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Rebuilding faith

November 23, 2011

For years, German authorities made no connections between the murders of nine migrant shopkeepers and a neo-Nazi terror cell. Migrant groups say it's because the state failed to recognize the far-right threat.

Police in front of an internet cafe in Kassel, 2006
Authorities failed to see the murders as hate-motivatedImage: dapd

Following the recent revelations of neo-Nazi involvement in a series of hate-motivated murders in Germany, migrant communities in the country are demanding that authorities implement stronger prevention measures to restore the people's trust.

Migrant communities say authorities have underestimated the danger of right-wing radicals, who were recently discovered to allegedly be responsible for a string of 10 murders over the past decade.

"A lot more has been invested, especially in the last few years, in fighting Islamist terrorism and terrorism from the [radical] leftist scene," said Kostas Dimitriou, who heads the Association of Greek Communities in Germany. "In that way, the danger of right-wing extremism has been downplayed."

Earlier this month, authorities exposed a group calling itself the National Socialist Underground, now believed responsible for the unsolved murders of nine immigrant shopkeepers between 2000 and 2006, as well as a policewoman in 2007. Various state and federal authorities had until recently failed to connect the murders to far-right extremists.

Kostas Dimitriou
Dimitriou heads the Association of Greek Communities in GermanyImage: Vangelis Mamaligas

On Tuesday, politicians in the German Bundestag unanimously supported a declaration apologizing for failing to prevent the murders. The text, read out by the the lower house's speaker, Norbert Lammert, said lawmakers were "ashamed" at the failure of law enforcement agencies to link the killings to the far-right.

"We recognize our responsibility," he said. "We must ensure that the basic rights guaranteed in the constitution apply to everyone living here, regardless of their origin, beliefs or orientation."

Downplaying the far-right

Lale Akgün, a former Social Democrat member of parliament, said in the past politicians had given the matter little attention"in order not to continue being tied up in the wake of right-wing politics."

Akgün said the world's eyes are now on Germany's rightist political parties, as well as on the government's official position on far-right movements, because of Germany's Nazi past. Yet, she said the pervasiveness of radical-right violence in Germany was still relatively low.

"When you consider that [nationalist politician] Marine Le Pen right now is predicted to get 18 percent of the vote in France, and you consider that extreme right parties in Germany always get less than 5 percent, you see that the problem in Germany is actually less than in other countries. That's why I think they tried to downplay it."

Falling behind in prevention

Both Akgün and Dimitriou say right-wing radicalism can only be beaten through targeted prevention tactics. According to Dimitriou, part of the problem has been a cutting of funds for anti-extremism campaigns on both a state and national level. Instead, he says, funds have been channeled into fighting left-wing and Islamic extremism.

Lale Akgün
Social Democrat Lale Akgün was born in IstanbulImage: dpa

Dimitriou hopes the revelation of xenophobic killings will lead authorities to strongly reconsider - "meaning that there would be much more investment into prevention programs in schools and in society."

"We have to educate children," said Akgün. "We have to make sure that these groups don't appeal to kids." Young people, she added, need to see that right-wing extremism cannot solve their problems.

"We have to see to it that not just schoolchildren, but also jobless young people and teenagers living in socially isolated areas don't fall victim to these groups," she said.

Rebuilding trust

Germany's long delay in solving the murders has to do with people's distrust in the system, according to Akgün. Politicians, she says, must now work to re-instill the faith of Germans.

"Politicians must now do everything they can to create transparency, so that it's clear how much … Germany's national and state intelligence services, are involved." Akgün said steps were required to "maintain the trust of Germans and German migrant residents in the state institutions, as well as the trust of the entire world - or in some cases to reestablish it."

"When it comes to [migrant communities], public institutions don't really take notice," she said.

According to Akgün, it will take increased political transparency -and rigorous investigations into how the authorities failed to recognize or stop the string of xenophobic murders - in order to restore the public's faith.

Author: Mirjana Dikic / dl

Editor: Martin Kuebler

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