FRANKFURT (May. 18)
The threat of increased racism in Germany has caught the attention of President Clinton.
Clinton reportedly discussed the issue when he met last week with Chancellor Helmut Kohl during a two-day state visit to Germany.
The president was said to have questioned Kohl closely about rising neo-Nazi violence and the recent success of a far-right party in state elections held in eastern Germany. There was no official confirmation of the discussion, but Clinton’s concerns about racism were widely reported in the German media.
During a speech delivered last week in Berlin, Clinton made it clear that the issue was on his mind when he called for the United States and Europe to work together to combat racism and intolerance.
Earlier this month, a right-wing extremist party captured nearly 13% of the vote in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. The German People’s Union — which Jewish officials say is anti-Semitic — is headed by Gerhard Frey, Germany’s largest publisher of hate literature.
Statistics released by the German government last week show a distinct increase in far-right violence as well as rising numbers of neo-Nazis prepared to commit crimes.
The statistics indicated that there were 790 acts of right-wing motivated violence last year, a 25 percent increase from 1996 levels.
For the first time, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which collects crime statistics, did not list anti-Semitic crimes separately from other racist crimes.
But the agency provided a breakdown upon request, and, after several years of a decline in such statistics, it showed an increase in anti-Semitic incidents last year — 965 — compared to the 817 incidents reported to authorities in 1996.
The vast majority of the incidents involved the publication or distribution of anti-Semitic literature. The number of cemetery desecrations remained constant at 40; the number of bodily assaults declined from 29 to 11.
Fears of a resurgence of the extreme right, stoked by the showing of the German People’s Union in the Saxony-Anhalt election, were heightened when thousands of neo-Nazis held a May Day rally in Leipzig, where they blasted Chancellor Helmut Kohl for not doing enough to fight unemployment.
The leader of Germany’s Jewish community, Ignatz Bubis, criticized a German court for allowing the May 1 demonstration by supporters of the National Democratic Party.
Other critics of the court’s refusal to forbid the neo-Nazi march included the mayor of Leipzig and the national president of Germany’s police union.
Officials in Leipzig — located in eastern Germany, where high unemployment has fanned anti-foreigner sentiment — banned the march three times, claiming that expected clashes between marchers and left-wing opponents would present a danger to the public order.
The evening before the march, however, a Leipzig court said the city administration could not ban the march because the National Democratic Party is a legally registered political party.
A leading member of the opposition Green Party, Werner Schulz, has called for a ban on the National Democratic Party, which has a platform based on xenophobia, racism and ultranationalism.
Although a large proportion of racist crimes take place in the formerly Communist eastern part of the country — where high unemployment has fanned anti-foreigner sentiment — the problem is widespread in western Germany as well.
In Frankfurt, for example, city officials say the number of prosecutions involving far right-wing defendants has gone up 10 times during the past year.