‘Let the Hag Burn’: Rise in Attacks on Refugees Fuels German Debate on Racism

Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, August 16, 2015

A surge in xenophobic attacks and hate speech targeting asylum seekers in Germany is igniting a firestorm in the nation where the Nazis taught the dangers of intolerance.

Prominent personalities have condemned the attacks as well as a recent rash of public vitriol on social media and elsewhere. Anja Reschke, an anchorwoman for German public broadcaster ARD, for instance, touched off a national debate after an on-air commentary blasting refugee bashing. Soon after airing, the segment went viral, with 15 million hits and counting.

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The spot, she said in an interview with The Washington Post, provoked an outpouring of support–but also a flood of even fouler comments aimed at her.

“I received e-mails saying, ‘Let the hag burn’ and calling me a ‘negro-gypsy-whore,’ ” said Reschke, a white ethnic German. “And then there were the people who said, ‘Look, I’m afraid our race is getting polluted by all those evil people from the whole of Africa, but no, I’m not a Nazi.’ ”

As Europe faces a refugee crisis, Germany this year is set to accept a record number–more than 500,000. Yet Reschke’s commentary came as acts of aggression against refugee homes in Germany are rapidly rising, reaching 202 so far this year compared to 198 during all of 2014.

But it’s the fact that social media here is awash in ugly comments, many of them no longer anonymous, that spurred her to warn against the public acceptance of intolerance.

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Some German politicians appear to be fueling public skepticism. In an interview Thursday with German television, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said that a reduction in pocket money paid to refugees should be considered. He also suggested that while the regular benefits paid to refugees could not be legally reduced, some could potentially be replaced by non-cash benefits.

The German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung on Tuesday ran an article in reaction to a flurry of social media comments demanding to know how so many refugees could afford smartphones. It was not a luxury item for them, the paper explained, but a necessary tool to fulfill basic needs.

Instead of paying expensive roaming fees, asylum seekers were using free WiFi in public places to keep in touch with their families via free services like Skype, Whatsapp or Viber, it said.

Other politicians, however, are voicing alarm. Integration Commissioner Aydan Özoguz, in an interview with the daily Die Welt, said that Red Cross staff had been attacked last month as they sought to set up a tent camp to aid refugees in the city of Dresden.

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