Germany sees "alarming" rise in far-right violence

Reuters/October 7, 2000
By Erik Kirschbaum

A German government agency warned in an internal report of an "alarming" rise in the potential for far-right violence and said it could not rule out further hate crime attacks, a newspaper said on Saturday.

The report by the government's Office for the Protection of the Constitution published in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily also said there were "indications Germany is facing a terrorist threat" from the far right, and cited an increase in arms and explosives captured in recent police raids.

Two attacks on synagogues in the last week have jolted the nation still trying to come to terms with its Nazi past and the Holocaust. No one was hurt when a synagogue in Duesseldorf was firebombed and windows in a Berlin synagogue were broken by hurled stones.

But the incidents -- which recalled the Nazi's "Night of Broken Glass" raids on Jews in 1938 -- were the latest in a long line of racist violence this year and sparked fears of a resurgent far right.

"We are standing before a pile of broken glass that is not only the Jewish community but all of German society," said Andreas Nachama, leader of the Berlin Jewish community, Germany's largest with 12,000 members.

Most of the racist violence that has swept across Germany in the decade following reunification had until recently been directed at foreigners and refugees. Until recently there had been hardly any incidents involving the 90,000-strong Jewish community.

Michel Friedmann, deputy chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in an interview with the Magdeburger Volksstimme daily that the country was failing to grasp the danger from the far right and that violence was escalating.

"It's inexcusable that the Duesseldorf synagogue wasn't protected by police," said Friedman of the late-night firebombing. "Politicians haven't taken the problem seriously enough. The violence has risen to a higher level. The criminals and their sympathisers are in the middle of our society."

Heinz Fromm, the head of the government agency, said in an interview with the news magazine Focus that it was difficult to predict where the far-right extremists would strike because those who use violence were often poorly organised and the incidents often were spontaneous acts of violence.

"The violence against foreigners or against homeless people by the far right erupts mostly spontaneously," Fromm said. "It is difficult to anticipate where these attacks may occur."

Fromm, who did not comment on the internal report, said the neo-Nazi groups were increasingly popular among unemployed and those who seem to have no prospects.

"For a segment of the young population the far right is an attractive sub-culture because of their rumbles, their skin-head rock music and the camaraderie," Fromm said.

The agency's internal report said that in the past neo-Nazi groups had collected weapons for show -- "an illustration of a weapons cult or as a masculine fetish." It said arsenals were now being assembled "for use against political opponents."

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has condemned the violence and hurried to visit Jewish leaders in Duesseldorf after Tuesday's attack. Economics Minister Werner Mueller said he was afraid racism was damaging the country's reputation.

"Foreign investors are closely watching what's going on in Germany," he said. "I'm always having to explain abroad that these racist attacks are isolated incidents."

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