Violence against politicians

Between violence and civil dialogue – two Bundestag members report

Politicians are increasingly facing hostility or even becoming victims of violence. Bundestag members Markus Reichel (CDU) and Kassem Taher Saleh (Alliance 90/The Greens) report on how they deal with this and why they continue to believe in civil dialogue.

Helen Hahne
Getty Images; Deutscher Bundestag/Jörg Carstensen/photothek; PR
June 05, 2024
Reading time
8 minutes

Politicians are increasingly becoming the target of insults, threats, and hate speech. Digital and physical violence has increased significantly in recent years – and poses a serious threat to democracy and social coexistence. Women and people with a history of migration are affected particularly badly. The attacks on the SPD’s leading candidate for the European elections, Matthias Ecke, and Green Party campaign workers in Saxony at the beginning of May are frightening examples. But our democracy thrives on dialogue, whether at online or in-person events, in political debates on Instagram, or at election campaign stands. Civil society is currently showing strong commitment against hatred and hate speech, and politicians are also taking action together. Among them are the Bundestag members Kassem Taher Saleh (Alliance 90/The Greens) and Markus Reichel (CDU), who have their constituencies in Saxony. They are the first signatories of the “Striesen Declaration”, with which politicians from all democratic parties reacted to the attack on Matthias Ecke.

In our transcript, they report on their good and bad experiences in dialogue with citizens, why they particularly value direct exchange, and what a democratic society must achieve today.

Kassem Taher Saleh: “I will not give up”

“I'm worried about how the political mood is developing. And not just in East Germany, but in the whole of Germany. I currently have twelve police reports pending, many against online hate comments that have personally and racially insulted and threatened me. ‘You don't belong in our country! Fuck off!’ is just one of many examples. But it doesn’t stop at insults. During the 2021 federal election campaign, I also experienced a physical attack: A man came to our information stand while I was accompanied by a camera crew. He went straight for the camera crew and started hitting them. I then intervened. At campaign stands, people also like to ask whether, given my nationality, I’m even allowed to run for the German Bundestag. Of course, that feels awful. I just want to do politics.

About the person

Kassem Taher Saleh

Kassem Taher Saleh has been a member of the Bundestag for  Alliance 90/The Greens since 2021, representing the Dresden electoral district 159. He is chairman of the Committee on Housing, Urban Development, Construction, and Local Authorities and a deputy member of the Committee on Climate and Energy and the Committee on Human Rights.

The power of public dialogue: It is possible to change your mind

But here in Saxony, there are also many stable associations and organizations that stand behind people who are under attack, regardless of which party they belong to. And many people in my private life, in my team, in my party, and in other parties also show solidarity. That is a great support for me in moments like these. I will not give up.

In my conversations with people, I very often realize that they resort to false facts in their arguments. And so in debates, consultations, and public discussions, when you give them the right figures and explain why a decision was made, you hear: ‘Yes, OK, that makes sense.’ Citizens can have a different political attitude, that’s legitimate. But we should all question things. I certainly have this experience once a month when I go live on Instagram, in direct dialogue with citizens, or at football matches.

I particularly remember an encounter during the introduction of the Building Energy Act, the so-called Heating Act. A citizen came to the citizens’ dialogue in Görlitz and said to me: ‘I’m thinking about hanging myself. He thought he would lose his house, all his money, and his life because of the law. I sat down with him for an hour and explained the law to him – he then went home relieved.

“We democrats stand together.”

Quote fromKassem Taher Saleh
Quote fromKassem Taher Saleh

The fact that young people are attacking campaign workers and a leading candidate in an organized way, as they did in Dresden in May, is definitely a new dimension. And these are not Nazis, but young people and children. As democratic parties, we need to reflect on this together: What have we done wrong in recent years? What role do Instagram and TikTok play? What role does the social environment play?

We responded to the attacks in Dresden with the cross-party ‘Striesen Declaration.’ We wanted to show people that we democrats stand together. And we now have to use this cohesion in our political work to make a difference. Citizens need support – and politicians must offer them this support.

We need to clearly distance ourselves from the fascists, from the Nazis, especially in our language. In my view, the tactic of ignoring them has failed. Now more than ever, we have to stand up and fight for our democracy.”


