The violent riots that engulfed the city of Hamburg during the G20 summit have prompted some deep soul-searching among ordinary Germans while provoking a wave of indignation among German politicians, who demanded a radical change of approach toward violent protests, as well as to left-wing extremism. Speaking to Bild, Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said “Germany’s image in the international community has been severely damaged due to the incidents in Hamburg" following three nights of violent clashes between the left-wing radicals and police in the German northern port city that hosted the G20 summit.
"All alleged political motives for this orgy of violence are full of deceit and should just serve as a disguise for the real motive of the offenders that [came] from all parts of Europe: violence in itself,” Gabriel blasted, perhaps not knowing that NYC Mayor de Blasio flew to Hamburg with the explicit "noble" intention of encouraging said group of protesters.
The minister also demanded the creation of an EU-wide special investigative committee that would launch an inquiry against all those involved in the violent riots in Hamburg. “A state governed by the rule of law must now demonstrate an ability to defend itself."
Echoing Gabriel, Germany's Justice Minister Heiko Maas also spoke about the necessity of an EU-wide response to outbreaks of left-wing extremism. He particularly demanded the establishment of the European information databank on extremists as well as more intensive exchange of data on extremists committing violent crimes. “We have faced a new form of violence, to which we should respond with enhanced cooperation in fighting extremists,” Maas told the German media on Monday in Berlin. He also vowed to employ a tougher approach toward violent extremists’ supporters. “Those, who support rampant violence will also have to stand trial,” he said, as cited by the Der Tagesspiegel daily.
Maas told German broadcaster NDR he backed creation of a "database of left-wing extremists", but said it could take a long time to set up. In the meantime, countries should at least exchange data about those convicted of violent acts, he said.
Also on Monday, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere compared the left-wing rioters in Hamburg to neo-nazis and islamic terrorists. "The brutality with which extremely violent anarchists have proceeded in Hamburg since Thursday is unfathomable and scandalous," de Maiziere told reporters. “Those were not demonstrators. Those were violent and felonious radicals,” the minister said during a press conference on Monday, adding that those who staged violent riots in Hamburg were “despicable, violent extremists just like neo-Nazis and Islamist terrorists.” He added that people who had thrown paving slabs from rooftops had essentially been "preparing attempted murder".
He also echoed Gabriel's words, saying that they have no right to use any political motives to justify their actions and expressed his hope that the German courts would pass “tough sentences” upon them. He went on to say that summits similar to the G20 would continue to be hosted in major German cities, despite any threats of violence from various extremists. “Any other approach would be a capitulation of the law-bound state,” the minister added.
Martin Schulz, the Social Democrat (SPD) challenger to Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany's national election in September, said the militants had acted like terrorists. He said the "marauding gangs" could not claim to have any political legitimacy for their actions, adding: "It had the characteristics of terrorism."
"Such small-minded skirmishes are the business of people who took a whole city hostage for their dim-wittedness in an almost terrorist manner," said Schulz, whose party is trailing Merkel's conservatives in the opinion polls.
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There were also mutual accusations among Germany's political parties, as many politicians focused specifically on the flaws of the existing approach towards left-wing extremism and violence in Germany by saying that this problem has long been neglected by the authorities.
The head of the Free Democratic Party (FDP), Christian Lindner, did not go quite as far as Maas' suggestion of a database of left-wing extremists, but demanded that extremists’ activities be “much more closely monitored” by the German domestic security service, the BfV, which is usually tasked with dealing with terrorist activities or far-right extremists. A member of the presidium of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, Jens Spahn, told Bild on Sunday that “the extent of left-wing extremism in Germany has been downplayed for years.”
If those were neo-Nazis who reduced Hamburg to “wreckage and ashes,” the public indignation would be rightfully big, he said, adding that “the left-wing fascists with their hatred and violence need just the same clear response.”
The politician also went further, accusing the Social Democrats, Greens and Left parties of deliberately downplaying the left-wing violence and “closing their eyes” to it. His words were echoed by CDU Secretary General Peter Tauber, who told Bild that “nobody would come to the idea of just tolerating far-right extremist centers” while, “in case of the left-wing extremist centers such as Rigaer Strasse in Berlin or the Rote Flora in Hamburg, people are often too reserved.”
“That must change,” Tauber added.
His words were echoed by Stephan Mayer, an MP from the CDU’s ally, the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) party, who said that the city authorities in Berlin and Hamburg “should no longer tolerate squatting by left-wing extremists and lawless zones in Rigaer Strasse and the Rote Flora.” Both places were squatted by left-wing groups after being abandoned years ago. Similar ideas were expressed by the head of the Federal Chancellor’s Office, Peter Altmaier, who said that the closure of the left-wing extremists’ centers would be a “test” for Germany.
“We should not tolerate any lawless zones,” he said, adding that the left-wing extremists consistently spread the idea that “damage to property is not that bad.” He went on to say that tolerating such ideas is a “grave mistake.”
In his Twitter post, Altmaier also compared what he called “repulsive extreme terror” in Hamburg to terror from right-wing extremists and Islamists. He also thanked Hamburg police for its efforts aimed at containing the rioters.
Linksextremer Terror in Hamburg war widerwärtig und so schlimm wie Terror von Rechtsextremen und Islamisten. Danke Polizei. Danke Hamburg.— Peter Altmaier (@peteraltmaier) July 8, 2017
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Police said almost 500 officers were injured during the protests, with 186 people arrested and 225 taken into custody.
As Reuters reports, some commentators have criticized Merkel's choice of Hamburg, a seaport with a strong radical leftist tradition, to host the meeting, saying her desire to demonstrate her commitment to freedom of speech had backfired.
To be sure, the chancellor also condemned the violence in her speech at the summit.
“I sharply condemn the rampant violence and unrestrained brutality the police was facing over and over again during the G20 summit,” she said at that time, adding that “there is not the slightest justification for looting, arson and brutal attacks.”
Merkel promised compensation to those who had property damaged. De Maiziere said he expected judicial authorities to pass tough sentences on the militants and added that breaching the peace could result in prison sentences lasting several years.