CHEMNITZ, Germany — Germany’s government on Monday urged those aggrieved by the suspected killing of a man by migrants in Chemnitz to distance themselves from far-right extremists who have participated in violent, xenophobic protest marches in the eastern city over the past week.
The fatal stabbing of 35-year-old carpenter Daniel Hillig in the eastern city on Aug. 26 sparked a series of rallies, some of which erupted into violence. Protesters looked on as neo-Nazis performed the stiff-armed ‘Hitler salute,’ chanted “foreigners out” and harassed journalists covering the demonstrations.
“If one doesn’t think this way it would be good to draw a clear line and distance oneself from those who are doing that,” said government spokesman Steffen Seibert.
He echoed comments by Chemnitz mayor Barbara Ludwig, who told a rally in the city Saturday that people who repeatedly join protests by far-right extremists “strengthen the right-wing, violent scene.”
The tension that has built up over the past week in Chemnitz reflects the growing polarization over Germany’s ongoing efforts to come to terms with an influx of more than 1 million refugees and migrants to the country since 2015.
Authorities said a 22-year-old Iraqi and a 23-year-old Syrian have been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in the Chemnitz killing
“If their guilt is proven then they will experience the full force of our laws,” said Seibert.
Thousands of people were expected to attend a free, open-air concert in the city Monday intended to send a signal against hatred and anti-migrant sentiment.
The concert, which is being promoted under the #WeAreMore hashtag, is part of an effort by German civil society to position itself against the growing far-right movement in parts of Germany.
Former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel tweeted on Monday that “the far-right terror in Chemnitz is not a Saxon problem, it’s a German one.”
He harshly criticized the political establishment for being too passive when it comes to fighting far-right groups in Germany and asked them to make a stronger showing in places with simmering discontent and anti-migrant sentiment.
“I think it would be good if as many representatives as possible — not only in Chemnitz but everywhere — go to places where we think the citizens are not agreeing with our state,” he said.
But, Gabriel added, there was a clear line between angry citizens and those inciting people with hatred.
“We have to go with toughness after these terrorists,” he said in an interview with Bild Television, adding that “there won’t be any discussions with people who make the Hitler salute. There will only be the rigidity of the state.”
Gabriel called on the domestic intelligence service to start watching the Alternative for Germany, or AfD, party, which was voted into national parliament last year.
In the past, the nationalist AfD has officially distanced itself from radical far-right groups, but over the weekend it joined ranks for the first time with the more radical Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, or PEGIDA, and Pro Chemnitz group and marched through the city together with them.
While Germany’s top security official, Horst Seehofer, has said there are no grounds to monitor Alternative for Germany, the state-level intelligence service in the northern city of Bremen said it is putting the party’s youth wing under observation.
Also on Monday, Hillig’s widow spoke out for the first time, saying that, “Daniel would have never wanted” the protests triggered by his killing.
“Daniel was neither left nor right,” the widow, identified only as Bianca T., told daily Bild adding that she was shocked by how the far right was exploiting his death. “I looked at the events on Saturday night — this was not about Daniel at all.”
“All we want to do right now is mourn him in peace,” she said.
Grieshaber and Jordans reported from Berlin.