NEO-NAZISM, neofascism, and right-wing nationalism. This threesome of undesirable ``isms'' is endangering the existence of East Germany's political round table, where the Communists and opposition have been meeting weekly to discuss the country's future. At issue is how best to control this rightist threat - if it is a serious threat at all.
The Communist press in recent weeks has reported a growing number of right-wing incidents, which include desecration of a Soviet war memorial and cemetery, swastika graffiti, vandalism, and anonymous death threats.
The Communist Party says an intelligence service must be created to track down the problem, whether it be home grown or ``exported'' by right-wing nationalists in West Germany.
The opposition, adverse to anything that resembles a secret police, rejects this. It adjourned the round table early on Monday, and some groups are threatening to quit altogether if the government does not explain its steps to form a new intelligence network and prove that the hated secret police have been disbanded, as promised, and stripped of weapons.
From birth, East Germans have been taught to consider their country the pinnacle of antifascism. This is one reason why this is such a sensitive issue here.
But the other reason has to do with election tactics. The opposition suspects the Communists of sowing ``hysteria'' over the threat in order to preserve some form of secret police and to paint the opposition as radicals.
A suspect case of ``hysteria'' is the enormous Soviet war memorial in the Treptow section of East Berlin. The memorial was spray-painted with nationalist slogans in late December, which prompted an antifascist demonstration of 250,000 last week, according to press reports.
``I am convinced the Communists did this [the desecration] themselves,'' says a Western diplomat here. Despite vast experience in fighting fascism, the government can't find the culprit - in contrast to other recent incidents, he points out.
The series of incidents are a ``mixed bag,'' says the diplomat. Some of the people being labeled neo-Nazis are simply frustrated citizens lashing out at the state, he says. Some of the perpetrators have turned out to be teenagers with no real political agenda.
On the other hand, anti-Semitism, violence from skinheads, and above all, a deep-rooted dislike of foreigners exist in East Germany, say the opposition, the Communists, and Western observers.
In this society short of consumer goods, it's not uncommon to hear the Poles, and African and Asian guest workers blamed for economic troubles. One acquaintance in Leipzig says that the Vietnamese are responsible for ``buying up all the children's clothes in our country.'' She reasons: ``Because Vietnamese people are so small, they don't have to buy adult sizes.''
In Dresden, a small-businessman interviewed on the street last month said Gregor Gysi's new position as Communist Party chief was evidence of a ``Jewish conspiracy to gain power.'' Mr. Gysi comes from a Jewish family.
``Of course there is anti-Semitism. There will always be anti-Semitism,'' says Irene Runge, spokeswoman for the Jewish community in East Berlin.
Mrs. Runge, who teaches at the Humboldt University, says she believes the motive behind the spate of incidents is political, rather than anti-Semitic.
She has received threatening phone calls and says she knows of prominent authors, artists, and children of political leaders who are also targets of verbal threats.