Tensions in Germany rise amid asylum seeker arrivals

HATE HELPS::Some people in Germany have taken to social media to express their frustration over the migrant crisis, but activists are turning angry words into charity

AP, BERLIN

Mon, Nov 16, 2015 - Page 5

As a local lawmaker in the east German city of Magdeburg who regularly speaks out against the far right, Soeren Herbst has endured years of animosity. However, the sight that greeted him outside his home last week made the Green Party politician realize that the abuse had reached a new level.

Someone had sprayed a gallows on the front of his house, along with Herbst’s name and the word Volksverraeter — traitor to the German people.

“Now we indeed have a new situation,” Herbst said in a telephone interview the day after the incident. “You start worrying about your safety and that of your family.”

The incident reflects a growing public tension in Germany, where far-right groups were quick to seize on the Paris terror attack as evidence of a need to curb immigration. While it is the extremists on the far right who are grabbing most of the headlines, mainstream Germans are increasingly being drawn into inflammatory rhetoric.

The nation’s normally staid political debates have become inflamed with vitriol amid the influx of asylum seekers in recent months.

Nazi comparisons, once considered beyond the pale of polite political discussion, have become a common slur.

The cofounder of anti-Islam group PEGIDA, Lutz Bachmann, last week likened German Minister for Justice Heiko Maas to Nazi demagogue Joseph Goebbels; in response, a senior official in the minister’s party labeled Bachmann a “crazy fascist.”

“The situation that we have at the moment is leading to a split in society where people are drifting apart,” said Joachim Trebbe, a communications researcher at Berlin’s Free University.

Just a few months ago newspapers were full of reports about refugees being warmly received at German train stations, he said.

Now the tone has changed to one where migrants are automatically linked to the word “crisis” as authorities struggle to cope with tens of thousands of arrivals each month.

Social media and the immediacy of modern communications have become an easy vent for popular anger.

This week, police raided 10 buildings in Berlin as part of a crackdown on far-right hate speech in social media networks.

“Nowadays everybody has the opportunity to directly criticize politicians without having to write a letter to the newspaper, which might not get printed,” Trebbe said.

Authorities have already begun working with Facebook to crack down on the most extreme hate speech, which is illegal in Germany, but does not fall afoul of the social networking site’s community rules.

Commentators have coined a term to describe the those venting their anger in online forums: Wutbuerger — literally “angry citizens.”

Frustrated at the online hate speech, some activists are trying a new approach: They respond to anti-migrant comments posted on Facebook by saying that 1 euro (US$1.10) would be donated to projects helping refugees or people trying to leave the far-right scene.

The more anti-migrant comments, the more donations those projects get.

The Web site, called Hate Helps, has so far collected more than 2,300 euros in donations.