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'Democracy is in danger': Fears of right-wing extremism grow in Germany

Andreas Hollstein says he receives at least two death threats a month by mail or by phone. Though they are scary, they don’t compare to the night 18 months ago when a man approached the major of Altena, in the west of Germany, at a kebab shop.

The man asked if he was the mayor and said, “You let me die of thirst and let 200 refugees into Altena,” Hollstein recalled at the time. Then the man plunged a knife into Hollstein’s neck.

Hollstein, who ended up with a 6-inch gash, had became nationally known during the refugee crisis for welcoming migrants to his city. Authorities believed there was a political motive behind the attack and arrested a suspect.

Mayor Andreas Hollstein at a press conference in Altena, just after he was stabbed at a kebab restaurant.Martin Meissner / AP file

Since then, Hollstein has been outspoken about the need to tackle right-wing extremism in Germany. Yet last month another politician who spoke out in defense of migrants, Walter Lübcke, was fatally shot in the head on the terrace of his home. A man with far-right views was arrested and confessed, though he later recanted.

Lübcke’s death reignited a debate about whether Germany, long praised for confronting the ghosts of its extremist past, is in fact doing enough to combat far-right groups in the 21st century. Like Hollstein and Lübcke, politicians and public figures in Germany who speak out about far-right extremism, migration and anti-Semitism are often on the receiving end of both threats and violence.

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