February 19, 2023 marked the third anniversary of the racially motivated terrorist attack in which the perpetrator murdered nine migrant people in the Hessian city of Hanau and then shot his mother, who was in need of care, as well as himself. This act is not an isolated case. On the contrary, it fits seamlessly into the German continuity of racism and misogyny. Our author reports on how society deals with this violence and on militant commemoration.
Gökhan Gültekin. Said Neshar Hashemi. Mercedes Kierpacz. Hamza Kurtović. Vili-Viorel Păun. Fatih Saraçoğlu. Ferhat Unvar. Kaloyan Velkov. Sedat Gürbüz. Gabriele Rathjen.
These are the names of the ten people shot dead by right-wing extremist Tobias Rathjen on February 19, 2020. Rathjen pursued a clear strategy when he committed his crime. He specifically sought out places that served as retreats for migrant people in Hanau. He observed these intensively before the attack. On the Internet, he spread right-wing extremist conspiracy theories and hatred against “foreigners”. At the time of the attack, the perpetrator was carrying several firearms, which he possessed legally.
On the evening of February 20, Rathjen shot and killed Kaloyan Velkov in the bar “La Votre”. He murdered Fatih Saraçoğlu on the street in front of the bar, then killed Sedat Gürbüz in his shisha bar “Midnight.” On his way to Rathjen’s third target, a kiosk, Vili-Viorel Păun stood in his way. Rathjen shot him through the windshield of his car and stormed into the kiosk, where he murdered Gökhan Gültekin, Mercedes Kierpacz and Ferhat Unvar. He killed Said Nesar Hashemi and Hamza Kurtović a few minutes later in the “Arena Bar & Café”. After the nine racially motivated murders, the perpetrator drove back to his apartment in Kesselstadt and committed femicide on his bedridden mother, and then suicide.
Hanau, Halle, Celle – these are not isolated cases
Again and again, fascist violence shakes us up.
The 1990s, also known as the “baseball bat years,” were characterised by a culture of open racism: the Hitler salute, combat boots, physical violence, arson attacks, murders – such as the one in Eberswalde in 1990 of Amadeu Antonio Kiowa, after whom the anti-racist victims’ initiative “Amadeu Antonio Foundation” is named. Thirty years after the German reunification, this ideology still sits deep in people’s minds. The far-right AfD won 27.5% of the vote in the 2019 state elections in Saxony. This means that more than one in four eligible voters actively represents a fascist worldview, or is willing to tolerate one.
Right-wing violence can also be identified and named in the last ten years.
In the anti-Semitic attack on Yom Kippur 2019 in Halle, far-right perpetrator Stephan Balliet armed himself and attempted to storm a synagogue, then shot Jana Lange and Kevin Schwarze. Balliet also openly shared his right-wing ideology on the Internet. Celle, Munich, Chemnitz – the list of “individual cases” is long and always follows the same pattern.
In the civic media, there is often talk of mentally ill lone-wolfs. Viewed in isolation, it is then very easy to distance oneself from these perpetrators. However, the fact that the misanthropic ideologies to which they refer, permeate all areas of society is ignored. Instead, politicians instrumentalise the acts for the enforcement of their own interests.
Thus the CDU politician Thorsten Frei, only two days after the attack in Hanau, said in an interview with the “Welt” that the Verfassungsschutz (Office for the Protection of the Constitution) should have the right to read online-chats. The conspiratorial world view of the perpetrator of Hanau was already known to the authorities long before the crime: Several times Rathjen filed charges against foreign intelligence organisations spying on and “psychologically raping” him.
Following the attack in Hanau, AfD politician Jörg Meuthen wrote on Facebook: “This is neither right-wing, nor left-wing terror, this is the delusional act of an obvious lunatic.” The insistence on this narrative prevents an enlightenment and change of the social structures in which fascist violence is reproduced again and again. Until the next attack.
