Germany's far-right paradox

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All over Europe far-right parties are polling in the mid twenties. Not so in Germany. The once high-flying Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) started to lose steam two years ago and are struggling to stay in the double digits.

But weakening support for the party founded seven years ago by a group of Eurosceptic professors disguises a more troubling trend in right-wing extremism in Germany today.

  • In the summer of 2019 neo-Nazi Stephan E. gunned down the CDU politician Walter Lübcke over his support for Angela Merkel’s refugee policy. 

  • Only a few months later, Stephan B. attempted to massacre Jews celebrating Yom Kippur in a synagogue in Halle. He failed but killed two bystanders. 

  • In February of 2020 Tobias R. went on a shooting spree in Hanau, murdering nine people from ethnic minorities.

These acts of violence sent shockwaves through a country where the wounds of the NSU terror attacks are still fresh. The National Socialist Underground (NSU) were able to murder Turkish and Greek immigrants for eight years in the early to mid-noughties before the authorities managed to connect the dots. It took another eight years to sentence Beate Zschäpe, the only living member of the terror cell. That the killing spree could continue unhindered was largely due to police labouring for years under the misapprehension that foreign crime families were behind the attacks.

While the case highlighted the continuing appetite for murder among the far-right, for some critics the wrong-headed police investigation demonstrated an ingrained racism inside the forces. 

While those accusations fell on deaf ears at the time, the question is back, due to a mysterious entity calling itself the NSU 2.0. Hundreds of death threats, signed ‘NSU 2.0’, were sent to politicians, journalists and actors. In several cases police servers in Hessen appear to have been used to obtain the target’s address. 

“The possibility of a right-wing network within the state police is a reality,” admitted Hessen’s police commissioner Udo Münch before he was sacked last summer.

Mr Münch might not be the last commissioner whose head rolls.

In the summer of 2020 ministers stepped in front of the cameras to express their disgust at men and women in blue sharing cartoons of refugees in gas chambers, swastikas, or worse. 

After the contents of a chat group in North Rhine-Westphalia were discovered by accident last week, state interior minister Herbert Reul called it “the most hideous and disgusting agitation you can imagine. A scandal for the police.”

A few days later his peer in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern joined the condemnation in light of the revelation that 17 members of his force had shared messages glorifying the Nazis.

Die Polizei - mirror of society? © shutterstock / Animaflora PicsStock

While the word Einzelfall seemed less fitting by the day, federal interior minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) manoeuvred himself into a corner by pledging that “as long as I’m around, there will be no investigation into racism in the police force.” 

Defence Minister Annegret-Kramp Karrenbauer (CDU) took a decidedly tougher line in June, when she gave the Bundeswehr elite unit Kommando Spezialkräfte a four-month deadline to rid itself of a far-right influence which has plagued it for several years. 

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Studies have shown that anti-Semitism and racism is more pervasive in German society than the AfD’s weak polling figures suggest. Some argue that the problem is no worse within the police and military than in society as a whole. 

But in a country where 20 percent of the population has a migrant background the bar for public servants - especially those who hold a monopoly on violence - should surely be higher.

A recent example from Berlin illustrates the damaging overlap between far-right crime and racism in state institutions: A state prosecutor turned a blind eye a series of attacks on politicians because of his political sympathies. The crimes continued for several years before links between the prosecutor, the police and the perpetrators were discovered, leading to the prosecutor’s removal from the case.

While the sad truth is that Germany is far from alone in Europe when it comes to far-right violence, for its three federal intelligence agencies (the Federal Intelligence Agency, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz and the Military Counter Intelligence Service) the matter is clear. “Right wing terrorism is currently the biggest threat to domestic security,” is their unanimous conclusion.

But the paradox remains - few expect the AfD to play a major role after Germany’s parliamentary elections next year.

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