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Racism in former East Germany

Dagmar BreitenbachAugust 18, 2015

Official statistics show that most racist crimes in Germany last year occurred in the country's eastern-most states and Berlin. A civil society expert says that's no surprise.

The aftermath of an April 2015 fire at housing being set up for refugees in Tröglitz
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Hendrik Schmidt

Nearly one out of two violent racist crimes was committed in the former East Germany and Berlin in 2014, according to official statistics quoted in a German daily newspaper on Tuesday.

The five states which used to be in the German Democratic Republic, plus the capital Berlin, only account for 17 percent of the entire country's population, but last year, 47 percent of all racist violence was reported there, the "Mitteldeutsche Zeitung" reported. The figures cited were provided by the Federal Ministry of the Interior in response to an inquiry by the Green party. Of 130 nationwide violent racist crimes reported, 61 occurred in the east - a whopping 40 percent increase from 2013.

The figures are alarming but they don't come as a surprise, said Robert Lüdecke, a spokesman for the Amadeu Antonio Foundation. The Berlin-based organization describes itself as an initiative for "civic empowerment and a democratic culture."

Disproportionately high

Attacks on refugees have been on the rise for the past two years, Lüdecke pointed out, and it's most probably due to the large anti-immigrant PEGIDA marches mainly in East Germany last year that more racist crimes were recorded there. "Racist violence increases in places where there is a corresponding mood," he told DW.

The German Interior Ministry differentiates between racist crimes - aimed at foreigners - and crimes "motivated by far-right extremism," which for instance could also include neo-Nazi attacks on non-migrant Germans who get involved in helping refugees and asylum-seekers, and thus become targets.

In 2014, the Interior Ministry recorded 1,029 violent crimes "motivated by far-right extremism." This time, the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) was at the top of the list with 370 acts of far-right violence, followed by Berlin, Saxony and Brandenburg.

NRW in particular has for years had a very strong neo-Nazi movement, Lüdecke said, adding that the inner circle of that movement is known not to shy away from violence.

But these figures should be taken with a grain of salt, Lüdecke warned.

Protestors demonstrate against the accommodation for immigrants in Freital near Dresden, eastern Germany, Friday, June 26, 2015.
Demonstrations have been held in Freital, near Dresden, against accommodation for migrantsImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Meyer

Reported violence

After reunification, the government invested heavily in building up structures in the east, including nongovernmental helplines and information centers for victims of extremist violence - unlike in Germany's old western federal states, many of which have no such structures at all. "Right-wing extremism was always seen by the western states as a problem of the eastern states," Lüdecke said.

North Rhine-Westphalia is the country's most populous state, and while it has a strong far-right scene, Lüdecke said, NRW is one of the western states that also happens to offer helplines for victims of extremist violence. That might explain the higher number of such crimes reported there, he added.

But the number of unreported far-right crimes is bound to be much higher nationwide, he said - a problem the authorities need to address.

Compared to 64 percent of all violent crimes, the report said, only 45 percent of the far-right motivated crimes were solved nationwide in 2014.