Nazis murder, the state goes along with it. The NSU was not a trio
A racist continuity pervades all parts of German society. This also and especially affects state institutions. The “Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund” (NSU), the far-right terrorist group led by Beate Zschäpe, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, murdered people, planted bombs and spread racist ideas for thirteen years. In a confession video, they filmed the dead bodies of their victims and set this to cartoon music. The trio was monitored by the German domestic intelligence service for a long period of time and was initially not classified as right-wing terrorists. The files, which document the failure of the Verfassungsschutz were originally supposed to remain classified for 120 years until the investigative journalists of “Neo Magazine Royal” published them in 2022.
Police authorities and the Bundeswehr also pose a state-legitimized and tax-funded threat and direct violence. The racially motivated murder of Oury Jalloh in Dessau in 2005, who burned to death tied up in a police cell, the shooting of Halim Dener by a civilian policeman in Hanover in 1994, racial profiling, police violence at demonstrations, raids in migrant-dominated neighbourhoods designated as “problem districts”, deportations: As different as the forms are that structural discrimination takes within German authorities, the common denominator is racism.
And that this is a structural problem can no longer be denied, even with eyes closed. The right-wing extremist group “Nordkreuz“, founded in 2016 by a police commissioner, as part of the “Hannibal network“, which is largely composed of police and the Bundeswehr, planned a political coup and the murder of refugees, as well as people who are actively helping refugees get into Europe. Via text messages, they congratulate each other on Hitler’s birthday and spread right-wing propaganda.
Again and again, right-wing extremist chat groups of German police officers become public. The AfD uses hate slogans in internal chats as well. This doesn’t come as a surprise of course, but naming these facts is important to continuously make the dimensions of the systematic discrimination visible.
Thirteen of the police officers who were on duty in Hanau in 2020 on the night of the crime are also being investigated for right-wing extremist text messages. For three years now, relatives of the victims have been calling for an investigation into the police failure that night. On the website of the “Initiative 19. Februar Hanau” you can read in detail what the investigation committee has been able to find so far.
Racism is not solely a phenomenon of the extreme right. Even parties of the center, such as the neoliberal FDP, are not afraid to weigh the lives of people seeking protection against each other. Thus, refugees are only granted a right to exist as long as their labor power can be utilised within the capitalist system. “Skilled workers”, especially in the low-wage sector, are welcome in Germany – provided they subordinate themselves to the German “Leitkultur” and accept their role as second-class people who, without a German passport, are not entitled to participate in parliamentary democracy. People who flee to Germany without documented qualifications are met with more or less blatant rejection, depending on the party line. With the status of “toleration“, people are restricted in their freedom of movement, criminalized and live with the constant threat of deportation.
Femicides and intersectionality
Rathjen’s misanthropic acts are also part of another form of systematic oppression. In addition to a deeply racist worldview, the perpetrator held a misogynistic one as well. As part of the “incel” (involuntarily celibate) internet subculture, Rathjen was one of the men who imagined a legal claim to women’s bodies. In 2018, Rathjen threatened a prostituted woman, who then turned to the police. The investigation against him was dropped at that time. The perpetrator’s extended suicide, the femicide of his mother in need of care, also fits seamlessly into this ideology. The perpetrators, usually men, are convinced that a life without them is not worth living and make the decision to take the women in their lives to their deaths with them.
People who are repeatedly marked by society as non-neutral, i.e. as non-white, female, homosexual, disabled, migrant or otherwise, are particularly at risk at the intersection of the various forms of discrimination. It is therefore all the more important to bundle the different liberation struggles, to join forces and show solidarity with one another. This includes the willingness to reflect on one’s own privileges, as well as creating safe places for those who experience these multiple forms of oppression.
Associations and initiatives like Rosa, for example, offer women seeking refuge a mobile contact point, because they are exposed to a very high risk of experiencing sexualised violence. Local organisations must also work against all structural and systematic forms of oppression.
To remember is to fight
Grief has its place when people die, especially when we had a personal bond with them. And grief must not paralyse us. Remembering the deceased is not enough, if we do not draw any consequences from it for our future actions. On the contrary, a militant commemoration includes organising resistance by all people in solidarity, who work together to prevent a repetition of the events. Militant commemoration is a reminder and motivation: in the common struggles and in the common remembrance the memory of the deceased lives on.
So connect, pay attention to each other, be political and organised. Hanau is everywhere and we all bear the responsibility to fight for a society in which Hanau cannot be repeated.