German Authorities Worry Neo-Nazi Movement Is Gaining In Popularity
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand. Neo-Nazis are planning a big march in Dresden, Germany, this Saturday. About 6,000 right-wing extremists are expected there. This comes after the near fatal stabbing of a German police chief last month by suspected neo-Nazis. Analysts say the incident shows that the extreme right has reached a more threatening dimension in mainstream Germany. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: It used to be easy to spot German neo-Nazis: shaved heads, black leather jackets and black boots. Today, the far right has gone upscale.
(Soundbite of retail shop)
POGGIOLI: Tonsberg is a shop in Mitte, a trendy neighborhood in Berlin. It looks like any other sports apparel shop, except for a Norwegian flag and symbols of ancient Nordic mythology. We asked the sales girl why the shop windows are shattered.
Unidentified Sales Clerk (Tonsberg, Berlin, Germany): (Through translator) That was done by leftists. They didn't like what we're selling here.
POGGIOLI: A customer joins the conversation.
Unidentified Shop Patron (Tonsberg, Berlin, Germany: (Through translator) Some politicians think that behind the Nordic symbols there's some right-wing ideology. That's ridiculous.
POGGIOLI: That's not ridiculous at all, according to nearby shop owners. After Tonsberg opened in February, they joined forces to try to shut it down, as has been done successfully against some Tonsberg branches in other German cities.
Mr. TOBIAS CUTHNER (Gallery owner, Berlin, Germany): The store, which doesn't look like a Nazi fashion store, but in the end, it is.
POGGIOLI: Tobias Cuthner(ph) runs the gallery next door. He says Tonsberg apparel is coded. The Nordic symbols were dear to the Nazis in the 1930s, and now neo-Nazis, Cuthner says, no longer feel they're on the fringes.
Mr. CUTHNER: They want to establish themselves in the center of society, and they want to establish a brand which is comparable to the flagship stores we have here from Nike and Adidas and Hugo Boss and so on.
POGGIOLI: German neo-Nazis identify with the NPD, the National Democratic Party, which the Domestic Intelligence Agency describes as racist and anti-Semitic. In recent years, it has gained political traction, which analysts attribute to growing German animosity toward immigrants. NPD, which calls itself a national resistance party, now has elected representatives in two regional parliaments in the former East Germany. In elections last fall, the NPD won seats in every county council in the eastern state of Saxony. NPD leader Udo Voigt says the party is no longer isolated in German society because people here reject the multicultural model he claims has been imposed by the United States.
Mr. UDO VOIGT (Leader, National Democratic Party): (Through translator) We are Germans and we know our people, and we believe that we have a future as Germans only if our ethnicity and our race are protected from annihilation.
POGGIOLI: That means, Voigt says, that all foreigners are a threat to German identity and should leave the country. Thousands of foreigners have abandoned the East following a wave of racist violence by neo-Nazi skinheads.
(Soundbite of school)
POGGIOLI: The Georg Menheim School is located in the eastern town of Oranienburg. A plaque declares the school is racism free. In order to earn that distinction, 70 percent of all the school members - students, teachers and janitors - had to agree in writing. Principal Dieter Starke says it's particularly important because of the school's location.
Mr. DIETER STARKE (Principal, Georg Menheim Schule): (Through translator) We're a few hundred meters from Sachsenhausen, the former concentration camp. Therefore, this school has an obligation to be outspoken against racism and anti-Semitism.
POGGIOLI: But he acknowledges it wasn't easy. This is a vocational school, and dozens of students working at local companies were warned against joining the anti-racism platform under threat of being fired. Starke says some local companies helped to finance the NPD and that neo-Nazis are now targeting civil society.
Mr. STARKE: (Through translator) They're smart; they've changed tactics. They're more subversive; you can't detect them anymore. They've infiltrated associations and clubs, and they organize events for students. This is how they try to brainwash the young and pass on their ideology.
(Soundbite of music)
POGGIOLI: Today, there's a special event at the school, a performance by students who worked on a project about the Holocaust. Eighteen-year-old Marika Pangovski(ph) says it was very important because none of the students knew much about Jews.
Ms. MARIKA PANGOVSKI: What happened during the Second World War and the Third Reich was not over when the war was over, but it left its traces into the present and we learned about it, that things didn't finish when war was finished, but you know, it did linger on, really, in the minds of the people and in their lives.
POGGIOLI: Officials in the eastern part of the country are worried about the growing clout of the extreme right. Repeated calls to ban the NPD outright have fallen flat. Some politicians now suggest freezing funds that the state earmarks to all parties with elected officials. Should this pass, the NPD would lose nearly half its financial lifeline. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News.