Friday, October 26, 2012

Neo-Nazis in Germany

By: Chu Wu  
Produced & edited by: Molly Nocheck

When you see a man hidden behind a white mask, you may wish him to be the Phantom of the Opera. However, the reality is that he may be a Neo-Nazi in Germany.

On May 1 this year, hundreds of people marched at night, armed with torches, and hidden in black clothing and white masks in Bauzen, Germany. This group organized the event through text message and called themselves “Die Unsterblichen” (“The Immortals”). The organizers later uploaded the video onto YouTube, delivering the message: “Your short life, make it immortal.” The flash mob reminds people of the torch marching back to the days of Hitler and the Third Reich when the Nazis saluted their leader in this way.

Germany’s loss in WWII did not end Nazism as people may hope. Instead, Neo-Nazis carries on and is becoming a growing national problem in the spotlight.

Courtesy of Klara Naumann. Academic Fair Use.
According to the statistics from Robert Grimm, a researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University of the MYPLACE project, as of 2011, there are 22,400 right-wing extremists in Germany among which 9,800 are violent or potentially violent. These people and the parties carry out political movements, demonstrations and hate crimes.

Police in Germany failed to prevent and investigate a series of murders by the National Socialist Underground, a far-right terror group. After the incident, the federal government of Germany promised to strengthen the fight with far-right extremism and enhance the democratic society. However, it’s tough. The problem is complex. Anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and opposing multiculturalism are the basic characteristics of the extreme-right parties.

Timm Kohler is the program manager in a Berlin-based organization dealing with human rights issues. He says the main focus of the extreme-right and the Neo-Nazi topics are placed on the east states, which used to be German Democratic Republic before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

He explains that when the states suffer from a poor economy and high unemployment rate, people tend to believe it is foreigners who take away the job opportunities. The activists, with this idea in mind, insulted and conducted crimes on foreigners, believing that they will attempt to hold possession of the Germans.

Mr. Fuerst is the political-economic specialist in the US Consulate of Leipzig, Saxony, “It’s just because there are few foreigners here, local people have no chance to know and meet foreigners. Thus, they become more afraid of them.”

Ethnic groups are exposed to such dangers. Angela Rainone is an international student from Italy in Leipzig University. Her ex-boyfriend was once beaten by Germans on the street because he is black.

“My experience in Germany, for most part, is very good, but I remember once an old man responsible for fixing infrastructure in my apartment refused to help me because I am a foreigner.”

“They (the Neo-Nazis) don’t like anything that’s different,” says Crister S. Garrett, an American professor in Leipzig University. Asians, Africans, and Jews are easily identified as non-German, leading them to be greater targets.

Matthias Quent in University of Jena studies right-wing extremism for his research. The statistics make him worried about the future of the country. “Up to 20 percent of the German people are hostile to foreigners, in some areas even more than 50 percent,” he says the group focused enmity and the attitude of right-wing extremists are widespread.

Though he agrees that Neo-Nazi parties are not taking over the national government, it is definitely embossing political and social life in some areas.

Courtesy of Klara Naumann. Academic Fair Use.
Die Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, known as NPD, is the most famous and biggest extreme-right wing party in Germany. The number of registered members is 6,600 in 2010 and 6,300 in 2011. NPD strongly opposes multiculturalism. They believe what they have been committed to is trying to keep Germany as an autonomous country by its own people.

Felix Korsch and Andrea Kloss are students at Leipzig University and have been working on research for this topic. They mention a publication by NPD to publicize itself strategically. “They are producing some kind of ‘newspapers’ that look like this would be regular press and would have been made by journalists. But in fact, that’s camouflage that has nothing to do with journalism,” Felix examines printed Neo-Nazi media.

By using different strategies, NPD actually attracts the young generation. Timm says most of the voters for NPD are between the ages 25-35. Matthias also found that the party has achieved in some villages to well over 20 percent of the votes. These facts worried people like Matthias and Felix a lot. Nevertheless, it’s not drawing the majority’s attention to the aggressive Neo-Nazism. They believe it has to do with the German history and lack of media coverage.

Mr. Lux from NPD in Berlin has agreed to an email interview, but has not since replied. Felix explained that he has continuously failed to complete an interview with the Neo-Nazis due to their refusal to answer.

The efforts of the federal government trying to ban NPD are reported by media in recent years, but it still remains in debates. Matthias says: “The government act ambivalent.” He believes there are some good ideas and projects.

However, some top officials like the conservative Family Minister Kristina Schröder are deteriorating the movements because they feel discredited. With an increasing number of right-wing extremists crime in Germany reaching 8,000 in the first half of this year, the authorities are concealing the political motives in a lot of cases.

As an existing problem in Germany, the extreme-right ideologies and the Neo-Nazis will stay in dispute because of the complexity of legislation, freedom of speech and historical roots.

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