Rightist extremism: off center stage, but social yardstick

ONE issue that hasn't received much attention during the election campaign is right-wing extremism.

Polls show that Germans are more concerned about the economy and crime. The politicians, meanwhile, seem preoccupied with ``commie-bashing.'' But right-wing extremism nonetheless keeps generating headlines, both in Germany and abroad.

Some German experts maintain extremist activity is lower in Germany than in many of its European neighbors. They add that it does not constitute a problem in itself, but is rather a sign of deeper troubles.

Extremism will recede only when its root causes are addressed, they say. The future level of extremist activity can be a yardstick for how effectively the post-October government copes with Germany's 21st-century challenges.

``Right-wing extremism is a symptom of greater social, economic, and psychological problems among a certain portion of the population,'' says Norbert Lepszy, a political scientist at the Konrad Adenauer Institute, which is affiliated with the ruling, center-right Christian Democratic Union.

``We're talking about the people who can't keep pace - the losers of the modernization process who now feel a sense of disorientation,'' Mr. Lepszy says.

``The task of the major parties now is to address the needs of these people,'' he adds. ``It's a fault of the political elite right now that they are talking above the heads of many people.''

The Kohl government, at first slow to react, has moved over the past year to reduce the popularity of the radical right. The first major step came in the summer of 1993, when the German Parliament tightened immigration rules. Far-right political parties, particularly the Republicans, had exploited immigration-fueled, anti-foreigner sentiment to attract support.

Tougher laws had the desired effect. The Republicans' electoral fortunes plummeted this year, as the number of asylum requests dropped precipitously. Yet, while the Republicans fade, other radicals further on the right remain active.

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