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Germany

Town Struggles With Far-Right Extremism

Economic woes may improve the position of the far-right German People’s Union in Brandenburg's state elections Sunday. High unemployment and the EU's expansion have boosted extremist views in parts of the region.

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From afar, idyllic Eberswalde doesn't look like an extremist haven

The town of Eberswalde in the eastern German state of Brandenburg, some 20 miles (32 km) north-east of Berlin, was once former East Germany’s top sausage-producing center, but now it's the service sector that is trying to keep the indebted community afloat after core industrial segments broke down.

In a state where unemployment hovers around 20 percent, Eberswalde's 44,000 people have a hard time finding jobs, making the town an ideal breeding ground for right-wing sentiments.

"Make no mistake, the young people in this place are totally hooked on the far-right," a supporter of the right-wing German People's Union (DVU), told Deutsche Welle.

Another man nearby made no bones about how upset he is with policies the state's ruling Social Democrat Party (SPD) has put in place. At least half of his friends who stayed in the area are unemployed and living on welfare, he said.

Arbeitsamt: neue Arbeitslosenzahlen durch die Bundesanstalt für Arbeit

Brandenburg's unemployment of 20 percent is among Germany's highest

"Finding a job in this place is next to impossible," he added. "You’d have to go Bavaria, or Switzerland, like so many have done."

Upset with established parties

The DVU is trying to take advantage of people's disenchantment with regional and national policies to earn votes in Sept. 19's state election. Polls show the DVU with between 5 percent and 6 percent of the vote, enough to hold on to its five seats in Brandenburg's parliament.

The party's campaign ads feature a frustrated man who, after growling that he's in debt and fed up with being unemployed, says he's going to vote for the right-wing party as a way of punishing the political establishment.

"At the moment, when the trust to the established parties is gone, they change over to right-wing extremist parties," Dr. Richard Stöss, a local historian, told Deutsche Welle.

Punishing the politicians

In better economic times, many with right-wing sentiments would cast their votes for conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), but hard times bring out people's desire to punish politicians, he added.

Jörg Schönbohm

Polls show Jörg Schönbohm (CDU) in third place

But politicians aren't the only ones being targeted by extremists. Earlier this week in Eberswalde, swastikas were painted on a gravestone of an African who was killed by a right-wing mob in the early 1990s, and special police forces seized inflammatory far-right music collections in the neighboring state of Saxony last week.

Hard core remains intact

Town counselors agree the times when far-right radicals could turn neighborhoods into no-go areas for foreigners are over, yet hard-core cells are still very much intact, and officials aren't sure how to stop them.

"To actively try to get right wing extremists into the center of democratic society, I think that's too ambitious," said Julia Plessing, a member of a local civil group against extremism.

Brandenburg’s CDU hopeful, ex-general Jörg Schönbohm (photo), also finds it too ambitious to deal with the German People’s Union’s arguments in the current election campaign. Showing the absurdity of their slogans, some of which call for "German money for Germans only," would just take too long, he said.

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