So-Called Traitors

Even one year after the EU-Turkey Deal on migrants, cases of politicians in Germany being targeted for their pro-migrant policies signal flares of extremism.

Originally published: 20 April 2017 By: Simon Herschl

Why is it happening ?

The erratic increase of migrant influx from the Middle East and Africa in 2014 caused widespread xenophobic reactions throughout Europe and resulted in the support of more nationalistic political debates. Concomitant, in Germany, anti-immigrant sentiments started to manifest themselves, publicly justified by far-right parties inciting fear of crime committed and work stolen by migrants and refugees.

The majority of society welcome migrants with open arms and communities and districts responded by building temporary shelters and projects aimed at integrating migrants. However, individuals from the far-right started to threaten those local politicians and their families who supported refugee-friendly policies. These hostile actions ranged from calling them traitors to death threats over vandalism and even the burning down of several migrant shelters in Germany.

Why does it matter?

First, democratically elected German politicians in small communities work voluntarily, they spend their time working for the benefit of the whole community and mostly receive no financial compensation. This social engagement is essential in the democratic process and constitutes the backbone of democracy in the country. The alternatives are either the creation of full-time paid jobs by the government or the merging of several communities to one. The former would result in the reallocation of the already spare funds from much needed resorts like education. The latter represents a loss of self-determination and cut in the communities’ ability to address citizens’ concerns.

Second, extremist terror, even on a small scale and with few cases, should never be taken lightly, especially not in a country with a fascist history. The intimidation of politicians and the hindrance of participation endangers political life and diversity and provides dangerous incentives for others. This is especially alarming in a Europe where strong nationalist tendencies are regaining strength. There is a fine line between populism and demagogy that is important not to cross.

Third, providing temporary refuge to war victims is stipulated in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, entitling refugees not only to the right of housing (Art 21), or freedom of religion (Art 4) and the right to receive state support but also to the right not to be expelled on a non-substantial basis (Art 32). Therefore, no political party in Europe has the legal measures to immediately stop the refugee influx.

What can you do about it?

One of the best-known responses is the Refugees Welcome movement in various countries to support and provide shelter to those in need. But the possibilities to participate start already one step earlier — individual participation in the democratic process in one’s country. It starts with voting, supporting local parties and politicians, showing that their engagement is not taken for granted but valued. Another important aspect is clearer communication between politicians and their constituencies. Political representatives should better understand the concerns of their constituencies while communities should know how politicians in fact tackle the issues in question.

In turn, politicians who demonize certain groups of the population must be held accountable, depending on the extent, either by public groups, their own party, during the next elections, or by the state and law enforcement agencies. However, and this is where the circle closes, this is most likely to be achieved by creating public pressure, gathering publicly, expressing concerns and putting forth the direction in which politicians should move forward.