The eastern German town of Halberstadt buckled under pressure from the extreme right and called off a concert by Konstantin Wecker. Politicians have expressed dismay over the influence of neo-Nazis in the former East.
Right-wing radicals are taking the fight to local municipality level
A concert planned for March 8 in the former eastern German border town of Halberstadt was cancelled at the last minute after the right-wing National Democratic Party (NPD) applied pressure to local authorities. The extremist party had claimed the event scheduled for performance in a school and held under the motto "Nazis get out of our town" was in fact an unacceptable form of political campaigning for left-wing parties ahead of state elections on March 26.
The NPD threatened to buy up all the tickets and turn out in large numbers at the concert orchestrated by political songwriter Konstantin Wecker if local authorities refused to call it off. They had begun mobilizing forces in other eastern German cities to protest the concert and what they regarded as a clear state-sponsored preference for leftist parties.
Fearing a major conflict with neo-Nazis descending upon Halberstadt, deputy county commissioner Hans-Dieter Sturm decided to cancel Wednesday's performance. He justified the decision by saying that if the concert had taken place, there would be little room for preventing a similar performance by right-wing extremists in the future.
Konstantin Wecker has never been one to shy away from political topics
The 59-year-old songwriter appeared instead in front of 300 fans in the nearby town of Jena. He vowed to return to Halberstadt in the summer for an open air concert. "One shouldn't give in to the NPD, that would be disappointing," he told the online edition of news magazine Der Spiegel. "I haven't given up on Halberstadt."
Politicians criticize local authorities
Klaus Jeziorsky, interior minister for the state of Saxony-Anhalt, where Halberstadt is located, said buckling in under pressure from the NPD was in no way justifiable. "One cannot give in to threats by right-wing extremists," he said on Thursday.
For Niels Annen, the head of a Social Democratic project against right-wing extremism, the cancellation of the concert was a two-fold scandal. "On the one hand, the NPD has publicly threatened a democratic group with violence and on the other hand, they were successful and got what they wanted."
This sends the completely wrong message and in a sense confirms the NPD's strategy to create so-called "fear zones" where the extreme right wields influence, Annen told the German news program Tagesschau.
The head of the Greens' parliamentary fraction, Volker Beck, criticized the town's decision and said "the Nazis should not be given any social space and by no means should we give in to their threats."
The Central Council for Jews in Germany called the decision by Halberstadt authorities a "politically bankrupt."
Combating right-wing violence
Supporters of the NPD during a demonstration of neo-nazis in Schwerin, northeastern Germany
But Halberstadt is not unique. Observers of the right-wing scene in Germany have noticed an increase in activity recently, especially in terms of gaining influence through threats of violence. Ulla Jelpke, spokeswoman for interior affairs in the Left Party, told Tagesschau that such events as in Halberstadt "unfortunately are becoming more common."
She criticized the federal government for not doing enough to prevent the spread of right-wing radicalism, saying the federal parliament needs to address right-wing activity as a serious threat in Germany. Both the Social Democrats and the Greens have presented proposals for fighting right-wing extremism and racial hatred. It's up to the government now to finance the projects. "We need to continue with our work, and we are discussing the topic in depth with the Christian Democratic Union," Annen said.