German Organizations Help Youth Fight Pull of Extreme Right | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.01.2009
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German Organizations Help Youth Fight Pull of Extreme Right

New figures show that extreme right-wing crime has increased by almost a third in Germany in the past year. A program in one part of Germany is trying to stop the far right ideology from spreading among the young.

A group of skinheads at a rightwing rally

Attacks by rightwing extremists are on the rise in Germany

The recent attempted murder of the Passau police chief, Alois Mannichl, by an alleged neo-Nazi has once again pushed the topic of the radical right back into focus. The assault has renewed calls for a crackdown on the neo-Nazi scene, including banning the far-right National Democratic Party.

One thing fuelling the revived interest is the Internet. Martin Schneider, an 18-year-old who is involved with an initiative in Cologne called “Students Against Rightwing Extremism,” said he believes the Internet makes it particularly easy for far-right groups to build contacts with young people, for example through social networking sites such as Facebook or the video site YouTube.

“Nearly everyone can create a Website, while covering up their own tracks," he said. "It's very easy to promote things which cannot be checked."

Thrill factor

Computer screen showing the popular site Youtube

The Internet has opened up a whole new world for rightwing groups

Another lure of the Websites is the sense of camaraderie the teenagers get through the campaigns and shared jokes, said Anne Broden, who has been the head of an anti-racism center in Dusseldorf for the past 10 years. She said that many teenagers visit these sites because it helps them find friends.

There is also a heightened thrill and fun factor, Broden added. Right-wing groups organize secret concerts and reveal the time and place at the last moment via text message.

“For some young people that's exciting,“ Broden said.

The new right-wing look

Combat boots

Traditional items of clothing like combat boots have fallen out of favor among rightwing youth

Another thing that has changed is the right-wing image, Broden said. One no longer sees young men in combat boots and bomber jackets. These days, there is more effort to blend in with everyday society, or to take over and re-interpret symbols traditionally used by the left.

A perfect example of this are Che Guevara T-shirts. Young people with right wing affiliations can relate to the South American freedom fighter, who was willing to fight to the death for his ideas, even though they had absolutely nothing to do with the extreme right ideology.

Fighting back

CDs from rightwing bands being held up

Most right wing music has been banned in Germany, but can esaily be found on the Internet

To combat the pull of the extreme right, Broden and her colleagues recently created a network directed towards the parents and guardians of young people who have fallen into the right-wing scene. They offer the services of 70 social workers, teachers and psychologists from children's services, information centers and schools.

To protect those involved, there is no public list of participants in the network, because hate e-mails and violent phone calls aren't uncommon for those helping young people get away from extremist groups.

Programs like Broden's work to prevent young people from becoming involved in neo-Nazi groups. But once they are sucked in, it's difficult to disengage from the scene, said Winrich Granitzka, a former police chief in Cologne. He added that it's easy to get in, but it's hard to get out, because there are emotional and sometimes financial ties.

Attacks on the rise

Right-wing extremism is stronger in the eastern part of Germany, which is still struggling to catch up with the rest of the country, in terms of jobs and other opportunities. It's conditions like these which add fuel to the flames, and there are fears that increased unemployment as a result of the economic crisis could fan those flames even further.

In the past year, the German interior ministry recorded almost 12,000 far-right incidents, a 30 percent increase from the year before. Violent attacks were up, as were incidents of anti-Semitism. These figures are proof that there's still a long way to go before the efforts of Martin Schneider, Anne Broden and their colleagues are reflected in the annual statistics.

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