Terry Davis, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, spoke to DW-WORLD.DE about the efforts to combat racially motivated violence in Germany and the calls by some politicians for the far-right NPD to be banned.
Terry Davis believes far-right parties should be exposed as having little political credibility
Recent racist attacks in Germany and the publication of the European Fundamental Rights Agency's report into rising violence against minorities have again highlighted the problem of racially motivated crime in Europe. The report stated that incidents of racially motivated violence had increased in at least eight of the European Union's 27 member states in the last six years. Germany was one of these countries.
DW-WORLD.DE: The Fundamental Rights Agency's recent report on racially motivated violence in Europe could not have been published at a more appropriate time, coming as it did in the midst of the current spate of attacks in Germany. What were the Council of Europe's reactions to the report and the upsurge of violence in Germany?
Terry Davis: Of course the Council of Europe is very concerned, not only with the FSA report, which shows the increase of racially motivated violence, but with all kinds of violence, hate crime and hate speech in Europe. We are also concerned that the events in Germany are, sadly, nothing new. We released two reports through the European Commission for Racism and Intolerance on Germany in the last six years, in 2001 and 2004, and both were very disappointing. It's not that Germany is not trying its best to combat racism and racially motivated violence, it's just that in the last six years, whatever it's done hasn't helped.
There are some politicians in Germany who believe the most effective way to curb the violence towards minorities would be to ban the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). As a former member of the British parliament who campaigned against extremism in your constituency, would you agree that this approach would get the best results?
Davis campaigned against extremists as a British MP
I have been following the debate on banning the NPD and see both sides of the argument for and against it. [German Social Democratic Party leader] Kurt Beck has come out and put a lot of energy into his calls for banning the NPD. One has to realize though that banning the NPD would not be the end of it. Banning extremist parties just drive them underground only for them to resurface as new incarnations later.
As a member of parliament in Birmingham in the 1970s, I had the National Front [a British far-right party] campaigning in my constituency. After efforts to expose them as the racists they were, before engaging them in debate and ridiculing them as a way of belittling their shallow political basis, the NF eventually disappeared. However, the same people are back playing the same tune as the British National Party. Where they used to exploit people's fears over unemployment, social security etc. as the NF, these people now use the fear of Muslims and Islam to gain votes. Banning them, just like the NPD, would not be enough on its own.
Would a ban on the NPD deny a section of the population the chance to vote for a party it believes in and supports, effectively infringing the rights of these voters and denying them a democratic right?
I understand that argument, but we believe that freedom can become license. If someone takes their right to free speech and uses it to spread hate, there should be laws that prevent that, and action should be taken to correct that. The European Convention on Human Rights says there must be a balance. Freedom of expression balanced with responsibility. My personal view is that you should be allowed to voice your views but you must do it responsibly and with respect. Everyone has that right, to be respected. But it must be a mutual respect.
The German government has also debated amending the country's constitution to limit the right of assembly for organizations and parties it believes to be a threat, effectively refusing them the right to march and demonstrate. Would this be an infringement of people's rights?
The German government has debated banning NPD marches
I would have to return to the point I made about the banning of the NPD. If people spread hate and division, be it in printed materials, oratory or demonstrations then they are not using their freedom of speech or their right to assembly responsibly. They are not conducting themselves with respect for others and their actions can be deemed offensive, although extremists are very careful about what is said and presented at demonstrations as not to break any direct laws regarding anti-Semitism for example.
What more can be done to tackle the problem of racially motivated crime, not just in Germany but in Europe as a whole?
Politicians have a responsibility to draw attention to those seeking to exploit people's fears. The best of way of exposing these people as racists is to ridicule them, to show that they have no real answers to the problems that they complain about. Besides, these extremists blame everybody else for the own problems. Politicians can create a society through working at the grass roots level, with religious and community leaders, where the NPD is seen as ridiculous, a party with no basis and with no issues. We should work together to show that differences between people are there to be enjoyed; they give our lives and our homes great color and diversity. This is what should be championed. And by doing so, the power of the racists is taken away.
There is no silver bullet when dealing with the problems of extremists and racially motivated violence. Banning the NPD may be part of the solution, but we shouldn't get distracted by it as a solution on its own. If the NPD was banned then that would be one step, but as I said before, it would not be the end. We must change the way people think through education and through the positive promotion of diversity. The roots of this problem lie elsewhere and not just in the manifesto of a right-wing political party.