Moving TogetherThe Colonisation of Eastern Germany by the Far Right
Craig Stennett explores the latest social media tactic adopted by Germany’s neo-Nazi groups
Zusammenrücken (‘Moving Together’) was established in Germany last February. It operates primarily as a Telegram channel and internet platform, calling on the far-right faithful to relocate en masse from western Germany to the southern states of the former East Germany (the German Democratic Republic (GDR)) – which, post-unification, is referred to as central Germany.
The logic for this relocation is simple. “A high proportion of foreigners in west Germany makes it biologically impossible to reach broad sections of the population – these regions are ultimately lost,” Michael Brück, a 31-year-old far-right activist, said on Telegram.
Dr Floris Biskamp, lecturer at the University of Tübingen, who co-ordinates the university’s doctoral programme on Right-Wing Populist Social Policy and Exclusionary Solidarity, told Byline Times: “The Telegram group is clearly a project of right-wing extremists and neo-Nazi activists. This becomes clear both from the biographies of those people involved as well as the language they use.
“In principle, the strategy of settling in the east is not new. Since the reunification of 1989-90, neo-Nazi cadres from western Germany have repeatedly moved to eastern Germany because they hoped to have good mobilisation opportunities there. In fact, parts of the high prevalence of right-wing extremism in eastern Germany can be blamed on this western German colonialism.”
However, Dr Biskamp identifies a new frankness to the far-right’s political position: “What seems new to me about the current approach is above all the openness with which west Germany is being abandoned.”
Katharina König-Preuss has been a Die Linke (‘The Left’) party politician in the Thuringian State Parliament since 2009. Thuringia became part of the GDR in 1949. König-Preuss was a member of the interior committee of Thuringia’s inquiry into the National Socialist Underground (NSU) – a neo-Nazi terrorist group to which the murder of nine immigrants, the murder of a policewoman and the attempted murder of her colleague, the 1999 Nuremberg bombing, bombings in Cologne in 2001 and 2004, and 14 bank robberies have all been attributed.
Germany’s Attorney General is on record describing the NSU as “a right-wing extremist group whose purpose was to kill foreigners and citizens of a foreign origin”. König-Preuss has herself been targeted and physically assaulted on several occasions for her determined activities against the far-right.
Sitting in the market square of Jena, Thuringia’s second-largest city, she explains: “In the last several years we have had some of the fascists’ oldest and highest-ranking individuals moving into Thuringia – and these are just the ones we know about. We have known fascists like Tommy Frenck saying on Facebook ‘come to the east we’ll support you, we’ll find you jobs and accommodation. It’s a white area and it’s cheap and we are already all here’.”
Frenck, 34, owns an inn near the Veßra Monastery in southern Thuringia. In 2017, he organised one of Europe’s largest right-wing rock concerts in the area. He also has the distinction of having a tattoo on his neck reading ‘Aryan’.
“From the mid 1990s and beginning of the 2000s, the fascists began buying-up properties here,” König-Preuss told Byline Times. “They are moving to where they believe they can get support and they have developed structures for their mutual assistance. Chemnitz is a good example, because of Michael Brück’s recent move to the city. There are more here than we know about.”
At the end of 2020, the well-known far-right activist Brück relocated from Dortmund in western Germany to Chemnitz in the east. He is employed by the law firm of Karl Martin Kolmann, who in turn is head of the municipal political party Pro Chemnitz.
Since the end of 2018, Pro Chemnitz has been monitored for its suspected right-wing extremist activities by the Landesamt für Verfassungsschutz Sachsen, an internal domestic intelligence agency tasked with the observation and surveillance of anti-constitutional activities.
In August and September 2018, Pro Chemnitz organised demonstrations which became known as the ‘Xenophobic Riots’, whereby people with dark skin or of a foreign appearance were attacked on the streets of Chemnitz.
In the centre of Chemnitz, under the gaze of the huge statue of Karl Marx which dominates Brückenstrasse, just adjacent to the main shopping area, Anne Winkel arrives and parks her bicycle in front of Marx’s towering head.
Winkel, who works for a state-funded but independent advisory office against the extreme-right, is taking me on a mini-tour through the inner city, ending at the spot where the Xenophobic Riots were sparked.
“When the riots happened, I was not completely surprised,” she says. “You could feel some tension bubbling beneath the surface here. It’s important to remember that the Nazi scene is very well connected, not just in this city but regionally, nationally and internationally. In Chemnitz, you find a lot of the pre-existing structures that have made it possible for the far-right to mobilise.”
Indeed, Brück has outlined his strategy for the appropriation of Chemnitz: “Attack the area and enforce the neighbourhoods” for they are receptive to “right wing positions”.
However, Winkel is not convinced that Chemnitz will fall to the far-right.
“Since I’ve moved here, the city has become more vivid on a cultural and creative level,” she told Byline Times. “Young people can see that Chemnitz has possibilities for a vibrant cultural and sub-cultural scene. Yes, sure, the right give easy answers to problems. The city is definitely an attractive place for Nazis and many of their beliefs and positions have entered the mainstream of people’s attitudes here since 2015. But, if the question is ‘will Chemnitz become another Nazi Kiez [neighbourhood]?’ then my answer is – I don’t think so.”
But Dr Floris Biskamp has a more sombre analysis. “If they now concentrate in areas which already feature many right-wing extremist activities, there is a threat of further radicalisation of public discourse in these regions, where nationalism and hatred are already omnipresent,” he says.
“One should not be mistaken: those who are moving to eastern Germany, allegedly or in reality, are highly radicalised activists willing to commit violence.”