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

Last week's attack on eight Indians leaves many worried about rising neo-Nazism.

January 8, 2009, 12:32 AM

PASSAU, Aug. 27, 2007 — -- 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."

The party is viewed by its opponents and the mainstream media as a de-facto neo-Nazi party. The accusations stem from the NPD's opposition to the increasing number of nonwhites, Jews and Muslims living in Germany.

Party philosophy also mandates that the current political system in Germany is illegitimate and that NATO fails to represent German interests. The party platform also calls for revision of the post-war border agreement.

The NPD is represented in two regional parliaments in eastern Germany and its members are finding it easier to gain footholds in local councils in eastern Germany. Funding is often made available for youth centers of the far-right.

Mainstream politicians are calling for a ban of the NPD despite the fact that previous efforts to ban the party failed in 2003. The leader of the NPD, Udo Voigt, has been charged with inciting race hatred, which is a criminal offence in Germany.

In what is widely regarded as proof of the twisted worldview of the NPD's right-wing followers, Voigt proposed Adolf Hitler's Deputy Rudolf Hess for the peace prize during a speech last week to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Hess' death.

Merkel said on German TV that she was skeptical about pursuing a party ban, stressing that she did not want a repeat of the 2003 decision.

In a disturbing trend, as authorities continue to investigate last week's attacks, right-wing violence seems to have become a daily occurrence, according to police reports.


"Neo-Nazis painted swastikas and racist slogans like 'Foreigners out' on two buildings, including one used by asylum seekers," the police spokesman in Cottbus, a small town in eastern Germany, told ABC News. "Large swastikas were sprayed on the glass doors of the buildings and the bus stand across the street overnight. Police in Cottbus is investigating."


Authorities in the eastern city of Magdeburg said that a 36-year-old Iraqi man was the victim of a racially motivated attack, during which an unidentified man beat him with a baseball bat and set a dog on him before fleeing.


In the small northeastern town of Buetzow, food and drink stalls — some of them owned by foreigners — were damaged, parasols were set ablaze and police officers were pelted with bottles when about 40 people went on a rampage in the early hours, according to a police report. The report mentions no evidence that far-right supporters were involved in the clashes, but the local paper, Schweriner Volkszeitung, quoted an unnamed police official as saying that local far-right demonstrators were among the violent troublemakers.

Meanwhile, the police have made no arrests and politicians are demanding that Germany do more to fight right-wing violence.

However, according to the general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Stephan Kramer, "Officials make the same statements every time there is an attack on foreigners."

In an interview with German news service Netzeitung, Kramer said, "There is never a noticeable change in the strategy to fight xenophobia. Yesterday it was people of color, today it is foreigners and tomorrow it will be gays or lesbians or perhaps Jews."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events