Recent violent protests against a refugees' shelter have sparked a debate about right-wing extremism in Germany. A prominent politician from the west of the country has said the problem is worse in the east.
Speaking in an interview published in Monday's edition of the "Welt" newspaper, the Rheinland-Palatinate interior minister Roger Lewentz said it was clear that there was "a greater susceptibility to engaging in xenophobic radicalization" in eastern Germany than in the west.
Lewentz, also head of the regional interior ministers' conference, added that this assertion was borne out of evidence gathered by the Bundesrat upper chamber of parliament regarding the far-right NPD, and was submitted to Germany's constitutional court on Friday as part of the latest attempt to get the party banned. The evidence, Lewentz said, listed 370 incidents involving the NPD, most of which occurred in the east.
He also attempted to explain the phenomenon, saying that eastern Germany had not had the same exposure to foreign people and cultures over a period of decades that the people in the west of the country have had.
"Co-existing with people with backgrounds of migration has to be learned," the Social Democrat politician said.
'A pan-German problem''
Lewentz' comments came a day after the premiers of three eastern German states insisted that right-wing extremism was not more prevalent in the east than in the west.
Speaking to the "Welt am Sonntag" newspaper, Brandenburg state Premier Dietmar Woidke pointed to recent arson attacks on refugee shelters in western German states such as Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg as proof that xenophobia was a problem throughout the country.
His counterpart from Thuringia, Bodo Ramelow, told the Sunday paper that hostility toward refugees was "a pan-German problem that we must combat in a pan-German way."
Finally, Stanislaw Tillich, the premier of Saxony, where the town of Heidenau is located, described the problem as "a challenge for the whole country and society."
Heidenau, near Dresden, made international headlines just over a week ago when an initially peaceful protest against the arrival of migrants at a shelter there turned violent. Clashes broke out when police moved to end the blockade of a road buses carrying the migrants had to use to gain access to the shelter. Dozens of police officers were reported injured. A security cordon was subsequently set up around the shelter.
Germany's interior ministry has estimated that the country can expect to receive around 800,000 migrants by the end of 2015.
While many have fled conflict in places like Iraq and Syria, almost half of those registered in Germany so far this year have come from the western Balkans, where no major conflict currently exists.
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pfd/jil (dpa, AFP)