Germany’s churches warn against upsurge in racism

People place flowers and candles in a playground where a 22-year-old man died in an argument between two groups of men in Saxony-Anhalt

On the night of Saturday Sept. 8 to Sunday Sept. 9 a young German died in a fight in Köthen, a town in Saxony-Anhalt (former East Germany) and two Afghan suspects were arrested.

Like the country’s political leaders, German churches raised their voices to pre-empt any temptation of violence less than two weeks after the painful events in Chemnitz.

“Seizing this opportunity to stir up anger and hate against foreigners or those who think differently from us, or using violence against them is too reprehensible,” Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdebourg  said in a statement circulated on social media networks.

“A state governed by the rule of law needs to seek ways to pre-empt or at least limit aggression, to promote integration and make social transformation peaceful,” argued the bishop, adding that this was a responsibility “shared by all citizens.” “Caution and discernment are necessary,” he said. “Let us not live and act contrary to our dignity.”

The president of the Protestant Church in Anhalt, Joachim Liebig, was also worried about the risk of “manipulation,” noting that “this terrible event needs to be clarified with caution.” He, too, feels that “any political exploitation is unacceptable and would lead to an escalation that could have disastrous consequences.”

According to the police, about 2,500 persons responded, on the day after the killing, to the call by the extreme right, demonstrating in Köthen against the increasing number of asylum-seekers and the government’s migration policy. A counter-demonstration by the radical left brought out 200 persons in the evening.

The painful memories of Chemnitz are still fresh in people’s minds. In that town, also located in the former East Germany, a 35-year-old German was knifed to death two weeks ago and asylum seekers, this time Iraqis and Syrians, are suspected.

At least four major demonstrations were organised in the wake of the Chemnitz killing by the Alternative for Germany, AfD, under the theme of “Stop the invasion of asylum seekers.”

Dozens of people were subsequently wounded in clashes between demonstrators and small anti-racism groups that plunged the country into shock and anxiety at the resurgence of the Nazi salute.

In an interview with the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, the president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Thomas Sternberg, described the AfD as an “extreme right party” and called on all free and democratic forces to resist it ahead of by-elections in Bavaria and Hesse.

The head of German’s lay people Catholics did not hesitate to draw a parallel with the Nazi Party, which came to power by the ballot “in the last phase of the Weimar Republic.”

While denouncing the “demonization” of immigration, Thomas Sternberg also recognized the need to set “economic, social and societal limits” for immigration.

“Exploring these limits, particularly to be able to ensure the necessary protection for those who need it, is an enormous challenge for our society,” Sternberg said, wondering at the reasons why some Germans felt “abandoned.” However, he added: “I think a democratic state can overcome all that.

In late August, at the heart of the Chemnitz riots, the president of the Council of the Protestant Church in Germany, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, also warned German voters against the AfD.