The New Year’s Eve events in Germany have had a predictable effect in Hungary. As usual, Hungarians are divided on the issue. The majority, those who were against immigration in the first place, feel justified, while the minority tries to find some sensible explanation for what happened.
Giving an accurate summary of the events is not an easy task in light of the conflicting reports released by the police and contradictory comments by German politicians. The numbers of incidents reported to the police are also changing constantly. By now, police have received 516 complaints in Cologne alone. And the number of assailants varies from a few hundred to a thousand.
Although we know that Cologne was not the only place where these events occurred, most of us have no idea about the other locations or the number of victims. I found a good summary, from which I learned that police received 50 criminal complaints in Hamburg, 39 of which were sexual in nature; in Stuttgart two 18-year-old girls were surrounded and groped by a group of about 15 men; eleven women filed criminal complaints in Düsseldorf; and in Frankfurt there were seven criminal complaints, including the case of three women who were surrounded by a group of 10 men and “massively” groped. In addition, some reporters include the rapes of two girls that took place in Weil am Rhein, close to the Swiss border. These rapes, however, were not part of the events on the streets of Germany’s larger cities. Two girls were gang raped by three or four Syrian young men at a party in the apartment of one of the men.
The Cologne police were incompetent, starting with their total absence from the streets where the revelers were celebrating the coming of the new year. Even under normal circumstances one expects them to be there, but given the threat of terrorist attacks in several European countries, including Germany, their absence is really unforgivable. The second problem was that the story broke only three days after the events. Although most people blame the delay on mistaken notions of political correctness, which may or may not be the case, I’m astonished that attacks on hundreds of people by as many as one thousand men could be kept quiet for that long.
By January 7 the police were convinced that finding and convicting the perpetrators would be very difficult, given the time that had elapsed. Witnesses believed that they were men of North African and Arab appearance. Police at that point called attention to earlier “criminal gangs that operated in strength for several years in the area, turning it into a place many Cologners avoid after dark.” They are locally known as antänzer (waltzers). They snuggle up to their victims, twisting a leg around them. As the result the victims lose their balance. A few seconds later their wallets or cell phones are missing. If, however, the attackers were newly arrived refugees, they couldn’t have known about the tricks of these organized gangs. And indeed, at this point the police announced that they had no knowledge of who the perpetrators were.
During the next three days the Cologne police identified a total of 19 suspects, all foreigners. But what is interesting is that these people were not from Cologne but travelled there from other German cities. As of yesterday, police believe that the suspects came from North Africa.
The other issue on which no consensus exists among police officials and politicians is whether these simultaneous attacks were organized. On the basis of secret police reports, Bild am Sonntag claims that the North African groups organized the attack on Cologne online. Heiko Maas, Germany’s minister of justice, shares that widely-held opinion, which most likely is correct. The most revealing statement came from Holger Münch, head of Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office, who said that “the same conditions were in place at different locations…. I’m not saying that there was no organization, but it is not organized crime. That would have a different quality for me. We would be talking about … hierarchical groups.” However, “what we see here is perpetrators communicating with each other and making arrangements.” So, in brief, gangs organized the attacks online. This is a very different story from the generalization that men from Muslim countries, because of their cultural differences, are unfit to live by European rules and to learn that in their future home men and women have equal rights.
Reaction from the extreme right was swift in Cologne and elsewhere. A rogue band of “bikers, hooligans and bouncers” organized a “manhunt” on Facebook before attacking a group of Pakistanis in Cologne. Two Pakistani men needed hospital treatment after being attacked by 20 vigilantes. Soon enough a 39-year-old Syrian national was assaulted by a group of five people.
But the worst anti-migrant violence occurred in the Connewitz section of Leipzig, where police arrested 211 far-right extremists. While they were smashing windows and setting several cars on fire, members of the xenophobic group LEGIDA, the local version of the Dresden PEGIGA, marched, demonstrating against the asylum seekers. Supporters of Viktor Orbán can rejoice. Among the posters they carried was one that read “Köszönöm—1956, 1989, 2015.” Meanwhile, five police officers were injured. Leipzig politicians were shocked. The general secretary of Saxony’s Social Democrats, Daniela Kolbe, wanted to know “how can it be that a mob of 250 violent Nazis can rampage through Connewitz without the intelligence agency warning of this danger beforehand?”
While LEGIDA members demonstrated in one part of the city, thousands of Leipzigers also turned out in the rain yesterday in opposition to LEGIDA. The gathering was organized by a broad coalition of trade unions, churches, NGOs, and businesses such as Porsche and BMW, who had called on citizens to form a human chain around the city center to demonstrate against LEGIDA.
I should also mention something the Hungarian media doesn’t report: A survey was conducted by Forsa, a polling group, for RTL Television, which showed that 60% of respondents saw no reason to change their attitude toward foreigners after the assaults. About 37% said they viewed foreigners more critically. In any case, as of today, Germany’s laws concerning deportation will be tightened. “Any custodial sentence for crimes against another person’s bodily integrity, including sexual assaults, as well as violent thefts, would be grounds for deportation.” Meanwhile, let’s hope that calm can be maintained and far-right, neo-Nazi groups restrained.