Tuesday, May 30, 2006


With the World Cup to be held in Germany just a few weeks away, stories about neo-Nazi violence in Germany are suddenly everywhere.

And there is ample reason for concern.

On Monday, new figures showing a rise in fascist violence in 2005 poured fuel on the fire. The report's findings coincide with a debate about remarks last week by a former government spokesman who advised dark-skinned visitors to Germany to avoid eastern parts of the country such as Brandenburg, the state that surrounds Berlin.

The intelligence report showed that the number of racially motivated acts of far-right violence rose by 23 percent to 958 last year while the number of racist extremists deemed willing to engage in violence rose by 400 to 10,400.

Of the acts of violence in 2005, 816 involved bodily harm, up from 640 in 2004. The number of attempted killings fell to two from six. Arson attacks, too, fell to 14 from 37.

The total number of politically motivated right-wing racist crimes, though, rose 27 percent to 15,361, most of which related to far-right propaganda such as displaying the Nazi swastika, which is against the law in Germany.

The following article is from Spiegel (Germany).

The Friendly Neo-Nazis

The right-wing violence may make the headlines, but Germany's neo-Nazis also have an elaborate infrastructure and a carefully crafted public relations strategy. Extremist populism seems to be working.

Most of the world knows it as Ascension Day -- the Thursday six weeks after Easter celebrating the ascension of Jesus Christ to heaven. Much of Germany, though, has developed a unique -- and for foreigners, a decidedly odd -- way of celebrating the day. Called "father's day," the holiday has become an excuse for men across Germany to drink themselves into a semi-stupor.

This year was no different -- and in the Eastern German town of Weimar, two men from Mozambique, aged 45 and 46, and one from Cuba decided to give the German tradition a try. They had a few guests over, the barbeque was fired up and they were having a good time.

But the experiment with German culture didn't last long. At 8 p.m., the backyard grill gathering was stormed by a group of 15 young Germans who attacked the party-goers at random. The Cuban fell to the ground with a broken nose and serious contusions. The 46-year-old man from Mozambique suffered a concussion, hematomas and abrasions. His 45-year-old friend got away with a bruised face. Eight drunken rowdies aged between 19 and 29 were arrested -- all of them known to be xenophobic and some of them possessing a criminal record, according to the authorities.

It wasn't the only assault on Ascension Day this year. At a flea market in Wismar -- likewise in Eastern Germany -- a 36-year-old Indian was beaten by neo-Nazis and kicked while he lay on the ground. His attackers yelled Sieg Heil! and "Germany for Germans!" as they beat him. In Berlin, a Turkish man was beaten up. In Lübeck, skinheads attacked a garden party.

Out of control right wingers

Right-wing radicals in Germany seem out of control -- as if electrified by the recent heated debate in the country over travel warnings for foreigners and so-called "no go" areas for those with darker skin color. The debate was sparked by former government spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye two weeks ago when he warned dark-skinned tourists against visiting "small and medium-sized" towns in the state of Brandenburg and elsewhere. Such tourists, he warned, would "possibly not leave these areas alive." In mid-April, an Ethiopian-German named Ermyas M. was beaten into a coma in Potsdam. Earlier this month, skinheads in Berlin attacked the German-Kurdish politician Giyasettin Sayan with a bottle.

The result has been massive public attention, front-page headlines and numerous talk shows -- all of which have merely served to strengthen the right-wing thinking of many eastern Germans. Reacting to warnings about dangerous neighborhoods, stickers reading "No-Go Area" are now for sale on the Internet -- meant to keep mono-chromatic German neighborhoods free of foreigners.

It's not hard to find the footmen to carry out this mission. In entire neighborhoods of Berlin and in a number of regions in the states of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, right-wingers -- particularly the right-wing political party National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) -- have been able to develop a stable infrastructure of support. In doing so, they have filled a vacuum left by mainstream political parties and churches, both of which have been slow to reach out to former East Germans, according to political scientist Dierk Bostel. Evangelical bishop Wolfgang Huber's plea to pay more attention to young people and "not surrendering a single one of them" sounds more like a cry of desperation than a plan.

The truth is that the pleas are coming too late. The NPD has long since filled in the gaps left behind by the collapse of communist East Germany with its strict structures and regimented daily life. The nationalist party has quietly but consistently made itself indispensable to reunification's victims -- to welfare recipients and even to the frustrated middle class. Neighborhood groups, cultural clubs and information centers have been set up -- and are used to inject constant doses of right-wing propaganda into the minds of the populace.

"Wolf in sheep's clothing"

"People in East Germany had a deal with the state," says Bostel. "The state makes sure I'm doing alright, and I play by the rules." With reunification, this deal came to an end. "That was the end of their love for democracy," Bostel claims.

