An East German Problem? Racist Violence in Germany

An East German Problem? Racist Violence in Germany

The majority of the English-language media outside of India have been notably tentative about accepting the obvious premise that the recent mob attack on eight Indians in the eastern German town of Mügeln was a racist attack. (See the earlier WPR report here.) To the extent they have, however, virtually all have framed the issue of racism and xenophobia in Germany as a specifically "East German problem." CNN, for example, noted that "since German re-unification in 1990, racist violence has broken out sporadically in the poorer east of the country." A Reuters report used a similar formula: "Eastern Germany has seen intermittent racist attacks on foreigners since German reunification in 1990." Both news organizations -- like again virtually all their peers -- also cited the electoral successes of the "far right" National Democratic Party of Germany or "NPD" in eastern Germany as further evidence that the underlying racist ideology that might have motivated the attackers is an East German specialty.

Now, although it is certainly "far" something, it can be doubted that the NPD is properly described as being of the "right." Thus, when interviewed by Germany's RBB television in early 2005, NPD business manager and Executive Board member Frank Schwerdt explained: "We prefer a socialist model . . . but a socialism that is directly related to this country: to the nation. That is why we say a 'National Socialism" [Nationaler Sozialismus]. When the interviewer insisted on the phrase, "Is that National Socialism [Nationalsozialismus]?", Schwerdt replied: "You can call it that." In plainer speech, the NPD is, in other words, a neo-Nazi party and -- though there is as yet no evidence that the Mügeln rioters had any direct connection to it -- there can be no doubt that it is indeed one of the principle vectors of xenophobic ideology in Germany today.

Closer consideration of the NPD, however, makes abundantly clear that such xenophobia is anything but a specifically "East German problem." For while it is true that the NPD has registered its most important recent electoral successes in the East, the overwhelming majority of its leadership -- and all of its principle leadership -- come from the West. NPD Party Chairman Udo Voigt comes from Viersen in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. As so happens, Viersen is one of the furthest western points in Germany, lying just across the border from the Dutch town of Venlo. The party has three deputy chairs: Holger Apfel from Hildesheim in the western German state of Lower Saxony; Peter Marx from Elmstein in the western German state of Rhineland-Palatinate; and Sascha Roßmüller from Straubing in the western German state of Bavaria.

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