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Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The rise of the far-right in the East

Along with many other prejudices, eastern Germany has had to contend with a reputation for neo-Nazism. It's not entirely unjustified, but right-wing extremism in the East has roots in economic hardship.

Right-wing violence was most dramatic in the first years of the newly unified Germany - and more and more often, they occurred in the former East Germany.

For three consecutive nights in August 1992, several hundred neo-Nazis - watched by up to 2,000 locals - attacked an apartment block for asylum seekers in the north-eastern town of Rostock. With the police unprepared and initially outnumbered, the violence continued unchecked until it culminated in an arson attack.

The Rostock riots quickly achieved international notoriety. Pictures of drunken, violent East Germans doing Hitler salutes were printed around the world. This was not the dawn of a new, hopeful country that had been celebrated less than two years before.

Authority vacuum

Neo-Nazi violence was not just a stain on the former East Germany. Over 100 of the 370 rioters arrested in Rostock had travelled from the former West, where there was a string of horrific attacks on Turkish immigrants in the early nineties.

But Rostock cemented the reputation of post-Wall eastern Germany as a new haven for neo-Nazism, and that reputation stuck. What characterized the Rostock riots as specifically East German was the powerlessness of the authorities.

For two or three years after the fall of the Wall, state institutions in the former German Democratic Republic were weakened by the period of transition. Police officers suddenly found themselves associated with a discredited regime. Dierk Borstel, a researcher into right-wing extremism at the University of Bielefeld, described the precarious circumstances in the early 1990s as linked to a lack of functioning insitutions.

"The police force was destabilized and the church had little influence anyway," Borstel told Deutsche Welle. "The eastern German trade unions and the PDS, the successor party to the former ruling communist SED, had little authority, and the trade unions and industry associations coming in from the West were all very weak in the east."

Worst of many worlds
These semi-anarchic conditions were fertile ground for far-right activists in the former East Germany, and their cause was further helped by the disappointment and poverty that spread in the East after reunification.

"The expectation of East Germans after reunification was: 'We're going to get the security of the East plus the freedoms of the West,'" Borstel says. "The result was that they lost the securities and couldn't afford the freedoms."

Even though the skinhead neo-Nazi scene originated in western Europe, it already existed in East Germany before the fall of the Iron Curtain. It was often linked to certain football teams, and occasionally broke out in extreme violence, such as the attack of 30 skinheads on a concert in a church in central East Berlin in 1987.

The far-right movement in the East capitalized on what many describe as the GDR's denial of its own Nazi history. Olaf Sundermeyer, author of "In the NPD," a book about the development of Germany's populist far-right National Democratic Party, believes the GDR's distanced attitude to Hitler's Germany helped feed the neo-Nazi movement.

"Communist leaders in the GDR said, 'We are an anti-fascist state and we have no responsibility for history. There are no Nazis here.' Of course that wasn't true. There were former Nazis in both East and West Germany, but there was no denazification in East Germany - the Nazi history was not dealt with," he said.

Imbalance and injustice
East German society was never particularly multicultural, and the government's immigration policies showed a determination to keep the population monotone. Immigrant workers from other socialist countries like Mozambique were sent home if they got pregnant, or as soon as their allotted time ran out. The lack of a multicultural foundation is still reflected in eastern German society today.

"Eastern Germany has a lot fewer immigrants - and it has long been acknowledged that where there are no immigrants and no Jews, there is more racism and anti-Semitism," Borstel said.

Neo-Nazis were also able to win over some East Germans with familiar ideas. "National Socialism often starts out with the idea of socialism, and then that is combined with frustration, unemployment, lack of opportunity, and populations moving away." This is the opinion of a former neo-Nazi who wants to remain anonymous, working for Exit Deutschland, an organization that helps people leave the far-right scene.

There is a widespread feeling that the West left the East behind economically. In the last 20 years, unemployment in the former East has been consistently twice as high as in the West, and the emigration of young eastern Germans remains a problem. Statistical evidence shows that German far-right parties tend to prosper in times of economic depression, and the NPD has aimed its electoral resources aggressively at the most neglected districts.

