The riots which have shaken West Germany this week may have also weakened a fledgling political alliance. The death of one protester turned what started as a peaceful protest against a meeting of neo-Nazis into a violent challenge to police authority from left-wing groups in half a dozen West German cities.
The worst violence has occurred in Frankfurt, West Germany's financial center, although fighting also has taken place in West Berlin, Hamburg, Hannover, G"ottingen, Stuttgart, and several smaller communities.
Seen in isolation, the neo-Nazi rally on Saturday night was insignificant. The National Democratic Party has never been able to elect anyone to the federal Parliament. In the last two elections, the NPD won just two-tenths of 1 percent of the popular vote. Nevertheless, its rallies always provoke protests from labor unions and left-wing political groups which believe the party should be banned.
Yet the violence embarrassed the liberal Social Democratic Party (SPD). Willy Brandt, chairman of the party, told reporters that he could never ask anyone to refrain from protesting against neo-Nazis. On the other hand, the party has to keep its distance from the violent groups apparently more intent on attacking the state than protesting against Nazism.
The ecological and antinuclear Greens insist their party is opposed to all forms of violence, yet encouraged its members to join protests against police in Frankfurt. Some Greens in Frankfurt explained that throwing paving stones at police should not be viewed as violence, but rather a legitimate expression of anger and outrage.
This attitude has put a strain on the ongoing attempts to negotiate a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to govern the state of Hesse, in which Frankfurt is situated. Some think that if such a coalition could be formed in the provinces, it could pave the way for a similar deal at the national level after the 1987 parliamentary election.
But Greens' support of the Frankfurt violence has put a new burden on the negotiations with the Social Democrats, and could lead to their collapse. If that happens, it may be possible to say that stones being thrown at the police in Frankfurt now will help keep Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government of Christian Democrats and Free Democrats in power after the next national election.
The affair began in Frankfurt Saturday night, when about 700 people from left-wing groups attempted to prevent a meeting of about 70 members of the NPD.
Since the NPD is a legally constituted political party and had been granted a license to conduct a political rally, the police had no choice but to provide it security. Several police water-cannon vehicles were brought up to help clear streets blocked by protesters of the march. During a melee, an anti-Nazi demonstrator was run over by one of the water cannon.
After that, about 200 of the original protesters went on a rampage through the center of Frankfurt.
A couple of thousand turned out to demonstrate the following night in Frankfurt, and thousands turned out in other cities to fight with police.