Right-Wing Extremism, Neo-Nazism and Xenophobia on the Rise in Germany?

It's been a week since eight Indian men were chased through the small eastern town of Muegeln, Germany, by a drunken mob while people looked on.

In the last seven days, speculation about why it happened, finger-pointing, soul-searching, worries and concerns over the violent incident have followed and brought back to the forefront issues of right-wing extremism, neo-Nazism and xenophobia in Germany.

In a country that has taken great pains to highlight recent historical transgressions and where Nazi activities are outlawed, the question arises once more: Is Germany facing the return of neo-Nazism?

After a brawl at a street festival, the eight Indian men suddenly found themselves being attacked by dozens of angry German youths shouting "Foreigners out" and "foreigners go back where you belong."

Some of the Indians were severely beaten and others were chased across the town's market square until they found shelter in a pizzeria run by an Indian.

The man let them in and locked the door, but the mob tried to kick in the door and smashed windows while shouting racist insults as a large crowd looked on.

Police forces eventually arrived on the scene, but it took a while for the large squad of 70 police officers to force back the crowd.

The violent rampage left 14 people wounded, including four of the attackers, two police officers and eight Indians, some of whom were beaten so badly they needed medical attention.

Initial reports regarding the incident sparked outrage and have dominated the national news ever since. Images of the victims' swollen eyes and bruised faces have been a constant in newspapers and on television.

Town authorities, who initially denied that any of the attackers had a right-wing agenda, were urged to stop extremists and do more to combat far-right violence.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the attacks and said they needed to be cleared up as soon as possible.

Wolfgang Tiefensee, the minister responsible for development in the eastern states, told German news agency DPA, "Support for Nazi ideas in Germany is making people fear for their lives. We can't have this on German streets. We can't have this in schools and at the workplace."

He said the seriousness of what had occurred in Muegeln could not be understated. "These incidents again remind us the subject of right-wing extremism is something we need to deal with continually in Germany, and particularly in eastern Germany," Tiefensee was quoted by the news agency as saying.

Since German reunification in 1990, racist violence has been a recurring problem in East Germany, the poorer part of the country. Last year, crimes committed by neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists reached the highest level since reunification.

Stern Magazine published a recent survey of 14- to 25-year-olds by the Forsa opinion poll institute, which showed that one out of two youths in eastern Germany now believe that National Socialism had "its good sides."

Unemployment is still extremely high in the former East Germany and discontent is growing. Many young people must leave their home towns to find jobs in western Germany.

Those left behind often become easy targets for right-wing ideas represented by Germany's nationalist political party, the NPD. The far-right NPD, which is legal in Germany, is best known for slogans such as "German jobs for Germans" or "Foreigners out."

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