Spotlight on Italy's Political Right Spills Over Into Germany

THE ascendancy of the right in Italy is causing unease in Germany, where right-wing leaders are becoming vocal as the nation heads for October elections.

The next Italian government may comprise a right-wing coalition - possibly including neo-Fascists - led by business magnate-turned-politician Silvio Berlusconi.

The stunning success of Mr. Berlusconi's right-wing Forza Italia movement in March 27 parliamentary elections has German political commentators wondering about the possibility of a ripple effect on Germany's own Oct. 16 national elections.

``Italy voted for the things Berlusconi promised: thrift instead of corruption, order instead of scandals, security instead of crime,'' Udo Robel commented in the mass-circulation Bild Zeitung. ``What is the chance that Germans think the same way? Italy has sent its old political caste into retirement. Is this the reason some politicians in Germany are moaning?''

In Bonn, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's governing Christian Democrat-led coalition has low public opinion ratings and appears in precarious shape.

But recent results in local and state elections show Germans are hesitant to turn their backs on established parties and empower a wide variety of fringe movements, especially the extreme right.

But there is concern in Bonn that German right-wing leaders could feed off the publicity generated by the Italian rightists' victory. Some observers say Berlusconi set a bad precedent by forming an alliance with the neo-Fascist National Alliance, a potential coalition partner if he succeeds in forming a government. (His attempts to do so were stalled by a dispute with another potential partner, the Northern League.)

``Without any need, Berlusconi made the far-right presentable again,'' the Bonner Rundschau newspaper editorialized. ``It was his free decision to cooperate with the far right in Italy, and, at the same time, put off centrist parties.''

National Alliance leader Gianfranco Fini has wasted little time in causing controversy by praising former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini as ``the greatest statesman of this century.'' Antifascists want Mr. Fini prosecuted for violating laws that prohibit public endorsement of Mussolini's reign. Fini is backpedaling, saying he was making a historical, not a political judgment.

THE Fini episode comes at a time when German right-wing leaders are struggling to raise their profiles. For example, Franz Schonhuber - a 70-year-old former Waffen SS soldier and head of the right-wing Republican Party - recently made headlines here for his scathing verbal attacks on Ignatz Bubis, a leader of Germany's Jewish community.

Mr. Bubis had called right-wing politicians, including Mr. Schonhuber, the ``spiritual arsonists'' behind a synagogue firebombing. Authorities believe neo-Nazis were responsible.

Schonhuber claimed Bubis was inciting racial hatred, saying: ``Germans have had enough of Mr. Bubis's endless finger wagging.''

The Republican leader's remarks drew widespread condemnation, but also served Schonhuber's purpose by focusing the media spotlight on him. Previously, the German media had avoided giving exposure to right-wing politicians.

Polls show the Republicans now have as much as 4 percent of the electorate. In order to gain representation in the German legislature, the party needs more than 5 percent of the vote.

Mr. Kohl and other German political leaders have called for Schonhuber's prosecution for slander. But Schonhuber enjoys immunity because he is a member of the European Parliament.

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