BONN (Feb. 6)
Hundreds of neo-Nazi youths marched through Leipzig on Monday night in the most blatant public expression of anti-Jewish sentiments ever to occur in East Germany.
Waving Nazi-like symbols, they shouted “kick out the Jews” and “to hell with the Jews,” damaged property and engaged in fights with onlookers infuriated by their conduct.
Only hours before, East Germany’s parliament, the Volkskammer, decided unanimously to ban West Germany’s extreme right-wing Republican Party from participating in the East German elections, scheduled for March 18.
Both developments illustrated some of the problems arising from East Germany’s sudden transformation from a totalitarian society into one bent on democratic reforms, including freedom of speech.
A member of the Leipzig Jewish community said in a telephone interview Tuesday that most of the young toughs were Skinheads, youths who sport shaven heads, wear Nazi-like regalia and often engage in gang violence.
Only about 70 Jews live in Leipzig, and there arc no more than 700 people registered as Jews in all of East Germany.
The Leipzig community member claimed the march was not aimed specifically at Jews, but against foreigners in general.
“We have had such things all along, but now with the new freedom, it’s beginning to surface,” he said. “It’s not new, it’s just coming into the open.” Reporters who witnessed the march said the extremists smashed the windows of a cafe and defied police orders to disperse. He said they were joined by a few dozen Skinheads from West Germany.
Leipzig has been the scene of mass pro-democracy rallies every Monday evening for more than two months.
The demonstrations are closely watched by local and foreign observers to gauge the popular mood prevailing in the German Democratic Republic.
The young right-wing extremists have joined the protests in an attempt to draw attention to their cause, say local sources.
The ban on the Republican Party was formally adopted Monday by the Roundtable, a forum of Hans Modrow’s Communist-led government and the newly emergent opposition groups.
The ban means that the Munich-based Republicans, the most successful of the several reputedly neo-Nazi parties in West Germany, cannot recruit voters in East Germany or take part next month in its first free elections.
Franz Schoenhuber, the former Waffen SS officer who heads the Republicans, declared Monday night that his party would fight the ban, which he claimed is illegal.
According to Schoenhuber, the Volkskammer had no right to take the action, because it has never been legitimized by the people.