By Noah Stewart

Whenever I open the news, I feel like I am bombarded by negative stories of suffering and
injustices around the world. While it is important for us to be aware of these issues and form an
opinion on them, it is also easy to finish reading them feeling powerless and insignificant.
However, as a community of Christian Scientists, we have the power of supporting those places
and mankind as a whole through our practice and prayers. That is why I end each Crisis
Spotlight with the introduction of Christian Scientists who live in the regions affected and a
discussion of what they have done to address those issues through their practice of Christian
Science.


You might have recently read a headline similar to the following: German city declares ‘Nazi
Emergency.’ This news, which was reported by outlets around the world, happens to have
originated in my hometown of Dresden, Germany, a mid-sized city in the state of Saxony.
Recently, the city council declared a “Nazi Emergency,” citing increased “anti-democratic, anti-
pluralistic, inhumane and extremly right attitudes and acts of violence,” as the German
newspaper Die Zeit reports. While the situation sounds threatening and dangerous, it is
important to understand the context in which they were expressed and what they are
addressing.


To better understand the developments that lead to this decision, we need to look back at
Dresden’s history. The Second World War and the Nazism that caused it came to a striking end
in Dresden when the city was completely destroyed by Allied bombers on February 13, 1945.
Since then, locals have felt a particular pride for their city, in part driving its reconstruction from
1945 – 1990. While this period returned the Dresden skyline to its former glory, it also had the
effect of extreme seclusion from the rest of the world, exposing East Germany and Dresden to
much less development and intercultural exchange than West Germany. This had a significant
effect on the population which local, state, and federal lawmakers have been forced to address
since reunification in 1990.


One of these effects is the increased support of far-right groups and parties which was
particularly triggered by the recent refugee influx: over 1 million refugees, predominantly from
Syria and north-African countries, entering Germany in 2015 alone. It just so happens that one
of those groups, the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident, PEGIDA, was
founded in Dresden. PEGIDA, which represents far-right, nationalist, xenophobic, and
Islamophobic values, quickly gathered a large following in Saxony and other parts of Germany.
The group protests on the streets every Monday, shocking my usually peaceful hometown of
Dresden and other cities.

Protests frequently take place in front of the Church of out Lady (left), Frauenkirche, Dresden.
All photos by Noah Stewart


PEGIDA demonstrations have decreased in attendance and significance since then, but the
rhetoric and concerns of the group have become part of regular German state and federal
politics with the foundation and recent success of the new, right-wing Alternative for Germany,
AfD, party. AfD has a moderate stance on the concerns and demands of groups such as PEGIDA given its need to appeal to a wider range of voters, be successful in elections, and is still
affiliated with them and runs its campaigns appealing to nationalist and xenophobic values.
So, what does this political history lesson have to do with the Nazi Emergency that was called in
Dresden? It helps us understand the origin of the problems and the problems themselves.


Given the rise of nationalist groups and parties such as PEGDIA and AfD, far-right sentiments
have become somewhat normalized, increasing xenophobic and antisemitic violence all over
Germany, but especially in the former East. The causes for these developments can be
interpreted as a synthesis of the lost decades of development and intercultural exchange in
former East Germany with the troubled past of German nationalism in Nazi Germany. The
failure to address the imbalance of economic and social development that faced the German
government after reunification, together with the silencing of concerns relating to immigration
and patriotism, is fueling the frustration of many right-wing voters and activists today.


Now that we have an extensive understanding of what the Nazi Emergency is trying to address
in Dresden, it is almost embarrassing to explain that, despite the serious history and
circumstances outlined above, this declaration was proposed by a satirical party, Die Partei, in
the Dresden city council. It is also important to note that it is not the first attempt of the city
council to cut down on extremist right-wing violence and sentiments, but rather a continuation
and reinforcement of the local government’s efforts to sanction such actions. Therefore, this
Nazi Emergency declaration must be taken with a grain of salt and seen as little more than a
successful PR stunt by a party that attempts to shake up traditional politics and make national
or global news by doing so.


Instead of making me feel afraid to go home, reading these news headlines and the reports
they prefaced made me feel an interesting sense of contentment with my hometown. Because,
when it comes down to it, this can be judged as a successful first step of a local government to
call out the problem it is faced with by name (even if the name is extremely exaggerated and
misleading), a first step that few other cities have been willing to take.


What is important now is that actions follow words. While right-wing extremism has been
recognized and condemned in Germany for years, there has been little action to not only end
those violent actions but also understand and address the much more widespread public
sentiments that fuel them. In fact, the passive acceptance thereof and lacking action to do
anything about it are what supported the rise of organizations such as PEGIDA and AfD.
Maylis Ashley, a member of First Church of Christ, Scientist Dresden, just started working as a
middle school teacher and shared the following metaphysical thought with me. When
addressing far-right sentiments and violence in Dresden, she treats it the same way she does a
situation with a difficult student: “What is man? The only thing that occurs is infinite divine
consciousness. This divine consciousness is the only thinker. What this infinite divine
consciousness knows of itself, that is me, that is man, every man. So, the way this infinite divine
consciousness knows itself, that is man, you, me.”


Far-right sentiments and violence are not limited to Dresden or to Germany. They are a
phenomenon that we are watching unfold in every democracy in the world, including here in the United States. The rise of toxic nationalism and growing fear of foreigners is not going to go
away by ignoring and discrediting it. Instead, it must be addressed in the first instance it
appears through respectful dialogue and active solution-seeking with those that are simply
expressing their concerns about political decisions. And it must be addressed with strict
crackdowns on serious discrimination and violence against vulnerable population groups. If
these efforts fail, other countries will soon need to declare their own Nazi emergencies to fix a
problem that has taken root deep in their societies and will take significant resources to turn
around.

Image courtesy of Noah Stewart