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Germany's racism row has implications in this country too

LINKS between Germany’s security services and the far right are nothing new, but the left across Europe should be watching the growing scandal over intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen’s seemingly cosy relationship with racists and xenophobes with care.

The far-right riot that exploded in the Saxon city of Chemnitz over the last weekend of August was not gone unchallenged. Giant counter-protests have been mobilised and Germany’s left and trade union movements are increasingly alert to the fascist threat.

Nor have German authorities done nothing. Chemnitz district court is fast-tracking criminal cases linked to the anti-immigrant unrest. One man was fined and given a suspended sentence today for making a nazi salute at the riot, with another case due to be heard tomorrow.

But Maassen’s questioning of a video that shows thugs chasing and attacking an immigrant and his rare public rebuke of Chancellor Angela Merkel — saying he had no evidence that foreigners had been “hunted” in the streets of the city, when the chancellor had said just that — are ominous political interventions.

And as Die Linke’s Martina Renner remarks, it is at least unusual for the head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a sort of German answer to the FBI that monitors extremist groups, to hold a meeting with an MP from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) opposition party and hand it a preview copy of its annual report weeks before other politicians are allowed to see it.

The German government has no appetite to slap down its top spook. Questioned about the difference over whether immigrants had been “hunted” in Chemnitz, Merkel offers the cop-out that there is no point in quibbling over semantics.

Her Interior Minister Horst Seehofer sides more openly with Maassen, expressing full confidence in him. Perhaps unsurprising for a man who boasted of his joy that 69 asylum-seekers had been deported on his 69th birthday, and ignored calls for his resignation when one of the number — a young man who had arrived in Germany as a child — killed himself on being returned to war-torn Afghanistan.

Seehofer hails from Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), which replaces Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union in the southern state and has adopted a harsher anti-immigrant line than the central government of which he is now a part.

Proponents of the CSU’s immigrant-bashing say it is a convenient way of seeing off the threat from AfD. But history shows us that pandering to the prejudices of the far right does nothing to impede its growth and can corrode an entire political culture.

This week’s Trade Union Congress assessed the results in Britain this week, looking at the normalisation of racist language by politicians including Boris Johnson and David Cameron and the construction of the “hostile environment” by Theresa May.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady slammed Johnson for “playing with fire” by flirting with the far right — but the former foreign secretary is not the one who’ll get burnt. Unable to challenge the positive, socialist vision of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, Johnson’s gamble is that an olive branch to Tommy Robinson and his Islamophobic street thugs can lay the groundwork for a reactionary counterattack.

The far right have friends in high office internationally now — in Italy, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Ukraine and, most obviously, the United States. They are being courted by some of the most powerful politicians in this country too. And they will be listening to the sympathetic noises issuing from Maassen at the heart of the German state.

All the more urgent that we welcome the TUC’s call for a movement-wide conference on fighting racism, organise for the mass demo on November 17 and work with the left across borders to build an anti-fascist movement so strong the right do not dare to raise their hands against it.

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