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"People can't even hear the word democracy anymore"

Uwe Lottermeier, head of the police department in Sebnitz, already has the images in mind that could probably be seen again this fall in the Saxon Switzerland region.

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"People can't even hear the word democracy anymore"

Uwe Lottermeier, head of the police department in Sebnitz, already has the images in mind that could probably be seen again this fall in the Saxon Switzerland region. The Torches. The drumbeat. The angry "walkers" roaming the streets. During the Corona period, these Monday demos took place regularly.

"Even back then, we experienced this non-verbal violence on the street," says Lottermeier. But things will get even worse this year, the district manager fears. The AfD calls for a “hot autumn” of protests. The left also wants to mobilize large demonstrations against the high energy prices. The signs point to a storm.

"I'm scared of what's coming," says forest ranger Annette Schmidt-Scharfe. She worries that things will get as bad as in the refugee year of 2015, when those from Sebnitz, who were committed to helping refugees, were openly threatened. Or like in the Corona period, when she hardly dared to go out on the street because she was mercilessly attacked with her forest office badge as a representative of the state.

Many in Sebnitz simply have no trust in the state, says the forester. "People can no longer even hear the word democracy." In the most recent federal election, the AfD got almost 40 percent of the votes here.

She has often asked herself whether she should move away from the small town in Saxony. Or do something. Schmidt-Scharfe decided to stay. And so, on this Monday afternoon, she is sitting with the other people from Sebnitz who want to oppose the right-wing extremists in the meeting room of the "Civil Courage Campaign". A coalition of citizens who want to save the sense of community and togetherness in Sebnitz.

The civil courage campaign was founded in the late 1990s as a reaction to attacks by right-wing extremist skinheads in Saxon Switzerland. She is involved in social education work in the federal state. A year ago, the association joined forces with the municipalities of Sebnitz, Bad Schandau and Hohnstein and the security authorities to form a partnership for democracy.

Federal Family Minister Lisa Paus (Greens) stopped by on her summer tour to find out more about the project that her house is promoting through the "Living Democracy" program. “It is important to create a level in order to be able to talk to each other again. That often doesn't happen anymore," says Thomas Kunack (free voters), the mayor of Bad Schandau. A lot of trust has been lost in the past. "I expect from Berlin that we get stronger backs."

Daniel Brade (SPD), the mayor of Hohnstein, says that many people have already internally said goodbye to the democratic community. "It's going to be an uphill battle to shoot that again," he says. "We need help, I freely admit that."

Sebastian Reißig, managing director of the civil courage campaign, fears that the protests will intensify further. After all, this time the crisis is not only taking place in the mind, but is actually affecting existence. "People are at their limit. When gas prices double or triple, people take to the streets.”

A keyword that the family minister is happy to jump into.

She promises that the federal government should relieve the burden on people who are threatened existentially. "Nobody should be evicted from their apartment because they can't pay for electricity and gas." In the talks about a third relief package, she wants to support poorer families and low-income earners, who are more severely affected by inflation. "I am confident that thanks to our relief packages we will get through the winter together and that most people will not be taken in by the right-wing agitators."

And Paus has another message for the committed citizens of Sebnitz. The Partnership for Democracy they have formed will be able to count on continued support in the future. Because together with Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD), Paus wants to introduce a democracy promotion law before the end of this year, which will put projects to strengthen democracy and prevent extremism on a legal basis.

This is the first time that a legal mandate has been formulated for the federal government to maintain and strengthen civil society commitment in this area, says Paus in Dresden. There she visits the Network for Democracy and Civil Courage, which trains young people nationwide to organize project days on democracy, racism and anti-Semitism in schools as multipliers.

In the past, the limited funding in the “Living Democracy” program had repeatedly led to initiatives having to give up their work. In the future, structural and longer-term funding should also be possible. In return, the Federal Government must submit a report on the effectiveness of the measures to the Bundestag once in each electoral term.

"Let's not fool ourselves: The opponents of democracy are currently trying to use the current crisis for their goals and to sow doubts about our political system," said Paus. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has only just pointed this out again.

But there are also people who are committed to democracy and diversity with full conviction and all their strength. "We must continue to support this commitment, especially in view of increasing social tensions and growing threats to our democracy."

Of course, people's existential fears must be taken seriously. The right to demonstrate should not be restricted either, says Paus, referring to the warnings of a "hot autumn". "However, the experience from the Corona period shows us that you have to be careful who you take to the streets with and whether you really share the demands and goals of others."

Right-wing extremist groups in particular are currently trying to exploit the fears and concerns of people in the crisis. “If you give the right a stage for attacks on our democracy, then a limit has been crossed. Our democracy must remain defensive.”

The meaning of these words became painfully clear during the last program item of the trip, a visit to the mobile victim advice center of the association “Together” in Halle. Since 2001, she has been supporting those affected by right-wing extremist attacks. This reached a cruel culmination in the right-wing extremist attack in Halle on October 9, 2019. The believers who had gathered in the synagogue on the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur were spared the attack thanks to a functioning security door - a passer-by and a visitor to a kebab shop were killed.

After the attack, the resistance of the then ruling Union against the Democracy Promotion Act began to falter. So now the way is clear.

"Kick-off Politics" is WELT's daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music or directly via RSS feed.

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