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Germany

Attack Turns Spotlight on Right-Wing Extremism in Germany

In the wake of a racially motivated murder attempt in the city of Potsdam, experts are concerned about the increasing aggressiveness of the far-right scene despite reassuring statistics on the actual number of crimes.

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Hundreds of people protested in Potsdam against racism and violence

The latest victim of racist violence in Germany -- a 37-year-old German engineer of Ethiopian descent -- is still fighting for his life. He was assaulted on Easter morning at a bus stop in Potsdam, a city in the eastern German state of Brandenburg, near Berlin. At least two unidentified perpetrators had repeatedly kicked the victim in the head and attacked him verbally as well, using words such as "nigger" and "pig." Germany's Federal State Prosecutor began investigating the case on Tuesday.

After making publicly available the recording of a telephone call the victim made as he was arguing with his assailants, the police authorities in Potsdam have received a number of clues regarding the attackers' identity. A police spokesperson said on Wednesday, however, that no breakthrough had been made yet.

The news of the murder attempt with an allegedly racial background has made headlines all over the country. Hundreds of Potsdamers took to the streets to demonstrate against the far-right, while Potsdam's police chief described the attack as the worse xenophobic assault in the city since Germany's reunification in 1990.

Open threats

Fremdenfeindlicher Mordversuch Tatort in Potsdam

The scene of the crime

According to Anetta Kahane, chairperson of the Amadeu Antonio Foundation in Berlin -- an organization named after an Angolan man murdered in 1990 by skinheads in Brandenburg -- the assault in Potsdam should not be treated as an isolated incident.

"We still feel considerable pressure from the ultra-right scene," said Kahane, who is researching the relocation of right-extremist attacks from rural to urban areas. "I can only explain that as an attempt to make people living in cities feel insecure."

Mario Peucker of the European Forum for Migration Studies at the University of Bamberg say he's also noticed a new kind of vehemence on the part of the far right.

"They don't hide so much anymore, they now openly threaten to disrupt things," Peucker said. An anti-Nazi concert by singer Konstantin Wecker, for example, was cancelled in March after protests by the radical right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt.

Statistics versus violence

Peucker confirmed that criminal acts by the radical right have been on the rise in recent years, above all in the realm of the so-called propaganda offenses such as flaunting illegal Nazi symbols. But the actual number of violent crimes committed by right-wing extremists has remained constant.

"The violence is increasingly directed against leftist groups, while the number of xenophobic violent acts is actually decreasing," Peucker said, stressing the positive influence of federal programs to combat right-wing extremism, which have cost the German government more than 150 million euros ($183 million) in the last five years.

Three kinds of extremism, one basic attitude

NPD Demonstration in Berlin

Right-wing extremists demonstrated in Berlin in March

While there are no plans to cut back the funding for these programs, the German Ministry of Family Affairs is currently planning to extend its support to projects fighting left-wing extremism and radical Islam in the future as well.

"The extension should not happen at the expense of combating violence on the right," said Gabriele Fograscher, an expert on the far-right scene and Social Democratic member of the German parliament. "The case in Potsdam is another example of how acute the problem is."

Kristina Köhler, member of the parliament for the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said, on the other hand, that fighting extremism must be seen in a holistic way.

"Islamic extremism is a huge problem in the West," said Köhler, who was herself threatened in 2004, after she pressed charges against a Turkish newspaper in Germany for denying the Holocaust.

"There are new, innovative approaches that tell us that we should no longer focus on certain strains of extremism, but rather work towards pushing one basic, liberal and democratic attitude."

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