Fighting the Fringes Berlin Sharpens Focus on Right-Wing Extremism

The German government has been under fire ever since a murderous far-right terror cell was uncovered in 2011. Now, Chancellor Merkel's justice minister has proposed the establishment of a commission to coordinate the battle against extremism in the country.

Germany's justice minister wants to better coordinate the fight against the right.

Germany's justice minister wants to better coordinate the fight against the right.

When German Family Minister Kristina Schröder established an initiative in 2010 to combat left-wing extremism in the country, the outcry was immediate. First and foremost, many worried that Chancellor Angela Merkel's government was equating left-wing violence with right-wing violence and losing its focus in the fight against neo-Nazis.

It didn't take long before those concerns became more urgent. In November of 2011, police uncovered the National Socialist Underground (NSU), the neo-Nazi terror cell which murdered 10 people, nine of them with foreign backgrounds, from 2000 to 2007. Now, partially in reaction to the numerous police and official errors made during the investigation of the string of killings, Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger has proposed the establishment of a commissioner to focus exclusively on extremism in Germany.

The commissioner, she told the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, should be situated in the Chancellery and should act as a coordinator for all state-sponsored programs designed to combat extremism. Currently, she noted, "citizens who seek to counter extremist activities on a local level … are frustrated rather than encouraged."

She said that, while there are a number of programs currently in place, the diversity of the initiatives has become so highly complex "that they seem opaque and even inconsistent." She said that a survey among various ministries in Berlin found that nobody has a clear overview of the various programs and projects.

Undefined Criminal Milieu

While Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger was careful to note that the new office would be responsible for programs directed at all types of extremism, she said it would have a "particular focus in the area of right-wing extremism."

The justice minister's proposal comes just days after the trial against Beate Zschäpe, the lone surviving member of the NSU, began earlier this week in Munich. It is one of the largest neo-Nazi trials ever to take place in Germany and has generated headlines abroad as well. Turkey, in particular, has taken an interest in the proceedings; eight of those killed by the NSU were of Turkish origin.

More than anything, though, the NSU case exposed serious shortcomings in both German operations to keep right-wing groups under surveillance and the police investigation into the nine murders. For years, the killings were treated as being the likely product of some undefined criminal milieu within Germany's immigrant population.

Leutheusser-Scharrenberger envisions the new position as being similar to that of the federal integration commissioner, who has had an office at the Chancellery since the position was created in 1978.


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