Chemnitz Vs. Merkel: Another Protest the Press Got Wrong
Last week, a series of marches took place in the German city of Chemnitz, famous for its frighteningly large head of Karl Marx and for being a foothold of the far-right in the east of the country since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The marches followed the murder of a German man committed by two alleged asylum seekers; the resulting furore was unprecedented.
The marches themselves were not widely reported on by British news broadcasts, being instead reserved for a brief mention in “and in other news” until the final days of the protest when it started being picked up more seriously.
However, what was noteworthy was that when these marches were eventually given air time, the first word almost immediately used by reporters in the city was that this was a ‘far-right’ or ‘majority far-right’ march against the murder of a German citizen; where the only real aim of the protestors was to stir up xenophobia in German cities.
This instantly invalidated the presence and delegitimized the reasoning of the ordinary majority of the protesters who marched in Chemnitz over a series of days. However, this is not to dispute that some of those who were present at the various march were indeed far right goons, who were there simply because they hate anyone who doesn’t fit their world view.
But there also needs to be a recognition by the media who reported on the events that not everyone there was a neo-Nazi, instead, they were there for perfectly legitimate reasons. The anger that was felt by normal, everyday law-abiding German citizens at the event, I think, can be traced back to Chancellor Merkel’s open-door migration policy at the start of the migrant crisis in 2015.
In a recent report on BBC’s Newsnight, John Sweeney travelled to the East German city of Cottbus to get a feel for what is happening in Germany right now. From the report you can certainly get a sense of the German feeling towards the issue. I am not going to sit here and say that we should flatly deny the migrants who are risking their lives trying to get to Europe to make a better life for themselves. I will, however, take issue with what Chancellor Merkel response and all that ensured.
At the time of the migrant crisis, I was a left-wing student who believed that what Chancellor Merkel did was right. However, as time went on I began to question the decision and its consequences. As a part of the mass protests, there was one march in which the faces of all those who had allegedly been murdered by migrants in Germany were displayed; it was, frankly, eye-opening.
Furthermore, a video shared by ‘StanM3’ on Twitter shows an exchange between a lady who is understood to be a reporter or counter protestor and a number of German men and women who are present at the march. What follows is a rather heated but civilised discussion between the group about what is actually a serious concern for the people of Germany.
The main sticking point for ordinary German people seemed to be that some, not all, of the migrants that were taken in by Germany in the years following the migrant crisis had not assimilated into the German social fabric; instead they behaved and acted in a way that is alien to most Germans. For example, the man who is the main opposition to the lady on the opposite side of the argument makes clear that members of his family had stopped travelling to the city centre for fear of being intimidated and harassed by the behaviour of some migrants. Obviously this is not the case for every migrant who travelled to Germany during the migrant crisis, but it is such a prevalent concern for Germanys that it prevents them from going about a daily routine. This feeling was clearly either not-considered or easily-dismissed in the reports of the international media.
The far right did use these protests to their own ends and utilised them to spread hate and discourse amongst German citizens against migrants. But there is another side to this story, and that is that there is a growing air of uncertainty over Merkel’s response to the 2015 crisis and now ordinary German people are coming to terms with some of the unfortunate, and sadly fatal, consequences of her actions.
What has happened with regards to the press reporting of the events that took place in Chemnitz over the last week or so, is a mixture of factual reporting of far-right groups taking part in the march but it was also a flagrant dismissal of the presence of ordinary citizens who did not want to associate with or be associated with far-right thugs doing the Nazi salute.
Instead, those citizens were there with one agenda; to show the Chancellor of Germany that her migration policy has not been a rosy affair or an international applause-line. They were there to demonstrate that the recent murders had been just one in a long line of violent incidents involving migrants, which had begun with the mass influx of ‘refugees’ and ‘asylum seekers’ who made their way to Europe during the migrant crisis.
This style of reporting by the media, where by anyone attending a march protesting or challenging fashionable, left-wing ideas are undiscerningly and unforgivingly labelled as being members of the far right, is incredibly damaging. It carelessly delegitimizes a legitimate cause and instantly trivializes the concerns of everyday people who are concerned about the trajectory of their country; people who have the right to be heard. That is, in no uncertain terms, a dangerous precedent in a supposedly free society.
This attitude from the press towards protestors and their concerns regarding immigration is something that led to Brexit in the UK. There was a constant demonization of those who held legitimate concerns about immigration and a consistent silencing of citizens who were carelessly labelled as xenophobes or racists. These are the very same people who through disenfranchisement and disillusion voted to leave the EU, with the hope of curbing overly-lenient immigration policies and the apparent problems that come with them.
My argument therefore is this, if we are to have any form of sensible dialogue around issues such as immigration, then one thing must end- the silencing of citizens. The press must help to encourage this debate, rather than demonizing the less-fashionable side by using stifling buzzwords. We must stop the liberal and undiscerning use of terms like ‘far-right’ or ‘alt-right’. We must halt the cycle of guilty by association, and instead listen to and start dialogues with those whom we disagree with; challenging their views, regardless of whether we like them or not.