On March 17, 200 youths led by neo-fascist skinheads stoned a building occupied by East Berlin anarchists. The attack, one of many against leftists in recent weeks, was particularly bold because the anarchist building is next to a police station. On Feb. 19 in Leipzig, about 50 people disrupted a church forum on anti-Semitism by chanting slogans claiming that the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews never happened.
On Feb. 5, hundreds of supporters of the far-right Republican Party demonstrated in Leipzig. The government had banned that party's participation in parliamentary elections.
Although the vast majority of East Germans reject such activities, right-wing extremism is growing in the country, say political party leaders and academic experts. Its support is found mainly among alienated youth.
The move away from Stalinist socialism will lead to political and economic turmoil, says Siegfried Hollitzer, a Leipzig activist who heads the Lutheran Church and Judaism Committee. Under such conditions, he says, ``the soil is fertile'' for the growth of fascist groups.
Until last year, government officials denied that any neo-fascist movements existed in East Germany. Minister of Culture Margot Honecker has said frequently that all East German youth had a strong socialist orientation.
But Ekkehart Sauermann, a political scientist at Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg who has studied right-wing youth, says the phenomenon has existed for at least 10 years.
The government of Erich Honecker made scientific investigation of rightist extremism difficult, he says. But his study shows there are two main groups: skinheads and faschos (fascists).
The skinheads have adopted the bizarre dress and shaved heads of their West European counterparts. Some tend toward anarchism and others toward neo-fascism.
The skinheads are loosely organized and prone to spontaneous violence, such as the Berlin attacks on anarchists or long-haired leftists.
The fascos, according to Mr. Sauermann, have no distinct appearance, but organize themselves into secret political groups. They hate foreigners (which they consider Jews to be) and homosexuals, and admire strong totalitarian leaders, such as Adolf Hitler.
There are several thousand skinheads in East Germany, according to the Central Institute for Youth Research in Leipzig. But Sauermann says there are probably closer to 20,000 skinheads and supporters. No academics have accurate estimates on the number of fascos, he says, because of their underground organizations.
How did such neo-Nazi movements develop in the stridently antifascist East Germany? Two young men just released from jail for neo-fascist activity offer some insights.
Rene Kalkbrenner and Oliver Schreiber, both 18, were parolled March 12 after serving two years for desecrating a Jewish cemetery. Their 1988 trial attracted international attention when the Honecker government used it to demonstrate opposition to anti-Semitism.
For two months, the two youths and other friends had desecrated Lutheran and Jewish cemeteries and beat up homosexual men. While knocking over Jewish tombstones, they screamed out, ``Heil Hitler'' and ``Jewish pigs.''
Their nighttime forays began as drunken attempts to hold parties in graveyards, a common practice among some alienated youth. But they were also influenced by neo-fascist skinheads.
``We wanted to free Germany from foreigners,'' says Mr. Kalkbrenner. ``We thought the Nazis had done things for young people, not like Honecker. In some ways I admired Hitler, because he had united the German people. People attended the Nazi rallies not because they had to, but because they wanted to.''
Both men now say they have rejected those views as a result of study in jail and talks with East German Jewish journalist Salomea Genin. ``We had never met a Jew before,'' says Mr. Schreiber. ``It really made a difference.''
Neo-fascist thinking is common among the skinheads and fascos he met in prison, says Schreiber. He says fascos have organized in many cities. Their secret groups sometimes extend citywide and even to regional networks.
``They have names, like the Saxon Front and SS Division Walter Kruger,'' he says. The latter group has Nazi uniforms and membership cards.
The fascos commanded the respect of other prisoners, says Schreiber, ``because they know history, are intelligent, and cooperated with each other in jail.''
Both Schreiber and Kalkbrenner are glad to see East Germany move away from the authoritarian government of the past, and want to see a stable, democratic Germany.
They predict that ``right-wing extremism will grow'' in the years ahead. What had been mainly a home-grown movement of alienated youth could now grow into a political force.
``Now with the borders open,'' says Schreiber, ``it's easier for West German fascists to influence people.''