State Assembly to Probe Allegations Are Eastern German Police Soft on Neo-Nazis?

Recent allegations that police in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt have been slow to investigate far-right crimes have prompted the region's parliament to launch an inquiry. It's high time -- the state has the highest number of racist attacks per capita in Germany.

By in Berlin


Neo-Nazis commemorating the anniversary of the death of Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess last month.
Getty Images

Neo-Nazis commemorating the anniversary of the death of Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess last month.

The eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, which had the highest incidence of far-right attacks in Germany last year, has launched a parliamentary inquiry into the region's police force following accusations that it has failed to investigate racist assaults properly.

The probe comes at a time of heightened public awareness of right-wing extremism in the east of Germany, following last month's attack on eight Indian men in the neighboring state of Saxony by a group of Germans shouting "Foreigners out!"

The investigating committee, which was set up at the request of the opposition Left Party, will focus on six cases, including a widely reported attack by skinheads on a theater group in the city of Halberstadt in June. Eyewitnesses said police officers didn't initially pursue the assailants, even though they were still at the scene when police arrived.

In another case, police in the town of Bernburg refused to take legal action against people accused of threatening and hurling racist abuse at asylum seekers from the African state of Burkina Faso.

The inquiry will also probe the former deputy police chief of the Dessau-Rosslau police department, who allegedly told staff that, regarding far-right crimes, "one doesn't have to see everything."

"We decided to focus on these cases but we could have chosen others," Gudrun Tiedge, a Left Party member of the committee, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We've made it clear that we don't want to level blanket accusations at the police, but we do want to analyze the cause of what's been happening. Maybe they were overstretched, for example."

Spate of Attacks

Ever since unification, eastern Germany has seen a high level of far-right violence including random assaults on foreigners, arson attacks on kebab shops and swastikas daubed on Jewish cemeteries. The country's Jewish lobby last month echoed warnings from anti-racism campaigners that the region had become a no-go area for minorities.

Various reasons have been cited. One is that foreigners became scapegoats for the economic upheaval that came with the region's overnight transition to capitalism.

Another is that eastern German society was less resistant to neo-Nazi views than the west because under the communist regime, no sense of national responsibility for the Holocaust was instilled in people.

Depopulation is a further factor -- educated young women have been moving away to get jobs in Germany's more prosperous regions, leaving behind bored, unemployed young men who seem to get a kick out of neo-Nazi ideology.

Saxony-Anhalt, which together with the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania had the highest unemployment rate in Germany in August at 15.7 percent, has been one of the states hardest-hit by the post-unification slump.

Government Slow to Respond

The parliamentary committee will start work in the coming two weeks and spend the next few months hearing witnesses and questioning officials and police officers from the two police departments of Halberstadt and Dessau-Rosslau.

"The far-right and racist incidents that have come to light and the confusion over how the police dealt with them have made clear that a thorough and complete investigation is required," the Left Party said in its motion to set up a committee. The ruling Christian Democrats and Social Democrats abstained in the vote to form it, but will have members on the committee, as will the opposition liberal Free Democrats.

Tiedge said the government was stepping up efforts to curb far-right support by funding anti-racism campaigns and special training in police forces. "The issue still isn't being addressed enough in our schools," he said. "All this should have been done many, many years ago."

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