Doing Memory and Democracy

Right-wing violence does not only ‘affect’ those who are attacked on the basis of right-wing ideologies such as ‘race’, but society as a whole: every attack is always also an attack on democracy, as the ‘right of the strongest’ takes the place of democratic processes and structures. Doing memory of right-wing violence also serves to keep this fact in the consciousness of the majority in society.

This is what workshop participants are saying:

Violence is a natural part of the view of the extreme right. They see life as a perpetual struggle – and one must prepare for it. This is where the preference for the military and weapons originates – and the rejection of methods of peaceful conflict resolution.

Collective remembering rooted in a base narrative

Democracy, equal rights for all, human rights – the Federal Republic of Germany claims these values and principles for itself. The political culture of a society can be better understood through the concept of the ‘base narrative’:

The base narrative serves as the basis and as reference point for the constantly changing ideas about the past. It thus contains the prevailing and legitimised constructions of the past. In this way, it contributes significantly to society’s self-understanding and self-perception.

The core element of the base narrative in Germany is the history of National Socialism: the Federal Republic claimed a ‘successful’ reappraisal, the GDR defined itself as an anti-fascist state. After the unification of the two states, however, a wave of racist violence swept the country and politicians debated the restriction of the right to asylum.

The base narrative of the two German states either relegated racism to the past (above all to National Socialism) or located it outside their own nation. Racist and anti-Semitic violence was either depoliticised or classified as pathologically misguided – so that there was no confrontation with the continuity of racist structures and ways of thinking. The experiences of those affected were not taken into account.

The unification of the two German states led to a process of institutional forgetting: In the process, institutionally anchored lessons from National Socialism such as Article 16 GG (“Politically persecuted persons are entitled to asylum”) were relativised in their meaning and increasingly called into question in order to finally – as in the wake of the racist pogrom in Rostock-Lichtenhagen at the end of August 1992 – be able to substantially withdraw them.

More on the subject?

Thomas, Tanja/Virchow, Fabian (2018): Praxen der Erinnerung als Kämpfe um Anerkennung. Zu Bedingungen einer gesellschaftlichen Auseinandersetzung mit rechter Gewalt. In: Tina Dürr/Reiner Becker (Hrsg.): Leerstelle Rassismus? Analysen und Handlungsmöglichkeiten nach dem NSU. Frankfurt/M.: Wochenschau: 156-168.