Right-wing functionaries artfully exploited the emotional coolness of the state. In 2000, the NPD opened its national headquarters in the eastern Berlin neighborhood of Treptow-Köpenick. During the last general election, the party received fully 11.4 percent of the votes in the district. It's a neighborhood where a not inconsiderable number of residents spend their days in corner bars, railing against the state and against foreigners. Those who still belonged to the violent parts of the right-wing scene during the turbulent 1990s have now become decent citizens. But as Berlin's chief of police Michael Knape complains, "they're still right-wingers at heart." And the NPD helps out wherever it can in Treptow-Köpenick. The nationalists are becoming more and more aggressive in their attempts to recruit teenagers. They accompany them to party seminars after school, accompany them to the unemployment office or play soccer with them. There are even plans for providing groceries to those in need.

Their physical appearance is part of the larger deception. After all, what mother would entrust her child to a skinhead sports coach? Instead of leather jackets and combat boots, right-wing recruiters now wear suits or sportswear. "The wolf is presenting itself in sheep's clothing," says Bostel.

To nurture growth, a strict division of labor is observed in the right-wing camp. NPD activists know that those responsible for the rough work are best left in the grassroots organizations known as Kameradschaften and Freie Kräfte. The activists don't get their own hands dirty; sympathy is their tool for winning over new followers.

In Lübtheen, a town in the Mecklenburg region, the Nazis are terribly nice as well. Whoever meets Udo Pastörs -- the top NPD candidate in regional elections to be held in September -- in his jewellery store has a hard time imagining the man, who is in his mid-50s, in the presence of the bull-necked rowdies that are commonly associated with his party.

Gentleman Nazi

He offers competent advice to a customer who is looking for a ring and accompanies the lady to the door after he has sold the ring to her. Pastörs is a gentleman, no doubt about it.

He wears an old Omega watch on his wrist. "It's an automatic watch," he points out, "a special model designed for the military." The sales room in the brick-lined building is dapper too -- light timber floor boards, wooden beams under the ceiling and an open workshop for watch repairs and goldsmith work. Only a red card on a sideboard gives a clue as to the shopkeeper's worldview: "The Indians couldn't stop the immigrants. Now they live in reservations. If you want to save your children from this fate, defend yourself."

Pastörs wants to defend himself. According to him, Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington's controversial theory of a "clash of civilizations" is a truism. After all, "the peoples of the world are always struggling," and he wants to participate in that struggle. Still he says he's no friend of those who "throw bottles or beat people up."

He campaigns "against the New-York-ization of Germany," and against the "decadence of Germany's political class." Instead, he portrays himself as a man of the people and offers his would-be constituents help in their daily lives.

The watchmaker, who claims to have earned his money in the international gold and diamond trade, and for whom his shop is only a kind of hobby, has breakfast with craftsmen in the town's German House and chats with women at the market café. They're happy when "Udo" comes by to ask about their husbands and send his compliments to them.

He doesn't talk about the NPD on those occasions; after all, everyone knows which party their friendly neighbor works for. Concrete political issues are also the focus at Pastörs's regular meetings with the middle-class in the district town of Ludwigslust. The economy is high on the list -- with a particular focus on owner's equity share, which is often under 15 percent, Pastörs claims.

Taking the bait

"Completely enslaved to interest," is how Pastörs characterizes such business owners. Those of them who run into problems can meet with the NPD's two lawyers, who help them to "at least save their private assets" in the case of insolvency. Pastörs claims to already have won over a general contractor for his party in this way. Ute Lindenau, the Social Democratic (SPD) mayor of Lübtheen, isn't surprised that even "upstanding citizens in town" say that "he's not completely off base." She says it was a nightmare-come-true when a painter associated with Pastörs offered to renovate the rooms of a day-care center for free. "If I accept the offer," Lindenau says, "that will be publicity for the NPD, but if I don't they'll say I'm allowing everything to fall apart." Her solution is to help paint the center herself with the help of some of the parents.

The friendly right-wingers are active on many fronts. The wife of the NPD's district leader Andreas Theissen is a member of the local Parent Teacher Association, and Pastörs is the co-initiator of a grassroots campaign against a coal mining project planned for the region.

Whereas the SPD and the Christian Democrat (CDU) representatives in the district assembly were undecided, the two NPD members openly took a stand for the popular "No to Brown Coal" campaign. In other districts nearby, where the NPD received between 6 and 20 percent of the vote, Pastörs and party are upping their aid to those in need -- sometimes referred to as the "soup kitchen strategy."

There are other programs too. Children's festivals and grass roots initiatives are used to campaign for the "de-foreigner-ization" of Germany. Folk dancing, hiking excursions and summer camps are also on the menu.

Claus Guggenberger, spokesman for the Berlin branch of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, calls these kinds of activities the "ABC's of right-wing extremism." The NPD's efforts started paying off a long time ago. In 2005, the party's membership roles grew from 700 members to 6,000 members within just 12 months. "The bait" the party dangles in front of society, says Guggenberger, "simply works really well."

By Dominik Cziesche, Gunther Latsch, Conny Neumann, Irina Repke and Steffen Winter

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