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Talking to right-wing extremists – is that possible?

Talking to right-wing extremists – is that possible?

Columnist Nicol Ljubic wants to end his life as an SPD figure – and become more active. The problem: As a comrade these days you almost need armor against right-wing extremist hostility at the election stand. And an idea how to counter.

Maybe armor would help, a knight’s armor made of metal plates with a cuirass, halter, bracers and greaves and gauntlets. Plus a helmet with a hinged visor. And instead of a coat of arms, the SPD logo.

Perhaps such armor should be part of the standard equipment for election campaigning comrades, alongside the information brochures and balloons that are available in the SPD shop. The knights from the SPD would definitely be an attraction in the upcoming European election campaign. The SPD, however, is (still) relying on other methods: instead of armaments, it is offering seminars.

Like the one I’m taking part in. It is titled: “Dealing with right-wing extremist hostility at the election campaign stand.” For this purpose, the Berlin SPD has invited the Mobile Advice Against Right-Wing Extremism. “Since 2001,” it says on their homepage, “the contact point for everyone who wants to become more confident in speaking and acting in the event of specific right-wing extremist, right-wing populist, racist, anti-Semitic or conspiracy ideological incidents.”

© Jens Oellermann

Nicol Ljubic

In October 2003, the young journalist Nicol Ljubic joined the SPD. He then wrote the book “Comrade Offspring” about his first year. How I wanted to change the world.” Like so many others, he became a dead file. Now, 20 years later, he asks himself: Is there still something going on between the two of us?

There are seven participants in this online seminar. After we have exchanged ideas about our experiences with right-wing hostility, we should answer the question of whether we feel prepared to confront the right-wing. A line can be seen on the screen, the right end marks a +, the left a -. If we feel well prepared, we should make a sign at +, otherwise at -. We all make our mark at -.

Bullerbü is over

I have never had to deal with right-wing extremist hostility at the election campaign stand, which is probably mainly due to the fact that I have only ever stood at an SPD information stand once and that was twenty years ago: in June 2004, shortly after I joined the SPD SPD. Back then, too, I had previously taken part in a training course, but the topics were “Eastern Expansion”, “Turkey” and “Europe as a Peace Power”. From today’s perspective, it was hard to imagine a time without the AfD, a political Bullerbü country. I remember the four of us standing at the SPD stand in front of the supermarket in my neighborhood, trying to get people excited about the SPD, which even back then was rarely successful. Most of them ignored us, some shook their heads and said “oh, no”, and one, to whom I explained that we were from the SPD, replied that he couldn’t help me with that either. There was no more hostility.

I wonder where all of today’s AfD voters were back then. What did they do?

In the seminar it quickly becomes clear that times are different today. I learn that it is not uncommon for comrades at the information stands to be insulted and literally besieged. That AfD supporters show up there, distribute AfD flyers and harass people who are interested in the SPD. One of the participants says that she always tries to understand the other side and often spontaneously doesn’t know how to answer in discussions. I know that only too well.

Not a great moment of persuasion

Recently, at the weekly market in my neighborhood (a neighborhood, by the way, whose residents like to vote green), I tried to motivate my neighbors to take part in a string of lights against hatred and agitation and for democracy. And then a saleswoman explained to me that she would be happy to forego such an initiative because we don’t live in a democracy anyway and that it was the AfD that stood for democracy because it was the majority of people give a voice in the first place. Then she mentioned the many refugees flooding our country and the schools that were in disrepair – and I was so stunned that I could think of little or nothing.

I said, “I don’t think we can get together.” And then I turned around. Not exactly a great moment of persuasion. I know.

It is the strategy of the right, as we learn in the seminar, to set topics, shift the discourse framework and make inhumane positions socially acceptable. The strategy also includes what the seminar leaders call “slogan hopping”. That means: Right-wingers mix up topics and come from a stick to a stick. And then we are presented with a typical conversation pattern: “I voted for you before. But now you’re just part of the establishment. You don’t do anything for us simple Germans anymore. But you throw everything at the refugees. Citizens’ benefit, child benefit, basic child support and what do I know. They probably can’t do well enough. And we honest hard workers are the stupid ones again.”

We also learn to recognize what we are dealing with: right-wing extremism is defined by the unequal value of people. The attempt to construct an ethnically homogeneous people in which the community comes before the individual. Through the desire for a strong leader. And by accepting violence.

This is how you can counterattack

I realize that the seller at the weekly market did exactly that: slogan hopping. From democracy to refugees to schools. Next time I’ll know how to react. I could point out the pattern to them. I could say: “You jump from topic to topic. Please stick to one thing.” I could ask her how it could be possible to vote for the AfD even though, as she described it, we lived in a dictatorship? I could also say: “I have the feeling that you are parroting slogans, do you have your own thoughts?” Then, I find out, it often becomes very quiet. And if nothing works, ending the conversation is always an option. If things get too intrusive at the stand and the right-wingers besiege us, we can also call the police.

Unfortunately I can’t stay until the end. The seminar lasts three hours and overlaps with my department’s board meeting. An SPD event hopping that I have to get used to. There is a lot to do in the party. Nevertheless, I leave the seminar strengthened and feel at least a little better prepared for the election campaign. And the fact that Democrats have to arm themselves against right-wing hostility says a lot about the times in which we live. Maybe it really isn’t that far away from armor.

Source: Stern

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