Politics and partnerships

Read more

For many years, the Robert Bosch Stiftung has been conducting programs with political decision-makers that create space for a cross-party, trust-based, and results-oriented exchange beyond the daily political routine.

Read more

Dr. Markus Reichel: “Many people don’t expect the perfect solution. They want politicians to recognize their problems and make an effort to help”

“I think that, above all, scepticism has spread in Germany about how effective our democracy currently is. This should not be confused with hostility toward democracy. In Saxony, for example, many people took to the streets 35 years ago in support of the peaceful revolution – ultimately a clear act of democracy in action. These people now seem to be asking themselves: ‘Why can’t government be better?’ This scepticism is expressed at best in lively discussions that I experience in dialogue with citizens when someone comes to my constituency office or an election campaign stand. And it is expressed in emails and letters that we receive.

About the person

Dr. Markus Reichel

Dr. Markus Reichel has been district chairman of the CDU Dresden since November 2019 and was state chairman of the CDU Saxony’s SME and Economic Union from 2011 to 2021. He became a member of the German Bundestag in the 2021 federal election, representing the Dresden electoral district 159.

Dialogue with the silent majority is needed

But I also experience negative reactions. When I speak to people, they sometimes say: ‘Just leave us alone, we’re fed up with you, with the CDU, with everyone.’ There are, however, people who seek dialogue and are willing to engage in conversation. Discussions can then often help. Many people don’t expect the perfect solution. They want politicians to recognize their problems and make an effort to help.

For me personally, the online comments have not become a burden. But I do know colleagues whose situation is different and whose offices have to think about a strategy for dealing with hate comments.

Yet I, too, remember an unpleasant situation during the 2021 election campaign, when a man came running towards us and shouted ‘You murderers!’ How do you deal with that? I decided to seek a dialogue with him. It wasn’t easy, but he calmed down eventually. 

There are also examples of positive encounters. During the door-to-door election campaign, I wanted to hand someone a flyer in his yard. His reply was: ‘You’ve really shown that it won’t work with you. I’ve already made up my mind. Does it still make sense to seek dialogue? Here, too, I sought a dialogue. Fortunately, it ended with him saying: ‘Come on, give me the flyers. I’ll hand them out to the people here for you.’

“The greater danger for me is the indifference of the silent center.”

Quote fromDr. Markus Reichel
Quote fromDr. Markus Reichel

For me, the much greater danger than aggression is the indifference of the silent center. People who don’t have time to express themselves politically because they get up in the morning, work, and look after their children. They don’t come to the campaign stand and shout at us. That’s why we need to talk more to this quiet 80 percent than about the 20 percent who shout loudly. The 20 percent have zero chance if the center is strong.

The physical attacks of the past few weeks are to be condemned absolutely. It could have happened to any committed person in Germany! We have to become a strong and safe center in our society again. It was not just people who were attacked and injured, but the way we live democracy. With the ‘Striesen Declaration,’ we quickly sent a clear, non-partisan signal against violence in Germany.”

Five people pull firmly on a long rope
The dossier on the topic

Social Cohesion

To the dossier

When the willingness to engage in dialogue ends and differences of opinion turn into hatred, it affects us all: It endangers democratic coexistence. What can we do to counter this? There are encouraging approaches from all our areas of support – and our dossier focuses on these approaches.

To the dossier
You may also like
RBA Fellows talking on the roof terrace of the Robert Bosch Stiftung Berlin
10 years of the Robert Bosch Academy

A global network to solve pressing international challenges

Ten years ago - on 20 June 2014 - the Robert Bosch Academy was founded. We asked ten former Fellows from all over the world how they look...
two women talking on a small stage
A culture of dialogue

Enduring controversial opinions – the demoSlam shows how it’s done

The demoSlam promotes constructive debate and the ability to tolerate differences in a democracy.
People at a demonstration, a child holds a cardboard sign with hearts on it

Democracy — A Muscle That Needs to be Exercised

Hundreds of thousands are taking to the streets these weeks to protest against the shift to the right. And there are even more ways to strengthen democracy.  
Menschen auf einem Rathausplatz gehen unterschiedlichen Aktivitäten nach

Strengthening Democracy: 7 Things You Can Do Right Now

Seven concrete things we can do to take action for democracy—compiled by the Democracy Team at the Robert Bosch Stiftung.