What a wake-up call: a bombed out house in Zwickau, Thüringen, containing evidence that a neo-Nazi cell had carried out the execution-style murders of eight immigrants and one policewoman between 2000-2006. The victims, mostly Turkish, were selected by their killers solely due to their ethnicity, and shot in the head at point-blank range. The three men and one woman apparently behind the murders called themselves the National Socialist Underground and even produced a DVD bragging of their killings.
Any hint of a resurgence of left-wing violence, such as the Berlin car-burning series or the amateurish "bombs" found recently found on some railway tracks, sends German politicians on the right into a frenzy, calling for more monitoring of left-wing groups and more internet and mobile phone surveillance.
The Zwickau cell – which was discovered by accident because it blew up its own headquarters – shows that the state has underestimated the potential for neo-Nazi violence, and even turned a blind eye to it, for far too long. A common attitude was to allow the far-right NPD party to exist as a kind of catch-all for extremists that could be observed in the open. That theory has collapsed now. The NPD should be shut down and state-funding – which it receives under German law because of its various electoral successes – should be withdrawn.
I used to believe that free speech was sacred. However, a political party which doesn't even acknowledge the basic rights guaranteed by the German constitution and shuns democracy – should not be tolerated.
Official NPD literature states the party aims to "restore the capability of the German Reich" and calls the German constitution a "diktat of the Western victorious powers". The NPD uses our taxpayer money to fund hateful, racist propaganda – the unbelievable "Gas Geben" campaign poster on thousands of lampposts around Berlin in September was just one example. With its cash, the NPD supports and legitimises a neo-Nazi network – from newspapers to rock festivals to kindergartens. In Berlin an entire ecosystem of neo-Nazis has moved to the southeastern district of Treptow-Köpenick, attracted by the NPD national party headquarters located there. The result: attacks on immigrants, verbal assaults on foreign visitors, Nazi graffiti, Nazi bars, Nazi military shops and no-go areas for those who don't "look German".
Banning the NPD is complicated, though. Germany tried to do so in 2003, but the Bundesverfassungsgericht – the country's highest court – threw out the case because it was based on testimony from informants in the NPD recruited by the domestic intelligence service. In 2008, the SPD launched another attempt to shut down the NPD – but the CDU blocked its efforts, saying a ban would make it too difficult to monitor the neo-Nazi scene.
With the revelations coming out of Zwickau, the idea that a legitimised neo-Nazi party keeps extremists "out in the open" and "easier to monitor" can finally be laid to rest.
An editorial by the conservative Die Welt newspaper suggests a new consensus on the neo-Nazi problem is emerging: "One has to investigate whether this is an eastern German phenomenon or whether there has been a certain institutional leniency in dealing with the far-right scene. The reputation of the reunited nation, of its institutions and of its general public is at stake."
Banning the NPD is, of course, just one step. Racism, xenophobia and anti-semitism are still tolerated at all levels of German society – in the east and west, In the working-, middle- and upper-classes. Until these fundamentals are addressed, such a "disgrace" – as Angela Merkel called these neo-Nazi murders – could happen any time again.