The Exit Deutschland representative, who has counseled numerous former neo-Nazis, said that the frustration that comes from being left behind after watching friends leave your home town is a factor common to many of those who turn to right-wing extremism.

"Those who stay, for whatever reason - because they can't find a job anywhere else, for example - feel an enormous frustration. That is fertile ground for far-right groups - and for extremist groups in general," he said.

Sympathy for the Left
This growing eastern German sympathy with the far-right chimed in with a study completed in 2003, which found that 16 percent of Germans had an extreme right-wing world-view - that is, they expressed chauvinistic, anti-Semitic, social-Darwinist or xenophobic opinions, and tended to trivialize the Nazi regime. In the East, this world-view was found in 23 percent of the population, compared to 14 percent in the West.

This showed a marked change from the early 1990s, when a similar study found far-right-wing opinion more prevalent in the West. Statisticians have linked this switch to a decline in economic expectation. Whereas easterners were more optimistic about their economic prospects in the early 1990s, by the late 1990s, westerners had become more positive about the economy.

Behind this turnaround lay a real sense of betrayal. In a study written in 2005, political scientist Richard Stoess wrote, "That the eastern German people overtook their western compatriots in sympathy for right-wing extremism lay in the fact that their initial trust in the western system of democracy and market economy had turned into particularly bitter disappointment."

Neo-Nazis for the new century
As state authority began to re-assert itself in the East, the far-right developed more subtle ways to organize. "The structures have become smaller," said Borstel. "They no longer rely on large parties like the NPD, but rather local cells, which are more difficult for the state to break up. They have become anchored in local communities in a way I thought would never happen."
This assimilation was mirrored in the far-right political parties, which have spent the past decade making themselves electable in the East. Although the NPD have steadily lost ground in the former West, in the East they have gained a foothold in several state parliaments.

"The Big Bang was the state election of 2004 in Saxony, where the NPD first gained representation in an eastern German state parliament," said Sundermeyer. "Since then it has very gradually established itself as a 'normal' party."

The NPD was re-elected to the Saxony parliament in 2009, with 5.6 percent of the vote. The NPD's membership figures had risen from 4,000 in 1995 to 6,800 in 2009.

The NPD has achieved this success by aiming its messages at young people, especially via the Internet, and appealing to sentiments shared by the far-left - anti-Americanism, anti-Israel, anti-globalization. It has worked to pick up the youth protest vote, targeting sub-cultures with an anti-system stance.

By Ben Knight



Finland's anti-immigrant True Finns party sees the rise of a far-right party in neighbouring Sweden as a sign it will also score gains in the next elections, a top party official told AFP Monday. "It appears that it will go just as badly for left-wing parties here," deputy party chairman and member of parliament Pentti Oinonen said. He said his party expects to double or triple the number of parliamentary seats in elections next April, aiming for at least 15 of the 200 seats. Like the far-right, anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats, Finland's True Finns are also campaigning for much tighter immigration policies, although the party rejects what they describe as overtly racist rhetoric in the Swedish party's campaign. Only 2.7 percent of Finland's 5.4 million inhabitants are foreign nationals and the country counts few naturalised foreigners compared to other Nordic countries. Nonetheless, Oinonen said he believed immigration would rise to become a top election topic. "We take in unreasonable numbers of immigrants, their benefits need to be cut, the family reunification policy is flawed, it's all gotten out of control," he said. Socio-economically, The True Finns Party is fairly centre-left, but some of its members have drawn fire for adopting xenophobic, anti-EU and anti-gay rhetoric, despite chairman Timo Soini's efforts to downplay his party's former extremist image. The True Finns' popular support has surged over the past few years, and with opinion polls in August handing it 10.7-percent voter support, it is running in fourth place.



