Country in focus: Germany
Michael Klein reports from Berlin | April 2012
Revelations of a spate of brutal murders and robberies committed by a gang of nazi terrorists have shocked Germany and, along with the ongoing euro-crisis, dominated the media’s headlines and overshadowed the rest of the far right.
After robbing a bank in the east German city of Eisenach on 4 November 2011, two men, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, committed suicide in their mobile home, encircled by police. Some hours later, an explosion and a subsequent fire ripped through and destroyed much of a house in the Saxon town of Zwickau.
It soon turned out that both events were linked by the fact that the two men and a woman, Beate Zschäpe, who had left the house in Zwickau shortly after the explosion, belonged to a group calling itself the National Socialist Underground (NSU). Zschäpe was later arrested and is in custody.
It quickly emerged that the NSU had been responsible for killing nine migrants and a police officer, for the explosion of a nail-bomb in Cologne and for several bank robberies. A video produced by the group and found in the ruins of the Zwickau home praised the crimes as the ultimate and necessary part of a struggle for a racially purified Germany.
The roots of the NSU go back to the mid-1990s when the town of Jena was a major centre of nazi activity, including manufacturing and depositing dummy bombs. In January 1998, when police raided a garage where explosives had been stored, the core of the group went underground and launched their murderous campaign as the NSU.
It is estimated that as many as twenty other nazis supported the NSU terror gang by providing money, accommodation, weapons, identity papers or renting vehicles. In addition to Zschäpe, four other nazis are currently on remand.
The fact that a nazi cell had been able to kill so many people and to remain on the loose for thirteen years has provoked much criticism of the effectiveness of police work and the murky involvement of the secret services, one of whose agents was present during at least one of the murders.
Although the nazi scene in Thuringia had been heavily infiltrated by the German secret services throughout the 1990s, those going underground were neither stopped nor, it appears, properly identified. Parliamentary investigation committees have now been set up at federal level – as well as in Thuringia – to attempt to establish what the secret services had been up to. However, many observers are sceptical that members of the secret services, and the police cited as witnesses by the investigation committee, will get permission to explain publicly what really happened.
The NSU case has also adversely affected the National Democratic Party (NPD), Germany’s most important legal nazi organisation as Ralf Wohlleben, a former press officer of its Thuringian branch and one of the suspected supporters of the NSU, has been arrested. Political debates are re-emphasising the need to ban the NPD and point to its involvement in terrorist activities. In fact, NPD members have been linked again and again to violent and even terrorist activities for the last four decades and the current opprobrium surrounding it will have a negative effect on the party’s prospects in this year’s elections in Schleswig-Holstein and the Saarland. It has also damaged the efforts of the NPD’s new party leader, Holger Apfel, to give the party a more moderate image by shifting away, cosmetically, from its more usual naked racism. The focus of the NPD’s current campaigning is the “euro crises” and on migration and asylum issues.
The discovery of the NSU points to the fact that there are more informal and secretive nazi networks whose members are travelling abroad for weapons training. While keeping a lower profile at the moment, the activities of the independent so-called Kameradschaften on the streets have not ceased. As in recent years, Magdeburg was the location of the first big nazi event of 2012, in mid-January, with over 1,000 taking part. In mid-February, their annual march in Dresden attracted only 1,800 nazis.
In general, the revelations of the NSU’s inventory of murder and crime have isolated the nazi movement and given anti-fascist activities more breathing space and credibility. However, aside from some resolutions in the German parliament and a couple of smaller demonstrations held in solidarity with the victims of nazi terror, no mass rallies of protest have taken place so far.
This points to the ongoing weakness of the anti-fascist movement, tired by its constant battle against the growing extent of nazi organisation and activity in the past decade.
Germany key facts
The only nazi party with national relevance is: The National Democratic Party (NPD).
- Membership: 6,600 approx.
- 2009 Federal election: 1.5% – 635,437 votes.
- 8 seats in Saxony regional parliament.
- 5 seats in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania regional parliament.
- Over 300 seats on councils.
- Monthly paper Deutsche Stimme claims 25,000 circulation.
- Youth Organisation, Junge Nationaldemokraten: approx. 430 members.
- Women’s organisation, the Ring Nationaler Frauen, approx. 150 members.
- The NPD is a member of convicted terrorist Roberto Fiore’s European National Front.
- The NPD has close relations with Nick Griffin’s BNP .
- The DVU, for many years the largest far-right party in Germany, merged with the NPD in 2011.
Parties of the far right with a regional relevance:
- Die Republikaner (REP).
- Bürger in Wut.
- “Pro” (Pro Köln, Pro Leverkusen, Pro Mainz, Pro Berlin … Pro NRW, Pro Deutschland).
Around 200 so-called Freie Kameradschaften, numbering between 5 and 60 members. In all, several thousand nazis are street active in Kameradschaften.
Around 150 fascist demonstrations annually. The largest takes place in February in Dresden, attracting up to 8,000.
The nazi prisoners’ aid organisation, the Hilfsorganisation für nationale politische Gefangene und deren Angehörige (HNG) – 600 members and outlawed in 2011. The fascist think-tank is the Gesellschaft für freie Publizistik (GfP) – launched 1960 and has 500 members.
There are about 200 White Power music bands and singers, who produce about a hundred CDs every year and stage about 150 concerts. Proceeds from sale of paraphernalia makes several million Euros a year.
jugendschutz.net, counted 389 websites in 2011, run by the Kameradschaften or people connected to them, 225 websites of the NPD or run by people linked to it and 158 online shops touting White Power music, writings and nazi fashion.
Every year nazis commit up to 600 acts of violence, according to official statistics. The real number of unreported cases is estimated as being higher.
Since 1990 nazis and racists have killed more than 190 people, mostly immigrants, homeless or supposed political enemies. In 2011, the National Socialist Underground terror gang was broken up by chance after killing ten people and robbing 14 banks between 2000 and 2007.
The New Right
Main paper is weekly Junge Freiheit with a circulation of approx. 20,000 issues week. Main think tank is the “Institut für Staatspolitik”.