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Exit Open to Neo-nazis

Helping neo-nazis quit the far-right scene and encouraging them to stay out of it – that’s the aim of “Exit Deutschland”, a private group founded by a former police officer in Berlin.


They have a chance to quit

Menacing neo-nazi demonstrations, facisct slogans and skinheads spewing hatred and threatening foreigners – such images make their way easily into the German media.

Unfortunately what doesn’t as often are groups and individuals quietly working on the sidelines to help neo-nazis quit the far-right scene.

One of them is the group "Exit Deutschland" which has helped more than 100 neo-nazis leave the scene since its inception in autumn 2000.

The Head of the non-governmental organisation, Bernd Wagner believes that "Exit" is far more successful than government programmes offered by the police, the constitution, and law agencies to help neo-nazis quit the scene.

Speaking after a conference of European groups that offer similar programmes in Berlin on Friday, Wagner said "what we offer is much more realistic, we know the far-right scene much better and unlike the government initiatives, we work in a much less bureaucratic way."

Inspiring example from Sweden

"Exit Deutschland" takes its inspiration from a group of the same name in Sweden. "Exit Sweden" was founded in 1998 by a former hard-core neo-nazi Kent Lindhal complete with shaved head, tattoos and jackboots. For ten years he robbed and battered foreigners and even went to prison.

A psychotherapy finally motivated him to break away from the far-right scene. He told the Stern magazine in 2000, "Leaving the scene was very hard. I had nobody, who could tell me how I should deal with old comrades following and threatening me. Nobody told me that I would suddenly have no more friends."

Helping people get back into the "normal" world

Bernd Wagner, a former police officer - who began Exit in Germany mainly with money given to him by the Stern magazine initiative "Courage against far-right violence" - says that "Exit Deutschland" has helped several members of right-wing parties and organisations as well as criminals to quit.

The "Exit" drop-out programme involves analysing each case carefully and developing a sound security concept to lower the risk of attacks and threats by other members of the far-right scene. It also equips family members to deal with their child trying to leave the scene and sensitises them to the needs of their children.

Exit also offers professional legal advice about working rights, penal procedures and civil right questions. It helps neo-nazis wanting to leave the scene to develop new perspectives and offers alternatives and integration opportunities.

This is often carried out by engaging the former neo-nazis in sport clubs or other artistic activities that involves interacting with groups of "normal" people.

Budging deeply-ingrained beliefs not easy

But the problem, according to Bernd Wagner is reaching out to the masterminds behind the right-wing scenes. "These hard-core anti-Semitics, racists and nationalists are just too fanatic", he said at the conference.

Most of the people who seek out "Exit Deutschland" are between 15 and 55 years of age. Most of them are young men aged between 22 and 27, who have been active in the far-right scene for more than 5 years.

There have even been instances where "Exit Deutschland", despite intensive counselling and guidance, has failed to keep the Neo-Nazis out of the scene. But by and large, "Exit Deutschland" has unsettled the far-right scene with the quitting of several members.

Unlike government initiatives that target leading figures of right-wing organisations and speak to them, "Exit Deutschland" waits for neo-nazis to seek them out.

Most of the young people who turn to "Exit" come from western Germany, while it’s mostly skinheads from the economically depressed eastern part of Germany that tend to appeal to government programmes "apparently because they first expect the government to help them", said Wagner.

Government initiative

In February last year, Germany’s interior minister Otto Schily announced plans to help young people quit neo-nazi and far-right groups following an alarming increase in racially-motivated attacks.

The programme included a telephone hotline and help in finding work, housing and financial support. It's targetted at leading figures as well as young people who get caught up in the far-right scene against their wishes.

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