An axe attack, a mass shooting, a machete assault and a suicide bomb : Germany is reeling after four deadly incidents of violence in a single week.
On Monday morning, as Germans woke to the latest news that a 27-year-old Syrian man, denied asylum in their country, had blown himself up near a music festival in Ansbach, the fear was palpable. And, holed up in her rural retreat in Uckermark, north-east of Berlin, Chancellor Angela Merkel was an obvious target for those looking for someone to blame.
Interior minister Thomas de Maizière was at pains to point out in a press conference that, while many aspects of the attacks remained unclear, none of the perpetrators – one of whom was even German born and bred – had come to the country last summer.
While two of the men were Syrian refugees and a third an asylum seeker whose country of origin is still unclear, the 18-year-old who carried out by far the bloodiest attack, killing nine people at a Munich shopping centre on Friday night, was the son of Iranian refugees who came to Germany in the 1990s.
But Hans-Gerd Jaschke, a professor of political extremism at Berlin’s School of Economics and Law, said that would not stop the recent events being exploited by rightwing extremists. “I would not be surprised if this leads to a swing to the right,” he said.
There was no pattern to be recognised in the men’s actions, he said, calling them “lone perpetrators”. What they did have in common, he added, was the way they were being “publicly perceived” – falsely – as presenting a pattern: namely that “refugees are a security threat”.
That message on Monday was coming at Merkel from critics on different sides of the political spectrum.
Sahra Wagenknecht, a leader of the far-left Linke party, the third largest grouping in the Bundestag, said the chancellor’s famous statement “wir schaffen das” (we can manage) – coined last summer when she said Germany was open to taking in those in need – had been found wanting.
The attacks showed that the “intake and integration of a large number of refugees and immigrants is accompanied by considerable problems”, Wagenknecht said.
There was also, predictably, criticism from rightwing populist group the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which, after the debate surrounding the refugee crisis died down, is now making fears of the supposed “Islamification” of Germany its main cause.
“Last year alone 1.2 million migrants arrived here. Among them, as we are now seeing again and again, are ticking time bombs,” said Petr Bystron, head of the AfD in Bavaria in an interview.
The growing wrath towards Merkel is being expressed in the hashtag #MerkelSommer – Merkel summer – which was trending on Twitter on Monday. “Turn this #Merkelsommer into a Merkel nightfall,” urged one of the many posts calling for her to resign.
For Merkel, the fact that the attacks in Reutlingen and Ansbach were carried out by men who had applied for asylum in Germany means the pressure to defend herself and her open-door policy will only grow.
In the summer of 2015, the chancellor took a stance seen by some as provoking a euphoric episode in postwar German history; a chance for the country to finally prove to the world that it was a place where those in trouble could find shelter. However, she soon found herself facing growing criticism caused by fears Germany that was unable to cope.
Following Britain’s vote to leave the EU and the angst about the political instability it sparked, Merkel soon found herself strengthened again. After the Brexit vote, her popularity ratings surged to a 10-month high, almost returning to the level she enjoyed before the height of the refugee crisis last September. The AfD, meanwhile, saw its ratings drop by three percentage points to 11%.
But the worries stoked in recent days are huge. It could well be the events of the past week that end up defining Merkel’s chances of re-election in a federal vote due in September 2017. More importantly, they could yet affect, for decades to come, the course her country chooses to take, and the face it presents to the world.
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