Berlin is a city celebrated for its artistic vanguard, cultural diversity and liberal “openness”. Its image is maintained by a glut of art shows, gay parties and a love of Sahara Imbiss. But as racist rhetoric, Islamophobia, xenophobia and far-right politics continue to propagate, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Berlin is no safe haven. Only a little over a month ago, AfD, Germany’s first openly nationalist far-right party since the Nazis, garnered 12.6% of the vote in the German parliamentary elections. They now occupy 96 seats in the Bundestag, making them the third most popular party after CDU and SPD. Most surprisingly, Berlin’s percentage of AfD Votes was at 12%, nearly on par with the rest of Germany. We are no liberal island and it is time to do something about it.
Local organisation Artists Without a Cause are quick to highlight the fact that the recent election result is not a shock to people who live as a member of a minority in Germany. “Racism, sexism, queer-antagonism and ableism have been present in Germany for hundreds of years, and this has manifested in different ways. This current chapter is but the newest form it’s taken”, they told us. AWAC is an non-profit organisation “creating, researching and supporting collaborations of arts and activism internationally”. The group, made up of artists and activists, have been a part of many projects including “White Guilt Clean Up”, “Politaoke” and most recently, Wählen Gegen Rechts (which translates to “Vote Against the Right”). After discovering that 28.5% of eligible German voters didn’t vote in the 2013 elections, Artists Without a Cause created the Wählen Gegen Rechts campaign to encourage “people to use their vote as active resistance against a national political shift to the Right, against the AfD’s rise to power, and against the normalisation of the far-right in our society”. Post-election, the team is “shifting [their] energies to community-focused projects about resistance, empowerment of and solidarity with marginalised groups”. We talked to Diana Arce, Nine Yamamoto-Masson and Tina Lee about how you can combat the growing Right and be an active ally to those who are possible targets.
All statements are written in a collaborative effort by several members of Artists Without A Cause: Founder Diana Arce, Co-Director Nine Yamamoto-Masson and Tina Lee.
Be active always, where it is visible, and where it is not.
Solidarity and political action should not be reserved for the visible; it should also factor into everyday things. For people not directly targeted by the right-wing — artists, curators, organisers, educators, media platforms and institutions — we need to share our resources, open our doors, make space, stop being so fragile and listen. We need to make sure that more diverse voices can be heard and participate in cultural life and knowledge production without having to struggle so much harder than people whose well-being is not a direct target of the Right.
We should be more open and aware about the fact that we are living in a society already that creates a sub-class of members with fewer rights based on their religion, gender, sexual orientation and migration status. This already exists, and the AfD wants to strengthen and weaponise it. We need to be able to honestly grapple with the failures of the current system if we want to fight back against the starker, more discriminatory version that parties like the AfD want to institute. Defending the status quo is not going to help us fight back against groups that simply want the status quo spelled out in black and white.
Pay minorities for their emotional, physical, personal or intellectual labour. Make sure they are willing participants without exploitation or expectation.
It is likely that some artists, curators, organisers, educators, creative media platforms and institutions are targets of the AfD and growing right wing, on grounds of their identities and intersections. If they are Black and PoC, queer, differently abled for example they should not be asked to be doing even more work right now educating people with more privilege for free.
Center the voices of people of colour (PoC), and actively listen to them even when you are in disagreement.
There is an inherent problem in Germany already with the need to push issues of race to outside places – often looking at this issue as something imported from abroad. Germany also looks at PoC as foreigners regardless of how long they’ve been here, whether they were born here, etc. On the whole, in Germany PoC can only have voice and space conditionally, if they are good, docile, agreeable tokens – willing poster children for the “Multi-Kulti” saccharine discourse, or willing projection surfaces. But outspoken people of colour who address structural racism in Germany are very swiftly sidelined.
Question the narratives mainstream media are pushing.
Unfortunately, this is a worldwide trend and additionally a sign of how well these political parties and right-wing groups are globally networked. Far-right movements present themselves as ground-up, but in reality they are financed by a handful of ultra-wealthy donors and employ similar tactics and strategies in each country. For instance, UKIP, Donald Trump and the AfD all employed the same ruthlessly racist advertising agency, Harris Media, for their campaigns. The Leave campaign and Trump both used data firm Cambridge Analytics to target swing voters – a firm partly owned by Robert Mercer, the billionaire who bankrolls far-right propaganda site Breitbart. The AfD, Austria’s FPO and Switzerland’s SVP share the same Swiss PR firm, Goal AG, according to Lobby Control. And all of these parties have met with each other on several occasions. This didn’t happen overnight. While these groups work together internationally and support each other, they would never have achieved success without exploiting already-extant racial anxiety and xenophobia.
This hasn’t come from nowhere. Remember, acknowledge and learn from the past.
The “current state” in Germany is nothing new – it’s a historical continuation of the past few hundred years. Racism in Germany didn’t “start” in 2014 with PEGIDA. Racism in Germany didn’t “start” in the 1930s. The Berlin conference, which took place in Berlin in 1884–1885, gathering leaders of European colonial nations, marked the climax of the violent “Scramble for Africa” – dividing the territories and people of Africa up like a cake.
Murders and bomb attacks by the heinous, racist NSU (National Socialist Underground, far-right German terrorist group) happened far before Brexit and Trump: between 2000 and 2006. The German state and media not only failed multiple times in investigating and covering the crimes, but also blamed the victims and their communities themselves. The racist riots and neo-Nazi terrorism of Rostock happened in 1992 – there are countless other such examples.
The so-called “refugee crisis” offered an opportunity to weaponise already existent fear of “others” and economic anxiety about globalisation. The way the German media, BAMF and politicians criminalised Roma “refugees” (many of whom were employed EU migrants) and accused them of being welfare tourists, set the stage for the perception of refugees today. They are portrayed not as people escaping war zones, but criminals coming to exploit the welfare system. This misrepresentation allows Germans to avoid remembering their own painful history, and not feel guilt for their own role in the conflicts wrecking the Middle East and North Africa. It also results in a tightening of the social welfare state, the effects of which will be felt not only by refugees and “others”, but by all levels of German society, especially those most vulnerable.
If we don’t look at this present moment in context we will never understand it – the present moment is a logical continuation of German and European history.
Encourage broader, more thoughtful conversations, which take in the full scope of the political situation rather than let the far right dominate the discussion.
The German media and political parties spent ALL of their time talking about the right-wing agenda. The debate between Merkel and Schulz focused solely on the AfD manifesto. There is no discourse on improving society or the lives of the people who need the most in this country. It’s in the best interests of everyone who disagrees with this to do everything in their power to show that there is a better way, and to stand up for those who are being marginalised. If art or creativity is our thing, we should try to use it. If we don’t have time but have money, we should support those who are fighting against this.
Recognise that we have the power to fix it. It’s not inevitable that the far-right dominates the media and political landscape. It’s not evitable that they win elections. The potential energy of the forces against xenophobic populism are huge and have yet to be fully tapped into.