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Germany: Maassen Affair Resolved?

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Update September 19th, 2018: The Social Democrats are angered by the fact that another undersecretary, Gunther Adler, an SPD member, is supposed to be pensioned off, in order to make room for Maassen, who will assume his post.

Update September 18th, 2018: After two urgent meetings, the heads of the parties in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government coalition, including Merkel herself, decided to move Maassen to the Ministry of the Interior, where he will be an undersecretary. This is a promotion for Maassen. He will be earning more than before.

The SPD’s Andrea Nahles had demanded Maassen’s dismissal as Director of Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, while Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had insisted on keeping him. Today, a compromise was found. It made sure those involved have a face saving solution, while saving the coalition government in times of trouble.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government coalition, consisting of her conservative CDU, its ultra-conservative sister party CSU from Bavaria, and the Social Democrats (SPD), recently slipped into a new crisis. The Director of Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Hans-Georg Maassen (Maaßen), was in its center.

The Maassen Affair reached another peak, as the heads of the three coalition parties were discussing the matter at the Chancellery in Berlin on Thursday afternoon, during a last-minute crisis meeting. The talks ended after 90 minutes without conclusion, and were supposed to be continued next week.

After controversial statements about the recent events in Chemnitz, which Maassen made in interviews and hearings, the SPD wanted him fired immediately, while Horst Seehofer, the Minister of the Interior, trusts him and refused to let him go. In his position, the CSU politician is in charge of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and its personnel.

In an interview with the tabloid ‘Bild’ on September 7th, Maassen had said he shared the skepticism regarding media reports about foreigners who had been hunted by right-wing extremists in Chemnitz. “The Office for the Protection of the Constitution does not have reliable information which would confirm that any chase of this kind took place”, he had stated.

Maassen had also commented on a video clip which showed radical right-wingers hunting people who seemed to be migrants. There was no evidence for the claim according to which the video about this alleged incident was authentic, he had said. Maassen was even quoted saying he had “reason to believe the video contained misinformation designed to distract from the murder in Chemnitz.”

Contrary to Maassen’s statements, editors employed by major German-language dailies and news magazines did not find any indications which would have suggested the video in question was not real. Also, reporters confirmed assaults with a racist background in Chemnitz.

Because of his statements, Hans-Georg Maassen was grilled during two hearings on Wednesday of last week in Berlin. Both the Parliamentary Control Committee and the Bundestag’s Home Affairs Committee questioned him. While he convinced Interior Minister Seehofer, the SPD was furious.

Maassen also gave his Federal Office’s annual report to the AfD parliamentary group in the Bundestag, weeks before it was officially released. The AfD politician Stephan Brandner even confirmed a personal meeting with Maassen, on June 13th, according to the German TV magazine ‘Kontraste’. Brandner said, part of the information he had received had been about Islamist individuals in Germany who were considered dangerous.

Maassen’s supporters saw a “regular process”. They said all parties in parliament could have requested the same information. On the other hand, critics were asking themselves whether Maassen supported the AfD inappropriately.

The AfD (‘Alternative für Deutschland’) is a radical right-wing party, which according to critics spreads anti-migrant rhetoric and xenophobia.

In the Eastern German town of Chemnitz, a young man was killed in August. The two suspects are Syrian and Iraqi nationals. While both have been arrested, the killing triggered protests by right-wing extremists, including Nazis who gave the Hitler salute in public. One of the latter got eight months probation for that crime. A Nazi mob also attacked a Kosher restaurant, injuring its owner. This incident became public two weeks later.

Counter protests and a large Rock festival organized by groups opposed to xenophobia and hatred took place as well.

The recent events in Chemnitz, the authorities’ reactions and other aspects have been discussed in Germany for well over three weeks now.

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