May 1st: A celebration of the best we could be

The best thing to report, when it comes to political demonstrations involving radical parties, is when there’s nothing to report. As I informed you all in my last post, two neo-nazi parties, ProNRW and the NPD, singled out Solingen for public rallies on May 1st.

Downtown Solingen: Everyone was on their feet for the counter-demonstration. Photo: Lilian Muscutt

The good news is: Nothing happened, no clash between left-wing activists and the Nazis. The better news is: The Nazis had to abandon both rallies after short periods of time, because the sheer decibel-volume of all counter-protestors made it impossible in both locations for the Nazis to hold speeches without getting a hoarse throat instantly – while still speaking over a PA. Well, yours truly also suffered from a sore throat the next day, as did many counter-protestors. But it was absolutely worth it, shouting these idiots down.

Yet the best thing is: It wasn’t just the usual left-wing activists (some of them dubious) who came for their average nazi rally-tourism, and a friendly “bash” with the police as they do so often. No, my friends, the whole CITY was on its feet. All political parties, from green, liberal, socialist to conservative, all unions, all churches and congregations, the mayor and high ranking town-officials, local companies, citizens young and old, hipsters, gays, lesbians, blacks, whites, Asian people, Solingers from the East, the West, and what have you places on Earth – everyone was there. Including some people I hadn’t met in quite a while, it was a bit like a school-reunion. There were bands playing, probably around 1000 people alone downtown attending the counter-demonstration, it was a good day for democracy in our town. Remindful of “No way back” by the Foo Fighters: “No more left and right, Come on take my side, I’m fightin’ for you…” It was really a colourful celebration of the best that our city and German society can aspire to be: A meeting place for many cultures and beliefs, kept alive by a spirit of mutual respect under the roof of our constitution.

Well, but one bitter drop there is: Of course we also have to thank 800 police-men and -women for doing a great job

Thumbs up for the police: 800 officers did a good job in keeping the peace. Photo: LM

on this day. Since of course, had they abandoned the two protective cordons for the Nazis downtown and near the main station, the peaceful demonstration would surely have turned into a street battle. Right up front with the hardcore antifascists, the real radicals, the atmosphere had heated up quite quickly, insults were shouted, battle hymns sung (some of them funny, I really liked taunting the Nazis singing “You lost the war, you lost the war” to a famous soccer-stadium melody), eventually there were three arrests, in one case because someone had thrown a bottle at a departing van full of Nazis.

Interestingly, there were fewer Nazis then expected. ProNRW managed to mobilize some 70 people instead of the assumed 200, and the NPD – well it looked like a small school-class, no more (those guys I could see better, when I was at the barricades in Ohligs with my buddy Zeli, the ProNRW rally was sealed off way better).

Around one p.m., the spook was over. Both groups had given up by then and left the town. Victory for “Solingen is

Do the silly walk, kick the nazis out: Some of the messages delivered by protestors were poignant and funny. Photo: LM

colourful instead of brown”, the driving force behind getting everyone up and saying no to fascism. Full credit goes to them, their committee really did a great job in getting everyone together and in action. Especially the NPD-rally in Ohligs gave me the creeps. Because it was in a spot that I walk by almost daily (right in front of my union savings bank-branch), and for a couple of minutes, you could hear the leader addressing his boot-boys. It sounded like a Hitler-speech. Weird and creepy. And I admit: It made me angry. Which is probably a good thing in this case.

I’ll leave you with a few quotes from friends of mine, whom I met at the demonstrations:

Uli Preuss, journalist and fotographer: “Ever since when in a right wing-case of malicious arson, five Turkish people died in 1993, Solingen has been especially sensitive and on its guard against right wing-tendencies. It’s part of the culture of our town, to defend ourselves against brown propaganda. Greetings to Canada and the Gumboot-readers all over the globe!”

Lilian Muscutt, freelance-journalist and novelist: “It’s somehow tough, that these two groups had the cheek to come

A lot of people felt reminded of 1993, when right wing-perpetrators burnt down the house of a Turkish family, killing five occupants. One of the blackest in the recent history of the city of blades. This a picture from the day after the fire.

to Solingen. The past, i.e. the murders of 1993 make their appearance here unbearable.”

Dr. Markus Butz, neurologist at University of Duesseldorf: “I am here, because this city belongs to all the people living here. And I feel insulted as a Solinger, because nazi-extremists try to spread their hatred here. Especially the campaign against Islam appals me as a Christian.”

