Twenty years ago, to the applause of up to 3,000 onlookers, right-wing extremists attacked the homes of political asylum seekers, residents of other countries of origin, and germans they deemed non-german in the community of Rostock-Lichtenhagen. During the following months, pogroms followed in a number of german cities, including Hoyerswerda, Mölln, Solingen and Mannheim. Whereas due to sheer luck no one was murdered in Lichtenhagen, despite the fact that Neo-Nazis threw petrol bombs into the buildings, stormed the houses and smashed everything in sight, seven people died in other fire bomb attacks, and countless people were attacked by mobs of hundreds of self-proclaimed germans during 1992 and 1993.
Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of Lichtenhagen. Whereas anti-fascist activists held rallies to commemorate the pogrom, germany’s Federal President, Joachim Gauck, thought it was a good idea to plant a “german oak,” the much beloved metaphor of germany as an “organically grown nation” and a symbol of german nationalism, as a monument against german racism. But whoever thought that was the highlight of germany’s repentant abilities was shortly thereafter reminded of the depth of personal and institutionalized racism in the midst of this country’s society, and the never ceasing need for victim-blaming, exemplified by an article in one of the country’s biggest daily newspapers, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).
The FAZ has a distinctly conservative reputation, but, as I previously thought, was somewhat able to keep up a certain distance to newspapers and magazines that are not only borderline, but explicitly right-wing, such as “Junge Freiheit,” a weekly newspaper of the so-called “New Right” that aspires bourgeois respectability, and yet, fails miserably with every single issue. However, one of the “New Right”‘s characteristics has been its “hinge function” between “ordinary” conservatism (or even reactionary thinking) and radical right-wing policies, as political research has emphasized (see here, for example). I personally think that’s true, and it is never clearer than when Stauffenberg-conservatives like the majority of FAZ journalists join argumentative hands with explicit right-wingers, especially when it comes to commenting on “immigration” policy or internal affairs. The borders that were once established, however, have always been friendly ones, and are usually too fluid to be taken seriously.
Illustrating these discursive intersections, the FAZ has now decided on publishing a piece that terminates every pretense by an essential political glorification of the effects of Lichtenhagen, written by Jasper von Altenbockum [in german]. Altenbockum contends that, despite the “excesses” of Lichtenhagen’s pogrom, it had positive effects in two regards: teaching “social romantics” that “multiculturalism” is “utopian,” and “unrestricted immigration” necessarily leads to a society’s decline, and the second, related point that the pogroms inspired the newly restrictive immigration and asylum law of 1993 in germany, and a discussion whether germany was an “immigration country” or not (history isn’t his greatest strength, apparently). Altenbockum is not even a stranger to anti-democratic lines of arguments, and has revelled in dubbing anti-ACTA activists a “mob;” a term he seems to apply freely.
Altenbockum conveniently fails to mention the unwillingness and inability of Rostock’s police to adequately intervene, the country’s unwillingness and inability to stop the pogroms (and to not encourage it with either silence or explicit consent), the targeting of anti-racist activists who sought to protest the pogrom in Rostock-Lichtenhagen and were, instead, placed under arrest, and the complete failure to prosecute any of the people who attacked both people and houses during the days of overt racist violence. Instead, Altenbockum decides to focus on what he deems the “positive” aspects of said pogrom: the subsequent (further) limitation of immigration. Making “multi-culturalists” sad-faced. Upholding an idea of germany that is the only one people like him can live with. Continuing the mistreatment of refugees. Perpetuating white privilege. Accepting right-wing violence as normalcy, as executing the people’s will, even.
Moreover, Altenbockum decides to publish this statement, this essential Thank You note to german racists then (and now), on the anniversary of people petrolbombing buildings, attacking people, receiving the applause and encouraging cheers of by-standers who showed hitler salutes and chanted racist slogans, while people inside of the burning building ran for their lives and only narrowly escaped to a neighboring building by breaking open locked doors in panic. He decides to not mention the humiliating circumstances refugees were placed in before the pogrom in Lichtenhagen broke loose, the fact that they were not even provided with a roof over their heads, but forced to camp outside and use the bushes as toilet facilities, because people like Altenbockum and more directly violent fellows think that people who are not what they define as “german” don’t deserve to be treated as full human beings.
This is what Altenbockum takes aways as germany’s lesson of Rostock-Lichtenhagen and the many other places where racism flared up in its most ugly violence, and this is what Altenbockum takes away after the so-called National Socialist Underground could travel the country and execute people while officials stood by, and this is what Altenbockum takes away from 180 official victims of right-wing terrorism since 1991. Altenbockum’s lesson is to reiterate the early 1990s easily decipherable racist collective symbolism of political slogans like “the boat is full,” of the ex-premier of Bavaria, Edmund Stoiber’s infamous (and later recanted) allusion to national-socialist rhetoric by calling germany a “racially permeated” society (“durchrasste Gesellschaft”), and the rhetorical creation of alleged “waves” of “freeloading” people seeking political asylum; he thus legitimizes and falsely post-verifies popular and media racism, political manipulations of and through racism, and outright lies as somewhat understandable, even reasonable causes for the pogroms, and, subsequently, explicitly classifies the pogroms as a means of social modernization. Clearly, Altenbockum misunderstood the dialectic of enlightenment.
This is not only tragic, it is nauseating. It shows that there’s not merely a hinge between ultraconservatism and right-wing extremism, it has been and continues to be a carefully orchestrated, close relationship. It is german normalcy. It’s the constantly denied part of an official german self-conception.
I suggest watching this documentary on the pogrom of Rostock-Lichtenhagen, and then telling me what exactly you are thankful for again, Jasper von Altenbockum. I remember (accidentally) seeing some of these pictures on TV as a child, hearing murmurs about racist violence near my home town, and I was scared – being called a “N—” and knowing that I was somehow “different” was more than a verbal insult and vague realization now, it was a promise of an impending attack. Other people did not have the privilege to only be afraid of potential violence, they were murdered by Neo-Nazis; and the racist attitudes, apologies and praises Altenbockum and other “normal” people sport, enable such crimes.
[Update]: Another response to Altenbockum’s comment is here on Afrika Wissen Schaft.