Published on Monday, 05 November 2012 20:28 Written by David Crossland, Renuka Rayasam
Anti-racism campaigners staged vigils across Germany on Sunday to commemorate the victims of the National Socialist Underground, a neo-Nazi terrorist group uncovered by chance a year ago.
Organizers called memorial events in 30 cities. In Hamburg, some 1,000 people joined a march. In Berlin, some 1,600 people turned out.
The NSU claimed responsilbility for killing at least nine men and a policewoman during a seven-year murder spree that began in 2000. The male victims, all of them shopkeepers or employed in small businesses, belonged to ethnic minorities -- eight were of Turkish origin and one was Greek.
For years, police failed to investigate a possible far-right link between the killings, which were carried out with the same pistol in cities across Germany. Instead, they focused on possible links between the victims and criminal gangs.
They were proven dramatically wrong when two fugitive neo-Nazis were found dead in an apparent murder-suicide on Nov. 4, 2011. The third alleged core member of the group, Beate Zschäpe, remains in custody pending trial.
German media commentators note that the demonstrations were quite small, and some say the reforms of the domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, don't go far enough. What Germany needs, some say, is a nationwide campaign against the racism at the heart not only of the killings, but also of the authorities' abject failure to investigate them properly.
The first anniversary of the killings dominates the editorial pages at a number of Germany's leading newspapers on Monday.
The conservative Die Welt writes:
"Is the way that this country and its public authorities deal with neo-Nazis too lax? Are authorities blind to the threat of the far right? Do the lives of immigrants count less? The most recent disclosures about police officers who support the Ku-Klux-Klan or right-wing extremist informants shielded from prosecution by the domestic intelligence agency are unacceptable. How come neither the police nor the security authorities have commented on this?"
"The relatives of the victims, who are often ignored in a society which focuses on the perpetrators, have high hopes for the trial of Beate Zscäpe. But will this yearning for truth and respect for the dead victims be fulfilled? Those defending the plaintiffs worry about their clients, because the Federal Court of Justice has sent a clear signal that it won't be possible to answer all the questions the relatives are asking at the trial."
"The NSU deaths sit like a poisoned thorn in the side of our recent history. But why doesn't it hurt?"
The left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:
"The weekend demonstrations in several cities across Germany in memory of the murder spree by three young neo-Nazis from Thuringia were rather dutiful and modest. Some might ask why this scandal didn't bring more people out onto the streets. … Several parliamentary enquiries are underway into how the killings could happen. And Angela Merkel made clear with the state memorial service in February that she takes the NSU murders seriously. That is why many citizens, including many immigrants, don't see a reason for big demonstrations."
"But a year on from the revelation of the Nazi terror the question of what action should be taken in response to the blatant failure of the authorities in the NSU affair is at risk of being obscured by technical minutiae."
"A complete rethink and reorganization of the domestic intelligence service, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, is overdue. There are serious questions regarding the police as well, given that they spent years investigating in the wrong direction. It's obvious that their approach to the NSU murders was full of prejudice."
"A change in mentality in these authorities is the very least that is needed now. A quota for immigrants in the police, as suggested by the head of the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation, Jörg Ziercke, could be of benefit. But such steps won't happen without public pressure, for example through street protests."
The business daily Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"One year after the discovery of the far-right terror trio NSU, the (far right) National Democratic Party (NPD) wants to march in Heidelberg, demonstrate in Dresden, stage a torch-lit march in Wolgast against asylum seekers. One year on from the discovery, ordinary people are threatened for daring to stand up against right-wing extremism. One year after the discovery it takes an appeals court to make clear that police must not spot-check people just because they look like foreigners. In the first half of 2012, government figures showed there were 8,096 politically motivated far-right crimes, including 354 assaults, and 1,691 were labelled 'hate crimes.'"
"Thanks to the work of the parliamentary enquiries, only one thing is clear after these 12 months: one doesn't just encounter this racism on the street in the evenings, in areas where local officials are unable to get the extremists under control or at far-right concerts. Instead, it is also deeply embedded in the security authorities that didn't see or didn't want to see the far-right extremists in the years they spent looking for the perpetrators. It was deeply embedded in the media that described the murders as 'döner killings.' It is part of our thinking."
"It's high time that changed. But it won't be changed by reforming the security authorities as Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich is doing. That's important, especially for the relatives of the victims who rightly want an explanation of how authorities could fail like that. But it won't help them if the father, the brother, the daughter look for an apartment or an apprenticeship -- and find nothing because they have Turkish names. It won't help against being attacked at night in the street."
"Neither will these reforms help counter the fact that entire regions are out of bounds as places for dark-skinned people to live and work because right-wing extremists claim to rule those areas."
"And as important as the initiatives against the far right are may be, backed by a few meager millions of euros -- they won't eliminate racism. That will only happen if this country commits itself to its foreigners. It is time that every public opportunity is seized, in political party manifestos and coalition agreements, in regional and municipal council decisions, to make clear: We are a country of immigration, we have long since become multinational, foreigners belong here. We don't just need them, we want them."
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"Are the police and intelligence agents the latent enemies of the constitution? That question reflects a radical mistrust of Germany's 'security architecture' that may base itself on studies of the supposed affinity many investigators have for far-right thinking, but which is wildly exaggerated."
The paper writes that the police and members of the domestic intelligence agency mustn't be subjected to an "absurd blanket suspicion."
"How should ordinary people, immigrants and the victims of the state's failures regain confidence in the system when it has been hammered into them that the German police force is a latently racist institution?"