Some moving pictures from the day: Uli Preuss’s report for the web-TV of “Solingen Daily”:

Colourful instead of brown: Solingen holds anti-Nazi rally on May 1st

Today, dear Gumbooteers, it’s getting serious. We must talk. About Nazis. Think those guys went extinct in 1945? Or that they all went to Argentina? To Antarctica? To the Moon? Well, they did not. And some of them managed to keep a tiny spark of their horrible ideas alive. In Germany. We’ve been a sound democracy for 61 years now. But still there are those who spit on our parliament and who adhere to the thought of a master-race and German world domination. They try to be as nice and bourgeois as they can, these days, wearing suits and telling everyone that they’re not the bad guys. Yeah, right. But usually, if you do a little research you spot that there’s something fishy. That there are connections to militant neo-fascist organizations. On May 1st, one of those nice guy-groups, ProNRW is holding a big rally in my hometown, here in Solingen (NRW, our province, will have elections soon). So right now, the ranks are closing: In favour of a multifaceted, colourful German society of the 21st century. Against those who wish to bring back the brown hordes.

ProNRW has self-styled itself as a “civil rights-movement” that tries to limit Islamic influences in German society. They push the right button there, since a lot of Germans feel that immigrants from Islamic countries aren’t well integrated, 911 and the War on Terror of course added fuel to that debate. All of this can be discussed: But it must be clear that the solution of those problems should not be left to people who still think Hitler was great.

A specialist from the University of Duesseldorf, Alexander Haeusler, gave a speech on the topic in Solingen this week, at a meeting of “Bunt statt Braun” (“Colourful instead of brown”), an initiative formed by citizens opposed to those wolves in the fold known as ProNRW.

250 people came to hear the truth about this right wing-group. Haeusler has been watching and studying ProNRW closely for quite some time now. And he arrives at the same conclusion as German authorities: These guys are using the disguise of a civil rights-movement in order to propagate fear and hatred against Islam in Germany. And now they intend to carry that climate into individual cities in Germany’s west. Hence the rally in Solingen on May 1st.

ProNRW is a threat to democracy in Germany because a lot of people still just perceive them as an option for a “vote of protest“ against the established parties, not knowing of their true alignment and their connections to aggressive para-military Neo Nazi groups.

The Solinger Tageblatt (Solingen Daily) reported this week, that the ProNRW-candidate for the provincial parliament, a guy named Tobias Nass from Solingen, has a vivid past as a Neo Nazi. He claims to have cut all connections in that direction, yet whether that is really the case remains to be doubted.

Thanks for showing us your true face: ProNRW-candidate Tobias Nass.

Solingen Daily also published a photo of Nass, that shows him dressed up as Hitler. Until the beginning of this year, said pic was to be found in his StudiVZ-account (a German Facebook-variant for students). When he announced his candidacy, this photo suddenly disappeared from the web. Talk about coincidence… ProNRW probably tried to clean up his public image, and Nass claims the Hitler-pics were a joke. Very funny, dude. And: In 2007, Tobias Nass was still a member of the NPD – THE German Neo Nazi-party. The only reason why this party isn’t banned is that our authorities and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution fear uncontrollable radicalization once these guys should be forced to go underground.

In 2007, the NPD tried to get a foothold in Solingen. Unsuccessfully. All major political parties, cultural institutions and most importantly THE PEOPLE of Solingen showed them that they weren’t welcome. It was then, that the alliance “Colourful instead of Brown” was forged in order to organize counter-demonstrations. Hundreds of Solingers demonstrated peacefully against the hitherto last public NPD-activities in our city. Yet now, ProNRW is rearing its ugly head in the City of Blades.

And they mean it: While Haeusler, the specialist on right wing tendencies from University of Duesseldorf, was holding

This week's meeting of "Colourful instead of Brown"-initiative in Solingen.

his speech this week in Solingen, the centre for alternative culture where he informed about ProNRW’s Nazi connections was ambushed by about a dozen militant Nazis. Well, as police spokesman Michael Bartsch told Solingen Daily, it was just a “minor brawl”, and only a 19-year supposed Neo Nazi suffered minor injuries. Yet still, the police arrested some of the unbidden guests and told the rest to leave the premises. Eye witnesses claim the mischief-makers were armed with clubs.

Well, I hope that such a clash does not happen again. Nevertheless, I’ll be there for the counter-demonstration on May 1st. Because I want those fascists to know: I don’t want no Nazis in my city. My dad was born in 1934, so he’s got some first hand experience with the reign of terror that was Nazi Germany. From the things he tells me, it always boils down to the quote from famous historian Sebastian Haffner: “The first victim of Nazi oppression were the German people.”

I’ll come back with a report on the counter-demonstration on May 1st, so stay tuned. And always remember Thomas Jefferson: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with “Die Aerzte” (“The Physicians”), who, in the early nineties, published “Schrei nach Liebe” (“Scream for Love”),  a song against fascism written from the point of view of someone arguing with a Neo Nazi. At that time, right-wing violence reached a dangerous peak in Germany. Enjoy German Punkrock against neo-fascism – with lyrics translated into English:

Welcome to our nation – German at last!

