Germany may underestimate right-wing victims | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.09.2013
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Germany may underestimate right-wing victims

Journalists and info centers believe the number of those killed by right-wing extremists is double the official figure. After the shocking mistakes of the NSU murder investigations, old cases are now being re-examined.

Frank Jansen has been writing about neo-Nazis and the victims of right-wing violence since the 1990s. A reporter with Berlin's "Tagesspiegel" newspaper, he is also familiar with the kind of milieus where racism and xenophobia thrive: in political parties like the German Nationalist Democratic Party (NPD), or amkong right-wing rock concerts and social groups.

Jansen has covered the trials of countless people who have beaten up or murdered others on account of their skin color or ethnic origin. Over and over again, he has listened to them expound their misanthropic ideology. In the course of his work, he started to suspect that his assessment of the extent of right-wing extremist terrorism was very different to that of the German state.

Journalist Frank Jansen on a German TV talkshow. Photo: Jörg Carstensen dpa/lbn

Journalist Frank Jansen has researched and compiled his own unofficial list of victims

Jansen's suspicions were confirmed when he looked up the official statistics on deaths resulting from right-wing violence. The figures published by German authorities seemed far too low. He and some colleagues set about comparing them with their own findings, and in September 2000 they published their first conclusions: a total of 93 people had been killed in right-wing attacks since German unification in 1990. This was almost double the official number: government statistics had recorded only 48 such murders.

Missing from the list

The official list had even omitted the case of the Kay Diesner, a self-confessed neo-Nazi who was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a policeman. Frank Jansen was an observer at the trial in 1997, where Diesner described himself as a "political soldier."

The court in Lübeck had stated that Diesner had a xenophonic mindset, said Jansen, addressing a conference at the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Berlin on Friday (30.08.13) to discuss the criminological collection of data on right-wing crime. "Nonetheless," he said, "until 2000, this case was not officially recognized as a right-wing homicide."

The exposure of the "National Socialist Underground" (NSU) in November 2011 shook up the authorities and forced them to pay far closer attention to this kind of crime. The terrorist group is believed to have killed nine immigrants and a policewoman over a period of several years. In all that time, police investigations remained focused on finding a link to organized crime, or even to the victims' families. Racism was more or less ruled out as a motive.

A federal police officer told the conference in Berlin that this shocking misjudgement has resulted in some 4,000 cases being re-examined to see whether the crimes may have been motivated by right-wing extremism.

Fiddling the numbers

Pile of CDs by right-wing bands

Extremists use music and concerts by right-wing bands to attract young people and spread their message

There are now 152 names on Frank Jansen's list. It was last updated in March, Jansen said, in view of the NSU trial in Munich. The figure of 152 is still more than double the official number, which now cites 63 deaths as a result of right-wing violence. "And I can't help pointing out that around 20 of these were added retrospectively, because of our list," Jansen commented.

Holger Poppenhäger is the justice minister in Thuringia, the state where the alleged NSU murderers were based. He describes the disparity in the figures as "the discrepancy between a sense of justice and the constitutional state." According the Poppenhäger, the state is essentially rigging the statistics to play down the problem of right-wing extremism.

No consistent definition

However, Justice Ministry statistics expert Bert Götting points out that there is no consistent definition of right-wing extremism, used in the same way by police, the prosecution service, the judiciary and centers that offer victims advice. He believes that this, and not insensitivity to extremism, is causing the problem.

"What is right-wing extremist?" Götting asked, rhetorically. "What is xenophobic? What is anti-Semitic?" If it's not crystal clear, he suggests, how does one decide whether or not this is the right label? He adds that it often comes down to a personal assessment by whoever is dealing with the case; and unfortunately, there are no legal regulations governing the compilation of such statistical data at the federal level.

Mustafa Can (right.) and Emre Tanis with photos of the ten victims of the NSU. Copyright: DW/M. Fürstenau

Neither investigators nor the media considered that racism was a motive in the NSU murders

The many systemic failures that allowed the NSU to go undetected for so long have also been highlighted by the investigation committee. On Monday (02.09.2013), there will be a special parliamentary session to discuss its comprehensive report, which contains recommendations as to how to recognize right-wing extremism in order to better combat it.

Media also at fault

One key finding in the report is that the mentality in the police and intelligence services absolutely has to change. Prejudice and cliché in attitudes to immigrants have become entrenched over decades, the report warned. This may be another reason why official figures for the victims of right-wing violence are so much lower than those recorded by journalists and information centers.

In the case of the NSU murders, though, the media could also be at fault. It failed to see that racism could be the missing link between the murders of nine people with an immigrant heritage. This was a possibility that even reporter Jansen overlooked - a fact that, looking back, he simply can't explain.

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