German Crackdown Signals Commitment To End Violence
THE Germans are tightening the screws on right-wing extremists, albeit belatedly.
Yesterday, the Interior Ministry banned the neo-Nazi group German Alternative, freezing assets and searching apartments. With membership of about 300, it was the second neo-Nazi organization in two weeks to be banned. On Nov. 27, the government outlawed the Nationalistic Front, confiscating weapons, explosives, and propaganda.
Yesterday's ban was announced by Interior Minister Rudolf Seiters during a parliamentary debate on right-wing extremism in Germany. The debate was used as a forum to show broad political commitment to stamp out neo-Nazism here.
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl began the debate by calling on all Germans to fight growing right-wing extremism. He strongly condemned xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Germany and said that extremist violence would be met with the full force of the law. "There is no justification for violence," he said.
The statement was welcomed, but "if Kohl's statement had taken place two weeks sooner, it wouldn't have been a mistake," said Werner Hoyer, a Bundestag member of the Free Democrats, Kohl's coalition partners.
Ignatz Bubis, chairman of the German Jewish Council, said Wednesday he thought the government had finally woken up to the seriousness of right-wing extremism, but also criticized it for its "late" response.
In recent weeks the government has announced a special commission and special police units to counter right-wing extremism.
On Wednesday, the government said it was petitioning the country's highest court to deprive two rightist extremists, Heinz Reisz and Thomas Dienel, of their rights to express their views, vote, or engage in politics.
On Wednesday Mr. Dienel, a neo-Nazi, was convicted in the east German city of Rudolstadt and sentenced to two years, eight months in prison for violating Germany's anti-Nazi laws. It was considered an unusually harsh sentence.
In July, Dienel left pigs' heads and insulting notes in a Jewish synagogue in the eastern city of Erfurt. He was convicted for delivering a speech to extremists in which he said that "unfortunately" young Germans have "not yet killed any Jews."
Mr. Bubis, speaking before the foreign press here, said that up until three Turks were killed in a firebomb in the west German town of Molln Nov. 23, the government had always presented rightist violence as a reaction against the many asylum seekers flowing into Germany. The Turks, however, were not asylum seekers but members of the longstanding Turkish community in Germany.
Seen chronologically, Bubis added, events show that right-wing violence is not just limited to the asylum issue but that "anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia are a whole package."
Count Otto Lambsdorff, leader of the Free Democrats, warned in the Bundestag yesterday against linking right-wing radicalism with the asylum issue. The new compromise restricting asylum in Germany will not solve right-wing extremism, he said. "There's no excuse for murder, manslaughter, and arson. The only answer to that is prison," he said.
LAWMAKERS spent a great deal of the debate trying to pinpoint the causes of right-wing extremism. The Social Democrats blamed it on social injustice and economic hard times. The Christian Democrats, Kohl's party, hinted that the country had become too liberal and had lost respect for the law and the authority of the state.
The chancellor called on the institutions of the family, the school, and the church to carry out their responsibilities in bringing up children. He also criticized the news media, especially television, for broadcasting "ever more brutal entertainment programs" which support violent behavior in society.
But he did say, that because of Germany's history, the country has a special responsibility to conquer right-wing extremism.
Bubis, of the German Jewish Council, sees the killings in Molln as a "turning point" in the public's consciousness about the dangers of neo-Nazism. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Germans have taken to the streets to protest right-wing extremism.
"The majority of Germans are not xenophobic," said Bubis. "I believe right radicalism will disappear in Germany," he said, explaining that democracy, while not necessarily natural to Germans, was now rooted deeply enough to meet the challenge.