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Provincial judges hurt Germany's image abroad

Published: 17 Apr 2013 10:58 GMT+02:00

Chancellor Angela Merkel rightly spoke of national "shame" after it was uncovered in November 2011 that the National Socialist Underground (NSU) terror gang had murdered its way across Germany with impunity for the better part of decade.

In a moving memorial service, she said the country responsible for the horrors of the Third Reich had a special responsibility to protect its minorities. While I would argue all countries have such an obligation, in light of its dark history, one would think Germany would at least have a special sensitivity on such matters.

But the ten murders – eight people of Turkish heritage, one Greek, and one policewoman – by a trio of far-right extremists showed, if anything, that the German institutions meant to protect the country's foreign-born citizens were actively doing just the opposite.

As has been already eloquently pointed out, an investigation into the NSU killings has uncovered an unimaginable degree of incompetence and indifference – from the cops at the crime scene to the upper echelons of Germany's domestic intelligence agency.

Sadly, the Munich court where sole-surviving NSU member Beate Zschäpe will soon be tried, has shown itself to be affected by the very same institutional malaise.

On Monday, the curmudgeonly judges announced they were postponing the trial from this Wednesday until May 6th after the Constitutional Court ruled foreign media must be guaranteed access due to the heritage of the victims. Up to that point, the Bavarian court had steadfastly refused to fix its completely botched press accreditation process – which had left the Turkish-language media without a single one of the 50 seats reserved for journalists.

Germans will often disparage their country as a "Paragraphenland," or a land in thrall of countless legal statutes, and rarely has the label been more appropriate than when applied to the Munich court's infuriatingly narrow-minded interpretation of its own rules.

Casually ignoring the politically charged nature of the trial, the judges rejected televising the proceedings in a neighbouring room or tinkering with its first-come-first-serve approach. This intransigence, in turn, caused a growing sense of unease among Germany's media and politicians, as the court angered everyone from the victims' families to the Turkish ambassador.

Hiding behind the canard of preserving the independence of the nation's judiciary, the judges waited for the Constitutional Court to pull their chestnuts from the fire.

The high court ruling mandating foreign press access has mitigated a judicial disaster, but the damage to Germany's image has been done and the message is clear: Along with biased cops and incompetent spooks, as a minority in Germany you should be prepared to contend with judges wholly insensitive to your plight.

It remains to be seen how the inflexible Bavarian judges will solve the press accreditation problem. But they've generously given themselves three weeks to do so – and barring a mistrial, there's not much else that could go wrong.

Marc Young

marc.young@thelocal.com

twitter.com/marcyoung

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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