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Cases of far-right extremism on the rise in German military

April 12, 2018

An increase in suspected far-right incidents within the German army, the Bundeswehr, has prompted the opposition Left party to demand that commanders "dry out the brown sump." More than 400 cases are under investigation.

Soldiers' boots lined up
Image: picture-alliance/W. Rothermel

Cases of far-right extremism within the German armed forces have almost doubled, according to a report published Thursday by newspapers belonging to the Funke media group, citing a Defense Ministry response to a parliamentary question tabled by the opposition Left party. 

The German military's internal intelligence agency, the Militärische Abschirmdienst (MAD), is currently investigating 431 cases, compared with 275 at this point last year. Twenty-three new cases have arisen since the start of 2018 on top of 289 cases from last year, plus older cases predating 2017.

Read more: Germany's lack of military readiness 'dramatic,' says Bundeswehr commissioner 

The opposition Left party's internal affairs spokeswoman, Ulla Jelpka, told the Funke group: "The Bundeswehr has a far-right extremist problem."

She added, however, that "more and more" soldiers are no longer willing to silently tolerate the "far-right behavior of their comrades" and appealed for support for whistleblowers.

"Instead of closing its eyes, the federal government must at long last take necessary measures, and dry out the brown sump," Jelpka said.

Commanders appear to be overly lenient, Jelpka said: "Those who scribble swastikas must be sacked, and he should not again end up with a weapon in his hands."

The Bundeswehr must exercise zero tolerance in its ranks toward neo-Nazis and Reichsbürger, Jelpka insisted, referring to a movement averse to Germany's democratic order.

Tradition 'update'

Prominent cases, including a soldier named only as Franco Hans A., prompted Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, recently to persuade commanders to adopt a new "tradition directive" and renounce remembrance practices dating back to the Nazi-era Wehrmacht and the former East German People's Army.

Disparity with official report

The latest figure is significantly higher than the 162 documented last year by the German parliament's armed forces commissioner, Hans-Peter Bartels, of the Social Democrats (SPD), German news agencies noted in unison.

Bartels documented cases where individual soldiers had shouted Hitler slogans, carved Swastikas in table tops and listened to far-right music.

Funke Media's DerWestern website went to great lengths on Thursday to cite two cases in Bartel's report, saying investigations had been discontinued.

One soldier, it said, had described refugees as a scourge requiring "eradication," during a Bundeswehr political education seminar.

Another had told subordinates that on deployment to Mali they would "shoot Africans heads off," according to Bartels report.

Germany's Bundeswehr currently has 180,000 active-duty solders, including 61, 000 in its army ranks, 28,000 in its air force, and some 16,000 in its navy.

It also has 39,000 civilian administrative personnel. Its combined ranks include 21,000 women soldiers.

ipj/rt (AFP, epd, dpa, Reuters)