After hundreds of far-right protesters rioted last week in the small town of Heidenau, Germany in opposition to the temporary housing of asylum seekers there, a group of anti-fascists decided to throw a welcome party for refugees. German authorities attempted to ban the party at first, but widespread outrage and a court decision soon changed all of that and allowed the party to go on.
“It was important for us to show solidarity with other refugees,” Adam Bahar, a member of a refugee group that helped organize the party, told Deutsche Welle. “But we are also doing something good for Germany — we are showing that people are welcoming, you know, and that they have an open mind.”
Germany is currently undergoing its largest influx of asylum seekers since World War II. Up to 800,000 people will make Germany their new home in 2015, with many of these asylum seekers coming from conflict-ridden areas like Syria, Iraq, North Africa and southeastern European countries like Albania and Serbia. This incoming batch of migrants and the shelters that house them have angered Germany’s far-right.
On August 21, riots broke out in Heidenau outside a former hardware store now set up as new asylum center to house up to 600 refugees. The protest was originally set up by the far-right National Democratic Party, members of which openly adore Hitler and the Nazis, but was also joined by some ordinary German citizens. The protesters, at first, attempted to block a road leading to the shelter, but as asylum seekers began to arrive, the protesters soon became violent and rioted for two consecutive nights while chanting right-wing slogans like “Heil Hitler” and “Foreigners out!”
Police soon cordoned off the shelter and, along with refugee buses, were assaulted by far-right protesters with stones, bottles and fireworks. Left-wing counter-protesters also arrived on Sunday and clashed with the right-wing protesters. Cops ended up using tear gas and pepper spray on the protesters, and by the end of the weekend, 31 police officers had been injured. Despite the right-wing riots, the asylum center still managed to open and now houses more than 200 people. Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with many other officials and politicians, soon condemned the riots, saying that they spread a “disgusting” message of hate.
“I condemn in the strongest possible terms the violent outbursts,” Merkel told Deutsche Welle. “There was an aggressive mood against foreigners there that isn’t acceptable in any way.”
To counteract the atmosphere created by these riots, anti-fascist and pro-refugee groups decided to throw a “welcome party” for refugees in Heidenau this weekend. Local German authorities in Saxony then banned the welcome party as well as any other outdoor public gathering from August 28-31 citing the inability of police to keep the peace at the moment. This was met with resistance by many, and on Friday afternoon, an administrative court in Dresden declared the ban “unlawful.” By Friday evening, Saxony’s administrative court of appeal reinstated the ban but allowed the “welcome party” to go on since it would be restricted to the fenced-in grounds of the refugee dormitory.
“When I got on the train they said the party couldn’t take place, and by the time I got off, they said it could,” Green party leader Cem Özdemir told Deutsche Welle as he arrived at the party.
People brought all kinds of food and desserts to the pro-refugee party and anti-fascists provided entertainment with juggling, spinning plates and left-wing songs. There was even a bouncy castle for the children and a truck full of donated clothes, toys and bathroom supplies for the refugees in the asylum center. Local Heidenau residents as well as politicians came to show their support and the event remained peaceful, even though police, some with riot gear, were close by at all times.
Later that night, police in Heidenau enforced the ban on public gatherings and dispersed right-wing protesters attempting to demonstrate outside the asylum shelter. Cops demanded the personal information of each protester, photographed each individual, and then ordered them to leave the area. The next day, in Dresden, thousands of people from all over Germany took to the streets to march and show their support for refugees in the country.
Threats and attacks on refugees have increased in Germany since this latest influx of asylum seekers. Last month, a neo-Nazi group published a map of asylum centers across Germany titled “No refugee centers in my backyard!” In 2014, right-wingers committed more than 500 xenophobic attacks. According to the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, there have been 345 cases of attacks and assaults against refugees and their accommodations in Germany as of August 25. A majority of these attacks happen in eastern Germany with a large chunk of those attacks taking place in Saxony.
Anti-fascists, in turn, have fought back against the far-right in various ways, some more creative than others. In November 2014, anti-fascists in Bavaria tricked neo-Nazis into raising thousands of dollars for an anti-extremist organization. Locals and businesses in the town of Wunsiedel, where neo-Nazis hold an annual march, secretly sponsored all the right-wing marchers and donated 10 euros ($11) for every meter they walked. Locals even had a tongue-in-cheek banner thanking the marchers for their “donations.” By the end of the march, the neo-Nazis had inadvertently raised 10,000 euros for an organization that helps people leave extremist groups.