The German chancellor has defended her refugee policy on a trip to Chemnitz, three months after anti-immigrant riots shook the city. Debating with loc
The German chancellor has defended her refugee policy on a trip to Chemnitz, three months after anti-immigrant riots shook the city. Debating with locals, she first had to explain why it took her so long to visit.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel wasn’t given much time to settle in during a two-hour event organized by a local newspaper in Chemnitz on Friday. While some of the 120 attendees greeted Merkel with applause, others sat with their arms tightly folded as the chancellor entered the renovated factory space.
Even before her arrival, the chancellor’s visit had been criticized as “too late.” Three months ago, far-right violence, demonstrations and counter-protests put Chemnitz in the headlines around the world.
“Now it’s about seeing what can be done at a federal level, so that the city isn’t always portrayed in a bad light,” she said.
Defending her decision to not visit the city in the former East Germany directly after the violent events in August, Merkel said she wanted to avoid further polarization with her presence.
Anger on the streets
The fatal stabbing of a 35-year-old German, allegedly by two asylum seekers, sparked demonstrations that quickly escalated into riots. Among the protesters were well-known far-right extremists. Video footage emerged showing the rioters targeting people they deemed as foreign in appearance.
Since August, a Jewish, Persian and Turkish restaurant have all been attacked and the far-right terror group “Revolution Chemnitz” has also been uncovered.
The chancellor appealed to residents not to let extremists set the agenda.
“There are people who are worried that perhaps there are too many refugees here,” she said. “There are also people who have open prejudices against people who simply look different. You have to draw a line between these two.”
Thousands of locals did reject the violence, and are active in counter initiatives.
“This is a good sign,” Merkel said. “It’s these people who need to make their voices heard – because they are the majority,” she added.
East German legacy
Drawing on her experience growing up in the former GDR, Merkel called on eastern Germans to be more confident. “You have every reason to proud of what you did,” Merkel said, referring to the Peaceful Revolution of 1989 which led to the reunification of Germany a year later.
Since then, however, a vicious cycle of historical, political, economic and cultural factors has left many former East Germans feeling left behind.
“I decided for myself, you don’t have to go to the Stasi to have a career, however bad the system is,” Merkel said. “And you also don’t need to persecute people because you’ve got a political gripe.”