On December 19 in Berlin, a man hijacked a semi-truck after killing its Polish owner and drove into a crowd at a Christmas market, killing 12 and injuring many more. The assailant, Anis Amri, mimicked a similiar attack that claimed the lives of dozens in Nice during Bastille Day celebrations last July.
Amri wound up dead after a confrontation with Italian police, 1,000 miles away from where he barreled a stolen truck into throngs of unsuspecting revelers participating in the German tradition of public Christmas markets.
In the wake of December’s terror attack, Germany has been rife with debate over its security apparatus. Since WWII, Germany has prided itself on an even temperament that created safe space for minorities while promoting liberty of thought and expression. As Der Spiegel puts it, Germany’s collective political consciousness in recent history has focused on “a cosmopolitan, pluralistic society that allowed substantial freedoms to all lifestyles and mindsets, even those that were extreme.”
As terror attacks increase in frequency across Europe and far-right political parties and populists take advantage of the public’s fear, however, these tendencies may be in for a shake-up. Angela Merkel’s interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, recently penned an op-ed calling for greater centralization of intelligence and policing. He wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:
We don’t have federal jurisdiction to deal with national catastrophes. The jurisdiction for the fight against international terrorism is fragmented.…The security of the state must be able to be controlled by the state.
Immediately following de Maizière’s call for centralized power, however, resistance popped up across the political spectrum. After the terrors of Nazi rule and the subsequent Communist control over East Germany, the country has had little stomach for a powerful, centralized security apparatus, evidenced through its federal structure that spreads the responsibility for policing across nation-wide and state-level agencies.
There is some speculation that de Maizière’s response is an attempt to quell voices on Germany’s radical right, embodied by the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany Party (AfD). The appearance of parties like AfD across Europe has heightened concerns that such reactionary forces could gain power – especially worrisome considering that many of these parties trace their origins to neo-Nazi parties of the 20th century.
Whatever the course taken, there are hard questions that must be answered. One particular area of concern is the treatment of asylum seekers who are refused residency. What some have chalked up to a humanitarian gesture, those denied permanent or temporary status are seldom forced out of the country, and are tacitly permitted to stay.
Striking a balance that protects citizens, honors the law, embraces refugees who have lost everything, and stamps out anti-social political voices is difficult but necessary. Without such an approach, the future is bleak.