A series of murders in Germany carried out by a far-right group has made it clear to many that neo-Nazis have to be confronted. Hundreds of groups are doing just that.
"Show your face!" That's the name of one of the best-known initiatives working against the far right in Germany: The group, which has some 350 members, targets young people before they can be lured by far-right slogans or neo-Nazi brutality.
"We don't teach about history," says the group's Ricarda Disla. "We get students to feel close up what anti-Semitism is like."
That was also the aim of an exhibition called "7xjung" ("7xyoung"), which over 2,000 school students have already seen. It presents five projects, each of which tries to create a bridge between the past and the present.
For example, there's a typical teenager's room in which all the personal belongings have been torn from the walls and the furniture destroyed. The room is intended to make visitors to the exhibition think of a Jewish student who experienced this 70 years ago: Nazis wrecked his home, dragged him out from under his bed and murdered him. The aim is to confront the young visitors with the brutality people suffered in the Nazi era.
Saying it loud
"It's a social duty to stand up against the radical right wing," says 45-year-old public relations worker Jörn Menge. Ten years ago he founded "Loud against the Nazis." He's won plenty of support since then, including that of well-known German musicians and companies. Currently he's getting ready for the International Action Week Against Racism and its main event, a March Against the Right all the way through Hamburg. A similar event in Dresden was very successful, and demonstrators managed to keep radical right-wing activists out of the city center.
"Clapper-Board Against the Right" is a competition run by the German Foundation for Children and Youth. Young people aren't lectured to in this project - they actively take part, writing cinema and television ads that are judged and produced by media professionals. The quality surprises the jury every time. "The entries show a very clear determination to oppose the propaganda of the radical right," they wrote.
The "Violence Prevention Network" gives leaders of the far right who have committed crimes the chance to return to society. "Many of them have had already their self-confidence battered in childhood by violence, lack of interest or lack of recognition," says one of the instructors.
In prison, the extremists work in groups to learn new ways of behaving and expressing themselves. Far-right ideologues find it hard to answer even simple questions like "Why do you see it that way?" - and "eventually they have nothing left to respond with."
It's a simple project, but it has had great success. An unpublished study shows that only 30 percent of those who have taken part in the group work re-offend, compared to around 80 percent of those who do not.
There are several organizations that have been set up by the security services and the criminal police to help members of the far right leave the movement. In the state of Baden-Württemberg, for example, 400 of the 2,000 right-wing extremists known to the police have quit the far-right scene with the help of such projects.
Neighbors helping neighbors
There are hundreds of initiatives against the far right in Germany, and even the small ones are doing some good.
There's the group of over-50s who've got together in the Hamburg suburb of Glinde to stand watch in front of a shop selling far-right fashion labels. The local church toll its bells at the start of every watch.
Or there's the village of Pössneck in Thuringia in eastern Germany, with its 100 inhabitants. For years they've been fighting off the attempts of a leading right-wing extremist to buy a building in the village as a training center. Their main purpose of the people of the village was to do something against the image of eastern Germany as a bastion of the far right.
Most of the initiatives need more money than they can collect from members and sponsors. They need help from the state, and the federal government provides around 24 million euros a year ($32 million) for this purpose. But the conditions for getting the money are getting stricter. One of the organizers complains, "We often wait up to six months for the money to print a leaflet." Others say the way the money is handed out is "miserable."
But change is in the air. The brutal killings by the far-right terror cell revealed last year have spurred on companies that had never previously been involved in politics. People are more ready to give money. More and more people are prepared to stand up in public and be counted. And in Berlin, politicians are thinking hard about how to provide better support for the groups that are working against the far right.
Author: Wolfgang Dick / mll
Editor: Simon Bone