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Opinion

Opinion: a slowdown in clearing up the neo-Nazi NSU's crimes

Five years since the exposure of the right-wing terrorist group, many questions remain unanswered. This situation is unlikely to change.

Angela Merkel made big promises to the families of the NSU victims: "We will do everything possible to solve these murders, uncover the accomplices and organizers and bring all the offenders to justice.  All responsible authorities at both state and federal level are working intensely to this end." The chancellor said these words at a memorial service for NSU victims in Berlin in February 2012.

Made three months after the National Socialist Underground (NSU) was uncovered, this statement raised great hopes - also for people other than family members of the 10 victims. But there has been overwhelming disappointment. This is mainly due to the course taken by the ongoing legal proceedings against the NSU.

Beate Zschäpe's sentencing remains unclear

The criminal proceedings in the Higher Regional Court of Munich have been going on for the last three and a half years. The main accused, Beate Zschäpe, will perhaps be sentenced to life imprisonment sometime next year. But things may turn out quite differently, as based on current information there is little evidence of her direct involvement in the series of murders. It is therefore quite possible that she may receive a lesser sentence. For the victims' families this may come as another blow, after the terrible loss of their loved ones. On a human level, such feelings are all too understandable. But, of course, they cannot be taken into consideration where due process is concerned.

But the criminal proceedings are problematic from another perspective: this may sound paradoxical, but despite the unprecedented scale of this criminality, the core of the trial has been too narrowly construed. This is primarily due to the federal prosecutor, who has stuck stubbornly to the proposition that there was a terror-trio: Beate Zschäpe, Uwe Mundlos, Uwe Böhnhardt. It is clear that these three made up the core of the NSU. But they could only have remained undiscovered, while launching attacks from the underground for 14 years, with the help of many supporters. Four of these supporters are sitting in the dock in Munich with Zschäpe.

In this way, the federal prosecutor is visibly demonstrating that there must have been a network of people surrounding the NSU. But according to the joint plaintiffs, the network was much larger. And it is impossible now to have any doubt about this. The reason for this is that for far too long there were far too many dubious characters from the right-wing extremist scene and the security services in the personal sphere of the three NSU founders. Several of these people are part of the NSU trial or have appeared as witnesses before one of the numerous parliamentary investigation committees.

Were there people in positions of public authority who knew about the NSU?

Some of them might have had trouble explaining themselves, if files that contained possibly incriminating material had been opened and introduced into the criminal proceedings. But motions to take evidence that were aimed at this were consistently rejected by the criminal division, which gave the federal prosecutor's office reason to quietly rejoice every time it happened. The joint plaintiffs on the other hand felt confirmed in their conviction that this was a way of covering up defects within the German security authorities or even criminal entanglement with the NSU by some of their employees. This is an insinuation that cannot be proven, but it is a understandable one, given the stonewalling tactics of the political actors.

And this is where Merkel's promise to do everything to solve these murders comes into play again: if it is really true, that "all the responsible authorities at both state and federal level will be working intensely to this end," then they should finally disclose all information regarding the NSU. What is preventing the chancellor from making this issue top priority - particularly at a time when security authorities themselves suspect the emergence of new right-wing terrorist groups?

"For it also about doing everything possible to uphold the rule of law and prevent something like this from ever occurring again." This quote also comes from Angela Merkel's speech at the memorial service for the victims of the NSU.

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