How New Year’s Eve fireworks chaos sparked a racism debate in Germany

Following NYE celebrations that saw a death, fireworks-related hospitalisations, and dozens of arrests after revellers attacked emergency services, some conservative politicians have started blaming migration groups for the chaos.

How New Year's Eve fireworks chaos sparked a racism debate in Germany
NYE in Germany saw dozens of arrests after attacks on police and emergency services. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sebastian Willnow

What began as a debate over a fireworks ban has quickly become one on the state of racism in Germany.

German politicians have spent the last few days condemning attacks against Berlin emergency service workers in particular, which saw 145 New Year’s Eve revellers arrested for everything from firing flare guns at police cars, to throwing bottles at paramedics and firefighters.

While that has some politicians and calling for a ban on people buying or shooting off fireworks on New Year’s Eve, some conservatives are being criticised for suggesting that migrant groups are responsible.

READ ALSO: Germany debates fireworks ban after New Year’s Eve chaos

READ ALSO: Germany’s NYE celebrations marred by death, injuries and attacks

On Monday, Christian Democratic Union (CDU) MP Christoph de Vries tweeted one of the first such comments, saying: “If we want to fight against riots in our big cities and violence against the policy and fire crews, we have to talk about the role of people, phenotype: west Asians, darker skin type. To put it correctly.”

However what started as a viral tweet by one MP didn’t end there. Influential CDU MP and former Health Minister Jens Spahn told T-Online he was against a nationwide ban on fireworks because NYE violence tended to be clustered in neighbourhoods with high populations of people from migration backgrounds.

“It’s more about unregulated migration, failed integration and a lack of respect for the state instead of fireworks,” Spahn said.

German Police Society Head Rainer Wendt appeared to agree with Spahn. “Many emergency service personnel agree that groups of young men with a migration background are overrepresented in these riots,” he told Focus Magazine.  

Conservative newspaper BILD accused German politicians of “smearing the truth away” in migration.

CDU accused of trying to score political points

German progressive politicians hit back at the framing.

“The fact that colleagues from the CDU are using these incidents to instigate a racist discourse is probably due to the election campaign in Berlin and isn’t suitable for finding answers to these challenges,” Berlin Green MP Canan Bayram told Buzzfeed DE.

Berlin-Neukölln MP Hakan Demir called the debate “not good, but unfortunately typical,” accusing conservatives of using NYE as a chance to blame Germany’s ills on people with migration backgrounds.

He tweeted: “They are our young people. They were born here. So they are German young people. We can talk about higher penalties and a ban on fireworks. But we also have to talk about better political education, poverty and prevention.”

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German politician shot ‘through window’ of his home

A local Free Democrat (FDP) politician was shot at his home in Baden-Württemberg on Sunday. According to police, the shots were fired through a window.

German politician shot 'through window' of his home

An unknown assailant shot several times at a local politician at his home on a farm in Hattenhofen near Stuttgart on Sunday morning.

According to the local police and the public prosecutor’s office, the politician – named by the Südwest-Presse as FDP district councillor Georg Gallus junior – has undergone surgery, but his life is not in danger.

Initial reports from the police and the public prosecutor’s office state that the shots were probably “fired at the man from outside through a window”. Investigators have asked witnesses to come forward with any information.

Motives unclear

So far, it is unclear whether the shooting was politically motivated, or whether there was an entirely different reason behind the attack. As of Monday, there were no signs of who the assailant might be. 

A special commission is investigating possible links to other shootings in the region. On Friday evening, an unknown perpetrator fired shots outside a restaurant in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, injuring a man. There were also recent shootings by unknown assailants in Plochingen and Eislingen.

The local community of Hattenhofen has been left shocked by the attack. 

READ ALSO: UPDATE: Gunman kills six people in shooting at Jehovah’s Witness centre in Hamburg

“The people here are stunned and horrified, but they have also become pensive and frightened,” Jochen Reutter, the mayor of the community of about 3,000 inhabitants in the district of Göppingen, told DPA.

Göppingen’s District Administrator Edgar Wolff also expressed his “deepest concern and shock at this act of violence” in a letter to the members of the district council.

FDP faction leader Hans-Ulrich Rülke told the German Press Agency: “I am horrified by the terrible news” and said that his thoughts were with the local politician and his family.