The latest annual report on extremism in Germany suggests that neo-Nazis have swapped the skinhead look for a boy-next-door image, making it harder to identify right-wing extremists. Although overall extremist crime is down, the tendency towards violence is increasing -- within both the far left and right.
Germany's far-right is undergoing a transformation that is making it less conspicuous but more dangerous, Germany's Interior Ministry and Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), warn in a new annual report being released on Friday.
The report by the Interior Ministry and BfV, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, found that, in 2010, there were 15,905 politically motivated crimes associated with the far right. The figure represents a 15.2 percent drop compared with the 2009 figure of 18,750 crimes. The number of violent crimes in the same period fell from 891 to 762, a 14.5 percent reduction.
However, the report also found that there was an increasing tendency toward the use of violence. "On the whole," the report concluded, "it is possible to see a rise in the potential for violence as well as in the willingness to employ violence to attain one's political goals." This is particularly the case, the report found, among members of the so-called "autonomous nationalists" of the far right, while the more noticeable skinhead subculture is becoming "increasingly less interesting for right-wing extremist youths."
The fact that the autonomous nationalist -- sometimes also known as the "anarchist nationalists" -- do not wear clothes and other articles publicizing their beliefs makes it considerably more difficult to identify them. Indeed, the report finds that the classic skinhead style -- such as having shaved heads and combat boots -- has become outmoded. "Members of the (far-right) scene instead prefer to wear articles of clothing or brands that orient themselves more toward general trends in youth fashion and that use corresponding lettering or symbols to signal their membership in the scene in a less visible way," the report states.
The report also finds that the number of neo-Nazis has "significantly risen," from 5,000 to 5,600. The BfV puts the total number of far-right extremists at 25,000 out of a total population of around 82 million.
The report also concludes that far-right extremist violence continues to be concentrated in the five eastern states that were part of the former East Germany. While there has been a decrease in the number of far-right crimes in Germany as a whole, the number of far-right crimes in these eastern states has risen; of the 762 total crimes, 304 -- or 40 percent -- were in these five states. When measured as a ratio of crimes to inhabitants, the state of Saxony-Anhalt topped the list of most far-right crimes (67, or 2.8 per 100,000 citizens). It was followed by Brandenburg (66/2.6), Saxony (98/2.3), Thuringia (44, 1.9) and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (29/1.7).
Less but More Violent Left-Wing Violence
When it comes to left-wing extremist violence, though, the report does not find a similar east-west divide. It also notes that there was a year-on-year decrease in the total number of left-wing crimes, from 4,734 to 3,747, or 20.8 percent. Although it cites a corresponding reduction in left-wing violent crimes -- from 1,115 to 944, or 15.3 percent -- the report also finds an increased willingness to use violence on this end of the political extreme, as well.