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International Anti-Racism Day

Arnd Gross (als)
March 21, 2007

To mark Wednesday as the International Day for the Elimination of Racism, an alliance in eastern Germany is trying to fight the rise of right-wing extremism and neo-Nazi violence, particularly when it targets foreigners.

An alliance wants to take back parts of towns where far-right extremism is commonImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Right-wing extremists have adapted their strategy in recent years. By swapping bomber jackets for suits and ties, their leaders join local clubs and associations to advance their nationalist and racist agendas in the community.

Police and the Germany's Office for the Protection of the Constitutional have recently said right-wing extremism and neo-Nazi violence are growing problems in eastern Germany.

The town of Mittweida in Saxony is an example of how far-right extremists have become less conspicuous. Many of the town's 16,000 citizens were shocked when an extremist party gained 9 percent of the vote during the last state election.

That's why they decided to form a community alliance to highlight the dangers of right-wing extremism and raise awareness about attacks against foreigners.

Several neo-Nazi gangs operate in and around Mittweida, threatening and assaulting foreigners, and disrupting the meetings of left-leaning youth groups.

Living in fear

Deutschland Plakat Internationale Woche gegen Rassismus 2007
Germany marks International Anti-Racism Week: March 17-25

Christoph, a 25-year-old with dreadlocks, is outspoken about his leftist political views. He said he knows he's a typical target for right-wing skinheads on the streets of Mittweida.

"Sure I'm scared," he said, "but I know exactly where I should and shouldn't go at certain times."

Loren, 20, said living in fear in her hometown is unacceptable. She's complained to local authorities about the extremists, but to no avail.

"I wrote a letter to the city council because I think the situation here is critical," Loren said. "I'm worried that the neo-Nazis are getting too strong and too well-organized."

The council responded to Loren's letter by saying she should direct her concerns to the police.

Forming alliances

Frustrated by what she said is the local politicians' inability to deal with right-wing violence, Loren said she hoped that a citizens' action group, the "Alliance for Human Dignity Against Right-Wing Extremism," will be more effective.

About 150 citizens from the town and surrounding areas turned up for the alliance's first meeting. The crowd was mixed, with local priests and pensioners mingling with young punks and artists. They had all come to form a united front against the right-wing extremists in Mittweida.

Fußball und Rassismus
Despite league efforts racism has also appeared in soccer matches and other sportsImage: AP

To support the group in their efforts, the city has now made space available for meetings. Meanwhile, district authorities have signaled that they may be able to provide 100,000 euros ($133,000) of funding each year.

That is welcome news for Björn Redman, one of the alliance's founders.

"No youth group or school has the financial and human resources to take on right-wing extremism alone," Redman said. "There's no alternative but to form an alliance, to get as many groups together as possible to launch anti-Nazi activities."

Sixty-five people pledged their support straight away. Next weekend, they'll go around town and paint over swastikas and neo-Nazi graffiti still on walls.

Later in the summer, the alliance plans to hold a discussion forum at the town's market square. Foreigners will be invited to share their experiences of living in Germany, followed by a concert by a local band.

The aim is to inform, show a presence and win back territory lost to right-wing community groups in recent years.

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