the Third Reich) – had been removed from the internet. But we all know that nothing ever gets removed from the internet: right-wing extremists had made hundreds of copies of the map, and the link posted by PEGIDA was still available on July 18th, when I posted this link to the Tagesspiegel article on FaceBook:

 

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Every couple of days, there’s a new article in my social media feed counting the number of racist attacks on people and buildings that are motivated by the right-wing. 350. 400. 490. I have no doubt that the numbers will continue to rise, especially with maps like this floating around that include precise locations and number of residents living within the homes. You can crowd source an election, funding for a laser razor, or hate.

But data can also be used in the service of the good. In fact, it is collecting data about the bad that makes strategizing for good possible. The left-leaning (Green) Heinrich Böll Foundation in Germany released a white paper today written in the form of a blog post by Steven Hummel and Ulrike La Gro. In it they document how words become deeds, counting both right-wing demonstrations and the attacks on foreigners or people whose appearances are seen as “different” (three presumably white rugby players with beards, for instance, were taken to be Salafites). They count these events in Dresden, the birthplace of PEGIDA. Direct causation is difficult to prove, however, the authors argue that:

Through the representation of racist positions and their mobilization, which are effective at generating public attention, the already reactionary discourse about asylum in Saxony  is being pushed farther towards the right. To that end, the social climate – among other things – is being influenced in a way that legitimizes violence (for instance against asylum-seekers, their homes and political opponents).

The second place they observed was Leipzig, where they also followed anti-racist activism in a neighborhood that had witnessed violence. What I find both alarming and unsurprising is this declaration by the authors:

In terms of content, the “arguments” of Neonazis and “normal citizens” were so similar that they could be mixed up. This shows, once again, very clearly that racist and misanthropic attitudes extend far beyond the group of Neonazis and are widespread in large parts of society. The permanent connections made between criminality and refugees is exemplary in this case.

All of these conclusions are based on lists of demonstrations and events, dated and categorized, to argue for correlation between political demonstrations, racist acts and the anti-racist activism (at least in Leipzig) which followed. This data is taken from a collection of documents they have titled “Dossier Flucht und Asyl in Sachsen” (Flight and Asylum Dossier in Sachsen), which is viewable here.

Right-wing movements are successful because their argumentation is banal. They don’t have to be visionaries; rather, they can repeat old platitudes and/or apply them to new victims. Their presence also is effective at shaping public space, just like any large citizen movement. And yet, the Böll Foundation at the end of this article offers suggestions for activists who wish to push back against this rightward movement in the public sphere. Their suggestions are also not visionary, but rather what the Germans would call fester Bestandteil of grassroots organizing: find allies, talk with – not just about – refugees; use the media to your advantage, prepare for the worst, and talk with your community. Use your data for good.

The Naivete of Evil

Bernd Ulrich, the main editor for Die Zeit‘s political pages, has written a beautiful essay in the October 7th edition of the paper. Despite my frequent blog posts and twitter and facebook accounts, I am an open Luddite who makes her students hand-write assignments and who has a paper subscription to Die Zeit. I also have an erratic mail carrier, which means that the arrival of my paper can arrive anywhere from three days to three weeks late. Despite seeing the click bait for this essay on twitter, I’m glad to have read this one on paper. The graphic design is quite strong, featuring a long length of barbed wire which ropes its way through the article, dividing the manifesto-like text from other columns and advertisements:

Zeit image

The essay by Ulrich is titled “The Naivete of Evil,” which is a play on Hannah Arendt’s famous subtitle for her book detailing the Eichmann trials in Jerusalem in the 1960s. Written in numbered, thematic sections, Ulrich’s article lays out a comprehensive understanding of the global forces which have led to the refugee crisis in Europe. The conditions of depravity in the Middle East, he asserts, are twenty years in the making – they did not happen overnight. (Americans might also do well to remember that the War on Terror is now almost fifteen years old).   Furthermore, Ulrich identifies a transition amongst Germans on what Demetrios G. Papademetriou, President Emeritus of the Migration Policy Institute, called “the day after” on WEBZ earlier this week. Suddenly, Germans are feeling overwhelmed – and for good reason, given that there are simply not enough doctors, lawyers, teachers and social workers to reach the refugees who need them. Not just traumatized refugees, but also their caregivers, are in shock that events far, far away from them have led to “physical, mental and financial” realities on German soil. The inability to foresee the problem – even though it has been obvious that something like this was brewing – has created a political vacuum. And a vacuum must be filled: in this case, by Horst Seehofer scapegoating the Chancellor and clinging to the dream that a change in course will stop the tide.

Like the Chancellor, Ulrich asserts that this is a fantasy – one among many. Fantasies of fences (which can only function if aggressively enforced); fantasies of military might (Europe, America and now Russia will only inflict damage); and fantasies of being overrun (hold up, says Ulrich, you can’t declare a state of emergency with these numbers) are ever present in the national imagination.  Ulrich even engages with the rich propaganda found at PEGIDA rallies and in Lachmann’s article I analyzed yesterday. “Of course the West is in Danger” reads the title of section 8 – but not because of the refugees. Because of Europeans:

“This, the aggressive nationalism, the exclusion and internal de-liberalization are the tangible threats against the West. Because all of that, unfortunately, is actually present in European genes.”

Ulrich is not actually advancing a genetic argument – that last bit is a metaphor which reads better in German than in my poor translation here. What he’s saying is that nationalism has a European precedent – and it is this nationalism that threatens to undo us.

As for the Middle East, Ulrich says, it would probably be better for all of us if we admitted that our imperial and militaristic strategies have failed. Knowing our limits is the first step towards moving beyond them (Ulrich citing here a quote by Baruch de Spinoza he freely adapted).

Admitting that there are limits seems like a particularly difficult pill for politics to swallow. Fortification is not a way to acknowledge limits – it is rather a desire to construct those limits on terms that are self-directed and seen as politically beneficial. If we follow Ulrich’s line of reasoning, however, limits are given to us by the situation itself rather than by our own imagination, which is why attempts to defend the Vaterland through nationalistic means or to stop the flow of refugees simply because we feel overwhelmed misses the mark.