Germany is a prosperous, stable country in the center of Europe. It has conscientiously confronted its terrible past and left it behind. After re-unification there were a few worried voices that warned about Germany’s possible return to an aggressive nationalism with ambitions beyond its borders. But the Berlin Wall came down, the East is free, and all is well in Germany now. Present-day Germany is not the country it once was; German society has changed. There was no reason for all the worries.
But is that really so? Germany went overboard in the Twentieth Century with wars and the Holocaust. So naturally people now want it to be different. Perhaps out of sheer optimism, out of the hope that something good can come out of something bad, possibly because it is good to overcome clichés, people find it very hard to believe that problems persist in Ger many, but that is how it is. From re-unification in 1990 until the present, neo-Nazis have killed 183 people in Germany. Neo-Nazis have beaten, tortured, burned, stabbed and kicked people to death. Many other victims survived, but are now handicapped. Even more people don’t bear any physical scars but they still suffer from the pain and trauma of the attacks. The number of victims of neo-Nazi violence grows from year to year.
But who are these neo-Nazis? There is the NPD, an ultra rightist party that is represented in two state parliaments and in communal representations throughout the country at the beginning of 2010. They manage to swing the mood in some regions; they focus successfully on people’s everyday issues and sew hatred against minorities. Next to the NPD there are small, informal neo-Nazi “combat” units. These groups carry out most of the violent attacks and have an enormous potential to attract young people from va- Neo-Nazi demonstration rious youth scenes. They offer a mixture of community feeling, racism and provocation that seems to fascinate some young people. Together with old people who glorify the Nazis and grown-ups who glorify socialism, these youths are a grave threat to minorities.
The situation is especially difficult in Eastern Germany. After the Second World War, the NPD in the West was the party of ultra right but very conservative old Nazis. Nowadays the NPD is instead nationalist and revolutionary. That means that the neo- Nazis of today are against capitalism and globalization and for an ethnic, socialist state. They support ethnic community and ecological agriculture. Thus they fit perfectly well with current popular sentiment. Young neo-Nazis wear Che Guevara t-shirts and Palestinian scarves, symbols of the Left. Their views are racist and nationalist but they are also socialist and want a revolution. That is how it is in East European post-Communist societies.
Eastern Germany is such a post-Communist society, but it is also part of the country that conceived and carried out the Holocaust. Women in the neo-Nazi scene organize women’s groups and help those in need as long as they are “Aryan.” Many neo-Nazis have got married, but that doesn’t make them less Nazi. Neo-Nazi parents become involved in schools or do jury-duty. They support the local fire department or organize events for children. And they don’t hide their political views. Their neighbors know them and tolerate them. Many agree with them. Neo- Nazis are establishing structures in the West as actively as in the East now.
Every year there are hundreds of neo-Nazi and racist attacks. Visible minorities and immigrants are at risk, as well as gay, lesbian and transgender people, the homeless and people who oppose the neo-Nazis in their midst. That is why it is crucial to protect the victims and to help those who have the courage to confront the neo-Nazis.
After all: all is not well in Germany. This country may appear stable and wealthy but the Nazi past casts its brutal shadow well into the present. Germany enjoys a good reputation today, but as long as there are regions of the country where minorities enter at their own risk, there is a lot to be done so that one day reality might correspond to that good reputation. The Amadeu Antonio Foundation is working to establish a democratic culture of respect everywhere in Germany.
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