Berlin Police Use Tear Gas to Quell Anti-Nazi Protest
Berlin Police Use Tear Gas to Quell Anti-Nazi Protest
By: Tony Paterson
Date: December 2, 2001
Source: Paterson, Tony. The Telegraph Group. "Berlin Police Use Tear Gas to Quell Anti-Nazi Protest." December 2, 2001. http:/www.telegraph.co.uk/news (accessed June 3, 2006).
About the Author: Tony Paterson is a contributor to the Daily Telegraph, a British daily broadsheet newspaper, which has been published since 1855. It was the first national British newspaper to introduce an electronic version online, in 1994.
The primary source presented here highlights the threat in current-day Germany of the growth of neo-Nazism and its damaging effect on social stability.
There was very little neo-Nazi activity in Germany during the period between 1945 and the 1960s. This was largely due to the success of the process of "denazification," under which the new German governments and the allied occupation forces removed all Nazi sympathizers from positions of influence or authority and banned extreme right-wing political groups and activities. However, Nazi beliefs and sympathies have been passed down through the generations and have emerged over the last few decades, especially since German reunification in the 1990s, in the form of the neo-Nazi movement and the extreme right-wing National Democratic Party. This trend has been fueled by increasing levels of immigration to Germany, particularly of asylum seekers and refugees.
The neo-Nazis glorify Germany's National Socialist past and revere Adolf Hitler. They are fiercely anti-Semitic and racist, and believe that all of Germany's problems can be attributed to the presence of foreigners in the country, particularly Jews. Many neo-Nazis deny the existence of the Holocaust and claim that the mass murder of millions of Jews during Nazi Germany was exaggerated or was a story fabricated by Germany's enemies. Neo-Nazi sympathizers often adopt insignia from the Nazi regime, such as the swastika and the red-and-black clothing scheme. Although it is now illegal in Germany to produce or own anything representing Nazism, it is relatively easy to import such products from other countries that have neo-Nazi movements.
Since there are now extremely small numbers of people of Jewish ancestry living in Germany, most neo-Nazi attacks are against other non-German groups such as the large community of Turkish guest-workers, and non-white asylum seekers and refugees. The anti-Semitic activities of the movement tend to be directed at symbolic targets such as Jewish cemeteries and museums. For example, in September 2002, the Museum of the Death March in Germany's Belower Forest was burned down by neo-Nazis.
Violent racial attacks against foreigners perpetrated by extreme right-wing political groups have been a common occurrence in Germany, particularly since the reunification in 1990. There have also been a high number of racially motivated arson attacks on the homes of people seeking asylum in Germany.
Germany has a large population of disaffected young people, especially from the east, many of whom are attracted by neo-Nazi ideology and the options it offers to blame their problems on Jews and recent immigrants. The incorporation of the German Democratic Republic into the Federal Republic of Germany brought about severe economic and social pressures due to the weakness of the East German economy, and the policy of deindustrializing much of the former East Germany has resulted in a very high unemployment rate in that part of the country. At the same time, levels of immigration to Germany have increased sharply, particularly from the former Soviet Union and among foreign nationals seeking refugee status or asylum in the country.
The violent attacks against foreign nationals in Germany have provoked many demonstrations across the country in which thousands of people have protested against the extreme right-wing violence. These in their turn have encouraged the neo-Nazis to demonstrate publicly, increasing their visibility in the public arena. There have been a number of violent clashes in German cities between the National Socialists and their extreme left-wing counterparts, which have necessitated intervention by anti-riot police.
Riot police used tear gas and water cannon to quell violent Left-wing protests against the largest neo-Nazi demonstration in Berlin since the Second World War yesterday when 3,500 members of the extreme-Right National Democratic Party tried to march through a Jewish quarter of Berlin.
Witnesses said that dozens of protesters and several police officers were injured as about 1,200 anti-Nazi demonstrators hurling cobblestones and bottles tried to break through a security cordon near the capital's main synagogue to get to a group of neo-Nazis on the other side.
Riot police equipped with helmets and shields responded by driving back the demonstrators with water cannon, truncheons and tear-gas grenades. Police said that at least 20 protesters were arrested. Earlier, Jewish community leaders and the German government had described the decision by the 6,000-member NPD to hold a march near the Jewish quarter of Berlin as "an unbearable provocation."
The NPD had called its rally and demonstration to protest against the reopening on Wednesday of a controversial exhibition entitled Crimes of the Wehrmacht which graphically documents the war crimes perpetrated by the German army in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the Second World War.
The exhibition, which shows how ordinary German soldiers took part in the massacre of Jews and other civilians, was withdrawn from public view two years ago after historians discovered that some of its photographs showed murdered victims of the Soviet secret police and not those killed by the German army.
All 180 members of Berlin's Social Democrat-led government yesterday attended the exhibition, located in the Jewish quarter of the city, as a gesture of protest against the neo-Nazi march. "We are here to show our solidarity," said Berlin's governing mayor Klaus Wowereit. "Unfortunately we have no legal power to stop this march," he added.
Despite attempts by the Berlin authorities to prevent the NPD demonstration, the city's courts ruled on Friday that the march should be allowed to go ahead, citing the German constitutional right to freedom of political expression.
NPD members wearing skinhead haircuts and "bovver boots" were, however, prevented from passing directly through the city's central Scheunenviertel district which was largely Jewish before the war and has since enjoyed a modest increase in Jewish inhabitants from Russia.
The NPD protesters, bused to Berlin from throughout Germany, were shielded from Left-wing protesters by 4,000 riot police. NPD demonstrators chanted slogans and brandished placards claiming that the Wehrmacht exhibition was an "insult to courageous German fighters and the German Fatherland."
Paul Spiegel, the leader of Germany's 81,000-strong Jewish community, said: "It is unbearable to think that these people should be allowed to pass through an area of Berlin in which Jews were once rounded up and sent to the concentration camps."
Neo-Nazism is a growing movement in the western world, but mainly operates underground. It is reported to have organized groups in every western country and sophisticated international links between them. In some countries it is moving into mainstream society and politics as Euro-nationalism, in which the anti-Semitic beliefs of the movement are suppressed in the interest of capitalizing on public concerns about the influxes of non-western immigrants, including Muslims and non-white asylum seekers.
In response to the growing wave of racism in Germany, the government has introduced integration programs and language instruction in order to help immigrants to assimilate into German society. However, some immigrants have resisted participation in these, preferring to retain their own language and characteristics and to build their own communities of fellow nationals. This has exacerbated the problems of racial tension and helped to strengthen support among some elements of the German population for the ideals of the National Democratic Party and the neo-Nazi movement.
The German government has also taken legal action against neo-Nazi groups, banning around twenty organizations since the early 1990s. Its attempts to ban the National Democratic Party itself, however, have so far been unsuccessful. In the meantime, the party is gaining support in mainstream politics, winning parliamentary seats in two states in the former East Germany in 2004 and declaring its intention to win representation in future federal elections.
Rosenthal, John. "Anti-Semitism and Ethnicity in Europe." Policy Review 121 (2003).
DW-World.de. "Report: Number of Neo-Nazis Rises in Germany." May 21, 2006. <http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,2144,2027557,00.html> (accessed June 3, 2006).
Spiegel Online. "Why Germans Can Never Escape Hitler"s Shadow." March 10, 2005. <http://service.spiegel.de/cache/international/0,1518,345720,00.html> (accessed June 3, 2006).