A new report from Germany highlights the institutional racism that lies behind official responses to the far Right.
In the wake of the scandal surrounding the police’s failure to prevent the eleven murders carried out by the National Socialist Underground (NSU), and the subsequent promise by the federal government to strengthen the pro-democracy fight against far-Right extremism, David Crossland, the editor of Spiegel Online International has carried out an investigation into ‘Why Germany isn’t rooting out its Neo-Nazis’.
A timely new report from the Berlin-based Amadeu Antonio Foundation backs up the picture Crossland paints of a German public and police force indifferent to the growth of the far Right. Das Kartell der Verharmloser, a 29-page report (in German), is based on case-studies, some of which have already been published on the internet news service‚ ‘Courage against right-wing violence‘, hosted jointly by the Foundation and the weekly magazine Stern. Empirical research is backed up with interviews with experts on rightwing extremism as well as case-workers at victim support, educational charities and monitoring centres on the far Right across Germany. One of the most shocking things to emerge from the report is evidence of a federal and regional political strategy of actively obstructing pro-democracy and anti-racist work. ‘Victims are left high and dry in a nearly systematic way by public offices’, claims author Marion Kraske.
Kraske is a political scientist and journalist and the report is the result of her travels across eight of Germany’s sixteen States. She visited nine cities – Plauen, Wismar, Jena, Erfurt, Limbach-Oberfrohna, and Boizenburg (in East Germany), Frankfurt, Düsseldorf and Dortmund (in the West). One problem Kraske identifies from the outset is the way in which municipalities in West Germany persist in presenting racism and rightwing extremism as a problem of the East. Yet some cities in the West, most notably Dortmund, have emerged as strongholds of rightwing extremism, particularly amongst the youth.
Amongst Kraske’s many important insights:
- Far Right attacks against political opponents are not recorded: One example she gives is that of the ‘info café’ Tikozigalpa in Wismar, which hosts cultural events as well as a programme of discussions on historical and contemporary issues of racism. (Thanks to the climate of fear generated by neo-Nazis, this is the only initiative of its kind in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.) ‘They came, armed with stones, at night during a reggae concert’, recalls Ralph who works at the Tikozigalpa. This was the first of many neo-Nazi attacks on the centre. And the first of many occasions where the police – from a station just a few hundred metres away – failed to find the perpetrators. The workers at Tikozigalpa, who overheard police officers arriving at the scene of the crime exchanging jokes about Turks, and seen them greeting offenders with a handshake, have lost faith in the police. When Ralph once reported a young neo-Nazi who was sitting in his car loudly singing anti-Semitic songs, the police officer refused to pursue the information. Wismar police statistics do not record a single racist offence against the Tikozigalpa. The story of the Tikozigalpa is just one among many that reveal a culture of denial amongst the police and a ‘culture of looking away’ amongst local authorities. According to Kraske, the police failure to log far-right attacks on centres like Tikozigalpa as politically-motivated means that a large number of cases are not appearing in police statistics on neo-Nazi and right-wing violence. On the ground, this translates into a ‘culture of ignorance’ where ‘victims are left to handle distress alone, while perpetrators interpret official inaction as an act of solidarity, and therefore come to occupy more and more social space’.
- Local municipalities turn a blind eye to the far Right: Police, politicians and local authorities turn a blind eye to rightwing violence when it happens in their own backyards because they fear bad publicity. And it is this, according to Kraske, which then leads them to actively obstruct the work done by anti-fascist and pro-democracy groups on the ground. For those who talk about and oppose racism are regarded as the ones who create the problem. ‘The people who denounce right-wing violence are criminalised and criticised for ruining the local area’s reputation’, stresses Kraske, citing the experience of vicar Lothar König. For many years König’s church in Jena represented an important sanctuary for the victims of racist violence. But any attempt to get financial support for his work foundered, as local politicians regarded him as a busybody, too radical and too left-wing. Most of the organisations Kraske visited were experiencing severe financial difficulties and spoke about the time-consuming administrative barriers that made accessing public funds difficult.
- Anti-fascist and anti-racist organisations are mistrusted: Last year IRR News reported on the difficulties experienced by anti-racist groups after the German government, as part of its counter-extremism strategy, imposed conditions on all federally-funded initiatives which meant that they would have to sign a statement declaring their allegiance to the German Constitution if they were continue to receive government funding. The Amadeu Antonio Foundation’s report shows that (despite a partial legal victory) the situation on the ground has, if anything, got worst since the federal government announced its new grant conditions for groups combating rightwing extremism. Many groups who refused to sign the ‘Affirming democracy against extremism’ clause have been penalised and face closure. New projects could not be implemented and successful networks that have grown over the years have been destroyed. Rightwing extremism expert Alexander Häusler believes that the German counter-extremism strategy has permanently weakened the work done by pro-democracy and anti-fascist activist groups – giving the lie to the government’s promise, in the wake of the NSU scandal, to do more to support all groups and organisations actively opposing fascism, racism and anti-Semitism.
- Strategic decisions reveal institutionalised racism: While the idea that official bodies can be guilty of institutionalised racism has been acknowledged in the UK since the 1999 Macpherson report, this is not the case in Germany, where racism is only perceived to pertain in attitudes. (Where racism is acknowledged at all it is associated with Nazism. But Nazism was something that was dealt with – and dismantled – after the second World War. Any resurgence of Nazism, therefore is a problem of individual attitudes and not of systems.) For instance, the official line is that the state security services’ and police failures to detect the crimes of the NSU were mistakes that arose from individual acts of carelessness and personal failure. The Amadeu Antonio Foundation’s report disputes this. It suggests that strategic decisions are being made to obstruct the work of victim-support groups on the ground, and that this is an element of institutionalised racism. Of course, anti-racists at a local level have long since made this point, pointing out also that the police’s failure to protect the victims of racial violence is also an aspect of institutionalised racism. This report by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation is an attempt to amplify this critique through empirical evidence and case studies. But whether the report’s explosive findings get wider publicity, and lead to the institutional change that is so urgently needed, remains to be seen.
Read an IRR News story: ‘German counter-extremism programme – a “spying charter”‘