A candidate for Germany's key party was beaten up while campaigning for European elections

A candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s party in next month’s European elections was beaten up and seriously injured while campaigning in an eastern city

Stephen Graham
Saturday 04 May 2024 17:22 BST
Germany Politics
Germany Politics ((c) Copyright 2024, dpa (www.dpa.de). Alle Rechte vorbehalten)

A candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz's center-left party in next month's election for the European Parliament was beaten up and seriously injured while campaigning in an eastern city, the party said Saturday.

It was the latest in a series of incidents of violence and harassment raising political tensions in Germany ahead of the polls. Scholz's Social Democrats, or SPD, launched their official campaign for the June 9 vote with a rally last week in Hamburg, Scholz’s longtime home city.

Matthias Ecke, an SPD candidate, was attacked while putting up posters in Dresden on Friday evening, the party said. It said he was taken to a hospital and required surgery for his injuries. Police said the 41-year-old was beaten by four men and that the same group had apparently attacked a Greens party worker minutes before in the same street.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, who is also a Social Democrat, said that if it's proven that the assault on Ecke was politically motivated, it would represent “a serious attack on democracy.”

“We are experiencing a new dimension of anti-democratic violence,” Faeser said. She promised “tougher action and further protective measures for the democratic forces in our country.”

Government and opposition parties say their members and supporters have faced a wave of physical and verbal attacks in recent months and have called on police to step up protection for politicians and election rallies.

Many of the incidents have taken place in the former communist east of the country, where Scholz's government is deeply unpopular. The far-right and anti-establishment Alternative for Germany party, or AfD, is expected to make big gains across the region in both the European elections and in German state elections in the fall.

Last week, the car carrying the vice president of the German parliament, Katrin Goering-Eckardt of the Greens, was surrounded for nearly an hour by protesters as she tried to leave a rally. The opposition Christian Democrats and The Left party say their workers have also faced intimidation and seen their posters ripped down.

Mainstream parties accuse the AfD of links to violent neo-Nazi groups and of fomenting an increasingly harsh political climate. A prominent AfD leader, Bjoern Hoecke, is currently on trial accused of using a banned Nazi slogan. Germany's domestic intelligence service has placed some chapters of the party under surveillance.

The branch of the Social Democrats in Saxony state, where Ecke is their lead candidate for the European elections, said their campaign would go on despite “fascist methods” of intimidation.

“The seeds that the AfD and other right-wing extremists have sown are germinating,” the branch leaders, Henning Homann und Kathrin Michel, said in a joint statement. "These people and their supporters carry responsibility for what is happening in this country.”

Tino Chrupalla, co-chair of the AfD, said his party "deeply condemns physical attacks against politicians of all parties. Election campaigns must be tough and constructive in terms of content, but without violence,” he said in a social media post.

The AfD, whose rallies often draw counter-demonstrations, says its members also suffer attacks and harassment.

On Saturday, police said they detained a man who hit and slightly injured a state lawmaker for the AfD as he was campaigning in Norden, a town near Germany’s North Sea coast. The assailant also pelted the lawmaker with eggs.

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