Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Right-wing demonstrators take part in a march to commemorate the 64th anniversary of the Allied bombing of Dresden.
NORBERT MILLAUER STF
Right-wing demonstrators take part in a march to commemorate the 64th anniversary of the Allied bombing of Dresden.

Neo-Nazi violence on the increase

Far-right crimes such as arson and assault reached a new high of 13,985 last year, despite its main political force being close to financial collapse.

Berlin // A major demonstration by German neo-Nazis in Dresden last month and a sharp rise in racist attacks show Germany's far-right is becoming more dangerous even though its main political force, the National Democratic Party, is close to financial collapse.The NPD, a legal party despite its open espousal of Nazi ideology, has embarrassed itself with a series of financial scandals over donations and loans, and its treasurer was jailed last year for embezzling ?740,000 (Dh3.49million) The party now faces a possible fine of ?1.8m for irregularities in its 2007 accounts.

Its chairman, Udo Voigt, has admitted that the party is an "existential crisis" as a result of its financial problems. He is expected to be ousted at a party congress in April, and there's a bitter dispute over who is to succeed him.One contender, Andreas Molau, withdrew his candidacy after the deputy chairman, Jürgen Rieger, accused him of being "one-eighth Jew". Mr Rieger, a lawyer, is in trouble after a vintage Wehrmacht assault rifle was found in a police search of his private home last month.

But hopes that the NPD's internal problems may be weakening the far-right have proven unfounded. It managed to stage one of its biggest demonstrations since the Second World War on Feb 14 when more than 8,000 neo-Nazis gathered in Dresden to mark the 64th anniversary of the destruction of the city in an Allied bombing raid.Many of them wore black hooded jackets and they carried banners condemning the "Bombing Holocaust" as they marched silently through Dresden.

They were outnumbered by anti-Nazi demonstrators, but the fact that the NPD managed to attract more than twice as many supporters to the event as last year underlines that the far-right scene is growing, especially in the economically depressed former communist east."Right-wing extremism is steadily expanding, you can see it in the crime statistics," said Professor Hajo Funke, an analyst of the far right at Berlin's Free University.

"The neo-Nazi scene, both inside and outside the NPD, is becoming stronger, not as a nationwide electoral force but in its influence on racist attitudes and violence. There are places I wouldn't advise anyone who looks foreign to go without protection."Far-right crimes reached a new high of 13,985 in 2008, a 28 per cent rise over 2007, according to preliminary figures from the German interior ministry that are expected to be revised upwards.

Offences such as daubing swastikas on headstones in Jewish cemeteries or smashing the windows of takeaway restaurants run by immigrants are so commonplace that they do not usually make headlines. The number of violent far-right crimes such as arson and assault rose by 14.5 per cent to 735 in 2008. The incidence of such attacks is far higher in the east than the west, and anti-Nazi campaigners have been warning for years that parts of the east are no-go areas for immigrants.

Typical cases include the beating of a 44-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker in the town of Brandenburg near Berlin in May. He was attacked from behind by men shouting "Get out of here you pig" and sustained serious head injuries, according to Opferspektive, a government-funded group that monitors such attacks.In Niedergörsdorf near Berlin in June, a one-legged man who was overheard speaking Russian in the street was punched by a neighbour who yelled: "You Russian Jew pig, Hitler would have gassed something like you!"

Prof Funke said despite its internal problems, the NPD remains well organised in the two eastern states of Saxony and Mecklenburg- Vorpommern, where it has seats in the regional parliaments, and that it may even win enough support to enter the parliament of another eastern state, Thuringia, in an August election.He said the government had underestimated the far-right threat for years, and that police needed to get much tougher on offenders.

"It's irrelevant that the NPD keeps embarrassing itself in the eyes of liberal voters, because they would never support the party anyway," Prof Funke said. "It continues to appeal to people who are frustrated, who are uninterested in democracy or even opposed to it, and who see foreigners as scapegoats for their problems."The financial crisis may boost the NPD, which has proved before that it can win protest votes by tapping discontent about the economy.

In 2004, it won 9.2 per cent in the last regional election in Saxony after it campaigned against jobless benefit cuts. "It's known that right-wing extremists seize on political and economic problems. They offer supposedly simple solutions to issues that people are worried about in an attempt to gain support," said Alrik Bauer, spokesman for the Saxony state intelligence service.But he said there was no sign so far that the NPD was gaining from the financial crisis ahead of a state election in Saxony in August.

The party has more than 7,000 members but many neo-Nazis are not enrolled in the party because they find it too moderate or are not interest in democracy.Authorities have increased spending on projects such as setting up youth centres to prevent young people from joining the neo-Nazis, or funding citizens' advice organisations. But the measures are having little effect. The far-right scene remains a powerful draw for young, uneducated men with poor job prospects.

"There's no force in society that is seriously challenging the scene. Not the domestic intelligence service, not the police, not the more than 3,000 'projects' funded by the various regional governments," said Bernd Wagner, a former police officer who cofounded EXIT, a group that helps people quit the neo-Nazis."The lure of the scene is far too great," Mr Wagner said. "Who's going to keep young people out of it? Nagging teachers? The priest who's more focused on his crooked church spire? The country policeman who wants a quiet life?"

Mr Wagner said violent neo-Nazis were growing increasingly disenchanted with the NPD's lack of success in nationwide elections. The party scored just 1.8 per cent in the 2005 general election, and is usually well below one per cent."I have the impression the militant ones have lost faith. That's why they're becoming more uninhibited in their violence. It's a very dangerous trend," Mr Wagner said.

dcrossland@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National