Germany Battles Neo-Nazi Wave

BySue Masterman

Aug. 23, 2000 -- Every day the catalog of hate crimes against foreigners in Germany grows longer.

In June, the government reported 129 xenophobic incidents, up 29 from in the same period last year, including one death and 26 major injuries.

Slurs, combined with threats, are counted as “xenophobic incidents.” They include jackbooted gangs marching through towns, waving flags with fascist symbols and yelling racist slogans. But most of the incidents were physical.

Tuesday, three neo-Nazis were charged with murdering an African immigrant in the town of Halle. Witnesses said they showed no remorse upon hearing accusations that they kept kicking and beating their alleged victim even after he stopped moving.

On trial for one of the worst attacks in a surge of neo-Nazi violence this year, the young defendants freely admitted in a closed court session of causing the death, attorneys said. Their motivation, prosecutors alleged, was hatred of foreigners.

In a similar attack in Barmstedt, north of Hamburg in western Germany, authorities on Tuesday reported that an African man was beaten and kicked and suffered abrasions and bruises. Three suspects were taken into custody.

Officials say they expect similar increases for July and August. At least three people have died this year from hate crimes and the government is considering drastic action to curtail the spread of hate.

For the first time since World War II the country is consideringbanning a political party.

A Focus for the Ultra-Right

Despite having just 6,000 registered members, the openly xenophobic National Democratic Party (NPD) is seen as the focus and the catalyst for growing support for the violent ultra-right. Most of the NPD’s support is in former East Germany, where many, resentful after years of communist rule, are often sympathetic to the ultra-right.

With unemployment there at 17 percent, hate crimes against foreigners are soaring and many local authorities do little to prevent them. In some towns police have even been filmed standing back while skinheads rampage.

West Germans rarely venture by choice into the old East, which lags far behind in development in spite of an injection of $470 million in the 10years since unification.

Driving from the West, the existing roads still pass a clearly marked “Berlin Wall” division, a broad strip of land which once marked the death zone between East and West.

Beyond that, the landscape is still marked by the huge fields of the old communist collective system. The houses are gray and poorly maintained, apart from new building of luxury homes by “Wessies” — West Germans — on cheap land. West Germans look down on “Ossies” — East Germans.

The old East German towns are shabby, and often half-deserted. Shop window displays still seem of the old communist era. The young andimaginative have moved west in search of jobs, leaving the old, thedisgruntled and the unemployed behind in substandard housing.

Pensions and unemployment benefits are lower than in the West — due to a discrepancy in the cost of living between the two halves at time ofunification.

The situation is not helped by the government decision to locate many of the thousands of illegal immigrants, awaiting a verdict on asylumapplications, in the East.

There they are banned from working and hang around, living on $190 a month in government aid. They are easy targets for the employers who cruise the area looking for cheap illegal labor.

Germans themselves often speak of “the wall in the head,” the mental division between East and West which will take much longer to eradicate than the visible signs of half a century of separation.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is currently on a 21-stop two-week whistle-stop tourof the Eastern provinces. It is seen as both a fact-finding mission and anattempt to bolster the vote in the area, which has swung away from the traditional socialism toward the extreme right.

“Citizens must stand up against right-wing extremism because nobody should be allowed to destroy the achievements of what has been rebuilt,” he told reporters on his first stop in Bad Elster. Local people really wanted to know why it had taken a German chancellor a decade to decide to tour their region.

Trouble in West Germany, Too

But there is trouble with the ultra-right in the old West Germany, too.Neo-Nazis who paraded through Hamburg over the weekend have applied todemonstrate again in two weeks. They are protesting against themainstream German press coverage of the ultra-right. They see themselves as “saviors of the German nation.”

Berlin has banned a series of demonstrations by the ultra-right there to mark the death of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, who died at the age of 93 in Spandau prison in 1987.

Last last night police raided a planned but banned skinhead demonstration on a parking lot in Friedland.

The demonstrators fled in 20 cars. The police intercepted one car, arrested the five passengers and confiscated right-wing hate material and posters in support of Hess.

Germany was forced to face up to its booming ultra-right legacy last month when a primitive bomb in an underground passage near Dusseldorf’s main station badly injured passersby, most of whom were Jewish.

Since then the debate has raged about how to bring the ultra-right under control.

The German government last week approved a $35 million budget to fight racism and the roots of hate crime. They also voted through a $4.7 million fund to help the victims of neo-Nazi hate crime.

Jewish organizations are urging the government to do more to educate the young in the dangers of the ultra-right. A recent survey amongschool-age children showed that more than half of them did not recognize the word “Auschwitz” or the names of the other concentration camps in which millions of Jews and other persecuted groups died.

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