Protests, Violence Mar German Unity Day Celebrations In City Of Dresden
Earlier this week Germany celebrated “Tag der Deutschen Einheit,” or “Day of German Unity,” which commemorates reunification between East and West in 1990. Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Joachim Gauck, and parliament leader Norbert Lammert, among other German leaders travelled to the eastern city of Dresden for the festivities.
Dresden is the cultural capital of the former GDR, often referred to as the Florence of the Elbe. It has become an increasingly popular destination for tourists and Germans alike thanks to its: world-renowned baroque-style architecture, views of the Elbe river, strong university, thriving nightlife, and the beautiful “Saxon Switzerland” nature just south of the city. Though more recently it has gained a new reputation as a stronghold for right-wing extremism, thanks in part to being the home of the anti-immigrant PEGIDA movement (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West). Along with marches, xenophobic attacks in the city have become increasingly common (Dresden is just 60 kilometers away from Bautzen, which has recently dominated headlines due to the clashes between asylum seekers and far-right nationalists). Just a week ago bombs went off in the city, putting into question the safety of the October 3rd celebrations.
What should have been a day of celebration on October 3rd was quickly overshadowed by protests against Merkel and her ruling CDU party. The chancellor was met with chants of, “Merkel must go” and “Traitor to the people.” A record number of police and security forces were present in Dresden to maintain peace and order. Merkel’s unpopularity in the east is at an all-time high due to her decision to remain steadfast in her refugee policy. The East, in particular the state of Saxony, where Dresden is located, has seen support for the anti-foreigner AfD (Alternative for Germany) party rapidly grow over the past two years.
Merkel used the events to highlight a further issue, the deep-rooted differences between the East and West that still exist 26 years after reunification. She herself, as well as president Gauck, were both citizens of the former GDR. This issue has again come to the forefront in German politics, as right-wing populism has spread its roots over the former GDR, capitalizing on economic hardship and anti-foreigner sentiment. This is not to say that similar situations do not exist in the West (where the AfD has also found marginal success), however, as former parliamentary leader Wolfgang Thierse noted, xenophobic attacks are four or five times more likely to happen in the five east German states.
Merkel is in the midst of tackling multiple issues on multiple fronts: Brexit, balancing diplomatic relations with Russia and the United States, the refugee crisis, trade deals with the United States and Canada, and the German federal elections a year from now. It is now safe to add right-wing domestic terrorism to that list.