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Left-Wing Extremism

Is Germany’s left ready to use violence?

Does Germany have to fear a new wave of left-wing violence? No, say security experts. What happened in Hamburg is not a new development, they say, although they agree the radical scene has changed since the 1980s.

Smashed windows, burning dumpsters and color spots on the walls of the headquarters of Germany's Social Democratic Party are the result of recent protests in Frankfurt’s autonomist scene. About 150 left-wing activists protested in Berlin as well, though the demonstration there remained peaceful.

Even in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, which is usually known to be rather bourgeois-prudish, autonomists have started raising their voices by spraying supportive phrases on the walls of universities and bridges in the city center of Stuttgart.

Such solidarity statements can be found in all corners of Germany these days as signs of cohesion in the radical left-wing scene, which is supporting the autonomists in Hamburg.

No signs of a radical left-wing wave of terror

Following violent protests against the eviction of a left-wing cultural center on December 21, which resulted in hundreds of protesters and police officers being injured, police declared parts of Hamburg a so-called danger zone, giving them the right to randomly stop and control people.

"If such severe violence takes place, then a danger zone is certainly legitimate to restore state control there," said Torsten Voss from the intelligence service in Hamburg. The operation only ended on Monday (13.12.2014).

The cultural center Rote Flora in Hamburg

This cultural center in Hamburg is threatened to be vacated, causing autonomists to protest

What has remained are images of left-wing activists who are ready to use violence and apparently mobilizing themselves nationwide.

Wolfgang Bosbach, a politician with the Christian Democratic Party (CDU), compared the incidents in Hamburg with the terror organization Red Army Faction (RAF), which had abducted and killed people in the 1970s.

"Fortunately, we’re still far away from terrorism à la RAF," Bosbach said in a newspaper interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau. "We just have to be careful that we don't slide into such a development. These things must be nipped in the bud."

Berlin political scientist Carsten Koschmieder rules out a new radical left-wing wave of terror. "There are absolutely no indications for that," he told DW. "The main difference between the radical left-wing scene today and the RAF back then is that their violence is not directed against people but rather against things that stand for something not compliant with their own political believes."

When stones are thrown at police cars in a demonstration, that is something completely different than when someone lures a police officer into a dark corner to carry out an attack, according to Koschmieder. "That has happened in Berlin before, but it remains an exception," he said.

Protests against the vacation of the cultural center Rote Flora in Hamburg

Often autonomists protests peacefully

Crime happens in waves

Voss offers an explanation for occasional left-wing extremist attacks on police officers. "The autonomists don't view police officers in armor equipment as people but as things," he told DW. "That's why they’re willing to use violence in extreme cases."

But Voss is also not alarmed by the violence of autonomists in the December riots. "What happened then can't be compared to the RAF; we are faced with another form of violence here," he said, adding that it is mainly violence directed toward things.

The recent violent scenes have been the most brutal riots since the protests of squatters in Hafenstrassein Hamburg’s St. Pauli district 26 years ago. But there is no indication that crime in general is increasing, according to Voss. "Criminal acts by left-wing extremists happen in a wave movement," he said. "Sometimes there are more criminal acts, sometimes there are fewer. But in the long run, they remain on the same level."

That, according to Voss, has to do with the fact that autonomists do not randomly commit criminal acts and that incidents at protests are integrated in statistics. "After a G8 summit, or after protests like the one in December in Hamburg, the number of cases obviously increases," he said.

Koschmieder points out that 1,000 smaller criminal acts can occur at the same time when, for instance, blockades occur," About 3,200 criminal acts with a radical left-wing background occurred in Germany in 2012, down 9 percent from the year before.

Number of autonomists stays the same

Protests against the vacation of the cultural center Rote Flora in Hamburg

After the riots in Hamburg in December, the police declared parts of Hamburg a danger zone

Over the past few years, only the attitude of the left-wing radicals has changed, argues Voss. "Before then, they consciously practiced violence against people," he said.

Ever since two police officers were shot at protests against a new runway at the Frankfurt airport in the 1980s, there has been a consensus that protests should not be violent - unless the opponents are neo-Nazis, according to Voss.

The number of left-wing radicals, he points out, has remained the same over the past several years. Germany has around 7,000 left-wing radicals willing to use force and 620 of them live in Hamburg.

Around 4,500 autonomists who are prepared to use violence participated in the December protests, according to Koschmieder. "That shows how the scene is linked nowadays," he said. "But I don't share the worry of some conservative politicians: There are problems with radicals. There have always been problems and there always will be."

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