Thousands of people gathered in a central Stockholm square Monday evening to protest against a far-right party that has been voted into parliament, waving banners and shouting “No to racism!” “It is very important to show that the big majority of the Swedish population is against the right-wing extremists like the Sweden Democrats,” Per Branevig, 33, told AFP, adding that he had voted for the Social Democrats in Sunday’s election. “It has been a big shock for me that they got so many votes,” he said of the far-right party that secured 5.7% of the vote. At around 6:00 pm (1600 GMT) some 6,000 people, some waving banners stating “Yes to togetherness, No to racism” and “No racists in parliament,” gathered in Stockholm’s Sergels Torg, according to a police estimate. The peaceful gathering was spontaneously organized by a 17-year-old girl from the Stockholm suburb of Sollentuna, Felicia Margineanu, who was so disappointed by the election results she posted a protest call on her Facebook page, the Expressen daily reported.

Sweden’s ruling centre-right coalition won the most votes on Sunday but fell short of a majority, as the far right Sweden Democrats nearly doubled their result from the last election and entered parliament for the first time, landing it in a key position in the house. “We don’t like those racists in the Riksdag. Being here shows the government that we care, that we don’t want them [the Sweden Democrats] in parliament,” said 18-year-old Younes Sedik, wearing a black T-shirt with orange lettering stating "I’m a Muslim. Don’t panic!” Standing near banners pointing out that “9,043,222 Swedes did not vote for the Sweden Democrats yesterday,” and that “94.3% of the people are not racists,” 21-year-old Thomas Zebuehr said he was “really unhappy” the far-right passed the four-percent barrier for entering parliament. “I’m not sure what should be done, but something has to be done,” he told AFP. A spontaneous demonstration against the Sweden Democrats also gathered in Sweden’s second largest city Gothenburg Monday evening, with up to 1,000 people participating, the TT news agency reported. Another large demonstration is planned to be held in Stockholm on October 4.


Court pays for makeup in Pasco neo-Nazi's retrial (USA)

With the retrial of neo-Nazi John Ditullio looming, his court-appointed attorney asked a judge Thursday for  approval of money to defend his client in this hate-crime homicide.

The requested funds included, as they typically do, the costs of traveling to take witness depositions — airfare, hotels, rental cars.

But in this case, the expenses go beyond the typical. Other costs the judge approved are a makeup artist to cover up the tattoos on Ditullio's face, neck and hands each day of the trial; and three life-sized cardboard cutouts to portray the height and build of some key figures in the case.

Cost of the makeup artist: $125 a day for up to three weeks.

Cardboard cutouts: $2,175.

"In our country we appoint attorneys" for poor defendants, said Circuit Judge Thomas McGrady, in approving the use of public funds for other defense costs. "Certainly we should have the same due process whether they're indigent or not."

Pasco authorities say that on March 23, 2006, Ditullio donned a gas mask and broke into a neighbor's New Port Richey home, where he stabbed a woman in the face and neck, then attacked a teenager. Patricia Wells was slashed in the face and hands but recovered. Kristofer King, who was 17, died.

Ditullio was a recruit in a small neo-Nazi clan that outfitted a single-wide mobile home like a heavily guarded compound. Wells told authorities that the neo-Nazis harassed her for weeks before the stabbing. She had a black friend who sometimes visited her home, and her son is gay. Authorities think King might have been mistaken for Wells' son.

Ditullio went to trial last December, but the case ended with a jury deadlocked at 10-2 for acquittal. Ditullio, now 24, was facing the death penalty, as he will again when his retrial begins Sept. 27.

He took the stand in his own defense last year, saying that he spent hours that day doing yard work, then came inside and drank something given to him by the other members that was laced with tranquilizers. Outside, he said, he saw Shawn Plott, another member of the group, carrying a bundled-up sweatshirt and looking like "he had seen a ghost."

When he took the stand, the jury then saw a made-up Ditullio — no sign of his tattoos of barbed wire along his face, no swastika and the words "f--- you" weren't visible on his neck.

A judge then also allowed court money to be spent on the makeup artist, and the trial judge, Circuit Judge Michael Andrews, approved the request.

Bjorn Brunvand, Ditullio's attorney, argued that the tattoos were so offensive that they — instead of the evidence — could sway jurors toward a guilty verdict.

The tattoos "have nothing to do with the facts of the case," Brunvand said last year.

The judge's ruling upset King's mother, Charlene Bricken.

"This is part of who he is. This is what the jury should see," Bricken said before last year's trial. "And if the jury is afraid, they should be."

Petersburg times