Cottbus, Germany - Refugees, a poor economy and the Far Right
Following several violent crimes committed by refugees in Cottbus, far-right groups and residents of Cottbus took to the streets and protested against Merkel´s refugee policy and refugees settling in Cottbus. As a response to the increase in crime committed by refugees or towards them, Brandenburg state government decided to impose a ban on new refugees arriving in Cottbus.
The small town of Cottbus, located 120 km southeast of Berlin and with a population of 100,000 residents, has accepted around 3,000 refugees since Chancellor Angela Merkel debuted her open-door refugee policy in 2015, allowing more than 1.1 million refugees from war-stricken Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan entry to Germany. Due to the Chancellors refugee policy, there has been a rapid increase in refugees in Cottbus, from 2.2 to 8.5 percent in just two years, an increase that the authorities have been unable to handle.
Ever since, there has been an increase in random rallies and protests organised by far-right and neo-Nazi groups, such as Zukunft Heimat (Future Homeland) and supported by Identitare Bewegung (Identitarian movement ), NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany) and the Alternative fur Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) party. The number of right-wing recorded incidents increased from nine in 2016 to 28 in 2017.
The state authorities said that there are 145 right-wing extremists just in the city, not taking into consideration the city surroundings. The far-right scene in Cottbus is highly violence-orientated. It consists of neo-Nazis (Inferno Cottbus, Inconvenient Youth, Frontside Cottbus), football hooligans (predominately FC Energie Cottbus fans), right-wing hate music groups (Frontalkraft, Hausmannskost), and a security company, The East German Security Service, which allegedly mainly employs convicted and violent hooligans.
Poor local economy (Cottbus is 240 million Euros in debt), unemployment being at 6.9 percent (the national average is approximately 5.6 percent), the inevitable closure of a brown coal power station, and no plan and resources to properly integrate the refugees into Cottbus society (lack of social workers and cheap housing for refugees) has led to a rise in far-right groups popularity in this town and overall disapproval of residents towards the refugees.
On January 20th, at least 2,500 protesters participated in a demonstration against refugees organised as a response to three young Syrians attacking a couple in front of a Blechen-Carre shopping centre. The couple was only slightly injured, however, it was the reason for the attack that prompted such a huge response from the residents. The attackers demanded that the woman showed them respect and let them enter the shopping centre first. This, coupled with all of the above-mentioned issues, resulted in a huge attendance. The residents were adamant in showing how displeased they are with Merkel´s open-door policy.
Several days after that incident, another attack involving teenage Syrians happened. A 16-year-old German boy was attacked and injured with a knife by two Syrian teenagers, again in front of the Blechen-Carre shopping centre.
In response to the incidents, the city increased the police presence and video surveillance at the city square and introduced a ban on receiving and housing new refugees until further notice.
On February 3rd, around 600 people gathered at a 'Life without hate' demonstration in Altmarkt as a reaction to an announced anti-migrant, anti-Islam protest organised by Zukunft Heimat. However, more than 3,000 people attended the far-right anti-demonstration taking place only hours after 'Life without hate'.
Just a couple of days before the demonstration, six members of the neo-Nazi Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (National Democratic Party of Germany) were reportedly handing out far-right leaflets and pepper spray to the residents as a defence against the refugees.
COMMENT: Even though Brandenburg´s Interior Minister has decided to postpone further intakes of refugees until further notice, demonstrations and protests are still happening on the weekly basis. The ban affects only new refugees, however, the relocation of family members is still allowed which means more refugees might come.
Due to the increase in popularity of far-right groups, it is not very likely that the rallies or the negative feeling towards refugees will stop. If anything, they could potentially spread to other cities. In fact, Cottbus is the fourth city in Germany to introduce the ban on receiving new refugees (Salzgitter, Delmenhorst, and Wilhelmshaven have already banned new refugees last year due to the lack of capacity and resources to properly integrate them). Far-right groups and their affiliates will likely gain more members. For the time being, the protests (even though some were illegal) have not been violent. However, judging by the incident in which the far-right NPD members gave out pepper spray to residents, the protests could become more violent. Vigilante groups might also form as a response to the crimes committed by the refugees.
The refugee policy has already cost Angela Merkel´s CDU/CSU block (centre-right) votes as they´ve had the worst election result in the last 70 years. Her coalition partner SPD (centre-left) had its worst result since 1949. On the other hand, far-right Alternative fur Deutschland scored big with their anti-migrant policy. They have won 24 percent of popular vote in Cottbus during the national elections, making their anti-migrant focused campaign very successful. This trend of rising popularity with nationalist far-right parties will likely continue. COMMENT ENDS
Report written by Antonija Podrug