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CRIME

Attack sparks fear of rising neo-Nazi violence

A vicious attack at a motorway rest stop after a huge neo-Nazi march in Dresden last weekend has sparked alarm across Germany. As David Wroe reports, some believe the country’s far-right scene is undergoing a dangerous transformation.

Attack sparks fear of rising neo-Nazi violence
Photo: DPA

Trade unionist Holger Kindler has been to at least 20 rallies to protest neo-Nazi gatherings in various German cities and towns. But he says he’s never seen anything like what happened last Saturday.

Kindler was among the 80 unionists and leftists who were having a break at a motorway rest stop in the eastern German state of Thuringia on Saturday when a busload of 41 far-right extremists pulled in. He and his colleagues had just joined some 10,000 people demonstrating a major neo-Nazi march in Dresden.

”One of my colleagues who was in the car park called me on my cell phone and told me they had arrived and were aggressive,” he said. ”I just went into shock. It was a Nazi crew that was very political, not just sub-cultural. They weren’t satisfied with walking through Dresden.”

Five anti-fascist demonstrators were left injured, including one with serious skull fractures. The neo-Nazis weren’t bumbling skinheads, Kindler said. They were autonome Nationalisten or free nationalists – a radical, political segment of the far-right scene in Germany who are growing in number and, experts fear, poised to create a new wave of neo-Nazi violence.

The attack at the rest stop follows recent figures showing a 30 percent rise last year in far-right crime and the shocking knife assault on Alois Mannichl, police chief in the southern town of Passau. Though investigators have yet to find Mannichl’s assailant, they are looking for a man described as a tall skinhead.

These disparate events, according to observers, are explained by upheavals in the far-right scene caused by the breakdown of old alliances and the emergence of new, aggressive splinter groups.

”It’s a trend,” said Matthias Adrian, a former skinhead who now helps extremists quit the scene. ”We’ve noticed more threats against those getting out and attacks on democratic activists by right-wing extremists. The atmosphere has changed and it is now more aggressive. This is the tip of the iceberg.”

Jewish organisations are also deeply concerned. The Central Council of Jews in Germany and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Berlin believe the violence reflects the emergence of groups who had been aligned with extremist parties such as the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) but have become frustrated by democratic politics.

”It’s not a coincidence,” said Deidre Berger, director of the AJC in Berlin. ”There’s a trend towards very loosely organised cells which use modern means of communication and are therefore harder to keep track of. It also means they can work across borders so you have more communication between these cell-like structures in different countries in Europe.”

As if to confirm this, police are looking for three Swedish neo-Nazis in connection with the Thuringia assaults, as well as home-grown extremists from western Germany.

”These cells are becoming more established and that’s definitely a major factor in the escalating violence. It’s a tremendous concern to us,” Berger added.

The NPD loses its sway

In the 1990s, the NPD courted neo-Nazi groups known as Kameradschaften, or Brotherhoods, using them as grassroots muscle to win seats in state and local elections. The NPD, radical though it is, curbed the most violent impulses of the Brotherhoods because violence turned away voters.

But with the NPD now riven by internal fighting and an embezzlement scandal that has implicated its leader Udo Voigt, many of these Brotherhoods have become disillusioned and are splitting away, experts say.

”A lot of them are angry now because they’re seeing these NPD politicians with nice jobs and cars and drivers and they’re wondering, ‘What did we get out of this?”’ a government intelligence official from North Rhine-Westphalia told The Local.

In early January, a leading neo-Nazi, Thomas ”Steiner” Wulff, called for the dissolution of the Volksfront, an alliance between the NPD and independent far-right extremist groups. Wulff, who gets around in a peaked cap and greatcoat and took his nickname from the Nazi tank commander Felix Steiner, was instrumental in unifying neo-Nazi groups in the 1990s.

”The situation with Thomas Steiner Wulff is very interesting,” said Dr. Esther Lehnert, who runs a federally funded counselling service to combat the far-right scene in Berlin.

She said if key autonomous nationalist leaders continue to leave the NPD it could mean more violence is in store without the party to keep them on a short leash. “At the moment, no one can say what they’re going to do. They are unpredictable,” she said.

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency charged with watching extremists, is naturally cautious about drawing conclusions from the latest data and incidents such as the rest stop attack, but an official from the agency admitted the government was worried by the growth of the skinheads, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists seemingly operating independently.

They are a new phenomenon in the scene and they are more interested in confrontation,” he told The Local. “At demonstrations, you notice they are less willing to take the orders of the police and more willing to fight the left-wing counterdemonstrators. Even most of the right-wing scene says they are too aggressive.”

GERMANY AND ISRAEL

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.

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