After videos surfaced of protesters in eastern Germany berating Ukrainian refugees, the mayor of Leipzig decried the images from the scene as "unbearable."
The mayor of Leipzig and the state premier of Saxony on Tuesday sought to distance themselves from the latest images to come from weekly Monday night demonstrations in the eastern German state. The videos, showing protesters chanting slogans against Ukrainian refugees, received wide media coverage in Germany.
What happened originally?
Demonstrators gathered in Leipzig to protest issues including German energy policy and sanctions against Russia,with the rally held under the motto "for peace, freedom and self-determination." In the videos from the event, the protesters could be seen chanting at counter-protesters waving Ukrainian flags on the other side of the road.
The audible chants in the video footage included "Nazis out," apparently an allusion to Russia repeatedly labeling Ukrainian authorities as fascist, and words to the effect of "get lost, you're living at our expense."
Police said on Tuesday that they were aware of the footage and had reviewed it but were not aware of anything in it that could warrant prosecution. The authorities also noted an old military Wehrmacht flag with the motto "don't complain, fight" written on it had also been brought to their attention. However, this flag is not one of the symbols listed as banned in Germany due to their connection with the Nazi regime, they said.
How did local politicians react?
Various demonstrations have taken to the streets of Saxony and other primarily eastern German states repeatedly in recent weeks, usually on a Monday evening. The timing is a nod to the regular Monday protests that proved a precursor to the fall of the Berlin Wall and later East Germany and the Soviet Union.
Some of the marches are more right wing, some more left wing, most oppose either sanctions against Russia or weapons deliveries to Ukraine, or both, and are upset about rising costs of living. Counter-demonstrations are also common. During the peak of the COVID pandemic, groups in the same region also rallied on rallied on Mondays against COVID-related restrictions.
Commenting on the latest incident, Leipzig's Mayor Burkhard Jung said that the anger being targeted at refugees seemed to hail from "a strange mixture of right-wing radicalism, enemies of democracy, this odd presumption that one understands Putin, and Reichsbürger," with that last one a reference to a renowned German group that rejects the modern government and state as illegitimate. Jung said he found the images "unbearable," and said that a collective response was needed, "with backbone and clarity." He said this should demonstrate resistance and an attachment to one of the more famous lines in Germany's postwar constitution, its first article: "Human dignity shall be inviolable."
Saxony's state premier Winfried Kretschmer called the images "unthinkable and unacceptable." He said he regretted it all the more given that the protesters' chants in his view did not represent a majority view in Saxony.
"In so many places we've witnessed, in a wonderful way, how love thy neighbor is practiced here," Kretschmer said. "That's why we condemn this. It disgusts us and we are defending ourselves against it."
Russian ties endure in former East
Germany has a large community with roots in Russia, many of whom live in the former eastern states. German police have warned of an uptick in intimidation, threats, vandalism and sometimes physical violence against both Russians and Ukrainians in Germany in recent months as a result of the war.
There have also been famous alleged crimes that turned out to be bogus, such as the claims of a Russian teenager being beaten to death by Ukrainians in Germany that circulated in March.
Germany's Russian-rooted community has also shown internal division on the war itself.
Russians in Germany clash over the war in Ukraine
Polls repeatedly point to friendlier attitudes towards Russia in states that were once part of Communist East Germany like Saxony. Voting habits in these states also tend to be different, with both right-wing and left-wing political forces liable to fare better that in the rest of Germany.
Even Saxony state leader Kretschmer, nominally a center-right Christian Democrat, has courted major media attention with his comments on the Ukraine war. His party is currently in opposition on the national level and has been trying to portray itself as tougher on Moscow than the current government. But Kretschmer has been a high-profile voice arguing against things like German weapons exports to Ukraine and also insisting on redoubling peace efforts. One fiery TV appearance prompted Ukraine to say it was calling off a prior invitation for him to visit Kyiv.
msh/dj (epd, dpa)
First published: October 11, 2022
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