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Attacks prompt calls to fight neo-Nazi resurgence

A rise in antiforeigner incidents, including last week's bombing, has politicians abuzz.

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The weak link in the Christian Democrats' chain of responsibility is that the party itself has run two recent election campaigns on the backs of foreigners. Last year, the CDU won a tight race in the state of Hesse by launching a populistic drive against a federal plan to permit dual citizenship - a proposal that appeals to Germany's large Turkish population.

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In state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia this spring, Jrgen Rttgers, the leading Christian Democratic candidate, attacked Schrder's high-tech immigration program with the slogan, "Children, not Indians." (India is a major source of trained and mobile computer professionals.) Voters rejected the xenophobic ploy.

The CDU is not alone in probing the swampy territory of acceptability in the search for votes. Two summers ago, as the Social Democratic Party candidate for chancellor, Schrder was criticized for saying on the campaign trail that "there is only one thing for those who abuse our hospitality: Get out, and fast."

The choice of words underscored a belief among many Germans that foreigners are merely guests, not permanent residents, who can be given the boot when they misbehave. But even those who stick to the rules, such as most asylum seekers and refugees from the Balkans, have often been portrayed as parasites feeding on the generous German social system. But until recently, German law prevented refugees from seeking legal employment.

Smoldering east

The former communist east, once sealed off from the outside world by barbed wire and travel restrictions, is becoming a breeding ground for a virulent neo-Nazi youth culture.

"There's a smoldering fire in eastern Germany that in the heat of summer can turn into an explosive, open blaze," says Hajo Funke, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University and an expert on right-wing extremism. Sometimes all it takes to set off a conflagration, he says, are a few provocative words from a politician.

"Not for all, but for a significant number of eastern Germans, it's almost become a normal part of the daily frame of mind to be against foreigners. That people aren't ashamed of that is an alarming difference [to western Germany]," Wolfgang Thierse told the weekly Die Zeit. Mr. Thierse, president of the lower house of parliament, is one of the most prominent public figures from eastern Germany.

While the two recent killings by neo-Nazis took place in economically depressed towns in eastern Germany, the pipe bomb exploded in Dsseldorf, a prosperous western city. Right-wing extremism is not isolated to one region or social class here.

As an indication of the neo-Nazis' reach, there are now more than 500 right-wing Web sites, up from just 32 in 1996. Some include death lists and bombmaking instructions. While the government is pledging to crack down on Internet propaganda, Spiegel says, "Germany can't do it alone, and neither can Europe. The key lies in America." The US government, he says, should no longer tolerate blatantly neo-Nazi material on the Web.

Despite all the appeals and rhetoric of recent days, many observers remain skeptical. Professor Funke says that so far, he sees little serious effort on the part of politicians to tackle neo-Nazi activity.

"It's now a topic of discussion, but it's still an open question whether the political will will spring from it," he says.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society