It doesn’t happen any day, that you officially welcome someone into a community, with all pomp and circumstance. So today, I am really proud to introduce my old friend Zelimir to you, who, finally after the 21 years that I’ve known him, has recently received his German passport. Zeli, whose family hails from Serbia, former Yugoslavia, agreed to talk about becoming a German here at the Gumboot.

Enthusiastic about German reading culture and literature: Zelimir Pecenica (31).

Enthusiastic about German reading culture and literature: Zelimir Pecenica (31).

Pete: I remember being on the phone with you back in High School, when you were with your parents spending the summer in Beograd. The situation always reminded me of that Ramones-song: “You by the phone, you all alone – It’s a long way back to Germany…” So, finally you are officially a German citizen! Congratulations, mate! Do you feel any different now?

Zeli: Emotionally, it’s not much of a difference, since I’ve always lived in Germany. So, what’s new? Travelling in the EU is a lot easier now. Also, when dealing with bureaucracy, there are no more questions about my heritage anymore. I’m German, period. When you’re not a native, people will always harbour secret doubts about language proficiency and so on. The citizenship helps.

Pete: What was it like to vote in an election for the first time?

Zeli: I’ve lived here all my life, and now my vote counts, at last. My first election was the EU-parliament, and then I did the municipal elections here in Solingen and the election for the Bundestag in 2009. When you’ve never been able to do that, you really feel how special democracy is.

Pete: Do you think your relationship to Serbia will change?

Zeli: Merely acquiring a new citizenship doesn’t really change that. Yet it’s been a long and slow process, and I can say that I now relate to my ancestry in a different way. Maybe I’m just more serious about dealing with my roots.

Pete: What did your parents say, when they got the news?

Zeli: They like it, though it’s a cut. But then my status isn’t transitory any longer. My parents lived in Germany for fourty years, and they’re still not allowed to vote. Also, my dad said: “Son, it’ll also be better for your job perspective.”

Percentage of foreigners (purple) in relation to Germans (greyish blue): In Germany, our province and Solingen as a city (from top down).Pete: Who gave you a harder time? The infamous German bureaucracy or the guys in Beograd?

Zeli: They were both tricky, on different levels. They took more bribes in Beograd, yet the Germans were also tough. Here I am, perfectly integrated into German society, fluent as a native speaker, good High School education, studying German and English literature at Heinrich Heine University in Duesseldorf – come on! Why the long wait with all that evidence in my favour?!?!?

Pete: What do you like especially about Germany?

Zeli: You have your rights here, as a citizen, and they’re respected. Also, everything is in order, be it infrastructure or bureaucracy. We know how to run things, this country simply works. And I like the high cultural level, the book- and reading-culture, the incredible way in which every small town sports the odd museum and library. There’s only a German term that describes this aptly: “Kulturnation”. Germany is a nation of culture.

Pete: What do you like better about old Serbia?

Zeli: Back “home” (in inverted commas, since my home is Solingen), people are more overtly emotional. They socialise easier, and they’re not as prone to having idiotic things dictated to them by the state. Nobody crosses the street at a red light in Germany, and if you do, at least two bystanders are bound to glare at you.

Pete: Now for a touchy question. All of us remember the civil war that tore Yugoslavia apart in the nineties. What was that like – seeing the war on TV, in your parents’ home-country, and with all your relatives living there?

Zeli (sighs): That was a difficult time. As a teenager, you’re struggling with your identity anyway, and such a situation doesn’t help. Especially, since the mainstream media made Serbia out as “the bad guys”, although in reality, it was of course a bit more complex than that. Some Germans seemed to be glad to finally be able to point their fingers at others. I rejected the war, yet of course the fault for it wasn’t on only one side. I didn’t tell a lot of people for a long time about my ancestry, unless I had to. But luckily, time is a healer.

Pete: Could Germany have done more for you and your integration?

Zeli: Not for me, obviously. I’m training to be a High School-teacher in the not too distant future. But lots of other foreigners in Germany could have needed and still need more help in finding their way around. A lot of people feel that all German society does for them is build them a ghetto.

“MULTI-KULTI” – Germany, home of many cultures

Germany has roughly 82.2 million inhabitants. 7.3 million have a different nationality, making them 8.8 %. In our province, Northrhine-Westphalia, you find 1.9 million people amongst the 18 million inhabitants who don’t have a German passport (10.6 %). Solingen alone hosts over 130 different nationalities. The largest group are Solingers with Turkish citizenship, followed by Italians. Then you get a lot of “foreigners” from former Yugoslavia like Zeli, and almost as many Greek Solingers, constituting the fourth larger group. 14 percent of all people in Solingen are not native Germans.

Check out this youtube-video (in English!)  about young immigrants who are less lucky than my buddy Zeli – courtesy of Deutsche Welle-TV: