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5th Mar 2024

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How big is Germany's far-right problem?

  • Berlin: Tens of thousand of Germans held vigils in support of victims on Thursday (Photo: Sascha Kohlmann)

The Hanau shooting showed that "the threat posed by right-wing extremism, antisemitism, and racism in Germany is very high," German interior minister Horst Seehofer said on Friday (21 February).

He called it "a clearly racially-motivated terror attack" that left "a trail of blood ... in our country".

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It was the third far-right killing in Germany since last June, he noted.

And the threats kept multiplying, he said.

"Just last week, we arrested 12 suspected right-wing terrorists who had made concrete plans for attacks. During the past few days, we've investigated suspected right-wing extremists in several locations throughout Germany. We seized large quantities of explosives as well as hand grenades and automatic weapons," Seehofer said.

The Hanau shooting, which targeted Kurds, saw Germany step up security at mosques and transport hubs amid concern on copycat attacks.

It saw tens of thousands of Germans hold vigils in protest.

It prompted vice-chancellor Olaf Scholz to voice historical guilt.

"Our political debates cannot duck the fact that 75 years after the end of the Nazi dictatorship, right-wing terror exists in Germany again," he said.

And it acted as a national wake-up call to the size of Germany's far-right problem for Volker Bouffier, the regional premier in Hanau.

"This changes everything. Not only for this city, but for our country," Bouffier said of the attack.

German security services have tried to put numbers on it.

There were 24,100 right-wing extremists in Germany, 12,700 of whom were "violence-oriented", Germany's homeland intelligence agency, the BfV, said in its 2019 report.

Far-right attacks against migrants and refugee centres soared after 2015, when almost 1m people sought asylum in Germany, with 995 such attacks in 2016 alone.

And in other figures, the Hanau incident came in times when the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party was the third-largest in the German parliament.

But in the end, Germany's far-right problem might be more complex than numbers can say.

Germany's extreme-right was known for "persistently high levels of verbal aggression", the BfV report noted, in a sign of how its ideology had spread.

"Issues related to immigration policies and offences allegedly committed by migrants repeatedly mobilised significant numbers of people from the right-wing spectrum," Europol, the EU's joint police agency in The Hague, also said of Germany in its 2019 report.

The AfD party, like the extreme-right, has demonised migrants and other minorities in its rise in popularity.

And even the mainstream CDU and CSU parties of Scholz and Seehofer have espoused a harder line on migrants in recent times.

Fingers pointed at AfD

For Lars Klingbeil, the secretary-general of the left-wing Social Democrats party, AfD hate speech had directly contributed to a "poisoning of [German] society".

"One person carried out the shooting in Hanau, that's what it looks like, but there were many who provided him with the ammunition, and the AfD is definitely among them," Klingbeil told German broadcaster ARD.

The AfD was "the political arm of hate", Cem Özdemir, a German Green MP of Turkish origin, also said.

The Hanau killings prompted one AfD politician, Robert Lambrou, to exclaim that he was in a "state of shock" at the "horrific murders", in what sounded like a mea culpa.

But the AfD party as a whole showed little remorse, while targeting the Hanau attacker's mental health problems in its defence.

"The 'manifesto' of the crazy man of Hanau is now known. The remote diagnosis of a psychiatrist is that he was suffering from paranoid hallucinatory schizophrenia. In other words, he belonged in a psychiatric ward! But rather than suggesting that, attempts are being made to put the blame on us for his act of madness," an AfD statement said.

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