In recent years, May 1, or Labor Day has seen Violent clashes between far-right and far-left groups in some of Germany’s major cities. This year the skirmishes are expected to intensify as extremist groups step up efforts to coordinate marches and counter-demos in cities like Berlin and Hamburg.
“They meet here on May 1 in Berlin and it’s like a contest of violence,” said Olaf Sundermeyer, who co-authored a book on Germany’s far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) and is an expert of the neo-Nazi movement.
“First of all you have the official political arm of the right-wing movement, the NPD, and then you have the movement that is not organized party-wise,” he told Deutsche Welle. “And this movement is not on the rise or decline, but is developing itself from within. It’s going to a more radical side and is trying to copy the methods and strategy of the left-wing movement in Germany.”
Sundermeyer goes on to describe the far-right neo-Nazi movement as filled with “angry, young men.”
“And everywhere in the world, when angry young men gather together for extreme, fundamentalist ideas you have a lot of violence, a lot of power inside … and they try to channel their anger by following extreme right ideas,” he said.
Fighting far-right extremism
This year, far-right extremists have organized marches in Berlin, Hamburg, Rostock and a handful of other cities. However a collection of moderate left-wing groups and political parties has also united behind a common cause: to disrupt the neo-Nazi rallies.
As many as 10,000 counter-protesters from the Social Democratic Party, the Left party, the Green party and various trade unions are expected to turn out in Berlin to defy the far-right groups, who are expected to number between 1,000 and 3,000.
Sebastian Wehrhahn works with the Mobile Advisory Team Against Right-wing Extremism in Berlin, which will have a presence at the counter-rally on Labor Day. The non-partisan organization monitors the activities of the right-wing scene and encourages people to take part in action against fascist movements.
Wehrhahn says organizations such as his has had success in disrupting the activities of neo-Nazi groups in the past.
“If we look at Dresden on February 13, we have a very good example of how a collective strategy of all-Democratic actors can lead to the success that the biggest right-wing extremist march in Europe couldn’t take place,” he told Deutsche Welle. “So we do have examples where alliances like this could make a great impact.”
Wehrhahn says he expects thousands of people taking to the streets of Berlin on Labor Day, “making a clear point for a democratic and open Berlin against right-wing extremism. And I very much hope not to see neo-Nazis marching through Berlin.”
Left wing demonstrators stand in front of a police barricade during a Labor Day demonstration in Hamburg in 2008Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Thousands of left-wing protesters are expected to rally on Labor Day
But many of those who turn out on Saturday will also belong to the far-left scene, which has also been known to resort to violence to get its point across. Last year in the Berlin suburb of Kreuzberg more than 400 policemen were injured when left-wing demonstrators threw stones and bottles at them, leading to more than 200 arrests.
In Hamburg, a heightened police presence is expected after previous Labor Day clashes between far-left and far-right groups ended in running street battles with police cars being torched and scores of arrests being made.
The motto for May 1 demonstrations this year is “End the Crisis – Abolish Capitalism.”
“We’re rallying against this society, which is based on profit, competition and property,” said university student Bernd, who is a member of a left-wing group called Anti-Fascist Revolution Action Berlin. “We want a society in which people economize in solidarity and plan their lives together.”
According to Bernd, the state is inherently violent and therefore demonstrators are free to choose their methods of protest. He said this does not necessitate acts of violence but that he does not distance himself from violent means.
“If police are attacked on May 1 then it’s because they’re standing there as a symbol for the capitalist implementation of competition and ownership,” he said. “But the militancy that can be witnessed during May 1 demonstrations is also always a political statement.”
Author: Darren Mara/Editor: Rob Turner
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