It seems as though outbursts of violence on the streets of Leipzig have lately become increasingly frequent. Between the 22nd and the 24th of May, the district of Neustadt-NeuschĂ¶nefeld experienced three consecutive nights of mass brawls and stabbings involving 50 people after a dispute between two rival family clans. On June 14th Leipzig hit the national news after 50 hooligans stormed a pitch during an on-going game of football. Several players were injured, including former national player Mario Basler. Most of us remember the violence that regularly accompanied the Legida demonstrations, requiring the city centre to be turned into a fortress.
One particularly extreme instance of violence to be added to this list occurred on June 5th, when up to 100 hooded rioters rampaged the Federal Administrative Court (Bundesverwaltungsgericht), the US General Consulate and several tram stops with bricks and Molotov cocktails. These attacks were not the first of their kind. I spoke with Leipzigâ€™s Deputy Mayor for Internal Affairs, Heiko Rosenthal, about the reasons and the cityâ€™s planned response to the recurring violence.
Harald KĂ¶pping Athanasopoulos: Mr Rosenthal, can you briefly explain what happened on June 5th?
Heiko Rosenthal: There was an organised outburst of violence. 80 to 100 rioters headed from Clara-Zetkin-Park towards the city centre and set barricades on fire. After the police arrived and during their retreat, they demolished a bus stop, damaged several windows of the Federal Administrative Court, attacked policemen and destroyed a police vehicle. Just one person was actually arrested, not during the riot, but as part of another investigation.
HK: Where do you see the reasons for this outburst?
HR: Well, the person who was arrested was politically minded. Nevertheless, it is not possible to say that this individual belonged to a particular political party or a political group. There is thus a variety of explanations for this event, particularly as the perpetrators have not provided an explanation for their actions.
HK: Could you provide some details on the political orientation on the person who was arrested?
HR: That is hard to say. I cannot answer that.
HK: So you have no idea who the perpetrators are?
HR: There are people who say that we are dealing with left-wing extremists, and there are people who say that they might come from the opposite end of the political spectrum. Some argue that they represent a particular party. I cannot answer this question conclusively.
HK: Why was only one person arrested?
HR: That is something one would have to ask the police.
HK: But surely you must be unhappy about the ineffectiveness of the police operationâ€¦
HR: Well, I do find it hard, because itâ€™s the police that needs to justify how such excessive violence is possible on our streets. How do we respond to this? In my opinion, all of this shows that there is a lack of police, particularly of riot police.
HK: Do you think that stronger police presence might be part of the solution to this problem?
HR: Yes, basically, there is a need for more police in Leipzig. We need both a stronger police presence in the public as well as special rapid response groups. Yes, more police is needed. This includes the everyday public sphere, where the police are essentially absent.
HK: Do we also need more surveillance cameras?
HR: In this area we are dealing with a very stringent legal framework that limits the use of surveillance equipment in public spaces. However, since these cameras serve the purpose of following up criminal offences, I consider them a legitimate means of action against these kinds of events, given that all legal parameters are fulfilled.
HK: On July 12 an open letter was released on Indymedia where the supposed rioters claim responsibility for what happened. In this statement, reference is made to police brutality. In light of the excessive use of force against journalists during the Legida protests, how do you feel about this claim?
HR: First of all, there can never be a justification for violence against policemen and police property to express a political opinion. Furthermore, I have been at every single Legida protest myself. Maybe I havenâ€™t witnessed all relevant situations involving journalists, but I still felt what the atmosphere was like at these demonstrations. To be honest, I do not think that Legida is a very good example of police brutality at all, and certainly should not serve as a justification for attacks on police officers.
HK: Regardless, there must be reasons for what happenedâ€¦
HR: There are ways to find out what caused this event. One would probably have to ask the persons involved. I think a concrete statement about the motivations for this outburst might be a decent thing to do. This is the only way to enter into some kind of meaningful political dialogue to establish the origins of these problems, and to come up with proposals for improvement. The form of protest that was finally chosen by the rioters, which prevents communication, is certainly the least appropriate means to achieve change.
HK: There have been claims that Connewitz has turned into a paradise for left-wing extremists, that the police are essentially incapable of effective action in certain parts of the city. What do you think about that?
HR: Firstly, none of this is true. Connewitz is no harbour for left-wing radicals. Secondly, the police operates in Connewitz like in any other part of the city. There is no proof that the people who participated in this outburst are in fact from Connewitz. The police raid that was carried out last weekend was in fact targeted at a flat in Lindenau, which has little to do with Connewitz.
HK: So Leipzig has no problematic areas?
HR: There are certainly different areas with divergent socio-demographic profiles and differing unemployment and crime rates, but Connewitz is really just a normal part of Leipzig.
HK: Thank you for this interview.