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Right-wing murders in Brandenburg

Sertan Sanderson
June 30, 2015

A report has found that the state of Brandenburg has witnessed twice as many right-wing deaths than previously assumed. Politicians have deemed the trend "shameful" as Germany awaits 450,000 asylum seekers.

Symbolbild Rechte Gewalt hat zugenommen
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Balk

The state of Brandenburg accounted for nine violent deaths since German reunification in 1990, but might now have to revise that number to 18 cases. The Moses-Mendelssohn-Center in Potsdam released a detailed 193-page document, highlighting the background of 24 murder cases studied in the report in total and flagging nine of these as previous oversights in police investigations:

"Official government numbers state that 64 people were killed in Germany since 1990 on account of racially or politically motivated right-wing thinking. In Brandenburg, there were nine cases. But for many years, all of these numbers have attracted a great deal of criticism," the report read.

The study, commissioned by Brandenburg's Interior Ministry, was conducted with the intention of providing an independent and unbiased framework examining hate crimes. It came at a pivotal time with right-wing groups witnessing a steady surge in Germany, especially with the foundation of populist movements such as PEGIDA and AfD, and as European parliaments and governments have increasingly started to lean to the right.

Infografik Todesopfer rechter Gewalt in Brandenburg Englisch

Outdated police methodology overhauled

Christoph Kopke, project manager on the report, explained the particular methodology behind the study and stressed the considerations which had to be taken into account when adjusting the statistical data:

"The police used to apply an outdated definition to politically motivated crimes up until 2001. Historically speaking, the police had only been mandated with protecting the state and dealing with political crimes, which were unequivocally meant as acts of political resistance.

"However, nowadays we're mainly looking at cases, where actions are taken out of the kind of political motivation, which invokes the false concept of an enemy without being linked to a clearly defined political statement. Therefore, today's political crimes attack society as a whole, not just the victim."

But the study also showed that violent hate crimes went far beyond amounting to victimless crimes:

"Non-government estimates approximate killings with a right-wing or racist background to between 152 and 184 victims since 1990," the report explained, pinning the nationwide number at almost three times the official count and leaving room for further inquiry beyond Brandenburg.

1,000 new cases of right-wing extremism in 2014

Ralf Melzer, an expert on right-wing extremism at the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation in Berlin, a left-leaning political think-tank focusing on political education, said that reports examining Germany's performance in combating right-wing extremism had long been overdue:

"It's not just the state of Brandenburg, which is affected by this issue. The whole of Germany is shaped by these cases. The study in Brandenburg will help in eradicating a greater problem, which has been known for years, but I hope that further states will follow suit as well. We really need the statistics to be reexamined and adjusted across all federal states, especially when it comes to these deadly hate crimes."

Neonazis at a march in Dortmund
Right-wing extremism has been on a steady rise in GermanyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/B.Thissen

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere also took a decided stand against sentiments of xenophobia and racism in Germany, as the country prepared to accept up to another 450,000 refugees this year:

"Hatred and violence against refugees and asylum seekers in Germany are shameful," de Maiziere said. "There is no place for violence and hatred in our society. I condemn the rise in crimes against refugees and asylum seekers in the strongest terms."

Shift in police mentality

Other states have followed Brandenburg's example and have also commissioned reviews into their respective performances in examining and recording hate crimes, such as in Saxony-Anhalt. In both cases, police performance was a particular area of inquest. Ralf Melzer said that among the key areas of improvement, the police force would still need to learn how to handle politically motivated crimes with more sensitivity and awareness, underlining shortcomings in training.

"They need to become more sensitized to recognizing hate crimes as what they are and to treating them accordingly from the start."

Christoph Kopke, however, said that solutions would have to be sought beyond the realm of the police force, and that society-at-large had to be examined with a view to creating lasting improvements in identifying the true culprits behind hate crimes.

Still room for improvement

But Kopke added that statistical data could still be skewed in the future, for instance in cases where racism came secondary to all other offenses committed in a crime spree. Citing the example of an aggravated armed robbery, during which a bystander was killed, he highlighted that the perpetrators happened to be part of a gang of right-wing extremists while the victim happened to be foreign, but no clear link could be established.

"In certain cases, it genuinely becomes difficult to determine whether you are dealing with right-wing attitudes or not," he said. "When the perpetrators don't bring their racist motivations clearly to the fore, there's much that could be overlooked."