I guess every place on Earth has some poignant historical association with a particular day in the year. For Dresden, capital of Saxony in Germany, that day is the 13th of February: on that day in 1945, most of the center of the Dresden was destroyed in an allied raid.
Now, for some reason, the annual commemoration of this event in Dresden has recently become the occasion for Europe’s largest neonazi demonstration (they call the demo a ‘mourning procession’). Why exactly, of all the places destroyed in Germany during WW2, Dresden has been singled out for this honor, I don’t know, but I suspect it might have something to do with the beauty of the original city (‘Florence of the Elbe’) and the special circumstances surrounding the Dresden raid. It is generally held that this particular bombing was a crime, and so mourning the destruction of Dresden might conceivably be unadulterated by considerations of German guilt and responsibility. I’m not German myself, but I can say that comparing pictures of prewar Dresden in all its baroque splendor with pictures of what remained immediately after the raid is enough to send you seeking solace from human folly in contemplation of your navel for the rest of your life. And that’s before even thinking about the fact that there were people living in that baroque jewel when the napalm firestorm struck.
But the point is that every year, on Feb 13, polite society stands aghast and powerless as thousands of neonazis hijack the occasion to push their own, uh, agenda—if you can call what they stand for (or rather, against) an agenda.
Well, this time round, things were different.
You may wonder why polite society can do nothing but sit around feeling aghast and powerless. Well, here’s where the whole thing starts getting kinky. See, according to German law and the German constitution (freedom of expression and association), the nazis have the right to form a political party and organise a demo. Personally, I think I can make a common-sense distinction, when it comes to granting constitutional rights, between those who go along with a general framework of mutual respect, and those who propose beating the shit out of foreigners. Now, of course, some will say that if you look at the official discourse of the NPD (that’s the political party associated with the nazi scene), there’s no mention of beating the shit out of foreigners, and indeed this is true. By the way, Mr German normal Joe, no nazi sympathiser, will nevertheless support their rights to political representation and to demonstrate, on the grounds that it’s better to have the nazis out in the open where everyone can see them than having them organise in the dark to overtake the country in one fell swoop. One hears this so often, I suspect this superb piece of reasoning is taught at school. I don’t see that either is better or worse, and it seems to me very strange to insist that one is very much more desirable than the other. Pending any conclusive evidence, I’d rather err on the side of criminalising nazism. Tellingly, contemporary German society enthusiastically errs on the side of criminalising leftism (see further down for typical examples) while propounding subtle arguments to justify protecting the nazis’ constitutional rights. But, etc…, etc…, you can go on with this whole discussion ad nauseam. I’m just setting the scene.
The point is that every year, the neonazi demo takes place on Feb 13 in Dresden, and the role of the police is to protect the nazis against—well not against polite society, obviously. The polite don’t mess with the police. Now, it so happens that every year an anti-nazi demo is organised, and these are the offenders against whom the police protect the nazis. So who are these impolite demo-poopers? The media call them various names, you can probably guess: radicals, extremists, along with a few made-in-Germany semantic red-herrings (amongst which my favorite is ‘Autonom’). So every year, polite society stands aghast and powerless, as this solemn occasion degenerates into riots between this leftist rabble and the brave police, defenders of the rights of the helpless nazis.
Now, of course, deep down, if truth be told, polite society doesn’t really like the idea of a nazi demo. So much so, that this year, polite society, rallying around CDU (that’s the major right-wing party) mayor of Dresden Helma Orosz, resolved to form a human chain to bar the nazis from the town center. Not only that, Saxony’s parliament passed a bill (proposed by the CDU faction and its junior partner the FDP faction) giving any town in Saxony (say Dresden, for example) the authority to refuse to grant the right to organise a demo, should past experience provide indications that holy public order could be threatened. Inexplicably, leftist factions of the parliament were critical of the new bill, arguing that it was unconstitutional, that the modalities surrounding its adoption had been suspect, rushed through as it had been before legal experts had had time to peruse it. Here’s a video of a Landtag (Saxon parliament) representative discussing these issues. Those leftists: always critical.
It must have come as a complete surprise to the architects of the new bill that as soon as it was passed, civil courts immediately used it to justify moving to thwart not the nazi demo, but leftist groups trying to organise the anti-nazi demo such as Nazifrei, raiding their offices, confiscating posters and shutting down the Nazifrei website. Officialdoodledum justification for this was that the call for a blockade of the nazi demo constituted an incitement to disturb public order, that sacred pillar of civilisation. They might as well have added that posters are a nuisance anyway, ending up defacing private property such as, uh, walls—and private property, as everyone knows, is the other sacred pillar of civilisation.
It must have come as an even greater surprise to said architects, that the NPD and the other nazi organisations, appealing to the highest administrative court of law in Saxony (Oberverwaltungsgericht in Bautzen), successfully pleaded for their right to demonstrate in Dresden in spite of the new law just in time for the Feb 13 demo. Life is really full of surprises.
So, to summarise, on Feb 13, 2010, the various players were positioned as follows: on the south side of the Elbe, the posh newly-rebuilt shopping-center-replete neobaroque old-city town center was going to be the scene of a touching CDU-sponsored human chain, to commemorate Dresden’s destruction and celebrate human goodwill and politeness in peace and quiet. Meanwhile, on the north side of the Elbe, the Neustadt side, the district where the punks and leftists hang out, the district where there’s still some life and a sense of community despite all the recent renovations and ensuing rent-hikes, forcing many of those damn leftists and alternative life-style Autonom types to go find somewhere else to live—uh, so on the north side, starting at the train station Bahnhof Neustadt, the nazi demo was to take place, between 5 and 7 thousand nazis expected from all over Europe. To protect the nazis, an impressive police contingent, several thousand strong. Protect the nazis? From whom? You remember: from those extremist radical fundamentalist vandalistic huns, the leftist organisations such as Antifa and Nazifrei, and all those normal Neustadt inhabitants who object to nazis marching through their streets. Now, of course, the new law had hindered the leftist war effort to a certain degree. However, you never know, life can be full of surprises.
And indeed. On Feb 13, a cold damp miserable day, temperatures around minus 5 (Celsius—no idea what that is in Fahrenheit, but basically it’s cold enough that if you go out to smoke, you smoke quick, and you get back in) anti-nazi demonstrators started arriving early, organised peaceful sit-ins at all major intersections around Bahnhof Neustadt (the train station, nazi demo rallying point), coordinated their effort, sending reinforcements where the police threatened to charge, protecting each other against groups of roving nazis, and held out, and held out, reconfigurating late in the day when the police tried to organise a different route for the nazis, and held out some more, and at the end of the day (5 p.m.), they won out: for the first time ever, the Dresden Feb 13 nazi demo didn’t take place. Official reason: the police would not have been able to guarantee their safety.
Interesting fact: early in the day the police decided to close all bridges across the Elbe in the town center, so that anyone wishing to support the blockade on the north side after posing on the south side would not have been able to do so.
The following Monday, for anyone relying on the mainstream media for information (admittedly not a desirable condition) it would have been difficult not to get the impression that the main event of the day had been the polite human chain on the south side, oh yeah and by the way, the usual trouble with extremists on the north side.