Photo by Peter Schmelzle (Wikimedia Commons)
If you read much German news, you're sick of reading about the National Socialist Underground, the neo-Nazi terrorist gang who were finally caught – well, shot themselves in a caravan – exactly a year ago on Sunday. You know the story: a trio of neo-Nazis spent eight years killing nine immigrants and a policewoman, robbed a few banks, set off a couple of nail bombs, and the cops were too stupid or lazy to catch them.
But over the year it's been difficult to keep the story in your head, because four separate committees – in Berlin, Dresden, Erfurt, in Munich – have been investigating what went wrong in all the different security authorities, from secret service to police at both federal and state level, and they have been drip feeding us the incompetence and failures and racism for the past year. Even the most assiduous newspapers have had trouble keeping the incremental unfolding of the scandal ordered and interesting.
So it might be worth recounting some details. For instance, between August 2005 and April 2007, the police were so convinced that only Turkish criminal gangs were behind the killing of Turkish immigrants, they sent out undercover investigators amongst the families of the victims. As this article points out, they were on the wrong track, but if they'd listened to what they were told by the Turks, they might have found the right one. In Dortmund, where Mehmet Kubasik was shot dead in 2006, one undercover cop was told, "The murderers want to scare Turks living in Germany, to make them leave." Another cop heard, "Everyone thinks the murders must have had a far-right motive. The murderers must have been German." But the police made no attempt to investigate even the slightest possibility that Nazis might have been behind the murders.
Meanwhile in Thuringia, where the NSU had gone underground in 2000, at least five of the police's neo-Nazi informants – including one who had supplied them with explosives in the 1990s – had contact with the terrorists, but did not tell them about them. While in Bavaria, investigators set up fake kebab shops in Munich and Nuremberg in the hope – and this is what it actually says in the files – that if the fake kebab shop-owners didn't pay their bills, the Turkish criminal gangs would show up.
What does it all mean? Basically, that the German security services failed to protect human beings because they were of immigrant background, much like in Rostock in 1992. But while Rostock could be put down to a fatal moment of cowardice by whoever was in charge that night, this failure was built into the entire system, and came from the deeply institutionalized racism that still persists in Germany, and shames the country.
Four secret service heads have resigned in the past year, including the head of the federal Verfassungsschutz Heinz Fromm, who as he was resigning called the revelations "a heavy defeat for the German security services." Yavuz Narin, lawyer for the family of Theodoros Boulgarides, murdered by the NSU in 2005, said, "This series of murders fundamentally undermines the structures of the state."
And Harald Range, one of Germany's top state prosecutors, said this in March: "In the last decade, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, were the decisive events for federal investigators … For this decade … because of their meaning for the federal prosecutors' office, but also because of their political consequences, I would say the NSU murders were our September 11."
What did he mean by that? Apparently something to do with how the murders would change the way security services are to be organised and how terrorists are tracked down. What he probably didn't mean so much is that it was a national tragedy that would bring an actual shift in how German society sees itself. But he should have meant that, too.
This Sunday sees a demo in support of the victims of the NSU in Kreuzberg. More info here: Bundesweiter Aktionstag am Sonntag, den 4. November - Ein Jahr nach dem Bekanntwerden der NSU- Mordserie