Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, is under political pressure to resign for stating inconvenient truths. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
In Communist East Germany, truth-telling involved risks. The penalty for it was often loss of one's professional career and social status, if not more. Today, challenging the state-approved narrative in Chancellor Angela Merkel's Germany can sometimes have similar consequences.
Germany's intelligence chief now faces the risk of losing his job for contradicting Merkel over what took place at recent demonstrations in the eastern German city of Chemnitz.
Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, BfV, has dismissed claims that right-wing gangs chased non-Germans during the late August demonstrations in Chemnitz, which were held after the fatal stabbing of a German by a group of migrants. That news flew in the face of Chancellor Merkel's repeated use of the charge of a "hunt on foreigners" in describing the incidents.
"We have video recordings of [people] hunting down others, of unruly assemblies, and hate in the streets, and that has nothing to do with our constitutional state," Merkel initially claimed after residents of Chemnitz took to the streets in reaction the deadly stabbing.
Merkel's statement echoed media reports that talked of demonstrators acting as "mob" and carrying out a "pogrom" and "witch hunt" against foreigners.
The authenticity of those reports has now been questioned by Maassen, who declared that there was "no reliable information that such pursuits had taken place." Maassen went a step further, accusing mainstream politicians and media of spreading misinformation to divert attention from the brutal murder of a 35-year-old German man, Daniel Hillig, by a group of immigrants, which spurred the demonstrations
"I share the skepticism towards media reports of right-wing extremists chasing down [foreigners] in Chemnitz," Maassen told the German newspaper Bild.
Maassen was not alone in his judgement. Michael Kretschmer, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and the premier of Saxony state, where Chemnitz is located, sided with the intelligence chief. "One thing is clear. There was no mob, there was no hunt and there was no pogrom in Chemnitz," Kretschmer said.
Kretschmer criticized the biased way in which funeral march and demonstrations in the eastern German city of Chemnitz had been portrayed by the media. He said it was "astonishing that those who are so far away have passed a particularly sweeping and harsh judgment on this city."
Since then, German media and politicians from mainstream parties have attacked Maassen for daring to deviate from the narrative in which the citizens of Chemnitz who protested the killing of a fellow resident at the hands of armed migrants were perpetrators of crimes, and the immigrants were somehow victims.
Stephan Weil, a Social Democrat and the premier of the state of Lower Saxony, charged that the intelligence chief's "comments fuel suspicion that he is protecting right-wing extremists."
Politicians from the Green Party and the Left Party are calling for Maassen to be sacked. "I don't expect any trustworthy assessments from Mr. Maassen any more," said Katrin Göring-Eckardt, the leader of the Green Party's parliamentary group. Katja Kipping, the chairwoman of the Left Party (successor of the East German Communist Party), said that Maassen was "not tenable in this position."
According to the domestic affairs spokesperson for Merkel's CDU party, Armin Schuster, Maassen "would answer parliamentarians' questions about his comments at special meetings the third week of September, 2018, including in front of a parliamentary committee that oversees Germany's spy agencies," Reuters reported. In these "hearings," politicians are expected to bring more pressure to bear on the intelligence chief, in an apparent attempt to make him recant his statements.
Maassen is not the only one in the crosshairs of politically-correct mainstream politicians. Rattled by the recent wave of protests against country's open-door immigration policy, establishment parties across the political spectrum are calling for the populist anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party (AfD) to be placed under police surveillance.
Thomas Oppermann, vice president of the German parliament, said "the refugee question divides society, and the AfD is riding ever more radically on this wave. That is why security services should be watching the collaboration between the AfD and neo-Nazis very closely."
Oppermann is specifically referring to the presence of AfD leaders at recent demonstrations in Chemnitz. According to German media reports, besides city residents, members of the Germany's neo-Nazi movement also showed up at some of those events.
The AfD distanced itself from the neo-Nazis present at the protests, many of which were organized over social media by grassroots groups. "It is naturally a problem with such events that the hooligans and right-wing extremists ride along," said AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland. "This, however, does not delegitimize the anger and the protest of the people of Chemnitz with respect to this crime."
Patrick Sensburg, the security spokesperson for Merkel's CDU and Armin Schuster, the homeland security expert for the party, similarly urged government to take measures against the AfD.
For her part, Chancellor Merkel doubled down on her allegations against protestors. "We saw pictures that very clearly revealed hate and thereby also the persecution of innocent people. One must distance oneself from that," Merkel said.
Apparently, the German public in large numbers disagrees. In the wake of the incidents, according to a recent opinion poll, the AfD has emerged as the third-strongest political force in Germany. With 17% popular support, the party trails behind only Merkel's Christian Democrats (31%) and the Social Democrats (18% .
In early September, authorities in the states of Lower Saxony and Bremen placed their regional chapters of Young Alternative, the AfD's youth wing, under surveillance citing "suspected ties to extremists."
Vijeta Uniyal, a journalist and news analyst, is based in Germany.