Fighting Extremism

A climate of mounting concern sparked by a growing wave of right-wing extremism has dominated the German press for the past month, instigating a vigorous, frank public debate on how best to handle neo-Nazis, and whether to ban the right-wing extremist political party, the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD).  After a firebombing in Düsseldorf on July 27 that injured 10 recent immigrants, most of whom are Jewish, numerous beatings and stabbings of foreigners, and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, politicians and intellectuals have for the first time spoken outagainst the “silent majority who may be abetting such crimes.”

Simultaneously, a fear of losing face in the European Union and the world has taken hold. “Imagine that representatives of the EU would visit Germany today—they would leave with the thought of immediately sanctioning Germany alongside Austria,” writes Vera Gesarow in the liberal Frankfurter Rundschau (July 31).

Blaming Germany’s lenient judiciary system, Berlin’s centrist Der Tagesspiegel (Aug. 8) lamented that “perpetrators aged 18 to 21 years are still being prosecuted under juvenile law.” But liberal commentators stressed that leading politicians still downplay the effects of xenophobia on the society, despite the grim statistics. In the first half of this year, according to Hamburg’s liberal newsmagazine Der Spiegel (Aug. 8), 5,223 anti-Semitic, xenophobic, or right-wing attacks were registered throughout Germany—a rise of 10 percent from 1999.

Nevertheless, Munich’s centrist Süddeutsche Zeitung (July 31) found time to worry about the effects on Germany’s economy. “Which dark-skinned foreigner, colored student, or high-tech expert still wants to work among us [after the recent attacks], especially in the eastern part of the country? We need a climate of tolerance, not higher wages. Fear is bad for business,” asserted the paper.

Meanwhile, Berlin’s leftist taz (Aug. 1) pointed to the growing resentment of foreigners and the rise of anti-Semitism among Berlin’s police force.

Hamburg’s independent Hamburger Abendblatt (Aug. 8) quoted Michel Friedman, vice president of the Council of German Jews—speaking the minds of many—who was flabbergasted at “how many people demonstrated against a ban on fighting dogs, compared to the sparse numbers who took to the streets demanding human rights.”