Twitter Says Merkel’s Silence on Neo-Nazi Violence Speaks Volumes
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's hesitance to comment on violence against refugees this weekend has some Germans questioning her stance on the migrant crisis in Germany.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is infamous for her strategic political hesitance. In 2011, her administration abstained from a U.N. Security Council vote on whether to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. That same year, when the European debt crisis continued to unfold, Germany stalled on offering assistance to its flailing neighbors.
And this weekend, when more than 30 German police officers were injured in violent protests by neo-Nazis opposed to the arrival of refugees at a holding center in Heidenau, she stayed silent on the issue for a full two days. Her failure to immediately condemn the behavior of the protesters, some of whom reportedly yelled “Heil Hitler,” was internally interpreted by some Germans as an endorsement of the right-wing protesters opposed to refugees seeking shelter in Germany.
It wasn’t until Monday, after #Merkelschweigt — translated roughly as “Merkel stays silent” — became the top trending hashtag on Twitter in Germany, that the chancellor condemned the attacks through a spokesman.
“It’s repulsive how far-right extremists and neo-Nazis are spreading their hollow message [of hatred around a refugee shelter], but it’s equally shameful how citizens, even families with children, support this [spectacle] by marching along,” Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin.
What started as peaceful protests on Friday quickly escalated as protesters pelted police officers with rocks and glass bottles as officers tried to protect migrants gathered at a warehouse-type building there.
Speaking to German radio station Deutschlandfunk over the weekend, Heidenau Mayor Jürgen Opitz said the protesters came from outside his town and were a case of “Nazi tourism.”
What exactly Merkel’s political strategy was in this case remains unclear. More than two days of silence don’t speak well of the German chancellor, whose government expects at least 800,000 asylum-seekers to arrive in Germany this year. Close to 83,000 arrived last month alone, many of whom were fleeing civil war in Syria.
And Merkel already has a complicated relationship with Germany’s migrant population. In 2010, she said multiculturalism in Germany had “utterly failed” and that migrants looking to settle in Germany had to do a better job integrating themselves into German communities. In July, she had a widely publicized encounter with a young Palestinian, who cried as Merkel awkwardly hugged her after saying that Germany simply didn’t have space for every refugee.
Despite her hesitance to respond to violent protests in her own country, the continent’s migrant crisis seems to be at the top of Merkel’s to-do list. Shortly after she released her Monday statement through Seibert, Merkel met with French President François Hollande in Berlin to discuss how to better unify efforts to tackle the crisis. And Merkel remains wildly popular in Germany, where she is serving her third term as chancellor.
Last week, striking a similar tone to Germans opposed to the influx of migrants, the Slovakian government announced they would only accept Christian refugees, and Macedonian police tear-gassed those trying to pass through the tiny country on their way to Western Europe.
On Sunday, migrants braved those increasing tensions in European communities, when more more than 2,000 migrants — many of whom will seek asylum — entered Serbia from Macedonia overnight.
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