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Thousands of Germans continue to engage in anti-immigrant protests in Chemnitz, an Eastern German city in the state of Saxony, which has never attracted significant immigration. Yelling Nazi slogans, some protesters proudly engaged in the Hitler salute. Counter-protests emerged, with several participants wounded in the ensuing violence. The mob justified the far-right uproar that began on August 27 as a reaction to the recent stabbing of a Cuban-German, purportedly committed by Arab asylum seekers. The circumstances surrounding the rampage demonstrate how right-wing extremism has increasingly occupied the mainstream in Germany.

Saxony has long been a stronghold of the far-right. The right-wing extremist AfD (Alternative for Germany) party had the strongest showing in the 2017 federal elections. The party joined other racist movements in leading the recent protests and, as a result, has gained in popularity, according to polls from August 31.

As the same poll shows, 76% of Germans are very concerned about the future of democracy in the country. A majority also favors an investigation of the AfD by the federal office for constitutional protection because of the party’s racist actions. The chances of such an investigation are, however, slim, as federal interior minister Horst Seehofer (CSU), who is known for his right-wing populism, has rejected the proposition.

Reactions to the recent protests from politicians have been muted. Saxony’s PrimeMinister Michael Kretschmer (CDU) told news outlet Tagesthemen he was surprised by the large number of protesters, and downplayed right-wing extremism as coming from a “small, evil minority.” Leading members of the liberal party FDP blamed the far-right protests on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s migration policies.

This insensitivity may be a result of the composition of Germany’s governing elite. Unlike in other multicultural Western European countries, Germany’s political establishment is composed almost exclusively of ethnic, white Germans. Although every fifth person in Germany has non-German roots, few people of immigrant origin have been elected to public office.

While political elites may have a hard time calling things by their name, the extreme right is not sanitizing its words. The AfD has continued to mobilize angry mobs in and beyond Chemnitz. Receiving plenty of media attention and insufficient condemnation, it is no surprise that the AfD’s popularity keeps growing. As the climate of fear, particularly amongst minorities, persists in Germany, it is high time the far-right is finally countered – on the streets, in  parliament, and in the media.

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