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Germany's falling crime rates show the left should drop identity politics

AfD is a far-right party which has drawn a lot of strength over the past five years by banging on about how unsafe German streets have become.

lead lead lead 31 May 2018: Stephan Brandner, AfD MP, Alexander Gauland, leader of the AFD, and AfD MP Beatrix von Storch at a press cobnference. Kay Nietfeld/ Press Association. All rights reserved.Last year crime in Germany was at an all time low according to figures taken over the last quarter of a century. This is according to 2017 statistics released by the Home Office in Berlin.

Yet, one citizen in four is worried about crime. Over twenty million Germans don't feel safe in their own country, one of the most secure and orderly places on earth. Striking numbers. Especially in the context of the highest crime-solving rates ever.

Criminologist Bernd-Rüdeger Sonnen, professor of criminal law at the university of Hamburg, was asked by the Süddeutsche Zeitung why Germany is “such an anxiety-ridden Republik.” “A minority of people have had bad experiences. Fear is fuelled by talk down the local pub or through the media,” Sonnen answered.

The worst crimes are disproportionately reported. “If you're continually confronted with harsh criminality, a distorted picture takes shape and fear levels go up,” the criminologist explained. So, whereas certain popular media like the Bild newspaper keep talking of a Messer-Epidemie, or knifing epidemic, actual killings have gone right down. Whereas certain popular media like the Bild newspaper keep talking of a Messer-Epidemie, or knifing epidemic, actual killings have gone right down.

Statistics are always to be taken with a pinch of salt. When it comes to criminality, it's invariably difficult to depict the scenario at a certain moment in time. The newly published police stats include lots of suspects, but of course only courts have the last word.

Nonetheless, Germany emerged in 2017 as a country where ordinary people can be almost guaranteed their lives will remain peaceful. It was also last year when Alternative for Germany (AfD) entered the Bundestag for the first time. AfD is a far-right party which has drawn a lot of strength over the past five years by banging on about how unsafe German streets have become. It has won many votes from the centre-right, deemed as not being tough enough on non-white and non-Christian immigrants and actually guilty of inviting them in droves; but also, and crucially, from the left too.

Social Democrats are – once more – the government junior partners of the Christian Democratic Union party. The radical Left party is stable, but also condemned to irrelevance. By now, it's crystal clear that even if progressives were to find the right words to say that Germany is indeed – on the whole – a safe place, the scores of voters they need just wouldn't listen.

These crime stats are further evidence of a deep malaise inside the wider left-leaning movement. Not just in Germany. In the wake of Italy's recent general election which has spawned a government with marked xenophobic tendencies, La Repubblica newspaper asked Mark Lilla what the left should do to regain traction among the working class, the eroded natural basin. The Columbia University professor and New York Times political analyst has a strong opinion on this to offer.

The left ought to stop doing identity politics; it need not defend every single recrimination by all minorities; it must not justify their extremism or, from time to time, acts of violence. “It seems as if [US] Democrats are not interested in regaining power,” professor Lilla told Rome's daily on 3 June. “They are into cultural values. They demand that every little group be accepted for what they are. Meanwhile, Republicans keep lording it over us.”

Lilla thinks the right is more persevering; they've built a strong base over the past thirty-five years. They've listened to people from all over, even from the smallest of counties in the back of beyond. “All along, the left has focused on identity particular-isms; it doesn't have a strong project it can boast, nor a unifying story of our national history to tell. What's the point in being right on many specific issues if in the end it's your opponents running the country instead?” “What's the point in being right on many specific issues if in the end it's your opponents running the country instead?”

In both Europe and America fewer and fewer people believe in the left. Many, taken up by fashionable post-ideological arguments, don't even bother calling it by its name. If the right says your country is not safe any more, even when evidence tells you the opposite, there's a tendency to believe such a narrative. In the absence of a reliable alternative, this was always bound to be the case. No wonder AfD managed to get into parliament eight months ago. With 92 seats, it's even the largest opposition party. With the groundwork already conveniently laid out, the task didn't require much effort anyway.

About the author

Alessio Colonnelli has written for The Independent, Prospect, Foreign Policy, Politico Europe, Little Atoms, International Business Times, Aspen Review Central Europe, Labour List, Left Foot Forward and the LSE blog Euro Crisis in the Press. He's worked in London, Madrid and Barcelona in media and education, and holds a master's degree in languages and literary translation from Padua University, Italy. He blogs here.

Alessio Colonnelli ha trabajado en medios de comunicación y la enseñanza en Londres, Madrid y Barcelona, y tiene un grado/máster en idiomas y traducción literaria de la Universidad de Padua, Italia.


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